Lindisfarne and Alnwick Gardens

Tuesday, May 28, 2013
On the holy island of Lindisfarne, the remains of an Anglo Saxon priory can still be visited, along with Lindisfarne Castle—a National Trust home.


Lindisfarne is a causeway island, meaning that when the tide is in, it is completely inaccessible from the mainland.  We checked the tide charts twice, to be sure we  would have time to visit and get off the island (Anna’s father said about one vehicle a year gets stuck on the causeway at high tide, and Wikipedia says  one per month!), then made our way across the causeway at about 10:30.

Lindisfarne from causeway

Lindisfarne from causeway

Although this was thirty minutes into the safe crossing time, the road was still badly flooded, and we had to proceed with some care.  Anna’s little Ford KA (which she adorably calls “Ka”), made the crossing without any problems, despite my Dad joking repeatedly that we were going to break down and have to follow the old pilgrim’s walk.  We parked in visitor parking and made our way to the priory.



Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne priory is (according to English Heritage) best known as the home of St. Cuthbert, the patron saint of Northumbria.  It was founded in the sixth century by St. Aiden of Iona, but the place is (to a student of history, at least) best known as the home of The Venerable Bede.  St. Bede was a monk at the priory in the eighth century, who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of Britain.

The Lindisfarne Gospels—an illuminated manuscript containing the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were created at the priory, and were on exhibit at a nearby museum, but the time limit imposed by the incoming tide prevented us from seeing them.

We wandered the remains of the priory for some time, reading the various plaques and scrambling (where permitted) among the tumbled rock.  We found the large, now illegible tombstones of several monks, and a modern bronze statue of St. Cuthbert—labelled in braille at its base.  St. Cuthbert, it seems, chose Lindisfarne for its remoteness, but would, on occasion, journey to another nearby island to meditate in total solitude.

Lindisfarne Castle

When we had finished at the priory, we made our way to the headland of the island, where the National Trust maintains Lindisfarne Castle.  This was originally constructed as a Tudor fort, and later converted to a private home.  The path up to the castle is very steep, with steps occasionally cut into it to make the ascent easier.  I was especially grateful for the rope handrail, since the stone path was very slippery.

Edward Hudson, the owner of Country Life magazine, bought the castle in the early twentieth century, and had it refurbished.  The steepness of the path made transporting furniture difficult, so when the National Trust took the castle over, they left it exactly as it was when the Hudson family lived there.  There are photos in many of the rooms that show a young girl playing, with the rooms looking exactly as they do today.
The most interesting feature, I thought, was the exposed mechanism in the scullery that is used to raise and lower the portcullis.  The portcullis is still in working order, and is raised and lowered once a year to make sure it is safe for the many visitors to pass under it.  One of the house stewards told us to look for the wood wedges driven into the stone grooves under the iron gate, put there just in case the mechanism fails!

Our time on the island was running short, so after a quick visit to the castle battery, with a spectacular view across to Bamburgh castle on the mainland, we headed back to the parking lot (with a quick detour to the gift shop so Anna could pick up some Lindisfarne mead; Holy Island is famous for this drink, and for good reason—it’s delicious!)  We paused on our way across the causeway and stepped out of the car so I could get a sense of how barren the space was.  Streamers of seaweed and large tracks of sand and mud were strewn across the tarmac road, but I couldn’t hear the sea at all!  A number of platforms have been built at various points along the causeway for stranded visitors to retreat to if they aren’t smart enough to turn back at the “Do not proceed when water reaches causeway” signs. 😉



Alnwick Gardens

Alnwick (pronounced “annick”) Gardens are on the way from Lindisfarne to Newcastle, and are a gorgeous series of landscaped gardens, including a stepped fountain (don’t linger on the bridge that crosses it unless you want to get soaked by occasional jets of water), a tulip garden, “roots and shoots” area, rose garden, and bamboo maze.  Due to the early season, only the early flowers were in bloom, but we had a lovely time wandering and chatting. 
We stopped for supper on the way home at a roadside pub, and were about halfway back to Newcastle when a small light began flashing on the dashboard.  Following Dad’s directions, Anna pulled over into another pub parking lot, and we all got out.  Opening the hood let out a great belch of steam; Ka was overheating.
While a group of curious pub-goers watched, Dad (who is a recently retired auto teacher), got a jug of water from the pub and tended to the car.  We drove the rest of the way back to Anna’s house without a problem, but Ka has been consigned to the mechanic’s shop for the rest of our stay.  Good thing we’ve got the Polo.
Hadrian’s Wall tomorrow!