Visiting the Holy Island, Lindisfarne

Causeway to Holy Island/Lindisfarne. Low Tide

Causeway to Holy Island/Lindisfarne. Low Tide

In spite of weather forecasts that predicted doom, gloom and rain for today, the sun was out, the sky was blue and it proved to be a spectacular day for touring around the Holy Island/Lindisfarne, a small island off the northeast coast of England.

We stayed in a hotel on the harbourfront of a small fishing town called Seahouses. We really did just use it as a base, and didn’t seem much of the town itself other than driving in and out. There was a nice old pub next to the inn but the night we tried to go there, it was full up and we hadn’t booked a table. Seemed odd that you needed to book a table in a pub but there you are. It wasn’t even a Friday night, either. I guess this part of the country isn’t rife with hotels so it gets busy. It might be the middle of September but it’s still more or less high season.

The northeast has a lot of historic sites as well as nature reserves and sites. We’re in it for the history and our outing today is a small island up the coast about 15 minutes. It’s connected to the mainland by a causeway rather than a bridge so you have to watch for the tide times. When the tide is in, the road is inaccessible. There’s a small emergency tower half way across, raised quite high up off the road which gives you a better idea how high the tides can get. We did check and the causeway was clear from about 9:30 am until just after 3 p.m.

One person I know suggested that we should head over just before the tide came in and spend the hours on the island while it’s cut off. There are far fewer tourists on the island then and it’s quieter. We decided against that, preferring to go in the morning anyway. There aren’t too many places to eat in the village on the island and one of the older pubs already had a sign up that said they were fully booked for the evening meal, for those that were planning on staying on the island during the high tide period. They planned ahead for it, clearly.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

We drove up the coast, stopping outside of Bamburgh Castle for some photos. That’s a very old castle and has lots to offer a visitor, apparently but we were there before it opened. I didn’t really think that there was as much to see there as there is, something I found out after I came back home. We probably could have dropped in there after returning from Lindisfarne. Never mind.

The sky was blue, the sun was warm (but not too hot) and there was hardly a breeze, a perfect day for it. You park in a lot just outside the village, a pay and display lot of course. There is parking further in the village but you need to have a disabled sticker to qualify. The village of Lindisfarne isn’t very big but it’s quite pretty. We parked, paid and walked the few minutes into the village.

Lindisfarne Harbour at low tide

Lindisfarne Harbour at low tide

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has long been a centre for Christianity, as far back as the 6th century. The monastery there was founded by Saint Aidan who journeyed to the northeast of England from the Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Later, it became the base for Saint Cuthbert, an important bishop. In the 8th century, York was established as an archbishopric and Lindisfarne was one of only three bishoprics under it. It is also famous for a set of illuminated gospels dating to the 8th century. They are outstanding in beauty and now reside in the British Library in London.

There is one other more notorious event for which Lindisfarne is famous; the island was one of the first places the Vikings raided, at the very end of the 8th century. Raids continued on and off throughout the east of England and the monks eventually abandoned Lindisfarne in the 9th century. The Priory was reestablished in 1093 and remained and flourished until Henry VIII had his wicked ways with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. The ruins that are there now are from the later priory, not the earliest one.

View of Lindisfarne Castle

View of Lindisfarne Castle

The castle on a high rise of land at the end of the harbour was built in 1550. It’s odd looking, with the surrounding land being fairly flat, just a few low hills but the ground that the castle is built on sticks up high, almost as if it was man made. It was extensively renovated inside in 1901. There’s a little walled garden on the north side a little way away, a bit of a hike over from the main road.

We decided our first destination would be the castle out at the head of the island overlooking the harbour. It was quite a walk but relatively flat. We didn’t fancy climbing up the steep inclines to go into the castle proper but we made our way out to the base of it where the disabled parking is. They even had a bagpiper there for the entertainment of the tourists. There were a lot of people walking out when we went but it looked like even more were heading out when we were walking back into the village. There are a lot of great photo ops along the way, too, looking over the harbour, over the fields on the small island and across, in the distance on a good day, you can see Bamburgh Castle.

When we got back to the village, we were ready for a coffee/tea break and found a cafe. Malcom and I nabbed a table outside while Graham stood in the very long queue inside. He came out armed with hot drinks and cheese scones which I loved but they weren’t too keen.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory

Fed and watered, it’s on to the ruins of the Priory. I had a two for one voucher from Britain magazine that was good for English Heritage run sites which this was. We perused the displays in the visitor center first, that told the story of the priory on this little island off the northeast coast of England (see above) then it was back outside in the sunshine to climb around the ruins.

The ruins are interesting with superb views over the harbour to the castle. We sat on a bench in a warm, sunny spot for a while and made friends with a local cat who walked right past one other couple to us. There was a breeze off the water but there among the ruins, it was sheltered and really warm.

We then had a look in nearby St. Mary’s parish church that had some nice stained glass and Celtic designs on altar cloths and kneelers.

After that, we decided we and our feet had had enough walking. There’s a bit more to see on the island, though. There’s a display or museum about the Lindisfarne Gospels, something similar to the Irish Book of Kells. They also have a visitor center where you can buy Lindisfarne Mead. We walked back to the car, stopping at a little stall set up just along there, selling preserves and local fruit and veg. I bought a couple of jars, just the thing for toast.

We drove back to the hotel. It wasn’t very late and we decided to sit in the sun in the beer garden overlooking the harbour for an hour or so. The views out over the sea to the Farne islands was great. We saw a bus load of tourists lining up for a tour boat that goes out around the islands where you can see lots of birds and seals.

Tomorrow, we’re heading back to Manchester but we’re going to visit Alnwick Castle and Gardens first. More on that another time.

Lindisfarne Castle from the Priory ruins

Lindisfarne Castle from the Priory ruins

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2 thoughts on “Visiting the Holy Island, Lindisfarne

  1. Heyjude says:

    Lindisfarne is a delight and more so for being cut off twice a day! A shame you didn’t go inside Bamburgh though as it is a pretty amazing castle. We just made it in time after visiting Lindisfarne. I look forward to seeing Alnwick with you as we didn’t have time to do that. Next time :)

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