At the end of the last walk I wrote up I had walked south from the start of the causeway to Holy Island (also known as Lindisfarne). This time I was crossing the causeway to make a visit to this very interesting and beautiful tidal island, and to walk around it’s coastline.
I was doing this as a day trip from home, which took some planning, as I had to find a date at the weekend when I was free, the trains were running to the normal schedule (no engineering works or bus replacements) and when the times of the trains coincided well with the bus times.
Having found a suitable date, I booked train tickets a few months earlier from London to Berwick-upon-Tweed for £16.50 each way. I took the 8am train from London Kings Cross (bound for Edinburgh, but stopping at Berwick-upon-Tweed on the way).
I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, then two tube trains to reach London Kings Cross. I had actually arrived a little earlier than expected, as I caught an earlier train from my local station, which gave me a few minutes to head outside and admire the beautiful St Pancras station next door (although technically I think this is the Midland Hotel).
I headed back into Kings Cross station in time for the train. The northern half of this journey especially is wonderful. I always make sure to book a window seat on the right hand side of the train so I can get the best views. First the tops of York Minster as the train reaches York. Then Durham Cathedral and castle. Then crossing the Tyne in Newcastle.
Soon after that the train passed the beautiful village of Alnmouth where I have previously walked, and you get a good view of it from the train (this particular train did not stop there).
A short while later I could spot my destination for the day – the top of Lindisfarne Castle, poking up from above the fields.
Finally, the train arrived at Berwick-upon-Tweed on-time, a little after 11:30am. This left me around 45 minutes before the bus to Holy Island was due to leave, so I walked from the station into the town centre.
The bus timetable for the bus to Holy Island is very complicated. This is because the causeway is only passable when the tide is low and of course the times of low tide vary each day. This means so too do the times the bus operates (I think it might be the only bus in the UK to have to run at different times each day due to the tides, I certainly can’t think of any other bus that does).
(Note – the below is from 2012, don’t use it to plan a journey now, as it’s well out of date).
So first you have to work out if the bus runs on the date you want from the bottom. If it does, this shows the lettered services that run each day from the top. So on the date I did this walk (12th May) it was services C and F running.
The bus arrived on time and soon we were crossing the causeway to Holy Island. Near the end of this video below you can see as the bus passes the refuge, where you can shelter if you get cut off by the tides when crossing and wait for the tide to go back out.
Holy Island is one of the Farne islands (hence the “farne” in Lindisfarne) and unlike the others, there is a permanent year-round population that lives on the island, in the village at south east corner of the island, which has all the usual facilities you might expect, such as a pub and shops. This is where the bus stops so this is where I began my walk around the island.
It must be an interesting place to live but must be tricky if you work on the mainland and have to commute to work and the tide is in.
I decided to do my walk around the island anti-clockwise. Holy Island has much history and at the south edge of the village is the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, which is almost 1400 years old.
It is now in the care of English Heritage and you can visit (for an admission fee), however I didn’t visit as I felt the price was very high given it was in ruins, all of which you can easily see from outside.
The path then soon brings me down to the shore, where there are good views back to the fairly sizeable village.
Ahead is the main bay and harbour with the famous view of Lindisfarne Castle behind it.
From here I can look south over to the beach at Ross Links that I visited on my previous walk the north end of which is only about half a mile from where I was standing.
Looking further south along the coast I can also clearly see Bamburgh Castle once more, right in the distance. (It’s that blob just right of centre on the horizon below).
Behind the beach all sorts of boats are resting on the grass, I guess these must be pulled out over the beach as there isn’t much of a harbour.
At the far end of this little headland were some more ruins, presumably once part of the priory.
A few boats were also moored up in the bay, but now mostly resting on the sand, as the tide was out. I guess this bay, only open to the sea at once side is quite sheltered and a good place to moor boats.
I followed the tarmac path behind the beach that then heads out to the castle. I think this is actually a private road and there is a shuttle bus that operates along this road between the village centre and the castle (for those unable or unwilling to walk the half a mile or so).
The castle is very dramatic located on the top of a steep and narrow hill overlooking the bay. I planned to visit it later, but wanted to complete my walk first.
The path goes along the coast side of the castle and at the end leads to the entrance, but I continued ahead now on the grass to the little bay beyond it, where there are some old lime-kilns, hinting at past industry along this shore.
I made my way along the pebble beach and then rounded the corner and now reached the east coast of Holy Island. Out to sea I could make out the other Farne Islands in the distance.
