The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a unique place to visit and stay in the Northeast of England.
This infamous tidal island covering only 2 sq.miles has long fascinating history of Monks, Vikings and Celts. So, whether you decide to spend 24 hours on Holy Island, or just head over for the day, there is enough to keep you occupied.
Hope you enjoy my guide on amazing things to do on Holy Island, tips on how to get there and where to stay.
HISTORY OF LINDISFARNE
Christianity took root on Holy Island in 635 AD when Oswald, King of Northumbria, summoned an Irish monk, Aidan, from Iona to be bishop of his kingdom and granted Lindisfarne for his monastery.
A monk named Cuthbert joined the monastery in 670s with ideas of reform to the religious practices of Rome rather than Ireland. This proved unpopular and he decided to retire to live as a hermit on St. Cuthberts Island then to a more remote island of Inner Farne.
In 685, King Ecgfrith of Northumbria was insistent on bringing Cuthbert out of hibernation to become a bishop. He followed the calling and gained a great reputation as a pastor, seer and healer. Unfortunately, he died two years later and miracles were said to have happened around his shrine making Lindisfarne a famous pilgrimage centre.
The Vikings ascended on the Lindisfarne in 793 causing mayhem, destroyed the monastery and marked the beginning of the Viking Age in Europe. The monks left carrying St Cuthberts coffin and treasures and, after seven years, finally settled in Durham.
The monks in Durham returned to the site and built Lindisfarne Priory in 1150 and was closed down on the orders of Henry VIII in 1537. Shortly after, he built Lindisfarne Castle to protect England from Scottish Invasion.
WHY YOU SHOULD STAY ON HOLY ISLAND
The causeway to Holy Island floods at high tide, making the island inaccessible at certain times of the day. As we drove over, the big car park was full and there was a big stream of visitors making their way to see the explore the small number of attractions. At this point, I knew I’d made the right decision to stay was so happy on Holy Island so we could experience the peace and tranquility without the visitors.
Where to stay on Holy Island
There is only a handful of hotels and guest houses to stay on Holy Island so at peak times, it is recommended to book early. There is a number of holiday lets so if you run out of luck on hotels, it is worth researching alternatives. Camping and sleeping in motor homes is not permitted on Holy Island.
We stayed at the Crown & Anchor Inn located in Market Square which I would recommend. The pub has some lovely comfortable rooms upstairs, ours thankfully had a view of Lindisfarne Priory. Breakfast and dinner was to a high standard and there is a small beer garden to make the most of the sunshine (fingers crossed).
HOW TO REACH HOLY ISLAND OF LINDISFARNE
Check the Holy Island tide times
Whether you are going to Holy Island of Lindisfarne for the day or staying over, it is vital that you check the tide crossing times as they vary daily. No matter how you intend to make the crossing, your trip planning to Holy Islnd will be dictated by these times.
There are causeway opening times at each side of the causeway, however, all travel and tidal times can be viewed on the Holy Island website.
Guide to crossing Holy Island’s causeway
Driving to Holy Island
- National speed limit of 60mph on the causeway but you may find drivers going slower to take in the views or traffic jams at peak periods – the journey time could take 5-20 minutes.
- When leaving the island, there can be queues so give yourself enough time to cross before high tide.
- There are a large paid car park on the left before you enter the village – cashless payments are accepted.
Crossing by public transport to Holy Island
- Nearest train station is Berwick-upon-Tweed on the London (Kings Cross) to Edinburgh LNER line and also the cross country links from the Midlands and Southwest > Check Trainline for train times
- Regional bus service (Routes X15 and X18) operates between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed. Buses will stop, on request, at Beal > Check Route X15 bus times
- Local bus (Route 477) operates from Berwick Station to the island on most days during Summer months and once a week from September and May > Check Route 477 bus times
- Shuttle bus runs between Berwick-upon-Tweed to Lindisfarne Castle > Check shuttle bus timetable
Walking & cycling to Holy Island
- A single footpath lines the roadside as far as Beal farm. When you reach the causeway, you are sharing the road with drivers so you will need to keep an eye on oncoiming traffic.
- The tarmac road is 3 miles from the island to the start of the causeway is about 3 miles. This should take approximately 60 minutes for an average walker – add 15 minutes to reach the village.
- It’s hard not to stop to admire the view and take photos so factor this into your tidal time planning.
Walking the Pilgrims Way
- The road to the island was constructed in 1954 but pilgrims have been walking to the island for centuries across the sand and mud
- Pilgrims Way is more direct than the causeway road (used by all other traffic) and takes around 2 hours
- The route is indicated by the poles and be very careful to follow the safety guidelines to walk the Pilgrims Way
WHAT TO DO IN 24 HOURS ON HOLY ISLAND
Holy Island is pretty easy to navigate but to make life easy I have listed the attractions in the order we walked around the island. As we were staying at the Crown and Anchor Inn, this was our starting point.
