Holy Island: Rugged, Tidal, Bloodshed, Survival
The turbulent past of Northumberland’s Medieval Kingdom makes it one of the most compelling counties to explore.
Sit back while Leave Work to Travel transport you to Holy Island, a tidal island south of the Scottish border where Vikings spilt the blood of Saints.
Dating back to the 6th century AD, the island is connected to the mainland by a causeway which is flooded twice a day and can trap motorists in modern day dramas when the North sea gushes in.
A key focal point of the island, whose Anglo-Saxon name is Lindisfarne, is the Priory where Irish monks settled in AD635 after Oswald, King of Northumbria, gave Holy Island to the church.
Described as the ‘Cradle of British Christianity’, a monastic community sprung up on the site from where early missionaries - led by the priory’s founder St Aidan, and St Cuthbert - spread the Christian faith throughout Northern Britain.
The priory is also the backdrop for the creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels, hailed as the most stunning manuscript to survive from the Anglo-Saxon period.
Representing the golden age of design and craftsmanship in Northumbria, the gospels are housed in the British Library in London.
The Priory’s violent past includes a vicious Viking raid in 793AD – a widely chronicled massacre which forced the monks to flee in abject terror and shocked Europe to its core.
Following the attacks, said to have taken place at the beginning of the Viking Age, the monks left the island and carried St Cuthbert’s coffin and various treasures as they travelled around the county.
In a desperate bid to keep the priory open, monks from Durham Cathedral set up a Benedictine priory in the 12th century which was closed in 1537 by Henry VIII as part of the wider dissolution of the monasteries.
After becoming a storehouse for military supplies, the building fell into decay after led was stripped from the roofs in 1613.
Despite the desecration, the magnificent ruins gave us a strong insight into the intriguing history.
Dark and Brooding: Lindisfarne Castle
Northumberland’s wonderland boasts more castles (70 in total) and historic sites than any other county in England.
Many were constructed in the 15th century to protect England against marauding Scottish armies.
The few which have survived intact include the imposing, dark and brooding Grade 1 listed Lindisfarne Castle. It was built on the highest part of the island around 1550 and initially used as a base for the Tudor navy.
Over the next four centuries its chequered history includes being held by Royalist forces, seized by Parliamentarians, and captured by Jacobite’s before becoming a coastguard station.
The castle, which features in ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, was bought and transformed into a glamorous residence in 1901, becoming the property of the National Trust in 1944.
Along with two hundred species of flora and 25 different types of trees, Holy Island is rich in minerals, marine and bird life.
Regarded as one of the best birdwatching sites in Northumberland, in winter it is home to around 50,000 birds including Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers, both wading birds. Permanent residents include Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep, and Saanen goats.
This stunning stretch of the Northumberland afforded us a wealth of views and discoveries during our magical explorations.
Life on Lindisfarne
Life on Lindisfarne for the island’s 160 permanent residents – swelled by around 65,000 annual visitors – is understandably dominated by the tides.
Many locals have escaped the stress and bustle of city life to relocate and savour a slower pace. Visitors seeking accommodation are advised to book well in advance and overnight stays for caravans and motorhomes are prohibited.
Beware Tidal Waves
In the immortal words of Geoffrey Chaucer: “Time and tide wait for no man”.
Tide times and heights on Holy Island can be accurately predicted from the phases of the moon and there are copious reminders for motorists to check the times before setting off.
Sadly, despite warnings and reminders, some visitors misread the times and become trapped on the causeway, prompting the Coastguard crew and RNLI to rescue them.
Motorists who carelessly park on the causeway and head off for walks can flood engine compartments and a fully or partially submerged car could be written off with insurance companies rejecting claims.
Tide times for safe crossings are posted on both sides of the causeway and local shops and cafes can also advise when it is safe to cross. More information on this official government website.
If, during your visit, you find yourself in trouble or see someone who may need assistance, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
Incredible and Irresistible
Enchanted by its raw beauty, we found the lure of Holy Island - and its tranquillity - irresistible.
Although only three miles wide and 1.5 miles long, there is nothing small about this sacred sanctuary which has survived tumultuous events and tides and shines bright among the jewels in Northumberland’s wonderland.