It’s high tide on Holy Island. On most islands this wouldn’t matter much, but on this one it’s pretty important. Why? Because Holy Island isn’t always cut off from mainland England. It only becomes an island when high tide sweeps across the sandy stretch of land that connects it to the Northumberland coast. Since it’s an island now, I’m marooned here until the tide recedes. But that’s fine with me, because there’s a lot to explore on a day trip to Holy Island.
Also known as Lindisfarne, Holy Island packs a lot of treasures into a small geographical area. A castle, for example.
Lindisfarne Castle is not only famous for its imposing position on top of the island’s highest hill, but also for its history—it dates back to 1570—and its more recent incarnation as the home of Country Life founder Edward Hudson. In the early 20th century, Hudson had Arts and Crafts architect Edwin Lutyens design the interiors of the building and influential garden designer Gertrude Jekyll create a garden on the grounds. The castle retains their styles today.
I tour it with my boyfriend, who bravely drove us across the windswept causeway from the mainland before the tide came in. We take in the history of the castle and the beautiful colors of the garden under a cheerful blue sky. We’re lucky the sun is shining in a way that lights up the flowers in bright yellows and oranges.
Not far from the castle is Holy Island’s other main highlight: Lindisfarne Priory. Dating back to 635 AD, the priory came into being when Oswald, King of Northumbria, granted Lindisfarne to a monk named Aidan for a monastery. Miracles in the 8th century made it a hot religious pilgrimage site, and today the beautiful ruins of the priory offer an impressive insight into the importance of Holy Island over the centuries.
We explore the ruins and weave our way through the adjacent tombstones as the wind sweeps across the water beside us. Eventually we enter the Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, where we find beautiful stained glass windows and Dr Fenwick Lawson’s The Journey, a moving wooden sculpture of monks carrying the remains of St Cuthbert to Durham during Viking raids in 875 AD.
After visiting the priory and castle, we continue our day trip to Holy Island by discovering the modern side of life on Lindisfarne. The small village in the heart of the island has some pretty streets with flower-fronted cottages and a few little cafes, galleries, and pubs.
We have a morning caffeine fix at the surprisingly stylish Pilgrims Coffee and a warming lunch of fish and chips at a pub nearby. All the while we absorb the island culture, where shops keep opening hours that vary with the tides.
Away from the village we walk along the waterfront—there are beautiful beaches here and the whole island can be circumnavigated on foot. We find everything from clusters of stone piles created by visitors to colorful overturned boats used as storage sheds by locals.
We also see the natural side of the island, which is home to many bird species and other types of wildlife. But the domesticated animals catch my eye, too, and I can’t help communing with the wooly little sheep before the tide recedes.
And when it does, I wish it wouldn’t. Being marooned on Lindisfarne has been a treat, and my day trip to Holy Island has been well worth waiting for the water to fall and rise and fall again. As we cross back over the still-wet causeway back to England’s Northumberland coast, I can’t help hoping the tide brings me back someday.