The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is without doubt one of the must-visit places in Northumberland. This tiny tidal island is home to an iconic castle, a ruined priory and plenty of cafes. Oh and it’s a place famed for its religious history.
On the wild coastline of northern Northumberland, only a matter of miles from the border with Scotland, you’ll find one of England’s most mysterious, most religious and tranquil tidal islands; the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. The island is completely inaccessible twice a day thanks to the tide and that creates a unique and isolated world away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne was once the home of the infamous St Cuthbert (who’s shrine you can see at Durham Cathedral) with 12th century Lindisfarne Priory once being the centre of Christianity in Anglo Saxon times. Religious or not (I’m not for what it’s worth), once you cross that causeway onto Holy Island, you immediately get a sense of just how special this island is.
It helps too that the views you’ll find upon Holy Island are beautiful especially in the early morning when the sun rises over the North Sea. Looking south you’ll see the Farne Islands and the unmistakable Bamburgh Castle; the most iconic castle of all here in Northumberland.
A GUIDE TO VISITING THE HOLY ISLAND OF LINDISFARNE
HOW TO GET TO HOLY ISLAND
First things first, we need to get you to Holy Island. Whether you are coming from the North or the South, the best way to travel to Holy Island is by car and you’ll be turning off the A1 at the Lindisfarne Inn and service station. The island is well sign posted but you head east through Beal on the windy road before the arrow straight causeway appears in front of you.
Holy Island is 8 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed and just 6 miles north of Bamburgh so it’s an ideal day trip for visitors to the area.
There is a main car park for the use of all visitors (Holy Island Chare Ends) as parking is not permitted in the village (other than for residents). We paid £5 for 3 hours parking which was more than enough for our visit but you can pay £8 for all day.
As I mentioned above, Holy Island is cut off from the mainland twice per day due to the tides that bring the North Sea up and over the causeway. This means that you must plan your visit well and you must, must, must check the tide times which you can do on Northumberland County Council’s website here. The website clearly sets out (colour coded for those that really struggle with the concept – trust me, people get stuck all the time) the safe times for crossing so the real simple thing to do is plan a short day trip, lasting only a few hours, and return well in advance of the cut off time. No-one wants to arrive home via a rescue operation.
There is an option to walk across the sands using a pathway marked out by poles (with tidal refuges if the worse happens). The walk is around 5 miles so will take some time. The official guidance is that the safe crossing times do not apply so you must never walk during a rising tide and aim to complete the walk before the mid-point of the safe crossing times.
One of the highlights of any trip to Holy Island is the journey itself; crossing the narrow causeway with the remnants of North Sea just metres away. The causeway was built in the 1950’s so for 1,300 years the only way to and from Holy Island was by the Pilgrims Way Footpath. When the tide does come in, the causeway can sit under 4 metres of water!
In summer, the island gets very busy but in early January we were able to stop for a few minutes in the wide laybys to capture some photographs.
At the end of the 5 mile causeway, on the South West edge of Holy Island, you’ll find a charming little village with stone cottages, a post office, a school and cafes and pubs. There are around 160 permanent residents who call this place home and who no doubt feel a sense of serenity return when the advancing tide shifts the day trippers back to the mainland. The village is home to the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre as well as Lindisfarne Mead which are both worth a visit; though we didn’t have time on our short trip.
Northumberland is home to more castles than any other county in England and, guess what, you can find one of the most famous right here. Lindisfarne Castle perches atop a rocky outcrop on the eastern edge of Holy Island and was built amid the volatility between England and Scotland in the 16th century. Despite that, the castle apparently didn’t see much action and was ultimately purchased by Edward Hudson (owner of Country Life magazine) in 1901 who redesigned and refurbished it into a pretty fancy holiday home. Since 1944, the National Trust have maintained and restored the castle so that you can enjoy it not only from the outside but inside as well. It costs £8.50 for an adult ticket.
Some of the best views of the castle are from the harbour as you can see below!
Lindisfarne Priory was built over 1,400 years ago by ancient monks following which monk Cuthbert joined the monastery. Cuthbert was made a Prior before becoming unpopular due to his reforms and he retired on a small island nearby. He was subsequently made a bishop before his death in the late 600’s. In life, he had a reputation as a pastor, seer and healer. Monks found his body undecayed within a stone coffin and his remains were moved to a ground-level coffin-shrine. Suddenly miracles are reported at the shrine of St Cuthbert and so Lindisfarne becomes a pilgrimage destination leading onto the entire history of the North East (such as the founding of Durham).
You can wander the ruins of the priory for £9 as they are now managed by English Heritage or admire the priory from afar after walking around the harbour.
ST MARY’S CHURCH
St Mary’s Church is the oldest building on the island dating back to between 1180 and 1300. There is a suggestion that the church could have been built by Christianised Vikings! The church houses a sculpture of a group of monks carrying the coffin of St Cuthbert following them leaving the island in 793 before eventually burying his body in Durham in around 920. There’s a similar sculpture near the Gala Theatre in Durham.
We visited Holy Island quite early and were pleased to finish our trip with drinks at Pilgrim’s Coffee. The coffee is roasted twice per week in a shipping container within their own walled garden and yes it tastes spectacular. You can order coffee online too so that you are always reminded of your visit to Holy Island.
Thank you for reading and hopefully this post will have inspired you to visit Holy Island or, if you’re already planning a trip, perhaps this will have given you some ideas of what to do whilst you’re there! If you need any more information, I’d highly recommend checking out the island’s tourist information website which you can visit here.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay relatively nearby, I would look no further than Trees at Tughall near Beadnell for a few peaceful nights.