How to visit Lindisfarne & what to do on Holy Island

There's something almost other-worldly about the tiny, tidal island of Lindisfarne lying just off the Northumberland coast, cut off twice a day by the tide and reached by a narrow causeway as part of a guided walking holiday. It was the centre of the Irish-Celtic Christian tradition in the 7th Century and it was from here that King Oswald and Bishop Aidan, continued the work begun by Oswald’s uncle King Edwin, to convert the Anglo-Saxon people to Christianity. The Priory, now a dramatic ruin, was dissolved by Henry VIII and some of its stones were used to build the crag-top castle that provides Lindisfarne's famous profile. These days, the island, still known as The Holy Island, is at the centre of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. It's fiercely desolate and isolated and comprises some 10,000 acres of protected habitat,making it a site of international importance for migrating wildfowl and wading birds in the winter months, while grey seals bask on the beaches. HF Walk Leader Patrick Norris lives close by and here guides us through the best ways to visit Lindisfarne, it's early history, finest walks, must-see and secret sites, and which wildlife or wild flowers to look out for according to the seasons.

How to get to Lindisfarne

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island. You can get there by driving across a causeway, observing the safe crossing times. These times are widely available online here and are also printed and displayed at the start of the causeway and on the Island itself. Note that the safe crossing times are not the same as high and low tide times and whatever you do, do not attempt to cross the causeway outside of the safe crossing times. Plan your visit around the safe crossing times and generally, you can do most of what you want to do in 4-5 hours. You can of course walk across as well, either on the tarmac road, a distance of 3-miles or you can follow the slightly shorter Pilgrim’s Way This traditional path across Lindisfarne Bay is now marked by an arrow straight line of poles. It is recommended that you walk the Pilgrim’s Way with a guide; it’s not essential, but there are one or two details that guides know and that help you to avoid some of the more difficult sections.

Best times to go to Lindisfarne

Northumberland guided walking holiday

In the HF Leader's words

"Go in summer for long, warm days, wildlflower meadows and 'singing' seals. Vist in autumn for fewer crwods and fantastic flocks of migrating birds."

If you love warm Summer days, daylight until gone 10.30pm, hundreds of ‘singing’ seals and some remarkable wildflower meadows, then visit in June and July. Get beyond the village for the wildflowers and a great focus for your walk is the white pyramid on the eastern edge of Lindisfarne, Emmanuel Head. To get there, you’ll follow the remains of a Victorian industrial railway, built to service the lime kilns close to Lindisfarne Castle. The pyramid built in 1810, is the first of a network of coastal navigation markers around the UK Coast and you really can’t miss it

If you love the shorter Autumn days, when the mudflats fill with tens of thousands of migrating birds, then go in October before the clocks go back. It’s a very different experience with fewer people, although the pubs and cafés are still open and the wildlife, if you enjoy birdwatching, is extraordinary. Bring your binoculars.

A potted history of Lindisfarne

Northumberland guided walking holiday

In the HF Leader's words

"There's a lot..."

Long before the causeway was built and reaching far back into history, Lindisfarne found fame as the centre of Irish-Celtic Christianity. King Oswald, King of Northumbria from 633-642CE, a Christian and great warrior, invited Aidan from Iona to the Kingdom; he arrived in 635CE. Aidan was appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne and he and Oswald set about converting the Pagan Anglo-Saxon people of Northumbria to Christianity. Oswald was killed in 642CE and Bishop Aidan died in July 651CE. Oswiu, Oswald’s brother became king and ruled Northumbria for 42-years. Cuthbert followed, to eventually become Bishop of Lindisfarne in 685CE, although he died two years later. The miraculous discovery 11-years after of his uncorrupted body in his coffin brought more fame and fortune to the church, and Lindisfarne prospered.

Briefly, in 664CE, at the Synod of Whitby, the decision and the seismic shift to the Roman Catholic tradition brought to an end the Irish-Celtic Church and confirmed the arrangements for the calculation of Easter Sunday, in accordance with the Roman church’s beliefs. Neatly though, because of the decision taken about setting the date for Easter, you can always walk across the Pilgrim’s Way to Lindisfarne on Good Friday, because the tide will be out.

Lindisfarne prospered until 793CE, when the Vikings arrived to plunder and murder their way around Lindisfarne, meaning life was never the same again. So, in 875CE, the community of monks, under threat of further Viking raids, left Lindisfarne. They took with them Cuthbert’s coffin (uncorrupted body included), the Lindisfarne Gospels (now on display in the British Library), some relics of St. Aidan and a skull, believed to be that of St. Oswald, sanctified since his death. Later, in the late 9th Century, a great battle was waged by Aethelflaed, the Lady of Mercia, against the Vikings. Coincidently, Aethelflaed led her army to victory on 8th August, the anniversary of Oswalds’s death.

