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Lindisfarne or Holy Island, Northumberland
This little island off the Northumberland coast can only be accessed when the tides are low and the causeway is above water level. Any visit to the island therefore needs to be carefully planned around tide times as you do not want to risk getting stranded on the island or worse getting washed away into the North Sea. There are 150 permanent residents on the island as well as a small primary school, post office cafes, hotels, guest houses, holiday homes, a couple of shops and of course the Castle, Priory and some local wildlife.
Once you arrive on the island you have to park your car in the car park which is pay and display and then you have to walk where ever you want to go. At certain times there is a shuttle mini bus to the castle but it didn't operate on the day we visited. If you are staying on the island or live there I believe you can drive and park outside you house or on the driveway.
THE LINDISFARNE PRIORY
This is open from 9.30- 17.00 from April to September, it closes at 16.00 in October and then you can only visit from 10.00 till 14.00 in November, December and January but they do suggest you check the winter opening times if you want to visit then. Admission to the Priory is £4.80 for adults, Concessions £4.30 and children are £2.90. Interestingly you can go into the shop for free! If you are a member of English Heritage then you can use your membership and go in free.
This priory is now pretty much a ruin but you can see what a stunning place it once was by walking amongst the ruins. This priory was once the most important centre of British Christianity and even today is considered to be one of the holiest places for Christians.
The priory as originally founded in 635 AD and was the last resting place of St Cuthbert who was buried here in 687 AD. According to the legend his body was exhumed eleven years later and there was no sign of any decay. This was considered a sign that he was indeed a saint according to those in the know.
Sadly the peace and tranquillity of this island was rather ruined when in 783 AD Viking raiders arrived to plunder all valuables and cause havoc generally.
Although these are just ruins you do get a very good idea of what an enormous building this once was. The amazing rainbow archway that hangs high above part of the walls makes for a great photo. You seem to be allowed to climb on parts of the walls. I climbed up some very tiny steps which had led to the monks' sleeping quarters. I found them very tricky getting up and quite nerve wracking climbing down so I take my hat off to the monks who had to do this and probably up higher at least twice a day and wearing their robes.
Within the Priory walls is a modern statue of St Cuthbert, it is a modern interpretation and he does look a bit sort of minimalist with a very large head but maybe that is just me!. The plaque on the side is in raised letters and also in Braille which I did think was a nice idea.
If you manage to visit on a day when there are very few others, especially children then this would be a lovely peaceful place to sit and contemplate life and the universe. On the day we went it was a little too chilly to sit still for very long and there were quite a few children clambering over the stones and jumping around which slightly spoiled the ambience.
In the Priory shop where you buy your ticket to one side the English heritage have created a sort of museum or story of Lindisfarne. It concentrates on the religious aspect and the Priory from St Aidan and St Cuthbert through to the Vikings and Henry VIII's time. It has been well done with lots of interesting information and some hands on activities for the children and is certainly worth visiting as it costs no extra.
The shop has the usual sort of souvenirs, from the cheaper stuff like rubbers and novelties through to more expensive pottery and books as well as a few postcards.
If you venture onto the island then do make an effort to visit the priory as it is very much part of the island's history and a most beautiful ruin with plenty of atmosphere.
Sadly as this is a ruin there are some parts that are unsafe to climb on and getting around with a wheel chair or pushchair is a big challenge. Those with walking difficulties must be prepared for uneven ground and not being able to access all the areas.
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The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has been a place of Christian pilgrimage since the year 635AD when St Aidan founded a monastery there. The priory is now in ruins which are managed by English Heritage and visitors can walk round these historic relics which were built in 1150 and used until 1537 as a base for early Christians to bring religion to the heathens of Northumbria.
The Priory is situated to the east of Holy Island Village behind St Mary's Parish Church, it costs £4.50 for adult entry which is payable in the museum a couple of hundred yards along the road from the priory entrance. The entrance fee also gives you access to the modern visitor centre where there are exhibitions about how the priory was used and you can also view electronic copies of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
The priory is built in two halves, the sandstone building which has now faded from its original red colour was used as a place of worship. The stone for this part of the building was carried by ox from the mainland and it is hard to imagine the amount of work this took as the animals would have to carry this stone over the mile long causeway at low tide. The building is built in a similar style to Durham Cathedral with heavily engraved pillars.
