Travel tales

Marooned on Lindisfarne Island

Lindisfarne or Holy Island

On Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, the islanders live their lives based on the rhythm of the tides. Linked to the Northumbrian mainland by a narrow causeway, twice each day the island is completely cut off by the tide. You can only travel between Lindisfarne and mainland during twice-daily six-hour periods, which change every day. So Lindisfarne’s businesses have to set different opening hours each week based on the tide tables. At the time we were visiting Northumberland, the tides meant that the island was cut off between noon and 5pm, so rather than squeezing in a trip over early in the morning, we decided to maroon ourselves there for the afternoon. The island is a hugely popular tourist destination, but most visitors come when the tide is out, so staying on the island meant we got to see a different, quieter side.

Views of Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island

Lindifarne Castle from across the harbour

As we crossed the causeway, a stream of traffic was heading back to the mainland before the water cut them off. The road runs across a bank of sand and marshland. The sea looked so far our as we crossed over that it was hard to imagine the road would be completely covered just 15 minutes later. But appearances can be deceptive, as the flatness of the land means the tide comes in very quickly here. Something which still catches someone out almost every month, despite the posters all over the island warning of cars getting swamped by the tides. However powerful you think your car might be, it’s still nothing compared to the power of the oceans. If you do manage to get stuck then there’s a wooden hut up a ladder – like a mini lifeguard’s shelter – where you can wait out the tides (though it probably won’t do your car much good) if you don’t want to fork out the £4000 it costs for a helicopter rescue.

Boats on Lindisfarne Island

Lindisfarne boats – on land and on the water

Safely over the causeway in plenty of time and happily marooned for the next six hours, we left the car on the outskirts of the village and set off to explore the island. The whole thing is only about three miles long, so you could easily walk around the whole coastline in a few hours. Cut off by the tide you can see feel how isolated it can be. It was an unusually beautiful sunny day when we were there but even then the wind blowing off the North Sea had a frosty edge to it. You can imagine the landscape here being battered and beaten by winter storms, with nothing to protect it from the winds blowing down from the Arctic.

Views across Holy Island

Looking across the island from the viewing tower

At one end of the island is the village, with a few shops, pubs and B&Bs. But our first stop was ruined Lindisfarne Priory. The first monastery here was founded by St Aidan in 635 AD and became an important pilgrimage site for centuries of Christians. The spiritual and religious history of the island still attracts visitors today and it you can still sense a peaceful feel around you. Behind the Priory is a tower with great views across the island and over to the mainland. The clear weather meant we could see along the coast to the castle at Bamburgh and as far as the Cheviot Hills. Much closer was the island’s horseshoe-shaped harbour, home to a few small fishing boats. There are some larger ones on the water’s edge too, ingeniously recycled by being turned upside down and used for storage when they get too old to sail any more.

Boat storage sheds on Lindisfarne Island

Upturned boats turned storage sheds

Along the water’s edge from the Priory, Lindisfarne’s castle towers over the flat expanse of the rest of the island. Set on a rocky crag, it’s visible for miles around – we could even watch the sun rise up behind it from our holiday cottage across on the mainland. The castle was built in the 16th century and is just one of a whole series of castles in the area that protected the English border from Scottish and Viking invaders. It was first built as a fort, using some of the stone from the Priory after it was destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. But when it wasn’t needed for protection any more, the castle became the holiday home of the owner of Country Life magazine who had it renovated by Arts and Crafts architect Edwin Lutyens. There’s also a walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, sheltered from the worst of the island winds.

Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island

Lindisfarne Castle towering above the island on its rocky crag

Past the castle the island gets emptier, with just the occasional farm and field of sheep dotted between the sand dunes. Along the water’s edge we came across piles of stones, stacked up on top of each other. I did wonder if there was any special spiritual significance but it turns out it’s probably just that one person started it and then other people copied them. Still it looks interesting and I’m impressed they manage to stay standing through the winter weather. With the wind starting to pick up we headed back towards the village to wait out the tide in one of the island’s pubs. Many shops and cafes closed up while the tide was in and the whole place felt almost deserted. Though I did wonder what happens if you have to travel to the mainland for work or school – do you have to stay somewhere else when the tides don’t fit with your hours? But with the tide back out and the causeway uncovered our time as Lindisfarne castaways was over.

Lindisfarne Island in Northumberland

Piles of stones along the edge of the shore

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Marooned on Lindisfarne Island, Northumberland

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61 Comments

  • Reply
    Somerset Garden
    October 13, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    We had a very similar experience on St Michaels Mount, much better when we were ‘stranded’!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      It’s not a bad idea is it? Will have to revist St Michaels Mount one day, the last time I was there I was at primary school so it’s probably due a return trip!

