Lindisfarne Walk, Holy Island, Lindisfarne
PUBLISHED: 13:01 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 09:30 09 October 2012
The ancient route to Lindisfarne is still used by both the curious and the devout - a place of pilgrimage which is a tourist magnet to the North East Words and pictures by David Taylor
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne isnt an island. Or rather it is. Some of the time. Its also a place of pilgrimage and quiet contemplation that is crowded with tourists in the summer months.
The two things are linked. At low tide, the sea retreats and Lindisfarne is joined to the mainland by a stretch of sand and mud, and since 1954, a tarmac road. It is across the road that tourists arrive. Come high tide, the sea rushes back in and Lindisfarne is an island once more. Most visitors have left by this point and so the island returns to a state of quiet calm.
To see this island that isnt an island, begin the walk at the car park at the start of the causeway. From the road, follow the posts that mark the route of the Pilgrims Way. This is an older route than the modern road and was the original path for pilgrims who wished to visit the holy sites of the island.
In the nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott wrote: "The pilgrims to the shrine find way; Twice every day the waves efface; Of staves and sandelled feet the trace". Today the route is still used by both the curious and the devout. If youre particularly daring, the Pilgrims Way is perfect for crossing barefoot. The sand rarely gets a chance to dry out and what could be more fun than plodging through the seawater puddles?
Once on Lindisfarne, take the path that leads you into the village and follow the signs to St. Marys Church and the priory. Pass through the village square with its distinctive Celtic stone cross and into the grounds of the church and ancient priory.
To the side of the priory, in a small grass square, is a statue of St Aidan, created by the artist Kathleen Parbury in 1958. St Aidan is of course one of the great figures in early English Christian history. Originally from Ireland, he was charged by Oswald of Northumbria to bring Christianity to the heathen north.
Arriving on Lindisfarne in 635, Aidan established a monastery. The saint and his followers then travelled round Northumberland, gradually winning over the natives with good deeds and kind words. By the time of his death in 651, the Christian church was firmly established in the region.
The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is actually older than the priory and is the oldest structure still standing on the island. The church was reputedly built on the site of St Aidans original monastery. It is worth a visit inside the church to view the fine stained glass
and to marvel at the thought of the history that has unfolded in the grounds of the building.
The priory opposite Saint Marys church was founded by monks in the 11th century, following the destruction of Aidans monastery by Viking raiders in the 8th century. However, this new priory did not survive the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.
After closure in 1537 the monastery buildings began to fall into disrepair, some of the stone being used to build the nearby castle. Today the priory is in the care of English Heritage and what remains of this fine structure is kept safe for future generations.
From the priory, double back to the village square and take the path to the right of the Crown and Anchor pub. Follow this path to the harbour, past the distinctive fishermens sheds made from upturned boats, and then on to the castle. Go left around the hill on which the castle stands.
The castle dates from the mid-16th century - not too long after Henry began the process of dissolving the monasteries. It was originally intended as a stronghold against attacks from Scotland, at this time in history a bitter enemy of England.
However, with the accession of James I (or James VI of Scotland) to the English throne, the danger of Scottish invasion retreated. In 1901 the castle was bought by the publishing magnate, Edward Hudson, who had the building renovated as a domestic retreat by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. It is Lutyens work, in the Arts and Crafts style, that is now on show to visitors during the castles opening hours.
From the castle, follow the footpath as it hugs the coast, passing a body of water known as the Lough on your left. On the horizon can be see a strange tall, white pyramid. This is Emmanuel Head daymark. Used as navigation points, daymarks are maintained by Trinity House, the organisation in charge of Britains lighthouses. The daymark on Lindisfarne was built sometime between 1801 and 1810 and may be the first of its kind built in Britain.
Once past the Lough, bear left inland, skirting the dunes that line the north of the island. Continue along the path until it turns sharply left. Eventually the path meets the main road onto the island. Follow the road (and the route of the St. Cuthberts Way) back to the mainland and the causeway car park to complete the walk.
Warning: Before attempting this walk check the tide tables for that day and allow plenty of time to cross safely. If in doubt remain on the island until the next low tide. Do not start to cross when the tide is rising. There are refuge huts along the causeway in which to shelter should you be cut off by the tide, but it is better not to be caught out at all!
Start Point: At the car park at the start of the causeway
Grid Reference: NU 079 427
Ordnance Survey Map: Landranger Map 75 (1:50 000)
Length: 9.3 miles (15 km)
Time: 5 hrs
Difficulty: Easy (no difficult climbs though some walking on sand)
Nearest Pub: The Ship Inn
Nearest town: Lindisfarne
Other Notes: To check the causeway tide tables visit http://tinyurl.com/ycptdr7