Discover the history at Lindisfarne Priory & Museum
The site of Lindisfarne Priory was the centrepiece of Holy Island sunce St Aidan arrived in AD635, although St Cuthbert was the ‘showman’ and became the big draw for monks and pilgrims alike.
The museum houses many artefacts, and fascinating knowledge of the savage Viking raids and the cult of St. Cuthbert.
There were many changes to the the Lindisfarne Priory over time and whole complex was extensively reconstructed in the mid-14th century. Stroll around the Monastic buildings and ruins which formed the living quarters of the monks.
See St Mary’s Church & Graveyard
Dating from between 1180 and 1300, the small Parish of St. Mary’s Church is the oldest building on Holy Island that displays elements from the Saxon period.
Through the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, there is a pretty lane lined with wild flowers that leads down to the beach overlooking st. Cuthberts Island.
Walk to St. Cuthberts Island
From the southwest shores of Holy Island, take the short wander of 200 metres over the rocky terrain to St. Cuthberts island at low tide.
There is a natural platform to sit and watch the seals foraging in the deeper waters on the other side. Keep an eye on the tide though, it can come in quickly!
St Cuthbert hibernated on the islnd hence the name although he felt he was a bit close to Lindisfarne monks so sought refuge to a more isolated cell on an Inner Farne Island giving blessings through a window as bpats passed by.
The remains of a small stone rectangular medieval chapel can be seen on the island. The present chapel dates from the 13th century and a large wooden cross have been erected at the eastern end of the chapel pointing towards Guille Point.
Wander along the Heugh
The Heugh is a long elevated ridge whinstone hard rock formation south of Lindisfarne Priory. It was vital for observation, defence and navigation through the centuries and was associated with early medieval monastic settlement on the island, as shown by the archaeological remains along the ridge.
Osborne’s Fort was built in 1671 to supplement the defences already offered to Lindisfarne’s harbour by the artillery mounted on Lindisfarne Castle. It is also sometimes referred to as Steel End Fort or just “The Fort on The Heugh”.
You can also see a shipping beacon, the Anglo-Saxon church remains, a war memorial to World War islander soldiers, a lookout tower, and a lantern chapel. The Lookout Tower is a refurbished 1940’s coastguard viewing platform and now offers visitors the chance to get a breath-taking 360-degree view.
Go fossil hunting by the Heugh
Walk down the steps near the shipping beacon on the Heugh to explore the geology of Holy Island. Interestingly, The Heugh is protected as part of the Lindisfarne Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The Heugh was formed 295 million years ago from molten rock. As the magma rose up, it created a wall of rock, or so-called Holy Island Dyke, as well as this unique Whin Sill. This huge sheet of whinstone forms the Farne Islands, the coastal landscape around Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh castles, and the crags on which Hadrians Wall is built.
Down on the shore you can see even older rocks, which are grey limestone and mudstone. Look at the pale fossils embedded into the shore rocks which are the remains of ancient sea creatures, fragments of corals, and crinoids.
Wander across Holy Island’s harbour
From Osborne’s Fort on The Heugh, head towards Lindisfarne Harbour. This is a working environment as the local fishing boats bring in the codling catch of the day. The jetty looked quiet so I ran along to get a quick snap of the castle. Walk around The Ouse, the muddy area used for mooring pleasure and fishing boats. On the beach you will notice the famous upturned and upcycled boats converted into the fishermen’s sheds!
Take a tour of Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle was built in the mid-1500s, on top of a volcanic hill called Beblowe Crag, using stones from Lindisfarne Priory following its destruction.
In 1902 the Country Life magazine founder and owner Edward Hudson took out a lease from the Crown on Lindisfarne Castle. He commissioned his friend, the architect Edwin Lutyens, to transform a Tudor artillery fort into a holiday home in which Hudson could throw parties during his summer jaunts to the island.
Hudson sold Lindisfarne Castle in 1921 and it was finally gifted to the National Trust in 1944 who have renovated and give tours on the history.
>> Lindisfarne Castle is open from mid-February to October, however, I visited in June and it was closed for some unknown reason. To see it inside, book online ahead of your trip to the Holy Island.
Step inside Castle Point Lime Kilns
The lime kilns on Holy Island were built in the 1860’s by a Dundee firm. They are among the largest, most complex and best preserved in Northumberland and produced quick lime for a variety of uses such as agricultural fertilizer, mortar for buildings and whitewash.
