Holy Island of Lindisfarne

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5/5

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Destination

Date of travel

March, 2019

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There is something special about islands and this is particularly true of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the Northumberland coast. The very mention of its name brings a tingle to the spine conjuring up memories of early Christian saints like Aidan and Cuthbert.

Visitors have been coming here for centuries and you can still follow in the “footsteps”:https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4124084 of the early pilgrims by following the marker poles across the sands.

Most people arrive by car across the tidal causeway which cuts the island off from the mainland for several hours twice a day. Do pay close attention to the “safe crossing times”:https://www.holy-island.info/lindisfarnecastle/2019/ posted at either end of the tidal causeway. The tide comes in very quickly and motorists ignoring safe crossing times are liable to find themselves surrounded by several feet of “sea water, “:http:// https://images.app.goo.gl/TL1u2Di4fgDe4sXD8 although a refuge hut is provided for the foolish.

The island is low lying with sand dunes and damp grassland. In spring the damp hollows are the habitat of orchids. Much of the island is a “Nature Reserve”:https://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/general/pdf/NNRLindisfarneLeaflet.pdf and there is a nature trail around the eastern half starting from the small information centre on the road down to the castle.

The island is dominated by the massive rocky outcrop of Whin Sill at the far end, known as Beblowe Crag and topped by “Lindisfarne Castle.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/stately_homes_castles/england/north/lindisfarne/index.html The village with the large visitor car park is a compact small settlement clustered around the harbour. For those not wanting to walk, there is a 30 minute “shuttle service”:https://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/general/hi-bus.htm which runs from the car park to the castle.

In AD 634 Oswald, King of Northumbria granted the island to the church and a monastic community was established which rapidly became a centre of Christian learning, spreading Christianity across the north of England. The growing wealth of monastery made it a target for Viking raids. In the late C9th the monks took their precious relics of Aidan and Cuthbert along with the Lindisfarne Gospels to safety on the mainland. Viking raids led to its abandonment in the late eighth century when the monks left, taking St Cuthbert’s body with them.

After the Norman conquest, the “Priory”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/ruined_abbeys/north/lindisfarne/index.html was re-founded by a group of Benedictine monks from Durham Cathedral. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the priory and estates passed to the crown. This was a time of considerable unrest with the Scots and a fortress was built on Beblowe Crags. The island with its natural harbour became an important military stronghold until the beginning of the C19th when it was used by the coastguards.

By the end of the C19th, the fort was in a ruined condition and was bought by Edward Hudson who commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to remodel it as a fashionable holiday home. “Lindisfarne Castle”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/stately_homes_castles/england/north/lindisfarne/index.html is now in the care of the National Trust. This has recently reopened after a massive restoration programme rectifying problems of leaking roofs and windows as well as damp. In MArch 2019, many of the rooms were still unfurnished as new plaster dried out. Visitors expecting a fully furnished castle were disappointed although I found the unfurnished rooms meant you saw the architecture rather than furnishings.

To the north of the castle is the walled Gertrude Jekyll Garden. There has been a garden here since the C16th growing vegetables to supplement the diet of the troops based in the fort. It is on a south facing slope to get the most of the sunshine. The walls help protect the plants from salt damage from wind blown spray.

Hudson decided to restore the walled garden which could be seen from the castle windows. Lutyens commissioned Gertrude Jekyll, a close colleague, to design a garden that would flower in the summer when Hudson and his guests were staying in the castle. The garden fell into disuse in the C20th but has been restored by the National Trust in 2003, to Jekyll’s original planting plan.

From being an important monastic settlement to a military fortress, the island is now a popular tourist destination. Visitors head to the attractive “village”:http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/virtual-village/ with its regular street pattern lined with old stone or plaster houses.

The ruins of the “Priory”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/ruined_abbeys/north/lindisfarne/index.html with the iconic rainbow arch are to the south of the village, by “St Mary’s Church”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/north/northumberland/northumberland_two/holy_mary/index.html Although there has been a church here since the C7th, the present building is mainly C13th. The church is open daily and, along with the priory ruins, is visited by most people. The tiny “St Aidan’s RC Church”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/north/northumberland/northumberland_two/holy_aidan/index.html in the centre of the village is mid C20th. “St Cuthbert’s Centre”:https://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/saintcuthbertschurch/index.htm in the C19th Presbyterian Church is currently closed for essential maintenance.

Next to it is “Lindisfarne Mead and St Aidan’s Winery.”:https://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/mead/ The mead is made from fermented white grapes, honey, herbs and island water. The Visitor Centre offers samples of the different meads as well as selling products made with the mead. Next to it is a large gift shop.

The “Lindisfarne Centre”:http://www.lindisfarne-centre.com contains the information centre and has an exhibition covering monastery and the Lindisfarne Gospels, the viking raids and wild life on the island.
Across the road is the “Gospel Gardens.”:http://www.lindisfarne-centre.com/garden.html Inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels, these were a silver medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show. The metal arch at the back of the garden represents the Rainbow Arch in the Priory ruins.

The “Look Out Tower”:https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4127934 on a rocky outcrop to the south of the Priory was built in the 1940s for the coastguards. It has now been restored with a 360˚ glass observatory at the top which gives good views down into the Priory ruins and across the island. It is best reached along the track from the harbour.

The sheltered natural harbour lies to the east of the village and played an important role in the defence of the north east coast against the Scots in the C16th and C17th. In the C19th it was home to one of the largest herring fleets along the east coast of England. Now there is little fishing and upturned no longer used fishing boat now function as storage sheds.

The remains of C19th “Lime Kilns”:https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/lindisfarne-castle/documents/download-the-story-of-the-castle-point-lime-kilns.pdf lime kins in Northumberland. They were built in 1860 and worked until 1900. Limestone was quarried in the north of the island and brought by wagon way to the kilns. Coal needed for smelting was brought by boat from Scotland. The wooden poles on the shore are the remains of the jetty.

Most people come as day visitors and on sunny summer days the island does get very busy. It is quieter on days when the causeway is closed during the middle of the day. There is some accommodation on the island and the best way to experience the unique spirit of the island is by staying overnight when all the visitors have left.

ESW

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