Northumberland Part 1: The Holy Island of Lindisfarne
I've been visitng Northumberland at least once a year for the last eight years, because Gav's family own a guesthouse on Spittal Beach in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Before I met Gav, I'd not explored this part of the country as an adult or visited any of the historic sites around the area. Of which there are so many, possibly more than in any other part of the country. There are so many castles, beaches, landmarks and protected sites for wildlife - it's impossible to visit all of them in just one week, especially while still getting in some rest time as well. Each year we go, we return to a few of the places that we love, trying to mix it up each year so that we never leave it too long to return somewhere.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is one of the most unique places I've visited, and one of my favourites in this part of the country. It's a tidal island, which means that access is via a paved causeway that is completely covered by the North Sea twice in every two hour period. There can be a fairly long time between tides going in and out, so you have to be careful to consult the tide tables to avoid getting stuck on the island. Or worse, in the middle of the causeway. Apparently one car a month has to be rescued by local services! When you approach the causeway, the landscape begins to resemble something more like Iceland than England. You drive across the mud flats, and it's grey and black and brown and so very flat. At low tide you can walk across the sands following an ancient route known as Pilgrim's Way. The route is marked by posts, but because it takes so much longer to walk across than drive you must be even more cautious of the tide times. I haven't walked this route yet, but I imagine it feels quite spiritual to walk the same route as an 8th Century Pilgrim.
On this particular visit, the tides were coming in at midday and not going out again until 5pm. We arrived a little later than planned, and ended up with only 45 minutes on the island before we had to leave. I would have been quite content to hole up in one of the cosy pubs for the afternoon and play cards, but Gav was not convinced. So while he went to keep warm in a cafe, I ventured out in the snow and freezing rain to take some photos of the harbour. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my stories while I was on the island.
There is a fair bit to see on the island, you could easily spend a day there if the weather was good. Although the village is small, it has a few shops, cafes and pubs. There's also museum next to the priory, the priory itself, the harbour, the castle and another beach. It's a wonderful place to walk around, so much history that it feels almost eerie to take steps over land where so much has happened but so little of it has changed over time. Looking across the harbour, you can see Bamburgh Castle and Bamburgh Beach, and if you follow the coast around a little further you get to Seahouses where you take the Billy Shiel's boat trips out to the Farne Islands.
Lindisfarne Castle was built in 1550, but the island has a recorded history from the 6th Century. Viking invasions, Norman conquests, Christian evangelists, Irish monks...if a place could talk. Walking around the ruined priory is a serene experience, trying to imagine what life must have been like for the monks who lived there all those centuries ago. I only know little snippets about the island's history, but next time I go I must visit the museum and learn more. I've not been up to the castle either, it's often closed when we go off season as most things around there shut between November and March.
Holy Island is probably at the top of my list of 'things to do in Northumberland'. It's such a special place. One day I'd like to walk the famous St Cuthbert's Way and end up crossing over to the island along Pilgrim's Path. With a beer and a veggie haggis at the Lindisfarne Inn to greet me when I'm done. I really do love this part of the country a lot, and feel very lucky that I visit so often. It's a real privelege to get to return to the same place every year over almost a decade and get to know it better each time.
There are still so many places left to explore...