UK: Holy Island of Lindisfarne

The strand of cars winding their way down a narrow country lane suggests that we have the correct time. The smell of the sea is in the air as we drive past the cottages sporadically lining the road from the A1 to the coast. We are en route to Lindisfarne where you time your arrival to the tide. As we reach the coast the fields stop but the road continues, out over the mud flats and on. Visible to us is a thin stretch of land up ahead and the wooden poles, still slightly submerged which mark the walking route to the island. At intervals there are refuge boxes, still in use in high season, which provide shelter for those caught out by rapidly approaching water. Over on the right hand side it’s possible to see Bamburgh Castle, majestically sitting on the coast, King of the sea and all else it surveys.

It takes about 10 minutes to slowly make our way to the island and almost immediately, on arrival, we are directed firmly to the tourist car park, understandably so with all the cars suddenly appearing from the mainline.

The village on Lindisfarne is small and compact. It’s characterised in the centre by old buildings, in traditional stone. On the edges are more modern buildings, many offering accommodation or teas. The village is only a short walk from the car park and from there we get directions out to our first port of call – the castle.

The road leads us out, past the harbour and a number of stranded boats of all shapes and sizes and on to an exposed stretch of road, water on one side and sheep on the other. The wind blows relentlessly across from the open water and I can’t help but imagine what it must be like, must have been like, in times gone by to take this walk in the winter.

The walk up to Lindisfarne Castle, sitting high on a rocky outcrop

The walk up to Lindisfarne Castle, sitting high on a rocky outcrop

We reach the castle by a well worn stone pathway, up the side of the rocky outcrop on which the castle is built. A sharp turn takes us further up, a time for clinging to the side of the rock as the other side falls away sharply. We reach the castle, wind blown but in one piece and as we circle again into the shelter of the castle wall there is a palpable relief from the wind. The path takes you up a little further to a walled courtyard from where you can gain entrance to the castle itself.

The castle, managed by the National Trust is intact. A visit allows you to wander through the rooms and see them as they were around 1910. Built as a fort in the 16th Century it was originally a fort but was converted to a holiday home  by architect Edwin Lutyens. It overlooks a very small walled garden, positioned some distance from the castle itself, and designed by Gertrude Jekyll. The castle itself, not the grandest of castle by British standards, is all about the location. Windows look out over a barren but strangely entrancing landscape. The emptiness of the sea which appears to surround you completely, is it’s appeal.

On returning to the village we stop by the Priory, now a ruin, managed by English Heritage. They have an excellent exhibition with the history of Lindisfarne which goes into detail about the history of the priory, St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels, now housed in Durham Cathedral.

The Priory, constructed between 12th and 14th centuries, is intact enough to see where the rooms were and for it to conjure a similar atmospheric effect as the walk to the castle. Even on a sunny afternoon in June the cold winters, with relentless wind, spent dedicated in worship to God spring readily to mind as you progress through the remnants of the stone rooms.

It is only possible to cross over to Lindesfarne on the causeway or by foot at specific crossing times which can be found at: http://www.northumberlandlife.org/holy-island/

More information on Lindisfarne can be found at: http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/

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