Lindisfarne is a pretty little tidal island off the northeast coast of England. It is also known as the Holy Island and has a population of just over 160 permanent residents.
What is there to see at Lindisfarne, you ask?
It’s a cute little village with the ruins of a priory, a lovely harbour, and a tiny castle on a tiny hill! The sight of Lindisfarne nestling along the Northumberland coast is said to be one of the great views of the north.
It’s apparently usually a good bet for pleasant weather, however I cannot vouch for that as it was nasty on the September day I visited.
It’s also a novelty to experience the vagaries of a tidal island. Lindisfarne is linked to the mainland by a long causeway. Twice each day the tide sweeps in from the North Sea and covers the road. Tide times and heights can be predicted in advance but severe weather can produce offsets. Forecasted ‘safe’ crossing times are signposted on both sides of the causeway, but travellers should remain vigilant.
Is there any interesting history I should know about?
Yes! Viking history, hurrah!
Lindisfarne was the site of the first known Viking attack on the British Isles in 793 AD. It wasn’t a really bad raid – a bishop’s cross was broken but otherwise NTM damage was done. Scratch that, further research now tells me that some monks died and people were taken away into slavery, so that’s not nice at all.
Popular thinking at the time seemed to be that the Northumbrians brought it upon themselves with their wicked ways (and naughty hairstyles):
Fornications, adulteries and incest have poured over the land, so that these sins have been committed with no shame and even against the handmaidens dedicated to God … it is clearer than day how much these crimes have increased everywhere, and a despoiled people testifies to it … Look at your trimming of beard and hair, in which you have wished to resemble the pagans.
– the scholar Alcuin writing to King Aethelred of Northumbria in 793.
So there you have it.
The danger from Vikings and Danes caused the monks to move to a new location in 875.
Another interesting factoid is that Lindisfarne was home to Cuthbert, the patron saint of Northumberland. Before he became a saint he was an abbot of the monastery. He was elevated to the status of saint when, 11 years after his death, his coffin was opened and his body was found not to have decayed. I guess that’s some consolation for having your tomb disturbed. When the monks up and left Lindisfarne they took Cuthbert’s remains with them and carted them around for 7 years seeking a safe place to live. I hope that by then he was nothing but bones, otherwise that’s a bit gross.
The teeny tiny castle is much newer than the priory, and was actually made using stones from the priory’s ruins. It was built in the late 16th century as a fort against the Scottish.
Lindisfarne is not a terribly public-transport friendly destination TBH. I looked into various ways to get there, and in the end took the opportunity – on a visit to Edinburgh of all places – to join a small group day tour run by Timberbush Tours.
If you have a car, you can of course drive yourself there, but pay close attention to the tidal information, which you can get from the English Tourist Information Centre (Phone:01289 330733).
Complete your experience
Sir Walter Scott wrote a poem about the Holy Island called, imaginatively, The Holy Island
In Vikings 102, Ragnar Lodbrok organises and leads the 793 attack on the priory at Lindisfarne.
Pease pudding, stotties, singin’ hinnies, panaculty … Northumberland has lots of interesting specialties to taste.
Lindisfarne I and Lindisfarne II by James Black. He’s from London, but definitely captures the feeling of remoteness and isolation (in a good, peaceful way) that you get hanging out on a tiny island off the coast of England.