My plan was to walk all round Holy Island on my 60th birthday; contemplate life and age and that stuff. But in order to do that you need a fairly dry day. We have been all round the island before in the wet on my birthday. It wasn’t what you’d call great fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA very drookit Noel in July 2011

This time the Island had other plans. It rained all night. Dawn saw a window of light and lovely colours, then it rained again. There were puddles everywhere. No day for that walk.

So my sister and Noel and I headed for The Lindisfarne Centre where we learned all about Vikings and how the Gospels were made using all the interactive displays; pigments, gold leaf illumination and book binding; and we tried our hand at tracing celtic knots and pencil rubbings. Any ten year old would have been better than we were, trust me. But it was fun! It was just the sort of things that Esme and I used to do when we little (not that we ever got big).

We’d met a couple walking up on the Heugh the night before. Karen and Charlie Slade  and they looked familiar somehow. After a brief conversation about the spooky sound of seals and the Island we found out where we’d seen them — TV. They were part of the team on BBC’s Tudor Monastry Farm. They were on Lindisfarne for the weekend doing demonstrations of medieval tile making and ecclesiatical design and so we said we’d come along. After lunch we went to the Priory to see what they were up to and that was fun too, hands-on, informative fun. Here are some of the photos.


Karen carves the design in wood, makes the clay tile and presses it, adds slip to form the design, allows that to harden for a long time — weeks and scrapes off the excess. Then the tiles have to be glazed and fired. Smaller tiles are marked in the process as four in one tiles or diagonals. It’s a long painstaking process and Karen has made thousands of tiles for projects and come to a real understanding of what they meant to people. This was a time when raw materials were taken from the earth and used to the glory of God — not just for money. Soul was important then. Mortality was ever present.
I was wearing a badge my sister Christine sent me to inform everyone I was 60 YEARS YOUNG! When Karen saw it she gave me one of her precious handmade initialled tiles 🙂 THANKYOU KAREN X. I treasure it.

In the tent next door, Charlie revealed the secrets of the master masons’ cathedral designs. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


It’s all based on gerometric patterns and it reminded me of our old Spyrograph, a toy with which I was never adept. Naturally I had to have a go — it involved giant compasses and a sandbox — what 6  eherm… I mean 60 year old, could resist? My first teacher never let me play in the sand box until I had done my maths — maybe she should have taken a leaf out of Charlie’s book — I might have got the hang of geometry sooner!

Anyway, as Charlie and anyone who was watching can attest, I was no ‘epter’ than ever :/ BUT it was FUN! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Visit their website (click on their name) and see what they are up to. They may be somewhere near you!

The weather had dried up and we went to the Gospel Garden OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand sat a while in the afternoon heat in the Jeckyll Garden OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and walked back quite sore footed having spent 6 hours in anything other than the contemplation of life, age and all that stuff.

Dinner with Dorothy, Esme and Noel at the Manor House Hotel — a perfect round-off to a perfect birthday.


Sister, remember how we used to be?
Always creating our own history.
Illuminated manuscripts made old
with tea; pencil-rubbed pennies, sixpences,
thre’penny bits. Buildings, interiors,
painting and mapping islands of our own.

Sixty was to wake before sunrise, peek
from my cosy bed toward the north-east
sky streaked with colours of a younger youth;

purled white, baby blues, the sweet blush of peach
delight at dawn; yawn and watch violet,
turquoise, sapphire, silver-wet grey, the day
born. I would give sixty serious thought.

Rain split the clouds and brought my plans to nought;
spilt on the cobbles such colours as fears
are made of. A Lindisfarne lamb looked up
at my window. The Island knows the needs
of the soul I left there for safekeeping.

Today it generates a place to play
at making medieval tiles with clay;
drawing squares and triangles in circles
like the master masons used to do with
giant compasses in a box of sand.
Learning about trade, scribes and Viking raids,
trying my hand at everything; I find
my true self again in every moment;
and at every age, whole. I could be six
or sixteen. But I’m me. Holy Island’s
best, most sacred birthday gift to my soul.

Oonah V Joslin © 2014

Thanks to Karen Slade for my beautiful handmade tile.

Thanks to Karen Slade for my beautiful handmade tile.

And a BIG THANKS to everyone who sent the 67 messages and 15 cards!

I have reached a conclusion:

contemplation of life, age and all that stuff

is very over-rated!