Nation diary: starlings dot the lighthouse roof like currants on a bun

St Mary’s Island, Northumberland Youngsters with fluorescent nets peer into plastic buckets; their cries of pleasure echoed by the piping of seabirds

Heading south on the coastal path, we go away Previous Hartley village, drawn magnetically by St Mary’s Island with its tall white lighthouse. The ocean is a muted gray, with two huge container ships at relaxation close to its assembly with a paler sky.

The footpath skirts a tufty hillock the place a kestrel hovers over tough grass, fenced off from the trail by chestnut paling. I catch the medicinal scent of mugwort, its glaucous leaves curling and turning winter brown. The scrubby clifftops are a tangle of rose briars and brambles, protected thickets for stonechat and wren. Amongst the windblown tussocks are seedheads of untamed carrot, yarrow and knapweed, with late flowers of pink clover.

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