For with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle;
Dry shod o’er sands, twice every day
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.
Sir Walter Scott
We arrived an hour before the tide would come in, drowning both the causeway and the ancient pilgrim route that still crosses the sands and the mudflats. It would either be a flying visit where we would see little, or we could choose to wait until the tide went out, some eight hours later to leave Holy Island. The causeway would be lost beneath the sea and the Island would become itself for a while, cut off from the world and a place of utter peace at this time of year… We weren’t in a hurry.
We parked the car and walked down to where we could see the castle. My companion had never visited Lindisfarne before and I had managed only the briefest of visits, always ruled by the tide and other obligations. This time we could explore. We drove slowly across the causeway. The sands and grasses of the dunes seem not to form a clear delineation between sea and shore and it seems odd to drive where you know there will soon be waves.
This would be my first winter visit and therefore the first time I had seen the island itself. Normally there is the façade provided for tourist and pilgrim… for this is still a place of reverence, even today. There were very few people about, mostly the odd islander walking a dog or going quietly about their life in the unaccustomed silence. Holy Island was closed for the winter.
None of the little gift shops would open before February, the Scriptorium and museum were closed. But there was bound to be a pub open and that would be our first stop. We had eight hours to explore. It is not a big island… three miles long by a mile and a half wide… but it has a history worth the telling and a rich and varied wildlife.
Today around a hundred and sixty people live on the island yet 650,000 people visit every year. Most visitors come in warmer weather and leave before the crossing is closed by the sea. I was glad we were here in winter and would stay while the sea came in. We almost had the island to ourselves it seemed, except for a solitary walker, who silently trod the pilgrim’s path.