Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Walk 145 -- Lindisfarne (Holy Island)

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 155 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 297 days.
Weather: Cloudy but bright. Rain set in as we returned across the causeway.
Location: Beal—causeway end to Beal—causeway end, a circuit of Lindisfarne (Holy Island).
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 1202 miles.
Terrain: The causeway road, grassy paths and dunes.
Tide: Out—this was essential!
Rivers: None, we crossed the sea instead!
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.115 near the castle. No.116 a little further on.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.42, Lindisfarne Priory.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday flat in Longhoughton. We drove to the free car park that overlooks the causeway that leads on to Holy Island, and discovered that the road was already clear of water even though we were half an hour ahead of the ‘official’ time.
At the end we finished the Walk at the car because this was a circular walk. We were nice and early—we had to be because the tide was coming in fast. We had a cup of tea, then went back to our cosy flat to have a bit of relaxation time.

My Dad’s birthday again! Must be a good day to walk. I still miss him enormously, even after 12+ years. He would have been 101 today! I do wish he was still around so I could tell him about our Round-Britain venture, he would have been so interested. But he died three years before we started, so he had no idea we were even planning it.

We were at the mercy of the tides today because Holy Island is cut off from the mainland for several hours twice a day when the tide comes in. We didn’t have to do today’s Walk because it was a circular and we ended up in the same place at the end. But we both wanted to do it because Lindisfarne — the old name for Holy Island — is such an interesting place.
The official time the causeway was supposed to be open and safe for traffic today was listed as 09.40. We got up early to make sure we arrived in plenty of time, and found that by 09.00 the causeway was already uncovered and cars were driving across. So we didn’t waste any time in starting our Walk.
The tarmacked causeway — which was built in 1954 — is three miles long, but a lot of that is sand dunes. Before 1954 people had to walk across the mudflats, a route which is still marked out with tall posts. This morning there was a lot of traffic going over to the island but very little coming back. Probably most of it was tourists going over for the day. We very soon came to a notice informing us that it was dangerous to continue if water has reached the causeway — ignore this warning at your peril! That is where we crossed a bridge, the lowest part of the causeway and the last to be uncovered as the tide goes out.Just after that we came to a refuge, a hut on stilts that you can shelter in if you get cut off. It is very bare and bleak inside — I wouldn’t like to spend several hours sitting in it waiting for the tide to go out! It has a telephone inside from which you can only dial 999, so if someone has been really foolish and got themselves into a life-threatening mess they can call for help. We could see a similar refuge across the mud on the original path which is marked by posts.

We found the road to be fairly narrow, and there was quite a bit of traffic on it. It is just wide enough for cars coming each way to pass each other, but no provision has been made for pedestrians (probably because no one else is mad enough to want to walk across!) Stepping down to slippery seaweed and barnacle-covered rocks was the only alternative to standing our ground on the edge of the road. So we did the latter, and the traffic somehow managed to avoid us.We came to the first of the sand dunes, so Colin wandered behind them to water a tussock of grass. I continued along the road and a bloke in a car, thinking I was on my own, stopped to offer me a lift. I wonder if he fancied me!
We saw a lot of wildlife — herons, curlews, geese, and then a big colony of seals. They were lying on a sandbank some distance away, so we looked at them through our optical instruments (Colin has binoculars, but I have a small telescope because of my eye defect. I can cope with it so much better than binoculars which confuse me — I haven’t got binocular vision, you see). Colin counted them and reckoned there were 78, some of them pups in their white fur.We reached the island, and turned right to walk along the shoreline footpath to the village. Colin stayed on the stoney beach, but I went along the official path which climbed a small sandy cliff. It was very overgrown with nettles and I got the lower part of my trousers quite wet, so I reckon Colin had the best deal. But I could see the seals much better from up there. Colin eventually climbed up to where I was, and we went into the village. We used the tourists’ toilet (free! well done, Lindisfarne! ) before we entered the priory ruins.

Lindisfarne Priory
Lindisfarne Priory is one of the oldest Christian sites in England. Perhaps those early monks felt safe on this tiny island cut off from the mainland by treacherous waters twice a day. They certainly considered there was something very special about the place.

