England // The Northeast //

Holy Island

It’s a dramatic approach to HOLY ISLAND (Lindisfarne), past the barnacle-encrusted marker poles that line the three-mile-long causeway. Topped with a stumpy castle, the island is small (just 1.5 miles by one), sandy and bare, and in winter it can be bleak, but come summer day-trippers clog the car parks as soon as the causeway is open. Even then, though, Lindisfarne has a distinctive and isolated atmosphere. Give the place time and, if you can, stay overnight, when you’ll be able to see the historic remains without hundreds of others cluttering the views. The island’s surrounding tidal mud flats, salt marshes and dunes have been designated a nature reserve.

Brief history

It was on Lindisfarne (as the island was once known) that St Aidan of Iona founded a monastery at the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria in 634. The monks quickly established a reputation for scholarship and artistry, the latter exemplified by the Lindisfarne Gospels, the apotheosis of Celtic religious art, now kept in the British Library. The monastery had sixteen bishops in all, the most celebrated being the reluctant St Cuthbert, who never settled here – within two years, he was back in his hermit’s cell on the Farne Islands, where he died in 687. His colleagues rowed the body back to Lindisfarne, which became a place of pilgrimage until 875, when the monks abandoned the island in fear of marauding Vikings, taking Cuthbert’s remains with them.

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