  • Reply
    Mark Gillespie
    October 13, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    You can feel the centuries of history in Lindisfarne. A unique island in many ways. Northumberland is vastly underated as a whole, there is just so much to see.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      Totally agree with you – there are so many amazing sights in Northumberland it’s amazing that it isn’t more famous and busy!

      • Reply
        bevchen
        October 14, 2014 at 1:01 pm

        Ssshh, we don’t want it to be more busy. We like having the place to ourselves 😉

    • Reply
      wendy
      November 16, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      I was brought up there a child. Walked my first steps, cut my first tooth… on Holy Island. Just spent some time there again this summer. Will be moving back to this magical place soon. I have to say I never feel remote there. Truly a wonderful place.. that’s good for the soul 🙂

      • Reply
        Lucy
        November 18, 2015 at 5:58 pm

        What a fantastic place to grow up! It has such a peaceful feel to it.

  • Reply
    LucyP
    October 13, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I used to love visiting Holy island as a child – my Dad misread the tide times more than once! Lovely pics x

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      Haha, we were really paranoid about the tides and must have checked about 10 times, but I can imagine if you’re used to it you might get a bit casual about it all!

  • Reply
    runawaybrit
    October 13, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    I spent a week on Holy Island for a school trip when I was 13. It was so desolate, I would love to go back! Thanks for resurfacing some long-forgotten memories 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Wow you must’ve got to know it pretty well with a whole week there! I can imagine it gets pretty spooky and atmospheric on a winter’s night.

  • Reply
    http://theenglishprofessoratlarge.com
    October 13, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you for this visit to a charming, unusual island.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      You’re welcome, it’s a fascinating place and so beautiful.

  • Reply
    Davide C
    October 13, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    High on my list of places to visit in the UK, hopefully some time in the near future. Thank you for sharing your post and those beautiful pictures!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm

      Hope you get to make it out there some day, it’s such a stunning part of the country, I can’t believe it took me so long to make it up there!

  • Reply
    moniquejessica
    October 13, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Awesome pictures! The island looks gorgeous.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks, it is lovely – though we were so lucky to get the weather to make the most of it!

  • Reply
    Cindy Naidoo
    October 13, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Lovely island and your pictures portray it beautifully. thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Thank you – it’s such a photogenic place!

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    October 13, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    That was delightful, Lucy! I really enjoyed it 🙂
    Although it’s not all that far from us it’s not too often we get up that coastline. I’ll have to make an effort. I have a friend staying in a cottage at Low Newton, a bit further down the coast, for a week in mid November. I might brave the weather. 🙂 A bonus to have such a nice day. Did you go inside the castle? Post to follow?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      Thanks, we certainly got lucky on the weather front, but managed to pick the day the castle was closed, so n onside shots I’m afraid but I have a post on the Priory and another Northumberland Castle to come!

      • Reply
        restlessjo
        October 13, 2014 at 8:24 pm

        I’ve been inside but it was in the days before I became camera crazy. Not sure if photos are even allowed. 🙂

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    October 13, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    This place has been near the top of my UK wish list for ages – you’ve just nudged it up a bit more. I’d like to stay in one of the B&Bs.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      It would’ve been nice to stay on the island overnight when you’d almost have it to yourself – though having said that we could see it from our house which was pretty good too!

  • Reply
    Heyjude
    October 13, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    A lovely informative post Lucy. I visited a few years ago and loved the remoteness. I’d love to stay overnight and have it almost to myself. The castle is too dark for me inside, but I loved the little walled garden. Northumberland is a very understated county – I must return!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      It certainly is, I knew hardly anything about this part of the world before we visited but was so impressed – beautiful scenery and so much history.

      • Reply
        Heyjude
        October 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm

        Did you visit Bamburgh? Now that is one very interesting castle.

        • Reply
          Lucy
          October 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

          Yes, it is isn’t it? We visited Chillingham and Alnwick too and all so different – there’s a castle post in the works I think!

          • Heyjude
            October 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm

            Oh yes! I didn’t manage to visit Alnwick so I’d love to see that one.

  • Reply
    travellingbag
    October 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

    This is somewhere that I’d love to go – I must put it on my list next time I’m in the UK 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Hope you do get to visit it yourself someday!

  • Reply
    bevchen
    October 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I love Lindisfarne. I’m glad you enjoyed it 😀
    And we always laugh at the idiot tourists who ignore the tide timetables and get stuck on the causeway – there are at least 1 or 2 rescues every year!

    The inside of the castle isn’t all that exciting so you didn’t miss much. There are more impressive castles in Northumberland. I LOVE the priory though.

