Northumberland Part 4: The Holy Island

We arrived on Lindisfarne at around 1:30 and soon the road we’d driven along was swallowed up by the sea. As its a tidal island, Lindisfarne is only accessible during low tide, we were now stuck on the island until low tide returned at around 8 in the evening. We took our first steps on a land steeped in history and religion.

In 634AD Northumberland was in a dire state; its joint rulers, Osric and Eanfrith, had been killed by the invading Welsh forces of Cadwallon ap Cadfan, the king of the Britons, who sought to conquer all of northern England. However Eanfrith’s brother, a Christain named Oswald, marched to the rescue at the head of a small army. They camped out at the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall and did battle with the Welsh. Despite their inferior numbers Cadwallon was killed and the Northumbrians reclaimed their kingdom. Oswald then remained his councilors of their promised, that if they won the battle that they would renounce their pagan ways and accept Christianity, they dutifully obliged. Oswald had converted the Northumbrian nobility but the people of the land were still set in their local beliefs. Oswald sent a message to the great Christian monastery of Iona, asking for missionaries to help convert the local people, he offered the island of Linisfarne as a base for their conversions and from that day on-wards Lindisfarne would forever be synonymous with Christianity.

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St Aiden arrived from Iona and began the immediate construction of a priory on Lindisfarne. The original priory was simple timber building and Aiden spent the rest of his life converting the locals to Christainity, before dying in 654AD. For the next 30 years Lindisfarne was the only Christain bishopric in Northumbria and succession of famous bishops ruled over the island, such as St Cuthbert, Finan, Eadberht, Eadfrith and Eadbert. However in 793 the Vikings arrived and raided the priory and slowly these raids turned to settlement and invasion. The monks of Lindisfarne hurriedly emptying the priory of treasures such as St Cuthbert’s bones and the Lindisfarne Gospels, moving them to the new Durham Cathedral for safe keeping. However the priory was left abandoned until the Norman Conquest during which it was subsequently reestablished as a Benedictine House. After which the now stone priory continued in peace until is dissolution in 1536.

However the priory ruins is now the only prominent feature on Lindisfarne, the island is also home to a 16th century castle, built in 1550, around the same time the priory went out of use. The castle sits on the highest point of the island, a whimstone outcrop known as Beblowe. This provided the castle with a commanding view of the Scottish border, an ever volatile region during that era, however it was not long after, 1603, that the Scottish monarch James I came to power in England and the need for the castle greatly declined.

However in 1715 the castle was the focal point for the antics of pair of ambitious Scottish Jacobite rebels, Lancelot and Mark Errington. While inside the castle for a shave, Lancelot noticed that most of the garrison was away, he and his nephew Mark, then overpowered the three remaining guards and took control of the castle. However the pair soon realised then bite off more than they could chew when 100 men arrived to retake the castle. The two fled but were captured near Berwick; however, true to their nature, they two burrowed out of their gaol and escaped to freedom in Scotland. In more recent years the castle was developed into Victorian manor house.

All this coupled, with a meal and the welcoming pubs and more wandering, kept us plenty busy until eight, too be honest I was rather sad to see the back of Lindisfarne, as it was incredibly quiet and peaceful. Even though its been over 1000 years since the monastery was first established on Lindisfarne it has retained its sense of tranquility.

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