Every company however small has it's rituals. Last night I was an inducted into perhaps one of the strangest by the Birdguides team. Stashed away on Holy Island in Max Whitby's private palatial residence, on land once trod barefoot by Cuddy's followers I was privileged to be invited into the inner sanctum.
As nervous as a Catholic meeting the Pope I sped across the empty causeway with the tide chasing at my heels knowing there was no return for three hours. Early I stopped and watched the sun dip below the Cheviots as the darkened silhouettes of Curlews crouched in the encroaching shallows. The grasses of the Lindisfarne dunes shone eerily in the half light of dusk and the way markers sentinel like evenly spaced across the mud were from a different time.
At our chosen meeting place the Lindisfarne Hotel I asked for directions to the bar, "We don't have a bar sir" came the unexpected response, "It was taken out some years back"
Was it a setup? I wondered, glancing around nervously for hidden cameras. Perhaps I was the first in a new Birdguides series of 'Meet the Birder', the hotel was eerily quiet. The owner offered to ring Mr Whitby and determine his location, never once taking his eye from mine.
"Just head back down the lane to the 30mph sign and it's the house on the left"
I walked back out into the darkness and peered back down the road to the causeway, unlit there seemed little life in any of the houses.
I stumbled to the door of a nearby house and rang the bell, as the door opened light filled the night sky. Behind the light I could make out a figure dressed in black, hushed voices came from within.
My eyes adjusted to the light and I realised it was none other than Fiona Barclay, surprisingly tall when not hunched over a camera. Ushered through I was introduced to a room full of characters from a screen come to life. Dave Dunford, darker and more satanic in real life. Andy Hirst a huge man a modern day Little John patrolling SK58 as his namesake did Sherwood.
The thin bearded figure of John Cromie a wily leprechaun smiling mischievously from the sidelines and Max Whitby, almost born for the part of Charlie in Charlie's Angels or Professor X from the X-Men.
With a fire raging in the hearth I settled back into a comfy chair and there was some small talk and began to feel sleepy in the warmth. Then invited through into the conservatory for food they sprang the 'trap' on me. I was an innocent bystander as they described the triumphs of the previous night's victims, words spun around."Pale....brindled.....beauty...........Hebrew..........characters" what was this strange almost chanted language I was struggling to decipher. Then in front of me a small sealed pot, was this the main course? I looked inside with trepidation at the contents, a Moth. Did they expect me to eat it?
John Cromie then stood I noticed he was barefoot, was it my eyes or were his feet hairy and hobbit-like? Then the strange device they called the 'Moth Trap' was manhandled into the garden and switched on the UV light shining beacon bright. Outside they insisted on photographs handling the cameras clumsily in I'm sure mock parody of themselves expert as they are. I half expected some one to ask me to take off my shoes and roll up a trouser leg or for a Cyberman to begin to appear spinning in the glow in front of us. The glow from the light left us all looking strange, otherworldly on this night the eve of St Cuthbert's Day. I swear in the background of the picture there was a face, perhaps old Cuddy himself smiling at us.
Wine flowed and stories were told and the walls of the old castle once again echoed with the laughter of souls who care for the birds. Almost too quickly it was over and I was out in the darkness, back to the modern world across a causeway in time. A dead Barn Owl aside the A1 reminding me that outside the warmth of friends life can be harsh.
with thanks to Birdguides for good food and good company and hopefully excusing the poetic licence.
The bearded face in the background may look like John Cromie but is in fact the barefooted ghost of St Cuthbert.