Separated from the mainland by the North Sea, this unique island near Berwick-upon-Tweed is a dream. Many of its visitors (from all over the globe) are attracted by the peace, tranquillity and serenity which pervades the Island. Accessed from the mainland by a paved causeway – but beware of tide times – the outside world is cut off twice a day.
There are two easily accessible large car parks, one near the causeway, both with free toilet facilities. However, no camping or caravans are permitted to pitch up anywhere on the Island. You will find local buses and a castle shuttle bus available, but again check timetables.
With a small population of just over 160 people, a couple of cafes, one pub, several artisan arts & crafts shops, no food provision shops and only about forty letting rooms on the island, amazingly over 650,000 visitors visit each year. The spiritual draw by thousands of Christian and non-Christian pilgrims alike is evident, through the parish church, the Priory ruins and of course the famous Lindisfarne Gospels. The legendry ancient route – The Pilgrims Way – has been walked by saints and monks alike, along with modern day pilgrims. The route, if you are brave enough, is three miles and takes from between 75 – 90 minutes, and you will need either waterproof footwear (or bare feet), but be aware of tides and it’s recommended to only set off on a receding tide, oh and the mud can be quite extreme. The causeway was built in the 1950’s and the area is marked out by poles situated in the sand.
Holy Island is a place of uniqueness, with a feeling of sublime peace of mind and restfulness. With so much to see and do – but with a feeling of time standing still – to express how this area affects people is difficult to put into words. With its murderous and bloody history, from the Viking attacks carried out in 793AD and the many good men that were slain, its hard to imagine this when sitting soaking up the enchantment of nature in the raw. The northern part of the island is now a conservation area, with many photographers, writers, bird watchers and artists drawn to the area.
It is essential to plan and see as much as you can before you have to travel back to the mainland. The Priory is a must, with centuries of history, the ruins are evocative and were founded originally in 635AD by St Aiden, but most of us will have heard of St Cuthbert as being the most celebrated of the Priory’s holy men. This is considered one of the most important centres of early English Christianity. The Lindisfarne Gospels were created at the Priory and consist of four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This intricate and colourful book is among the most celebrated illuminated tomes in the world and originally was leather bound and encrusted with jewels, unfortunately both covers have long since vanished but the manuscript has survived and has been donated to the British Library.
Pop into St Mary the Virgins Parish church, it is beautiful and mainly stems from the 12th and 13th centuries and is the oldest building on the island. There is a modern sculpture depicting a party of monks carrying St Cuthberts coffin. Take a walk to the 16th century Castle which sits aloft a volcanic mound, looking very distinct and proud. Certainly, a photo moment. The Castle was built in the 1550’s using stones from the demolished Priory and in 1902 conversion began to create an Edwardian Country House, which is now used for weddings and holiday let. The busy fishing harbour provides a base for the coastguard and opportunities for film and photography shoots can be booked and organised in advance. The Old Lookout Tower is definitely worth a visit, it has been altered to enable visitors to enjoy the spectacular views and nearby archaeology digs are in full swing.
I’m sure you realise by now, that I could wax lyrical about this enchanting and mesmerising island. With so much to see and do, we are planning a second visit next year.