The monks carried the coffin with all its contents for nigh on 200-years, eventually laying it to rest in Durham Cathedral in 1096, where it and Oswald’s skull now as then, form the centre piece of that extraordinary building.

Six of the best walks on Lindisfarne

Northumberland guided walking holiday

In the HF Leader's words

"You can delve into the early and later Medieval periods of history, explore a Tudor Castle, hear ‘singing seals’ and absorb the beauty and tranquillity of this remarkable place just off the Northumberland Coast."

  • Tackle the Pilgrim’s Way out to the island. There is time most tides to get there and back safely on the same tide, following the arrow straight line of poles, but it's recommended to take a guide.
  • Make the walk along the road from the village to Lindisfarne Castle for a short, pleasant stroll.
  • Try and get up on The Heugh (pronounced 'hoof'), just east of the Priory; it’s the former coastguard lookout, now a visitor centre, and other than the castle ramparts, it’s the highest point on the Island with fantastic views.
  • Continue beyond the castle, turn left past Gertrude Jekyll’s Garden and follow the eastern shore to Emmanuel Head, the big white pyramid. Continue to follow the path beside the walled fields through some of the best coastal wildflower meadows (in June and July) back to the village.
  • Walk out to St. Cuthbert’s Island, which is only accessible at low tide, to see where St. Cuthbert spent some time in isolation in oursuit of a hermit's life.
  • Potter about the village for a diverting way to immerse yourself in island life and while away a few hours.

Seven must-see sites on Lindisfarne

Northumberland guided walking holiday

In the HF Leader's words

"There's so much to take in so consider targetting a few of the must-see and some of the less-visited sites."

  • The Lindisfarne Priory and Museum, managed by English Heritage
  • The Lindisfarne Castle, managed by National Trust
  • St. Mary’s Church with its remarkable sculpture ‘The Journey’ by Fenwick Lawson
  • The statue of St. Aidan in the churchyard
  • The views from The Heugh
  • The harbour with its upturned boats
  • The Lindisfarne Centre and various other places describing the history of the Island

Secret sites and hidden gems on Lindisfarne

Northumberland guided walking holiday

In the HF Leader's words

"Look out for a fabulous modern bird hide - Window on Lindisfarne - on the way to the castle."

On a guided walking trip to Lindisfarne, make time to see St Mary's Church and the more modern Roman Catholic Church. Seek out Gertrude Jekyll's Garden up by the castle and explore the rocky foreshore east of the castle.Explore the Heugh and coastguard lookout, keeoing an eye out for the archaeological remains up on The Heugh, believed to be a 7th Century religious building. Go in search of Osbourne’s Fort, a ruin above the modern harbour, originally built to discourage Dutch raiders in the 17th Century. Be prepared to stumble on the remnants of an early medieval village, hidden away in the dunes and not easy to find. Bask on the two beautiful and isolated beaches beyond Emmanuel Head, and soak up the peace and tranquility of the island. Watch for brilliant sunsets across Lindisfarne Bay and keep a weather ey eon the dark night skies for superb star gazing. In winter, watch out too for frequent but irregular displays of the Northern Lights.

Wildlife to look out for on Lindisfarne

Northumberland guided walking holiday

In the HF Leader's words

"The wildflowers are at their best in June and July and the path beyond the enclosed fields and on the edge of the dunes is the best place to experience them. Look out for the Lindisfarne helleborine, a flower unique to Holy Island that grows in very few places."

Throughout the year you can spot pods of dolphins off the Northumberland coast. On land, look out for barn owls hunting at dusk year-round too. From April to the end of September, several hundred, and sometimes thousand, grey seals haul out on the sandbars in Lindisfarne Bay. They're highly visible and audible; their singing voices, when the wind is in the right direction, can be heard all around the Island. You can't miss the 50,000 autumn migrants that descend on the nature reserve from September to March, making this area a birdwatcher's paradise. The arrival of rare passage migrants adds to the excitement. In winter you can also spy short-eared owls hunting over the dunes.

Guided Walking Holidays in Northumberland with HF

Northumberland Guided Walking Holidays

Northumberland
Guided Walking Holidays

For centuries, Northumberland has charmed people with its spiritual soul, from St Cuthbert’s legacy on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, to those who seek serenity in the beauty of its shores.And the best way to experience this true serenity? On foot of course, from our country house base, Nether Grange.

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Northumberland Self-Guided Walking Holidays

Northumberland
Self-Guided Walking Holidays

Explore independently at your own pace on one of our Self-Guided Walking Holidays from our comfortable country house Nether Grange, where you'll have full access to our Discovery Point, route guides, maps and walk information, as well as all house facilities and full board accommodation.

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