From as far back as 635, people have been drawn to Holy Island. Whether that’s the monks who arrived after St Aidan founded a monastery on the isle, the Viking raiders drawn by its religious wealth or, in more recent times, the thousands of visitors who make a pilgrimage to this ‘magical’ spot.
With a population of 180, a storybook castle dating back to the 16th century, medieval monastery ruins, the risk of being stranded by the tide, its own distillery and roastery, quirky upturned boats as fisherman’s huts and views of Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands, this three-mile wide island from east to west has a special place in many hearts.
We asked our guests what makes it so unique to them and here’s what they had to say.
A feeling of peacefulness and going back in time
Due to its inaccessibility, the island is cut off from the mainland twice a day by fast incoming tides, Holy Island feels somewhat other worldly. Maybe that’s its centuries of history or the fact that in this spot, you are at the mercy of nature. Mobile phone signal is poor, there isn’t the hustle and bustle of the High Street or traffic (visitors have to leave their vehicles in the car park before they enter the village). As guest Jill Allen, puts it: “That feeling of arriving and being catapulted back into time. The Priory, beautiful beaches, olde worlde streets, just lovely as a getaway for a while to recharge the batteries.”
For those who decide to stay on the island when the tide is in and the visitors have gone, it is even more atmospheric. “I love being there when the tide is in. Being isolated in such a beautiful, spiritual place, watching the wildlife, is my happy place,” says guest Gill Walton.
The fear-inducing tides
Crossing a causeway that you know will be covered in sea water in a matter of hours is definitely thrilling for young and old alike. Many drivers have been caught out by the tide with signs warning people of the dangers of not paying heed to the tide times. “My family loved the sense of adventure,” says Sarah Cross. “Stories of people who lived there and the risk of being stranded!”
Its history and spirituality
“Another one of God’s heavenly retreats,” says guest Paul Foster. “Full of mystery and beauty and calm and serene.” Known as one of the most important centres of Christianity and home of the Lindisfarne Gospels – four biblical books recounting the life of Christ and now housed in the British Library – pilgrimages are made by people from all across the globe to the isle. The hardiest of souls walk three miles across the bay, marked by wooden posts and known as Pilgrim’s Way, when the tide is out to reach the island as our medieval ancestors would have done.
The singing of the seals
With peace and quiet comes the ability to hear sounds that may otherwise be missed. Visitors talk often of the singing of the seals, which Terry Thompson describes as ‘each time a very memorable moment’, heard from the island’s five miles of beaches. Maybe it is these enchanting sounds that lure people to the isle, like the sirens of Greek mythology.
Our top 10 things to do on Holy Island
1. Visit Lindisfarne Castle perched on a rocky promontory and its walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll.
2. Walk among the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. Don’t miss the Rainbow Arch which survived the collapse of the tower above it 200 years ago, and learn about the famous Lindisfarne Gospels.
3. Spot wildlife on a walk around the beaches.
4. Walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, barefoot if you are brave enough for a great muddy foot spa experience, along Pilgrim’s Way from the mainland to the island.
5. Take a classic ‘Holy Island’ photo of the upturned boats in front of the castle.
6. Try Lindisfarne Mead at St Aidan’s Winery.
7. Drink a cup of ‘Daily Bread’ coffee from the Island’s roastery and café, Pilgrims Coffee.
8. Refuel at The Ship Inn and enjoy a glass of Holy Island gin, distilled on the island.
9. Browse the shops of Front Street.
10. Explore the rockpools at low tide on Coves Haven beach. A remote sandy spot on the northern side of the island with high sand dunes to protect you from the wind.