Steve’s Sojourns; The Holy Island of Lindisfarne
The lazy wind, so called as it cuts right through you rather than go around you, whips up the sand into the windscreen as we sit patiently waiting for the tide to expose the causeway. Not just cars are waiting here, the brewer’s dray, the doctor from the mainland and the double decker bus from Berwick-upon-Tweed must all wait until nature gives them permission to cross.
One thing about living on an island is that you know that the amount of visitors you are going to have walking past your front door is restricted by the size of the ferry or helicopter. What must it be like then to live on an island that only becomes an island twice a day for five hours at a time and can have over 650,000 visitors over the course of the year?
Holy Island lies five miles from the main A1, however the last two miles of this stretch of road are across a causeway, which is flooded by the tide twice a day. Although a romantic notion it can play havoc with both residents and tourist’s lives.
There aren’t that many places where you can step out of the car door and take in 2000 years of history and at the same time soak up views of breathtaking beauty that constantly change throughout the seasons. But it is this combination that brings tourists here throughout the year especially to the Priory, now run by English Heritage.
The present building dates from the 12th century but a much earlier Saxon monastery was sited here and sacked by the Vikings. In fact the Scots and others continued raiding well into the 16th century which resulted in Lindisfarne Castle being built with stone from the Priory.
In the early years of the twentieth century Sir Edward Lutyens turned the castle into a holiday home for Edward Hudson the founder of “Country Life” and Gertrude Jeykell laid out its small walled garden. Run by the National Trust the castle is fascinating, as it seems to change from a warm home to a mediaeval fortress and back again as you pass from room to room.
From its crag the castle watches over the harbour with its mixture of pleasure craft and working boats.
The majority of the island is composed of sand dunes where in the winter months you can walk for hours and not see another person with peregrines and short eared owls keeping you company whilst in spring and summer orchids litter the ground. It is possible to walk around the island in a few hours coming across features such as The Lough, a shallow lake that was probably dug out by the monks for fishponds in the 12th century.
Despite the thousands who can visit here in a single day, as night falls the island becomes almost deserted and the feeling of isolation and serenity slips quietly back into place. It becomes an English village once again with its pubs offering a warm welcome. Strangely enough it’s in the winter months when the North Sea winds can cut through your coat that many people living on the island appreciate the atmosphere.