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Do you want to take a day trip to Holy Island but don’t have a car? No problem! Here’s how to do it and what to expect.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a very special place.
Surrounded by wild coastal beauty, unchanged from the time when Vikings raided its shores, and accessed by a dramatic causeway from the mainland, Lindisfarne fires the imagination like few other places I have visited.
Crumbling ruins of a medieval priory tell the story of the monks who settled here 1400 years ago, and a diminutive castle keeps watch over Holy Island from a rocky outcrop. Birdlife, flora and fauna abound, including seals from the neighbouring Farne Islands who are frequent visitors.
Lying off the Northumberland coast in the northeast of England, just a few miles south of the border with Scotland, this tidal island is cut off from the mainland twice a day. But at just three miles in length and one and a half miles across, it is easy to explore Lindisfarne in one day, even without a car.
Although small in size, this island punches above its weight in terms of its attractions. Let’s discover how to take a day trip to Holy Island by public transport and what to see whilst you are there.
A short history of Lindisfarne
At the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria, Holy Island was founded in 635 AD by Saint Aidan, an Irish monk who had settled in Iona. St Aidan converted Northumbria to Christianity, establishing Lindisfarne Monastery.
Due to the wealth of its monastery, Lindisfarne was a favourite destination for Viking raiders, causing the monks to flee the island at the end of the 8th Century. It would be another 400 years until they returned, and Lindisfarne remained an active religious site until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537.
How to get to Holy Island
Getting to Holy Island can be a bit of adventure, especially if you get marooned on the island! Whichever way you do it, visiting Holy Island by public transport requires forward planning.
Let’s take a look at the options.
Checking the safe crossing times to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne
There is only one road into Lindisfarne, a causeway that links the mainland to the island. As three miles of this road is covered by the North Sea twice a day, you’ll need to check the safe crossing times before you set out.
The bus to Holy Island
The best way to reach Holy Island if you don’t have a car is by the 477 bus service from Berwick run by Borders Buses. The journey takes around 35 minutes.
The times of this infrequent bus service are scheduled to tie in with safe tide times. As this is seasonal bus service, doing a day trip to Holy Island by bus is limited to the summer months.
Getting to Holy Island by car
Holy Island is about five miles from Beal, on the main A1 road.
There is a large car park on the left before you enter the village. The payment machines take cash or cards.
There is a smaller car park in the village. However, this is reserved for buses and coaches with limited spaces for blue badge holders. There is also a free public toilet here.
Getting a taxi to Holy Island
If there are a few of you, a local taxi from Berwick may be a good option. Several operators will quote you a fare.
Walking to Holy Island: The Pilgrim’s Path
A series of vertical poles, mark a route across the sands and mud between the mainland and island. Following the footsteps of medieval Christians, walking the Pilgrim’s Way to Holy Island takes about two hours.
As with other modes of transport, checking the tide times is essential, setting off in daylight two hours before low tide.
Walking to Holy Island: Along the causeway
Alternatively, you can follow the main causeway to Holy Island. Just take care with the fast-flowing traffic sharing the road.
Getting to Holy Island by boat from Seahouses
Another option is to take a boat trip from Seahouses to Holy island.
Billy Shiels Boat Trips offer a four-hour excursion, sailing along the coastline and the Farne Islands, and includes two hours ashore on Holy Island.
These boat excursions look wonderful. There are greater opportunities for wildlife spotting and they have the advantage of visiting Lindisfarne during high tide when it is much quieter.
However, as some of the island’s attractions opening times are dictated by the tidal timetable, they may not be open. Also, if you do not have a car, Seahouses is more difficult to get to than Berwick.
The best things to do on a day trip to Holy Island
Climb to The Heugh
To get your bearings, I recommend starting your day in Lindisfarne with a short walk.
For the best views of Lindisfarne Priory and Castle and those across to Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands, climb the high ridge known as The Heugh.
From the footpath from the village, turn right and head to the Lookout and Lantern Chapel. Then retrace your steps, passing the war memorial and shipping beacon to Osborne’s Fort built in the 1670s to protect Holy Island from Dutch raids.
