During our week in Northumberland, we were lucky enough to get across to Holy Island, one of the islands off the East Coast of Northumberland, not too far south of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the border between England and Scotland (map here). Holy Island (also known as the Holy Island of Lindisfarne) received its name because for centuries it’s been a centre of Christian worship in one form or another. You can drive across, but only during two periods every 24 hours when the tide is low enough:
As we drove, the Dafter exlaimed, fondly, “It’s just like Harris!”
Once you’ve navigated the three miles of causeway, you soon arrive at a huge car park (Pay-and-Display £3.50!). The day we went, the tides were low all afternoon and into the early evening, and the car park was very full. Then you walk up a beautiful tree-lined street into the Village:
From what I could see in my wee walks around, there are a lot of beautiful walled gardens. And, although it rains on the just and the unjust, guess what? It stopped raining and at some points the sun actually came out!!! We stopped for refreshments in this beautiful place:
Then we visited the Lindisfarne Centre, which is a museum run by the community. It has two main displays: one about the Viking raids on the island, and one about the Lindisfarne Gospels. And here’s where I’ll try to tell you a very short version of the history of the island. We’ll begin in the year 635, when St. Aiden came across from Iona on the West Coast of Scotland, and founded a monastery on Holy Island. He and his followers converted many in Northumbria to Christianity. Legend has it that when St. Aiden died in 651, a shepherd boy named Cuthbert had a vision of Aiden’s death. Cuthbert became a monk and came to Holy Island. During the 7th and 8th century the monks, like those in Iona who are thought to have made the Book of Kells under St. Columba’s direction, produced illuminated manuscripts. The most famous of these are the Lindisfarne Gospels, now in the British Library in London.
The first Viking raids came at the end of the 8th century. The monks fled, taking the body of St. Cuthbert with them. (He now lies in Durham Cathedral.) However, Vikings notwithstanding, there continued to be a monastery on the island until Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries in England. Holy Island continues to be a place of Christian pilgrimage and retreat.
We all enjoyed the display telling about the Lindisfarne Gospels. And I was astonished and awed by two quilts inspired by the Gospels:
The Celtic knotwork and designs are made of the most delicate applique you can imagine, and the hand-quilting is really astonishing:
The Lindisfarne Gospels continue to inspire contemporary artists, including Mary Fleeson at the Lindisfarne Scriptorium. I can recommend her colouring books! Good for prayer and meditation.
In the Village we came across this lovely garden, St. Cuthbert’s Garden:
On the edge of the Village is the church of St. Mary’s of Holy Island, to the left of this very inviting road:
These trees are proof that there must be strong winds on the island – hence the many walled gardens, I suppose.
I didn’t have time to explore, but here is a quick snap of the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, begun in the 12th century. Apparently quite a lot remains of the monks’ quarters – I will go next time!
Lindisfarne Castle, which is what you see from the train between Edinburgh and Newcastle, is actually not as old as the Priory. It was begun in 1550, and is now known for having been refashioned by Edwin Lutyens, with a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll. Yet another thing to see next time!
For a bit more on the history of the island, plus a nice poem by Sir Walter Scott, click here.
We thought the whole place was very picturesque and welcoming. Michael and I longed to come back for a quiet retreat, and the Dafter was happy to have visited it and to get back to broadband access. I liked the Tide Tables posted for all to see, like a bus schedule. And, as time and tide wait for no man, it was time to go home, down the tree-lined avenue to the emptying car park:
This field of poppies was a beautiful red haze behind the village – it made me think of Monet’s painting Les Coquelicots:
According to the guidebook in our cottage, if you take a problem to Holy Island, it will stay there. Upon hearing this, the Dafter said, “Let’s go!” I think there are many places where one can take a problem and leave it – starting with our own minds and hearts. But the atmosphere of Holy Island was so peaceful that the three of us all felt it as a very special place.
I’m already looking forward to my next trip. For anyone who is about to go, have a great time! If you post your cards from the post office, they will be stamped Holy Island. (But only taken off the island when the tides are right.)