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Lindisfarne - A Magic Island


Even though I live on an island, I still find something magical about visiting an island. And the smaller the island is and the more difficult it is to get there, the more magical it becomes. We are lucky in Britain to be surrounded not only by the sea, but also by an abundance of small-island magic. Ideally, travelling to an island should involve a sea crossing, but oddly enough one of my favourite islands does not necessarily involve a sea crossing, not unless you are lucky or do not read the tides correctly!


The Causeway to Lindisfarne, with a refuge for those who misjudge the tides!

Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, commonly known as either Holy Island or Lindisfarne, is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, in Northumberland. Holy Island was an important centre of Celtic Christianity from at least the 6th century AD. And since 635, when King Oswald gave the Holy Island of Lindisfarne to St. Aidan to establish his monastery, the island has been a place of pilgrimage. Apart from Saint Aidan, Saints Eadfrith, Eadberht and Cuthbert (patron saint of Northumberland) were all associated with the monastery and island. The road to the island was not constructed until 1954 and until then the vertical poles were the only indicators of the safe route between the mainland and island. The poles remain for modern walkers and pilgrims, and the sight of the poles stretching across the sand and mud is one of the most iconic views in Northumberland and to walk the route away from the road and follow in the footsteps of our medieval ancestors is a wonderful experience. The -farne part of the island’s name and is thought to be from the Old English – ‘fearena’ meaning ‘traveller’.


The old 'pilgrimage' route to the island

Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


The island measures 3.0 miles (4.8 km) from east to west and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from north to south and comprises approximately 1,000 acres (400 hectares) at high tide. The nearest point of the island is about 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometres) from the mainland and is accessible, most times, at low tide by crossing the sand and mudflats which are covered with water at high tides. The island has a population of less than 200 people. Lindisfarne is surrounded by the 8,750-acre (3,540-hectare) Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, which protects the island's sand dunes and the adjacent intertidal habitats.


The village of Lindisfarne and the ruins of the Benedictine monastery

Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


The village from the castle

Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


At the centre of the village are the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, founded by Saint Aidan and monks from the Irish community of Iona, which became the base for Christian evangelism in the North of England. Saint Cuthbert was a monk and later abbot of the monastery, and his miracles and life were recorded by the Venerable Bede, an English Benedictine monk, who also wrote ‘An Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, completed in AD 731. Lindisfarne also produced the Lindisfarne Gospels, the famous illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Lindisfarne Gospels now reside in the British Library in London, somewhat to the annoyance of some Northumbrians. Viking raiders first attacked the island in 793, with more raids in the following decades. Eventually, in 875, with the collapse of the Northumbrian kingdom, the monks of Lindisfarne fled the island taking with them St Cuthbert's bones (which are now buried at the cathedral in Durham). Although the monastery was re-established, it finally succumbed, like all other religious houses, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. Many of the stones from the priory were used as building material for the construction of a small castle in 1550. The castle sits on the highest point of the island and is more a fort than a castle.


The village street

Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


The ruins of the Abbey

Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


Lindisfarne Castle

Photo: Courtesy of the public domain


The island is a place of enchanting beauty and fascinating history, with an exciting array of wildlife. The nature reserve protects the island’s mudflats, saltmarshes and sand dunes, and the rare plants and an abundance of food supplies attract visiting birds from thousands of miles. During the summer months hundreds of seals use the sand dunes and mudflats, and visitors can enjoy seal watching from the island or take a boat trip. People frequently ask which is my favourite place in Britain and certainly Lindisfarne is high on the list!

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