The ‘English Heritage’ booklet tells us:
Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island was one of the most important centres of early Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. It is still a place of pilgrimage today, the dramatic approach across the causeway adding to the fascination of the site.
St Aidan founded the monastery in AD 635, but St Cuthbert, Prior of Lindisfarne, is the most celebrated of the priory’s holy men. After many missionary journeys, and ten years as a hermit on lonely Farne Island, he reluctantly became Bishop before returning to die on Farne in 687. Buried in the priory, his remains were transferred to a pilgrim shrine there after eleven years, and found still undecayed — a sure sign of sanctity.
From the end of the 8th century, the isolated island with its rich monastery was easy prey for Viking raiders. In 875 the monks left, carrying Cuthbert’s remains, which after long wanderings 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 evocative ruins of the richly decorated priory church they built in c.1150 still stand, with their famous ‘rainbow-arch’ — a vault-rib of the now vanished crossing tower. The small community lived quietly on Holy Island until the suppression of the monastery in 1537.
I was particularly interested to find out that Lindisfarne was designed by the same architects who built Durham Cathedral. I didn’t discover this until I had remarked on the similar markings adorning some of the columns. Durham Cathedral is my favourite of all Britain’s Cathedrals — and I have visited a good many. It is so dramatic, and I particularly love the huge chunky columns that line the nave. It amazes me how all this majesty was built using just simple tools by men who could barely read or write, if at all. What craftsmanship!
Other things of interest were the base of a very old Celtic cross which probably preceded any church on the site, and a modern sculpture of St Cuthbert. I was also interested to look at the erosion on the stones which make up the ruins of Lindisfarne. When I did my Open University Geology courses (twenty years ago — help!) I remember being told to look carefully at the walls of buildings constructed with sandstone because you can often see the original layers in which the sandstone was laid down. These layers are very obvious on the old stones of Lindisfarne Priory, and some of the patterns are quite attractive.We came out of the priory, passed a rather nosey horse over the wall, and climbed up on to a bit of the Whin Sill behind the ruins.From there we had fine views of the priory, the church, and back towards Bamburgh. We saw another colony of seals on a sandbank further away than the ones we had seen before.There was a war memorial on the top, and a track led down to a ruined cottage overlooking the fishing harbour and a beach. We sat there to eat our pies, staring across the beach at the castle perched precariously on another outcrop of Whin Sill.We scrambled down a bank to the tiny harbour, and then walked along the beach.The sheds containing the fishing tackle were the hulls of old boats which had been overturned.This gives them a very distinctive shape which we thought was quite artistic. As we approached the castle, we passed a stall selling crab sandwiches, so we succumbed — and very nice they were too. For the wimps there was an expensive minibus plying to and fro between the priory and the castle. We ignored it, after all the distance it covered wasn’t exactly far!
The castle is owned by the National Trust, and we are only English Heritage members, so we by-passed it. Even if we had been willing to pay, we hadn’t got time to dally because the tide was already coming in.
That is where we shook off the crowds — from there on we were completely on our own until we rejoined the causeway. We walked along the eastern shore to a concrete pyramid, and we never did find out what it was for or why it was there.
There was no clear path along the north side of the island, so we got a bit confused. We were aware that time was getting on – we had to beat the tide on the causeway (or spend the night on the island) and the crucial bridge where the road is covered first was three miles away. We took a path behind the dunes, but it was uneven and overgrown. In our hurry we got disorientated and felt completely lost amongst the grassy mounds. We battled on, and came out on a better path. With great relief we followed it to a signpost, but this only pointed us back towards the village where we didn’t want to go.
A less well-marked footpath led straight on, so we followed it for a while, wondering if we’d done the right thing. We knew the causeway was somewhere over to our right, but the map told us it was only sand over there (we weren’t quite sure where we were, really). We followed an unofficial path to the top of a grassy mound, and there was no sand — just the causeway! BUT — there was a barbed wire fence between us and our way out. Fortunately it was only one strand, so we took off our rucksacks and rolled underneath. Now we could ‘quick-march’ the three miles back to the mainland!
After a mile we had reached the twelve hundred mile mark from home, but there was nobody around to take our photos — everyone else was in a car. So we took a picture of our feet to register this milestone, after all they had done all the work!Then the rain started, and it really set in so the last two miles were miserable. There was a lot of traffic, mostly leaving the island now because the tide was coming in fast. It was a bit dodgy where the road was narrow because few cars actually slowed down to pass us. One driver, in a ‘Traffic Management’ vehicle, yelled something at me as he passed. I think it was, “You’re a hazard to the causeway!” — something like that. What cheek! What were we supposed to do? Gloop through the mud? I was incensed! We were really glad to get back to the car parked just on the mainland. The water was not yet lapping at our ankles, we still had time!

That ended Walk no.145, we shall pick up Walk no.146 next time at the same car park where we finished this Walk, at the beginning of the causeway. We had our tea and biscuits, then returned to our cosy flat to have a bit of relaxation time because it was only early afternoon.

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