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Lindisfarne, the Holy Island

Home > Newcastle Upon Tyne > Castles | Escape the City | Places of Worship | Weekend Escapes
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published August 27th 2015
Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, an isolated, peaceful spot off the Northumberland coast: this beautiful, atmospheric place is a jewel in the North England crown.

lindisfarne abbey, northumberland, holy island
Lindisfarne Abbey

Since 653AD there has been a Christian presence on the island, beginning with St Aidan's foundation, moving from Iona. The contemplative grace of the Iona style flourished here, on this small island accessible at every-changing times of the day, depending on the mercy of the sea over the causeway. The Priory is now in ruins, but with an English Heritage museum centre attached, it is an extraordinary place to visit. Home to St Cuthbert, destroyed and rebuilt, with a modern church on the site, the Priory is a testament to the endurance of Christianity in the UK.

lindisfarne abbey, northumberland, holy island
Lindisfarne Priory

In the 8th century Lindisfarne was home to the peak of medieval illustrated Bibles, with the Lindisfarne Gospels. Now kept as a national treasure at the British Museum, they have toured the UK, and have certainly left their legacy on Lindisfarne.

Monks are often known by the alcoholic beverages they produce for both consumption and sale, from Trappist beers to infused gins. Lindisfarne's speciality is its mead. Now the mead centre has moved away from the Priory itself, into the main village. You can still visit a centre to find out more about how mead is made, and taste a variety of samples (over 18s only).

lindisfarne, mead, northumberland, holy island
Mead tasting

You might have thought that a honey-based liqueur were a simple thing, but the sheer range on offer demonstrates the skill of the craftsmen as well as the richness of the traditions and raw materials which lie behind the drink.

lindisfarne mead, northumberland, holy island
Lindisfarne mead

Over the other side of the island is Lindisfarne Castle. Managed by the National Trust, there are shuttle buses from the Priory and car park. Built with stones from the Priory after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the castle stands in proud contrast to the ruined Priory. Perched on a volcanic mound known as Beblowe Craig, it's a striking building. Originally a fort to defend Britain from its northern neighbours, it has been converted into an Edwardian country house, with architectural changes by Lutyens.

lindisfarne castle, lindisfarne, holy island, northumberland
Lindisfarne Castle

The central area of the island is well-signposted, pointing visitors in the right directions for the major site. The island is small, and therefore easy to explore. Wander round the perimeter, visit the castle, roam the roads or explore the shore. It's all possible on the small island.

lindisfarne, holy island, northumberland
The island is well-signposted

The practicalities of visiting the island are relatively straightforward. The essential piece of planning is to check the causeway tides, and under no circumstances to try driving through incoming waters. Islanders are used to their environment, and timetables on site are comparatively flexible. You could walk from the mainland, but it is a good 5km to the main part of the island. There is a good amount of parking just before you get into Lindisfarne centre. For those who don't want to walk, affordable buses run to the major sites.

Back on the mainland you can look out across the bay and match up the landscape to the useful information panels set out.

lindisfarne, holy island, northumberland
Information panels from the mainland

Every day is different in terms of access, as you have to rely on the tide. The scenery is fabulous though, with broad sands emerging from the waters, a long causeway to travel, and the additional small islands offshore offering new places to explore.

lindisfarne, holy island, northumberland
The Lindisfarne causeway

Lindisfarne is an ethereal place, with the weight of British historical change wrapped up in one small island - the political development of the UK, textual and artistic excellence, administrative change as Durham became the religious centre, and religious change as orders waxed and waned, and saints were formed. A perfect place for a family holiday, or a retreat.
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Why? A beautiful, peaceful, historic place.
When: whenever you can get across the water
Where: Lindisfarne
Cost: free to visit the island, various costs for different attractions
Your Comment
A lovely trip down memory lane. Thanks Cressida.
by Jenny Prior (score: 3|4244) 2536 days ago
Those land marks and paintings looked really cool.
by Sherry (score: 2|478) 2537 days ago
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