The monastic buildings are built from stone quarried from the island itself and these quarters housed a small community of monks who prayed, slept, ate and talked in the splendid isolation of Holy Island.. Some of the features have signs showing you what they were used for such as the stairs to the monks dormitory or the pathway to St Cuthbert's tomb but if you look around you can see clues indicating what unmarked areas of the ruin were used for. A large fireplace indicates the warming room, the refectory is the largest room with the carved heads of a monk and nun still visible on the windowsill and a stone pit perhaps used as a fridge is in the former kitchen.
The most visually stunning part of the priory is the rainbow arch which still stands proudly seemingly defying the laws of physics as it seems to have nothing holding it up. Even though the monks were peaceful people you can see where the building has been fortified to fend off attacks by the Scots and you can see where arrows were fired from small slits in the stone on the west wall
The Priory is famous for being the place where the Lindisfarne Gospels were produced. There is nothing to indicate this in the ruins but you can buy booklets from the adjacent St Mary's Church detailing how these amazing documents were produced and you can also view electronic copies of the gospels in the visitor centre. The Lindisfarne Gospels are an amazing document, it took Eadfrith two years to painstakingly write the gospels in Latin onto parchment made from calf skin.
The spot where St Cuthbert's tomb was located before his incorrupt remains were transferred by monks to Durham Cathedral is marked by a stunning statue and many visitors stopped to pray here and touch the statue perhaps drawn by the healing powers that St Cuthbert was reputed to have.
The priory has grass growing over the floor of the former monastery, obviously there is some uneven stonework but it is mostly flat terrain so easily accessible to most people. Even someone who does not appreciate the religious significance of the priory can appreciate the beauty of the ruins and will enjoy wandering around and exploring all the various nooks and crannies of the buildings. If you look out of the windows you can get a real idea of how remote the priory was as to the East you get great views of Lindisfarne Castle and out to sea.
Lindisfarne Priory is one of the holiest places in the UK and is also a site which is outstandingly beautiful. Even in the 21st century it is a place of calm and contemplation and is a charming place to visit.
D uring the summer holidays and being members of English \heritage, we tend to try to visit the sites. Having gone to Berwick a few weeks previously, and missed the safe crossing time, we decided to check the safe crossing times and visit Lindisfarne Priory.
**Bit of History...**
Lindisfarne Priory on was one of the most important centres of early Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England and it still a place of pilgrimage today.
St Aidan founded the monastery in AD 635, but St Cuthbert, is the most celebrated of the priory's holy men.
From the end of the 8th century, the rich monastery was easy prey for Viking raiders. In 875 the monks left, carrying Cuthbert's remains, which were enshrined in Durham Cathedral in 1104, where they still rest. Only after that time did Durham monks re-establish a priory on Lindisfarne. The ruins of the priory church they built in c. 1150 still stand, with the famous 'rainbow arch' and the small community lived on Holy Island until the suppression of the monastery in 1537.
The first thing to do is check the crossing times (a general search will do this), because they really do vary from day to day. We chose quite a good day because it seemed that it was safe to cross from 10am until 5.30 pm, and then there was a later crossing around 10pm. So, plenty of time to visit.
Once across the causeway car parking areas are clearly signposted and it's relatively cheap for the pay and display. A short walk from the main car park takes you past a selection of tourist shops, pubs and a rather nice pavement store selling freshly picked fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices (and the carrots are delicious if not supermarket perfect). For visitors who may have trouble walking from the car park there is a drop off point just outside of the priory although parking is not permitted- wise considering the number of visitors and especially children.
English Heritage members: Free
Opening times seem to depend on the time of year, probably taking the crossing times, but given that it's very cold, it's probably wisest anyway to go in spring or summer.
1st April- 30th Sept: 9.30am-5pm
1st Oct- 1st Nov: 9.30am-4pm
2nd Nov- 31st Jan: Mon., Sat., Sun. 10am-2pm
1st Feb. - 31st March: 10am-4pm
It's probably best to check the priory opening times as well as the causeway crossing times before visiting.
