There are I believe three churches in the small village on Holy Island – the parish church of St Mary’s, the United Reform church of St Cuthbert’s (now used as a centre for religious activities) and the much newer Roman Catholic church dedicated to St Aidan. This is on Green Lane in the north east corner of the village. It was established here relatively recently, next door to a centre used by the Catholic St. Vincent de Paul Society to run holiday camps for city children who might not otherwise get a holiday. Chris was one of the fortunate beneficiaries of this scheme on several occasions in the late 1960s / early 1970s, and this was his introduction to an island he has come to love. In those days the camps were strictly boys only, and they were truly camps – sleeping under canvas on straw mattresses. He has happy memories of a week of outdoor living, playing on the dunes and never washing ;-) Today’s campers are both boys and girls, and they have dorms to sleep in, but I’m guessing that they are no happier than were Chris and his friends!
But back to the church. If you like modern stained glass, it’s worth a look. The windows feature St Aidan and other saints, and are low down and easy to photograph. There’s also an icon of St Aidan, and an unusual basin for holy water shaped like a Viking longboat. Outside the low wall has a series of reliefs showing (I think) the life of the saint.
To find out more about St Aidan, and St Cuthbert, please see my next tip.
Only a small percentage of the many visitors who come to Holy Island ever visit its north shore. All of the visitor “attractions” (village, priory and castle) are on its southern side, and with limited time before the next high tide closes the causeway, few have the time, even if they had the inclination, to explore further afield. But for those staying a night or several, a visit to the north shore offers a chance to really get away from it all and to see another side (literally!) to Holy Island.
The shore here is lined with dunes, which are home to many wild flowers, insects and birds. Many more birds visit the shore, either year round, as a stop-off on their autumn and spring migrations, or in the winter as an escape from harsher conditions further north. At this time the island is a focal point for birdwatchers, who come to see the waders, ducks and sea-birds that flock here in great numbers.
But as a general rule this part of the island is never as busy as the area around the village. My photos were taken in August, during the main holiday season, and at low tide when the island is invaded by hundreds of visitors. In the hour or so we spent walking here I don’t believe we saw more than a dozen other people.
But ... rather amazingly, we did see a wedding! Just a bride and groom (the latter in a kilt, the former in full white wedding dress), a vicar officiating, a photographer and a piper. No guests, no other witnesses. The sound of the pipes as the bride crossed the dunes, and later as the wedding party returned the same way, was a wonderful bonus for us, adding to the magic atmosphere of this spot.
There are two main ways to get here. To reach the eastern end of the north shore, take a walk across the island from the village, following the old wagon-way known as Straight Lonnen or the longer route via the castle and small lake (the Lough) on the eastern shore. To reach the long main beach shown in my photos, you can drive almost back to the start of the causeway and park in the small car-park (not signposted) on the right-hand side of the road, on the spit of land called the Snook. From here it’s a short walk through the dunes to the shore itself.
See the location of the Snook parking area on Google maps.
Let us return to the village to see the last of my recommended sights, the relatively unknown church of St Aidan.
Just something to notice as you walk the island, or drive the causeway.
The tall poles mark the pilgrims' route across the sands.
Think of how many thousands of feet have trodden that path over the past 1000+ years.
But don't try the walk yourself. The sands are treacherous, with channels and moving quicksands. The tide comes in quickly, distances are perceptive and there are only two refuges for walkers.
The walk should only ever, ever be attempted with a local guide.
Lindisfarne, one would think, is isolated enough.
But for some of the monks of its monasteries, both the early Anglo-Saxon community and the later Norman one, it was not always enough.
There is another tiny island between the existing Priory and the Northumberland coastline. accessible only at low tide, it has on it the remains of an ancient chapel.
St Cuthbert's Isle, for St Cuthbert wished most of all to live as a hermit, although he ended up as abbot and then Bishop of Lindisfarne. He built himself a cell and a chapel on this tiny isle and, later, an even more remote cell on Inner Farne.
It was on Inner Farne that he lived, and died, after he had served as Abbot of Lindisfarne.
He was a man seeking only solitude, but his life did not always allow him that solitude.
To get to St Cuthbert's Island (assuming the tide allows) take the road which leads past the churchyard of the more modern (though still old) church opposite the priory.
Gertrude Jekyll (1843 - 1932) was a famous garden designer, who created more than 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and the USA. Robert Louis Stevenson, a friend, used her surname for his 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'.
In 1911 she created a small walled garden on Lindisfarne from what was originally the vegetable garden for the privately-owned castle. It is set at some distance from the castle, designed to be seen from within and to give excellent views of the castle and the sea from inside the garden itself.
In 2003 the National Trust recreated the Jekyll garden. It is a pleasant place to visit.....and provides some welcome shelter from the almost-ever-present Lindisfarne wind.
No entrance fee is required (although donations are welcomed). Just go through the gate to the castle and turn left acros the grass towards the stone walls in front of you.