Stones from the beach had been piled up on the grass behind, something which seems to be becoming increasingly popular.
The east coast of the island was almost entirely made up of this pebble beach sometimes backed immediately by grass and in other places low soft looking cliffs.
Behind me, there were fine views back to the castle.
I soon reached the north east corner of the island, known as Emmanuel Head, where there was a white-painted stone pyramid, presumably some sort of navigation aid for boats.
I now rounded the corner onto the north coast of the island. This was really beautiful with a huge, unspoilt and largely empty sandy beach (known as The Links).
The beach was initially a mixture of sand and pebbles but as I headed west along it, soon became a beautiful white-sand beach backed by dunes.
It was a lovely, remote and wild feeling beach and I seemed to be the only person on it! I do find this quite surprising. The village centre was packed with tourists and yet here was this beautiful beach and not a single person on it (myself excepted). It always surprises me so few people are prepared to walk more than 5 minutes from their car to reach places like this.
Looking inland you can see across to the other side of the island and the castle and see how flat the vast majority of the island is.
I continued along the beach which stretched for a quite considerable distance to the west.
Rounding the corner at the far end I was now alongside the tidal road that links the island to the main land at low tide.
It’s worth noting too that the road is not the only way to reach the island, since there is also a separate low-tide walking route out to the island. This is marked by the wooden posts you can see on the photo below, which go all the way to the mainland.
Curiously, a long distance walking trail, St Oswald’s Way ends at Holy Island but the route over to the island follows the road rather than the walking path which seems rather odd to me. This path is the way you are meant to walk (I found out that it can be dangerous to try to cross at other points – but not until I had already done so).
I now followed the road, or just alongside it, back to the village.
Whilst the village is quite pretty a lot of it is also tourist shops and the like so I didn’t want to linger there particularly, my interest was more in visiting the castle.
So I had allowed time to do that and walked back around to the castle and climbed the steps up to the entrance. The castle is open to the public and owned by the National Trust. As I’m not a member of the National Trust I had to pay for admission. Whilst taking my postcode for the Gift Aid donation they can reclaim the tax from the lady commented I was “a long way from home”. I didn’t dare tell her I’d only come here for the day from there either! I had a rucksack with me and so had to leave that in the admission building but there was no charge to do so (though I think the poor lady was rather shocked at how heavy it was when I handed it over, despite my warning!)
From the top of the castle I had a much better view over the island First looking north, back to Emmanuel Head and the white pyramid you can just see in the distance.
Clearly most of the island is used for the grazing of sheep!
Now it was time to look inside the castle. Inside it was more a home now than a defensive castle. It was originally a 16th Century castle. It was built around the same time the priory went out of use and so some of the stones from the priory were used in building the castle.
It later largely fell out of use and was bought in 1901 by Edward Hudson who converted it to a residence. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1944.
Inside the castle is fairly simply furnished, it was very much a family home rather than a stately home and there was around a half-dozen rooms accessible.
Outside the old gun emplacements and so on were also very visible.
I enjoyed the views from here over the island, with the elevated position of the castle meaning you could see most of it.
It was a very interesting (though small castle) and well worth exploring. Having done so I retrieved my rucksack and descended from the castle again.
Now it was time to head back to the village.
I had a quick look at the outside of the Abbey and was satisfied I could see all I wanted to from the outside.
Now it was time to get the bus back.
I headed back to the bus stop and was pleased to find the bus was already there and waiting. This took me back to Berwick-upon-Tweed station, via a scenic drive back over the tidal road. Here I had half an hour to wait for my train and was pleased to find it was on-time.
Interesting the station itself also stands on the site of Berwick castle, as the sign explained.
I enjoyed the view over the roof tops of Berwick-upon-Tweed as I began the long journey back south to home.
I loved this walk as Holy Island had turned out to be both very interesting and very beautiful. The view of the castle with the boats in front of it is one of the icons of Northumberland so it was nice to see it for myself, and in such good weather. However the coast had also been lovely, especially the beautiful sandy beach on the north coast. I had also really enjoyed the visit to the castle, it must have been a very interesting place to live.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Borders Buses route 477 : Berwick-upon-Tweed (station and town centre) – Scremerston – Haggerston – Beal (Holy Island Causeway) – Holy Island. Twice per day on Wednesday and Saturday only for most of the year. Increased to runs Monday – Saturday during the school summer holidays. There are typically two services per day on days when the bus operates but the times vary each day due to the tides. Consult the table on pages 2 and 3 of the timetable to see which times the buses will run at on which day.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link