The limestone was quarried from the north of the island and carried by horse and cart to the kilns located at Castle Point, perfect for shipping the final goods.
Take a wander inside to see the enormity of the structure and imagine the industrial work in action.
The area near the lime kilns to the beach is cordoned off to protect shorebirds nesting. Ringed Plovers have declined dramatically and there were only four breeding pairs counted by National Trust in 2017.
Chill out in the Gertrude Jekyll Garden
A short walk behind Lindisfarne Castle, there is a flourishing walled garden called Gertrude Jekyll Garden. It started life as a vegetable garden back in the 1500s or 1600s, created by troops manning the castle.
The garden sits north of the castle just far enough away to avoid the shadow cast by the castle and by Beblowe Crag. The south-facing slope and walls created a suntrap and protection of salty winds blowing in.
After falling into disrepair, Edward Hudson decided to restore the old walled garden in 1911 to create a horticultural haven to enjoy. His architect Lutyens brought in Gertrude Jekyll to undertake the design work. Again, the garden was abandoned and is now lovingly nurtured by volunteers for the National Trust.
There is a plaque commemorating Gertrude Jekyll on the inside of the west wall as it was restored to her original design. It is a beautiful space to listen to the birds with the castle as a backdrop.
Holy Island Heritage Centre
The Lindisfarne Centre is a small shop front that feeels like tardis inside and doubles up as a souvenir shop and museum (small fee to enter).
The exhibitions detail the island life with the rich biodiversity of the flora and fauna, sand dunes and how the inhabitants make a living. You will also learn about the Vikings on Lindisfarne and how their invasion had a profound effect on the island. Finally, you discover more about the Lindisfarne Gospels, a manuscript of the New Testament which are thought to be produced in honour of Saint Cuthbert.
Holy Island Heritage Centre located on Maygate is open daily from mid March to the end of October, 10am – 4.30pm.
The Gospel Garden
The Gospel Garden, inspired by the 7th century Lindisfarne Gospels, was originally designed by Stan Timmins for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2003 where it won silver medal.
The designwer convinced the island’s Community Development Trust to bring the garden home to live on. Grants were successfully obtained and it reassembled off the village high street, just opposite the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre. Look for the unassuming entrance of the Gospel Garden.
Sample the Lindisfarne Mead
When St Aidan arrived to Holy Island to establish a monastery on Lindisfarne, the monks had to consider how make this work long-term.
The monks were closed off from the mainland so their thoughts turned to self-sufficiency which included farming and beekeeping to produce honey. The fermentation process began and mead was born using a recipe of locally drawn water and honey.
It is pretty common for monasteries around the world to be expert wine, beer and spirit makers – it allows them to take part in ‘pious drinking’ and lucrative trading – Holy Island is no different.
Today, you can sample the Lindisfarne Mead made from the traditional Roman recipe at St Aidan”s Winery in the main square.
Walk the Holy Island Nature Trail
The nature trail is one of the best things to do on Holy Island without the throng of visitiors so I set out in the morning whilst the causeway was closed.
The walk will take about 1.5 hours (distance 6.5km) but allow extra time to enjoy your surroundings, taking photos or simply watching the birds and listening to the waves.
Head north to the extensive system of sand dunes attaining heights of 25 metres. You will see a wooden fence and sign welcoming you to Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve where you can listen to the noise of birds hidden in the dunes as you wander through.
Lindisfarne is an important site for birds, invertebrates and plants. It supports large numbers of wintering waterfowl and waders, and international birds such as of pale-bellied brent geese, greylag geese, bar-tailed godwit, pink-footed geese and grey plover.
Take in the views of the striking white landmark at Emmanuel Head across the beach. The beautiful beaches along the north and northwest are immense although are reduced at high tide.
Wander to the old limestone quarries at Nessend, the worker’s village now said to be lost under the sand. Close to this is Coves Haven with a rocky cliff face and many nesting gulls gliding and foraging in the sea.
Walk back to through the dunes to the sign and take a left along the path. There are numbers on guiding you around the Nature Trail. You will come across a bird hide in The Lough overlooking a body of fresh water, the perfect viewing platform to see black-headed gulls, grey herons and moorhens through the bullrushes.
Carry on walking along the path, if you are lucky you will spy some seals! The trail ends near the lime kilns as you reach the balanced piles of beach stones. I’m not sure of their meaning, maybe just a craze that caught on.
As I wandered towards Lindisfarne Castle, it’s obvious that the tide is low as the place is much busier with a fresh batch of daily visitors. A big reminder as to why I would recommend you stay on Holy Island when you explore Northumberland.
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