A Day Out To Lindisfarne
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, to give it its full title (most people seem to call it simply Holy Island), is a must visit if you are spending any length of time in Northumberland. Its recorded history dates back to the 6th century and the story begins with Saint Aidan in 635AD and the building of the first monastery.
Location & Travel
The Island itself is quite small and lies only about 1 mile from the mainland but it is rich with history and heritage and is one of the jewels in the crown along the beautiful Northumberland coast. An added feature and one that has caught out many a tourist, is the fact that the Island has a tidal causeway and is only accessible at certain times during the day at low tide. Apparently about 1 vehicle per month is stranded on the causeway and requires rescue. Please don’t let it be you next as rescue would have to come either by RNLI lifeboat or RAF helicopter, both of which are extremely expensive!
Causeway crossing times are displayed at both ends of the causeway and are accessible online here or here. The journey-time from Beacon Hill is about 45-50 mins and you pass very close to Bamburgh on the way should you wish to take in another castle aside from the one at Lindisfarne.
Lindisfarne Castle ©northumberlandtourism.orgThe castle at Lindisfarne is one of the main attractions of the Island. It is smaller by comparison to others in the region which no doubt had some bearing on it becoming the family home of the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 1900s. Today it gives an insight into what life would have been like in those times and it’s fascinating walking through each of the rooms and getting a feel for what life would have been like for the family at the early part of the 20th century.
It’s worth mentioning that major renovation work is underway at present as the Castle occupies an exposed position near the south-east tip of the island and is constantly battling the elements. Information about the restoration project can be found here on the National Trust website and includes a fascinating video showing the types of work being carried out as well as some great aerial shots of the castle.
While taking in the castle you may also want to take the opportunity to visit the Lime Kilns as they are a short distance along a track east of the castle. There are steps to the foot of the kilns which are some of the best preserved in the region and you can enter and explore at your leisure.
One of the other big draws of the island is the abundance and variety of wildlife. The Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve was founded to protect the wildlife habitats of this stretch of Northumberland coastline and includes important coastal habitats such as mudflats, sand dunes and salt marshes. Lindisfarne is well known for its wintering bird populations and for the grey and common seals commonly found in the waters and basking on the rocks.
If you have children then do take them down to the shore below the castle where you can hunt for crabs and starfish amongst the seaweed. A pair of binoculars would be handy because you can often see seals on some of the exposed mud flats depending on the time of day and tide, in fact on a recent visit we were able to see the seals using the free viewing binoculars on the castle ramparts and there was also a castle worker who happened to have some high-powered binoculars. Best to take your own however, if you have them.
Lindisfarne Priory ©northumberlandtourism.orgChildren should also enjoy wandering around the Priory ruins, especially if you regale them with tales of Viking barbarians attacking the island in AD 793, and (you could claim) on that very spot, slaying inhabitants of the monastery and looting the valuable religious items often used in the ceremonies of that time. The ruins themselves by the way, date from a later period when there was no longer such a threat of attacks but they are very impressive particularly the rainbow arch. The museum gives further insight into the daily lives of the monks 1400 years ago and also contains many significant items such as the Viking Raider Stone depicting the brutal attack.
Eat & Drink
If visiting for the day there are plenty of places by the castle and the priory where you could find a bench or simply get out the trusty rug on a patch of grass and enjoy a picnic while looking out to sea and perhaps spotting some of the fantastic birdlife around the island. You may find an ice-cream van if you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view!) but if you’re picnic-less and need to refuel there are some good options in the picturesque village.
Lovers of seafood should really try the local, fresh crab at the unique Post Office/Café where you can sit in or takeaway. The crab is caught by the local fishermen and landed at the harbour which is only half a mile down the road so you probably won’t find crab or lobster fresher anywhere else. Another great stop-off for a snack or a coffee is Pilgrims Café where the homemade scones are a treat and you can sit out in the garden on warmer days.
Holy Island is very popular with tourists so if you are planning a visit, perhaps it would be wise to check tide times in advance and be one of the first across the causeway. This means you will be able to park easily, and savour some of the island when it’s a little less busy. Inevitably the bus tours will arrive, especially in the peak summer months and you may find the atmosphere of the place is lost a little but that tends to be the case with all major tourist attractions these days!
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