Visit Lindisfarne Priory and Priory Museum
Visiting Lindisfarne Priory, the birthplace of The Lindisfarne Gospels, an illuminated Latin manuscript written now in the British Museum in London, is an essential part of a Lindisfarne itinerary.
The remains of the 12th Century monastery, with its striking ‘Rainbow Arch,’ is a wonderfully evocative sight. Much of Lindisfarne Priory was destroyed during The Reformation
If you have time to spare, stop by the Priory Museum to discover more about the history of the priory and of St Cuthbert, the bishop of Lindisfarne, who worked throughout Northumbria.
Visit Lindisfarne Castle
When is a castle not a castle? When it is an Edwardian holiday home.
Perched high on a basalt outcrop, Lindisfarne Castle looks like it has been lifted from the pages of a child’s story-book. Completed in 1570, it housed temporary garrisons of soldiers on detachment from the larger force based at Berwick.
The castle was decommissioned in 1893 but rediscovered in 1901 by Edward Hudson, editor of Country Life. With the help of his friend, the renowned architect Edward Lutyens, he transformed the old fort into a holiday home.
Smell the blooms in The Gertrude Jekyll Garden
A friend and collaborator of Lutyens, the Arts and Crafts garden designer, writer and artist Gertrude Jekyll, created this small walled garden in 1911 alongside the castle.
During the summer months, it is a fragrant riot of colour.
Check out the lime kilns of Holy Island
Once upon a time, Holy Island was the largest producer of lime in England. The lime kilns on the island today were last used in the 19th Century
Lime was quarried from Lindisfarne and transported to the kilns, where it was fired by coal brought in by ship from Newcastle or Amble.
Discover Lindisfarne’s upside-down fishing boats
Don’t leave Lindisfarne before checking out the island’s iconic boat sheds on the harbour.
Fashioned from herring fishing vessels that have been cut in half and turned upside down, these boat sheds now serve as sheds for storage.
Now part of Lindisfarne heritage, and beloved of photographers from near and far, these upside-down boat sheds are even used as offices at the entrance to the castle.
Sample FREE Lindisfarne Mead
Mead is a fortified wine that was produced by the monks on Lindisfarne and is traditionally made from fermented honey diluted with water. Made exclusively on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, mead is one of the oldest drinks in the world and is said to be an aphrodisiac!
To learn more about the ‘Nectar of the Gods’, and for a free sample, stop by St. Aidan’s Winery.
Learn more about Holy Island at The Heritage Centre
For a small fee, pop into The Heritage Centre, a museum displaying information and exhibits related to the history of Holy Island, including an interactive copy of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Its shop has a broad selection of books and souvenirs related to the island.
Stop by St. Mary’s Church
Adjacent to Lindisfarne Priory, The Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, or just St. Mary’s for short, is built on the site of the original 7th Century monastery.
At the time of St. Cuthbert, the first St. Mary’s Church was made of wood but was rebuilt in stone in the 12th Century.
If you have time to visit inside, take a look at Fenwick Lawson’s moving wooden sculpture of monks carrying the coffin of St. Cuthbert.
Go seal spotting
Throughout summer, Holy Island is prime seal-spotting territory. Pack your binoculars.
Can you stay on Lindisfarne?
But what if you want more than just a day trip to Holy Island? I stayed in Berwick-upon-Tweed and visited on a day trip, but there’s something to be said for enjoying the tranquillity of the island once the last day-tripper has reached the other side of the causeway.
Holy Island is small but overnight accommodation is available. However, as the choice is limited, book in advance.
Here are a few options that I have found. All are in the mid-range price range (£100 – £130 per night for bed and breakfast)
Lindisfarne Hotel – an elegant hotel in the village offering eight bedrooms.
Ship Inn – offers four rooms above a pub. Some rooms are available for single occupancy at a reduced rate.
Bellevue Guesthouse – this property, opened in 2019, is 3-4 minutes’ walk from Holy Island village and offers two luxury studios with kitchenette and a ‘no-frills’ twin room.
Further options are available at Beal, at the other end of the causeway.