Tel: 01289 389200
The priory is accessed via the entrance (obviously) which is a modern building and is actually where you pay your dues. Right at the door is the obligatory shop so obviously this is the first place children will want to visit.
Once you have paid you there is a museum with lots of artefacts, models, hands on activities for the children and plenty of information about the priory and the life of St. Cuthbert. The museum itself is brightly lit and not at all gloomy and the children were interested in having a go on the activities.
Outside the priory itself is, as expected, a ruin, with remaining walls and areas clearly marked with signs. These signs dotted around the priory give short bits of information about the different areas, which was handy because for the average visitor(including ourselves) there was no way we could even begin to guess what the priory would have looked like.
There are plenty of grassy areas, which the children enjoyed running about, and spectacular views of the sea from what we called the far side wall.
It's all very relaxed and visitors can enjoy a picnic in the grounds and there are plenty of seats to take a rest and just take in the general aura of peace and tranquillity.
This is a lovely place to visit especially in the summer months when it's a bit warmer. I have been in the winter and with the sea chill it's freezing!!
Children will especially enjoy the journey across the causeway and because the whole island is so peaceful and tranquil, the sense of adventure is still there. The museum in the priory is very interactive and gives a good insight into the lives of the monks without being stuffy or over informative- just enough information to bring it to life. The priory itself, although a ruin is fascinating and the views across the sea are spectacular.
A recommended day out but check the crossing times
Thanks for reading
The visual image most of us have of Holy island is the castle, stood on a volcanic outcrop looking over the sea. However, the most important part of the history of the island can be found a few miles away, on the edge of the village, at Lindisfarne priory.
The priory costs £3.60 to enter, with the usual discounts for students/senior citizens/children. It is open from 10-6 each day in summer, 10-5 in October, 10-4 in February and March, and 10-2 from November to January. It is open every day apart from in Nov, Dec and Jan, when it's only open Monday, Sat and Sun. However, when it's open is only half the story. Holy Island can only be reached by boat or by the tidal causeway, which varies each day. The way to find out the tide times is to go to the signboards across from the RNLI station in Seahouses - where you can also catch the boats if you don't want to drive (costing about £7).
You enter via the visitors centre, which has a permanent exhibition on the history of the island, emphasising the role that the early Christian church had on the island - and the effect the Lindisfarne settlements had on the Christian church. The exhibition has added 'child friendly' bits, with the information at a child's height and fun sections. For adults, there is plenty of in depth information about the history and culture of the site and the island. There are also artefacts relating to the priory and island. It took me about 30-40 mins to read it all - my younger sister took 20 as she found it less interesting, but she was more than happy to browse the gift shop for a bit! It's at the end of the visitors centre, and contains lots of books, handcrafted items, quality soaps and candles, and the ususal 'English Heritage' bits.
After that's done, you go back outside, through the yard of the very pretty medieval church which was built on the edge of the site, and through the main door of the ruined priory. It no longer has a roof or most of the walls, but is still impressive. The main hall still has half the walls and the windows and an impressive vaulted arch (you can see it on the little photo above). You can also see the living quarters, guest rooms, kitchens, brewing rooms and the baking room, which still has the oven! While ruined, there is still a lot to see and you get a good feel for the scale and way of life there. There are noticeboards dotted all over the site explaining the uses of each room. There is also an impressive modern statue of St. Cuthbert, and lots of information about his life.
Disabled access is not great, mostly due to the limitations of the priory ruins - the visitors centre is very wheelchair friendly and I *think* I saw a notice that there are audio guides available for the partially sighted. However, the priory itself has a slightly uneven, grassed 'floor', and there are some steps and low walls, where original parts of the floor remain. Guide dogs are permitted on the site, as are pet dogs, as long as they are well behaved, on a lead and you pick up any poo!
I loved my visit to Holy Island as it is steeped in history and is beautiful, with a wonderful unspoilt, isolated feel. It is best to visit outside of the holiday seasons, as it can get a little busy, which spoils the isolated feel! I would definitely recommend a trip to the Island, and to the Priory.