Friday morning we said a fond and very reluctant farewell to our hostess and hit the road early. The visit had been way too short. We had seen little of Scotland, but that wasn’t why we were here. It was a time to visit and share friendship. And we have to go back. However, on Friday we had a long way to go and no idea how bad the traffic might be.
We crossed the Forth ridge and headed south. Of course, the same temptations lurked by the road that I had, sort of resisted a few days before. This time, however, there was a timetable we had to meet and a very long way to go. Drive to Sheffield, book my friend into her hotel, collect Stuart and run across to Stockport for a School meeting… and back again. Which is a fair trot for a day’s driving… and which, in my opinion, made it imperative to keep me awake and interested. Not a bad excuse for a detour, and this time I had checked the tide tables in advance. We may not be able to spare a lot of time, but my friend had never been to Lindisfarne either…
Even the name conjures many possibilities… why would the folk of Lindsey, the early kingdom around modern Lincoln, be settling here? Or does it refer to the old Celtic word ‘lindis’, which means a stream or a pool… or it may refer to the River Low, but low in old place names comes from ‘hlaw’ which means ‘mound’? But then, ‘farne’ could mean travellers…or ferns… or simply land…. And why did the place have another name, Medaut, in a ninth-century history, that might simply mean Healing….? Was that just about the wild herbs and flowers or was there something more…? Lindisfarena was already used in the 8th century…. We hadn’t even got there and the place was infinitely intriguing.
There is a lot on that tiny island, far more than we could explore in the short while we had, but we had a little while to get the feel of the place, and that alone sets it apart. The causeway, accessible only at low tide, runs across the sands to the dunes that form the landward end of the island. A little way across the bay the poles mark the ancient pilgrims’ route, for this has long been a holy isle. Little is known of the earliest settlers, but a human presence on the isle dates back to the Mesolithic period. A carved rock, a stone axe and a flint quarry… who knows what the ancient folk thought of the place. The history for which the island is best known is that of the time of early Celtic Christianity.
The island’s recorded history begins with King Ida who reigned in the area from 547AD. Later, Saint Aidan was sent from Iona, another holy island, to establish a monastery here in 685 AD. Other saints… Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Eadberht, also left their mark on the place and the history can be traced in the religious buildings that remain, evolving over the centuries and still in use today. Once Lindisfarne was the centre of Christianity and the Northumbrians and Mercians looked to Lindisfarne; the Celtic strain, more natural, closer to the old ways perhaps, had little to do with the authority of Rome until the Synod of Whitby in 663AD.
The most famous artefact from this time is the Lindisfarne Gospels, fabulously illuminated, perhaps by Eadfrith. Only a facsimile remains on the island, yet it is easy to feel why they were made here, the lines and curves of the land itself guiding the artist’s hand. We found echoes of that in the Scriptorium with artwork by Mary Fleeson.
We also found a beer named Red Kite… a bottle of which just had to be acquired, as anyone who has read our books could guess. We had so little time, but it was enough. We had time for a coffee, sharing cake crumbs with the birds… and to find what we had come to find, even though we had not known what it was. Sometimes these things simply have to be taken on trust.