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Introducing Holy Island (Lindisfarne)

‘A strange and mystical island, ’ a local might whisper solemnly in your ear, suggesting even the possibility of magic. Holy Island is often referred to as an unearthly place, and while a lot of this talk is just that (and a little bit of bring-’em-in tourist bluster), there is something almost other-worldly about this small island (it’s only 2 sq miles). It’s tricky to get to, as it’s connected to the mainland by a narrow, glinting causeway that only appears at low tide. It’s also fiercely desolate and isolated, barely any different from when St Aidan came to what was then known as Lindisfarne to found a monastery in 635. As you cross the empty flats to get here, it’s not difficult to imagine the marauding Vikings that repeatedly sacked the settlement between 793 and 875, when the monks finally took the hint and left. They carried with them the illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels (now in the British Library in London) and the miraculously preserved body of St Cuthbert, who lived here for a couple of years but preferred the hermit’s life on Inner Farne. A priory was re-established in the 11th century but didn’t survive the dissolution in 1537.

It is this strange mix of magic and menace that attracts the pious and the curious; during summer weekends the tiny fishing village, built around the red-sandstone remains of the medieval priory, swarms with visitors. The island’s peculiar isolation is best appreciated midweek or preferably out of season, when the wind-lashed, marram-covered dunes offer the same bleak existence as that taken on by St Aidan and his band of hardy monks.

Whatever you do, pay attention to the crossing-time information, available at tourist officesand on notice boards throughout the area. Every year there is a handful of go-it-alone fools who are caught midway by the incoming tide and have to abandon their cars.