What to do on Holy Island of Lindisfarne: an ultimate guide to your Northumberland adventure!
In the north of England, situated on the border between Scotland and England, near the River Tweed that separates the two kingdoms, nature becomes capricious. Over here, you find a sacred island: The Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
Home to a population of less than 200, and located in a very remote part of Northumberland, Holy Island of Lindisfarne gets cut off twice a day from the mainland by the tide. This mysterious place is known for its medieval religious heritage and picturesque 16th-century castle.
This tidal island is a hidden gem of Northumberland and one of the most magnificent places that you cannot miss when visiting England.
Twice a day, the low tide and the sea retreats several kilometers inland, leaving the sandy bottom of the ocean exposed. For several hours, what beforehand was nothing more than water, becomes dunes and rocks through which you can walk.
Because of the mystique surrounding tidal islands, many of them have become sites of religious worship.
Before crossing to the island, it is essential to check the tide times and plan your day accordingly. You can check the tide times here.
Despite the remote location, Holy Island remains a popular tourist attraction in the country. More than 600,000 people travel each year to admire its unique landscape and ancient attractions.
HOW TO GET THERE
- By car: the island is reached via Beal on the A1 highway and is located 6 miles south of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and 60 miles north of Newcastle.
- By bus: routes 505/515. The driver must be notified that you want to stop at Beal; from there, Holy Island is 5 miles away that can be traveled by the local bus 477.
- By shuttle: it provides a daily connection between Holy Island and the mainland by transporting passengers from Berwick, Alnwick, and Newcastle.
- By train: the nearest train station to Holy Island is Berwick-upon-Tweed. From there you need to make other arrangements.
By visiting Holy Island, you will immerse yourself in a completely different world. Check out the best things to do on Holy Island below!
Lindisfarne is one of the most important centers of early English Christianity. It all started in 635 when the Northumbrian king, Oswald, granted an Irish monk Aidan from Iona and his companions the small tidal island of Lindisfarne where he set up a monastery.
Around the year 670, a monk named Cuthbert joined the monastery. He later became Bishop of Lindisfarne and became famous as a pastor, seer, and healer.
Cuthbert died in 687 and was buried in a stone coffin inside the church on Lindisfarne. Eleven years later, the monks opened his tomb and discovered that Cuthbert’s body had not decayed. It was considered to be proof of his purity and saintliness.
His remains were elevated to a coffin-shrine at ground level, and this marked the beginnings of the cult of St Cuthbert.
Shortly after this, miracles started to be reported at St Cuthbert’s shrine. Lindisfarne was quickly established as the major pilgrimage center in Northumbria and the monastery grew in power and wealth.
The cult of St Cuthbert also consolidated the monastery’s reputation as a center of Christian learning. Lindisfarne was the place of creation of the masterpiece of early medieval art known today as the Lindisfarne Gospels.
It’s one of the world’s most precious books. It contains the gospels of the four Evangelists Mark, John, Luke, and Matthew, recounting the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The book is now held by the British Library in London.
On 8 June 793 Lindisfarne was raided by Viking pirates. It was devastating as one of England’s holiest shrines had been attacked by pagans.
In response to the threat of Viking raids, the monks decided to leave Lindisfarne for good, taking St Cuthbert’s coffin and the treasures of Lindisfarne with them. However, this did not destroy the Christian community of Lindisfarne as the Christian burial ground remained in use throughout the period of instability.
St Cuthbert’s relics were eventually moved to Durham, where they remain.
In 1537 the monastery was closed on the orders of the commissioners of King Henry VIII. By the 18th century, the ruins had become a tourist attraction, popular amongst historians and artists.
Today the ruins of the monastery are in the care of English Heritage and open to visitors.
THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN
The church is located right next to the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.
St Mary’s church was first built by St Aidan as a wooden structure, and it was rebuilt in the 1200s as a stone church you can visit today. While a large part of the structure dates before the Reformation, many of the fixtures and fittings are more recent.
When Lindisfarne Priory was closed on the orders of King Henry VIII’s commissioners in 1537, St Mary’s Church carried on as a reformed parish church.
The church is surrounded by an old traditional cemetery with gravestones and stone crosses.
A few yards to the east of St Mary’s Church, you find the famous petting stone, the relic of the early phase of Christianity. There is a local legend linked to the stone. It is said that if a new bride steps over the stone, it will bring her good luck and the promise of children.
Inside the church, you find “The Journey”, a magnificent elm sculpture by Fenwick Lawson. It shows six hooded monks, carrying a coffin towards the entrance. It represents the journey undertaken by the monks of Lindisfarne, carrying St Cuthbert’s coffin, after they left the island in 875.
Located at the end of the island, Lindisfarne Castle is the star attraction of the island and an exceptional place to spend a day with your family.
The path to the castle consists of a walk that goes over the beach. If the tide is low, you can admire the magnificent gallery of fishing boats displayed on the sand.
The town is a fisherman par excellence. Apart from tourism, the locals are fully dedicated to the sea, and that is clearly visible in every detail of the island. A multitude of ropes and nets lying on the ground makes you realize that fishing here is the way of life.
The area closest to the castle is surrounded by beautiful fields where sheep graze freely.
Lindisfarne Castle was built in 1550 as a small fortress on the highest point of the island, a whinstone hill called Beblowe. It was around the time when Lindisfarne Priory was suppressed by King Henry VIII, and stones from the priory were used as a building material.
Lindisfarne’s position in the North Sea made it vulnerable to attack from Scots, and it was clear there was a need for a stronger fortification. This resulted in the creation of the fort on Beblowe Crag between 1570 and 1572, which forms the basis of the present castle.
Most of the castle was modified in the early 20th century by Sir Edwin Lutyen until it became what it is today.
You can visit the castle in its entirety, including the different rooms and treasures hidden inside. According to locals and legends, the ghost of St Cuthbert wanders many of the chambers in the castle and sometimes presents himself to visitors.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS ON HOLY ISLAND
There is so much to do on Holy Island! Apart from the main tourist attractions described above, you can go on a hike to explore the island. You will come across many other curiosities.
If you walk 5 minutes past the castle, you will come across The Castle Point Lime Kilns. They operated at the end of the 19th century, turning limestone into quicklime.
If you continue a little further to the beach, you will see the mysterious miniature megaliths. Nobody knows how these carefully balanced piles of beach stones appeared, but they sure look captivating.
Make sure not to miss the Gertrude Jekyll’s Garden near the castle created by Near Arts and Crafts garden designer, writer, and artist Gertrude Jekyll in 1911 alongside Edwin Lutyens. The garden reaches its full bloom every year in July and August.
During the summer months, it is not uncommon to spot large amounts of seals, best viewed around the Heugh at Holy Island. Please only admire them from a distance, so they don’t feel threatened. Seals get frightened very easily. Do not attempt to get closer to them and keep your dog on a leash.
I was especially intrigued by the extraterrestrial looking daymark at Emmanual Head. The 12m high white-painted stone pyramid was built in 1810 to aid navigation along the coast of Northumbria.
You can also explore the village with the picturesque cottages and cute little craft shops, followed by a delicious meal in one of the local restaurants.
They also provide accommodation if you decide to extend your adventure until the next day or in case the tide rises, and you get stuck on the island. Would that not be a great adventure!
Are you already planning your visit to Holy Island? Prepare to feel positively isolated from the world for a few hours, and it will be worth it!
If you love traveling and want to explore some more amazing travel destinations, check out these best travel blogs to get inspired.
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