We were staying at SPRINGHILL BUNKHOUSE in Seahouses and had taken a short drive to Holy Island, leaving our car on the mainland and taking our bikes across the causeway. We intended to cycle back to the bunkhouse but the romance of the island was luring us to stay longer. We had to decide quickly, there were only 30 minutes left before the tide cut Holy Island from the mainland. To stay and see it all or go and cycle NCN Route 1 back to the hostel . We stayed and it was absolutely the right decision.
It was August Bank Holiday Monday and when we arrived, there were perhaps 150 cars in the visitors’ car park, once the exodus had finished there were 6!! I think that was the most significant factor as the island didn’t feel like a tourist honey-pot anymore, once we had it to ourselves. It was 2pm and the causeway wouldn’t be passable until 8.30pm that evening.
Our first stop was the Priory. It was fascinating learning about the history of this holy island and its importance to the region. We visited the English Heritage museum and then to walked around the ruins. I wasn’t expecting the transept roof arch to still be standing after the best part of 1000 years. I had 3 teenagers with me and it quite an achievement to keep them interested but they enjoyed it as much as I did.
From here we headed for the beach to see that the sea had actually covered the causeway. A retired couple walking their dog, were only a few meters behind us and soon my children were making a fuss of ‘Ted’ as I chatted to his owners. This turned out to be a lucky move as Ted’s owner was the last man to be born on the Holy Island and had stayed on the island all his life. They were both utterly lovely and more than happy to give us a few tips for the rest of the day including phone numbers of the best food on the island. We booked a table at the Crown and Anchor immediately for 6.45 giving us time for a self guided tour of Holy Island.
After the beach we walked up onto a headland behind the Priory. There is an old stone coastguard’s lookout (I think that was its past?) that had been recently restored and converted into a viewing point. The outlook was fantastic from here and the 360 degree windows had information points that explained what you were looking at both on Holy Island and into the distance. Well worth going out of your way to see this as the vantage point gives a view of the whole island. From this point we saw tens of seals following the tide towards the causeway chasing the fish.
The children wanted to cycle so we raced to Lindisfarne Castle passed the upturned historic boat shells, passed the harbour and up the castle approach road. We were surprised how small it was? We had been to 3 other Northumbrian castles in the previous week and perhaps assumed it was going to be huge like they were. This was different, it had a character of its own and seemed more believable as a house. We all liked the romantic idea of a castle being a home for once rather than a public treasure.
At the foot of the castle were 6 lime kilns, historically restored with excellent information boards explaining how construction ready lime was produced from just heating up rocks, what it was used for and how it was transported on. The lime kilns are on the south east corner of Holy Island and are only separated from the sea by the crescent ridge of a pebble beach. The view was unique. Every meter along the ridge were vertical stacks of pebbles between ½ and ¾ meter high lining up like huge witches hats all the way out to the sea edge. With the silhouette of the ridge against the calm sea and clear blue sky behind it made a slightly mad and certainly surreal sight.
Next on our tour was the large white pyramid on the north east corner of Holy Island. The northern side of the island is mostly sand dunes running out to a spit of land that becomes the causeway. This whole area is a bird sanctuary and best seen from the pyramid. You are able to see the scale of the landscape, the obvious impact the sea and storms have had and how fragile it must be. It is also the eastern end of a beautiful beach that we immediately went to explore. Hundreds of curlews, wingnuts and beaks were feeding in the surf and we had a quiet few moments watching and enjoying the natural calm of the place.
The children soon discovered the next thing to do and had great fun running up and jumping down the sand dunes that faced out to sea including a competition to see who could jump the furthest and tumble the fastest. They were very considerate and careful not to disturb either the wildlife or my quick nap. Then it was time for dinner. We found a bridleway that ran from the beach straight into the village and were shortly sat in the Crown and Anchor feasting on burgers, fish and chips and an excellent steak and ale pie.
Our time on Holy Island was up, the causeway was open and we headed back to our hostel, just as the summer evening began to fade. It was great to rejoin our friends for a cup of tea in the kitchen and to tell our story of Holy Island around the table. The next day we planned to move on to another hostel in Northumberland. As the evening wore on each family retired to their rooms, hot showers were had and a comfortable night’s sleep. Holy Island had been a special experience and we had absolutely made the right decision to stay.