You can walk or drive across when the paved causeway between the island and the north east corner of the English coast isn’t covered by water. Twice each day the tide sweeps in from the North Sea and covers the road. Or you can join a boat tour. We choose the latter and weren’t disappointed.
While our cruise with Billy Shiels was more expensive than walking or driving it offered many benefits. Most importantly the island was quiet when we arrived as the tides were such that access from the mainland was impossible. Given the island measures 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) from east to west and 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) from north to south, I’m not sure we would have enjoyed our visit as much if there were hundreds of other visitors. And the island can be very crowded – according to tourism officials the island’s population of 160 persons is swelled by an influx of over 650,000 visitors every year.
Arriving by boat also meant we didn’t have to worry about being trapped either on the island or on the causeway by the rising tide. It seems this does happen to a number of motorists.
Most importantly our boat trip was great fun. We travelled in the 12 seater rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) Ocean Explorer which travels at high speeds thus offering an exhilarating ride especially when the waves were quite high! As well as spending a couple of hours on the island we also cruised around the Farne Islands. As we were in such a small vessel we could get far closer to the Grey Seal colony than we did a few days earlier on our all day island tour. We also seemed to get closer to the islands’ cliff tops to see the thousands of nesting birds. Adding to the experience was the informative commentary from our friendly and knowledgeable boat driver.
There were a couple of disadvantages including getting rather wet. However I seemed to be the only person this happened to so maybe the right hand seat on the back of the boat is not the best place to sit. Fortunately this occurred on the way home so I could wander around the island without squelching shoes!
Our time on the island was also limited so we had to prioritise our exploration.
Our first stop was the Priory – a must as Lindisfarne is known as the “cradle of Christianity”. It was from here that St Aidan and St Cuthbert spread the Christian message in the seventh century. Lindisfarne Priory was once the home of St Oswald and was the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the world’s most precious books. Ransacked by marauding Viking raiders in the 8th century, the now ruined priority is still a most impressive site.
We also spent time in a former coastguard tower built more than 70 years ago which is now a lookout. The 360 degree glass observatory provides great views of the island and beyond.
The other main attraction on the island is Lindisfarne Castle. Given our time wouldn’t allow both a walk around the island’s village and a visit to the castle we decided to wander around the streets to get a feel of the island and its resident population. There were plenty of nods of acknowledgment and although there were few tourists on the island during our visit all the shops were open. Most were waiting for the causeway to open and thus an influx of visitors.
It was a combination of the chance to chat to locals, slowly strolling around the picturesque island, seeing some impressive ruins and wildlife watching which made our tour most educational and enjoyable.
*Billy Shiels operates tours to Lindisfarne daily depending on the weather however the Ocean Explorer isn’t used every day. Visit the website for costs and more information.
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