Apart from daytrippers visiting the main attractions here other visitors also come to enjoy tranquil walks around the island, enjoying the rural scenes the sand dunes and the bird life sanctuaries here.
The tiny island of St Cuthbert,, also known as Hobthrush, lies just offshore ffrom the vllage of Holy Island. It can be seen near the parish church. Cuthbert came to Lindisfarne in 654 , where his reputed gift of healing and legendary ability to work miracles, achieved far reaching fame for the island. He was elected Bishop of Hexham in 684 A.D but exchanged the see for Lindisfarne, to become the fifth successor to St Aidan. Cuthbert died in 687 A.D and was burried in accordance with his wishes on the island of Lindisfarne, but eleven years after his death, his body was found to be in an incorrupt state by the astonished monks of the island. The monks were now convinced that Cuthbert was a saint and pilgrims continued to flock to Lindisfarne in numbers as great as during Cuthbert's lifetime.
A peaceful oasis in the centre of the town is this Gospel Gardens - a lovely place for a quiet retreat.
The garden was originally developed by Newcastle City council as a entry for the Chelsea flower show in 2003, featuring a twelve foot Celtic cross decorated with flowers, plus a floral statue of St Aidan and four Canon Tables creating a screen, each of them representing one of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It won a slilver award and later reconstructed here in a garden on Lindisfarne - on the village high street, just opposite the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre.
Visiting the wall and the camp was only a short stop on our way back from Lindisfarne.
The wall was built in A.D.122 by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to separate Britain from the land of the Picts (the Scots arrived much later after the Romans left). Britain was occupied by the Romans until the beginning of the 5th c. and Northumberland was the border edge of the Roman empire. The wall runs across the country from the Tyne to the Solway and is often referred to as the border line between England and Scotland, although it's not quite accurate (some parts of Northumberland are still north of the wall).
Originally, Hadrian's Wall was 73 miles long and 5m high, quite impressive! Today, the best remains of the wall in Northumberland are only 1m high but they are recognised as a World Heritage Site. There are also Roman forts or camps, museums, temples as well as some other other remains...
I can't tell you exactly which fort I visited in 1989 (my memory fails me), both are situated just off the B6318... Reading the Northumberland Wall website I tend to think it could have been Chesters Roman Fort with the bath house or the Housesteads Roman Fort with the well preserved latrines and flush system... I do remember some Roman bathroom-type convenience in the camp :-)
For me it was my first encounter with the ancient Roman architecture - 11 years before I ever travelled to Italy, hehe!
It was a part of the plan to do some walking as soon as we get to the coastline, and so we did. I believe this is somewhere close to Bamburgh perhaps?
It may sound silly but for me it was fun to collect some shells that were completely different to what I used to find at the Baltic beaches in Poland. Both the North Sea and the Baltic are cold but the little creatures that leave their shells for us to pick are quite different. I still keep them!
We also had a funny adventure on our way. There was a little river that empties into the sea and we were supposed to reach it at low tide but we were late... And just imagine, there was this guy with his little pontoon who took us to the other side of the river in twos! I think he must have done five or six rounds to get us all across! We were so grateful, and all he agreed to accept in return was candy for his kids! He was some man!
You may call this North Sea coast pretty usual but it felt completely unique to me at that time. Any coastline that I had seen before was the sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea in Poland... OK, that was before I saw the cliff of Jastrzebia Gora too ;-)
This kind of "torn" sea line and the stones on a clouded rainy day seemed quite dramatic to me... Made me think of the English gothic novels... a pretty weird association for somebody who grew up in that area ey?
Sorry guys, can't help it! :-)
I can't remember the name of the little town in Northern England where we spotted Morris dancers in the street on a Sunday morning. This is the female team in the picture but a few minutes earlier it was performed by men. Somebody told me that, traditionally, the dance should be performed by men only...
Gee, I was so happy (and lucky) to see this! Morris dancing is a traditional form of English folk dance that apparently derives from fertility rites and celebrations at sowing and harvest tide, and it mimes traditional English stories. In rural England, the dance was a part of May Day festivities. It was largely abandoned at the turn of the 20th c. but now there is some resurgence of interest in Morris dancing - to the extent that it is now a part of the curriculum in some schools across the English-speaking countries. And guess what, that Morris dance group was actually American!
Some wonderful things we saw on or way up north to Lindisfarne...
Passing through Durham we, of course, visited the Durham Cathedral which is an absolute must, quite incredible for its size and height! It was a kick for me to see with my own eyes what I had read about before even leaving for my UK trip. My fondest memory of visiting the cathedral is standing by the tomb of Bede Venerabilis, and Bede knows why ;-)
But Durham has lots of nice places. I spotted this old church and graveyard near the place where we stayed for the night. Taking a morning stroll around it was a real pleasure, it felt like having an English culture class, only this time it was a real experience, not just somebody's photos and stories about it.