    Did you try Lindesfarne mead?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Yes I was surprised so many people still get caught out by the tides when they are so well publicised! Loved the Priory too, I have a photo post coming up later this week as I went a bit snap happy in there. Did find time to try some of their mead samples though (a long with ginger wine and a few random fruit wines too!).

  • Reply
    Suzanne (Travelbunny)
    October 14, 2014 at 8:21 am

    I remember feeling dubious as we crossed the causeway – the car on the warning sign, up to its wing mirrors in water, was the same model as our hire car! Your fascinating post brought back lots of memories – I felt a deep sense of ancient time on the island so it was great to re-visit via your blog.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Does make you a bit nervous doesn’t it (even though I must have checked the tide times at least ten times!).

  • Reply
    Vlad
    October 14, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Such an interesting place, thank you for sharing it with us! I love the pictures, especially the last one. 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 14, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks, I really liked the piles of stones (even if there’s no meaning to them!) – reminded me of a similar thing I saw on a beach in New Zealand, though those were decorated whereas this was a bit more natural.

  • Reply
    unfinishedtravel
    October 14, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Love the pictures! I’d never heard of this place before, but it seems very unique!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 15, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      Northumberland is a really underrated part of the UK but there are a lot of great sites in the area!

  • Reply
    thegrownupgapyear
    October 15, 2014 at 11:15 am

    The last time I went here was on a school trip and I don’t remember it being that sunny 😉 We were all very excited about the possibility of being stranded though! Would love to go back sometime.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 15, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      I hear the sun is pretty selective with it’s appearances in this part of the country so we got very lucky! Lovely place though, would definitely recommend a return visit one day.

  • Reply
    Melissa
    October 15, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    What a fascinating place! Love the pics, so beautiful!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 15, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    tammyonthemove
    October 15, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    I have never heard of this place. Looks gorgeous actually. I really like your last photo! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 15, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Thanks – the coastline is so wild and beautiful up there, loved the stacks of stones too (even if there isn’t a very exotic story to go with them!).

  • Reply
    Paul
    October 15, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Wow! My parents have visited Lindisfarne before, they are quite religious so learning about the history of the place and the monks etc appealed to them. I love the idea of being stranded there, I think this is a definite must for me to do next year, I reckon I could do it in a day trip or maybe stop in a B&B somewhere – Just worked it out and it’s roughly 3h30 from me, doable! Beautiful photos Lucy, the weather looks perfect for photography – Clear skies with a little bit of cloud cover

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      That’s not far at all, hope you do get to make it up there soon. Yes I couldn’t have hoped for a better day for photographs, you’re always taking a chance in the UK – especially in September – but we lucked out for sure this time!

  • Reply
    Lauren
    October 16, 2014 at 5:23 am

    I kind of like the idea of being stranded in a place for a few hours! Gives lots of time to explore and seems very peaceful!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 16, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      It was lovely, very relaxing as you don’t have that pressure to be going and seeing things as you know you can’t get away even if you wanted to!

  • Reply
    Kanika Kalia
    October 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    Looks beautiful.. your pictures are fab.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 16, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply
    Illia and Nastia (@CrazzzyTravel)
    October 16, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Beautiful! Pinned that boats photo, what a creative and beautiful way to use remnants of the past. We’d love to visit this island some day.

  • Reply
    Lucy
    October 16, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    The boats are great aren’t they? So much nicer than building some concrete shed and a fantastic way of reusing old materials.

  • Reply
    jpilkington09
    October 19, 2014 at 11:12 am

    What an amazing looking place. Looks more Nordic than English.

    • Reply
      ventisqueras
      October 22, 2014 at 6:55 am

      riesco sempre a stupirmi di quanto sia grande il mondo e quante straordinarie sorprese ci riserbi
      mille grazie per avermi mostrato questi splendidi panorami

      • Reply
        Lucy
        October 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm

        Grazie mille!

  • Reply
    greenmackenzie
    October 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Getting stranded sounds like the best plan ever for visiting here. It just gets so busy…..we were amazed at the numbers of visitors last summer……but I remember years ago when it was much quieter and more atmospheric….so the stranding seems like the way to go. It’s a place I feel for quiet contemplation rather than madding crowds 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 24, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      I hear it can get incredibly busy in the summer, but autumn wasn’t too bad at all and being stranded definitely helped!

  • Reply
    pommepal
    October 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    What a lovely way to explore by being stranded by the tide. That castle look impenetrable and would surly scare invaders off. How many people actually live on the island?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      There are about 180 people living on the island (though I’m not sure how many stay there year-round or whether some are just there in summer) – must feel very remote in the depths of winter!

      • Reply
        pommepal
        October 24, 2014 at 10:24 pm

        Remote and very cold too I would think… 🙁

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