FROM the minute you hit the road in, you know you’re going somewhere just a bit special.
Well, that road is on a causeway and twice a day the tide rolls over and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne is cut off from the mainland.
So, the most important thing for any visit is a check on the safe crossing times.
It takes just a couple of minutes to cross the tidal stretch and, even though we’re well into the safe-to-cross period, big puddles and sand on the road are a reminder that nature rules here.
To the right we see the poles that indicate the original Pilgrim’s Path, where foot crossings have been made for so many centuries.
The island is, of course, steeped in religious heritage and we stop off first at Lindisfarne Priory, looked after by English Heritage, to get a sense of that.
Former prior St Cuthbert was the most celebrated of the monastery’s holy men and his remains rested in a pilgrim shrine until the monks fled with them from Vikings raiders.
They ended up in Durham Cathedral and it wasn’t until the 12th Century that the monks returned to build the priory church which you can wander round after sketching in the history at the museum.
Here, it’s all neatly done in a timeline, with ancient stones dotted between.
There’s a sense of peace and tranquillity of the island, a way of washing away worries and slowing down the pace of life.
So much so that a leisurely exploration round the streets and windswept paths had left us with an eye on the tide times and a reckoning that the other big attraction, Lindisfarne Castle, best wait for another day.
There’s not a lot of accommodation on the island anyway, so we were just half an hour down the A1 in Seahouses.
The Bamburgh Castle Inn, right on the harbour where you can take a boat tour out to the wildlife wonder that is the Farne Islands, is deservedly a regular award-winner.
A night at the fabulous Olde Ship Inn across the road, a good night’s sleep, a full-to-the-brim brekkie and – with a double check on the tides – we were back on Holy Island with time to devote to the castle.
It recently reopened after an 18-month closure to allow £3 million of conservation work to be undertaken by the National Trust.
It was a fair old time – but then what was originally a Tudor fort has been sitting on the volcanic crag for about 450 years so a bit of a refurb is understandable.
It was redesigned by architect Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th Century as a holiday home on a grand scale and on a previous visit I’d felt it somewhat lacked ancient splendour.
But at the moment the interior is being allowed to dry out. Without the collection inside we find it much easier to explore and really appreciate the structure and hear from the staff about some of the discoveries made during the restoration.
And, of course, the views from the top are simply unbeatable.
From next month there will be yet another look as the Trust have invited international artist Anya Gallaccio to use the blank canvas of a lifetime to create an eye-catching installation.
But it’s far from the only magnificent castle dominating a headland on this wild and wonderful stretch of the north east.
Five minutes’ drive from Seahouses is the castle from which our hotel takes its name. It’s even more dominant and if you think it’s picture-perfect then so do moviemakers who regularly use it as dramatic backdrop.
While Bamburgh Castle has been fully restored, Dunstanburgh Castle, a little further down the coast, is a sprawling ruin.
It’s no less worthy of a look, though, and, like Lindisfarne, it’s partly about how you get there.
We reach it from Craster, famous for its smoked kippers, and as we put our best feet forward, we soon see why it was number nine in ITV’s recent 100 Best Walks.
Striding out with the white-capped sea to our right, it just reminded us again why Northumberland is so worth discovering.
For more information on Lindisfarne Priory, see english-heritage.org.uk
Bamburgh Castle Inn has regular deals, including off-season DB&B packages from just £50 per person. bamburghcastlehotel.co.uk
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