The Open Gate

The Open Gate - the oldest house on the island, currently serving as the mother house of the Community of Aidan and Hilda. The house was built in the 17th century, but has had many alterations in the intervening years. The gaps in its stonework provide wonderful nesting spaces for the sparrows that frequent the courtyard!

The north Snook Shore

The North Snook Shore looking east, and surprisingly short of driftwood. Throughout the year, when floods have come down the River Tweed to the north, drift wood piles up on this beach in such quantities that it is economical to run a tractor from the mainland, to gather the timber.

The north Snook Shore

The North Snook Shore looking west towards Snook Point. The vast beach here shelves very gently to the north and waves tend to break a long way out. As a result the sand is soft, easily dries out and gets blown into embryo dunes. Further down the beach razor shells are common.

The north snook beach

The vast expanse of the North Snook beach. The channel in the middle distance is 'Swinhoe Gut', a semi-permanent gully caused by tidal currents. There are shell banks here, but razor shells far out-number cockles.

Ripple marks on the beach

Ripple marks on the beach

The South Low

The 'South Low'. There is speculation that this stream was once called the 'Lindis', lending its name to the island - 'Lindisfarne'

The South Low

The 'South Low' stretching southwards into the Slakes, where it gets shallower and is actually easier to cross!

The Causeway

The start of the Causeway and the beginning of the Pilgrims way. Every year dozens of drivers have to be rescued because they failed to take note of the safe crossing times!

The Bridge

The bridge over the South Low. The stream is at its deepest here. Ducks and swans like this spot, while redshank, bar tailed godwits and other waders stalk the banks of the river looking for food.

A wet slack on the Snook

A 'wet slack', near the Snook House. Slacks form in depressions between the sand dunes. They support a wide variety of plant-life and are generally flooded in the winter months. During the summer, the water table falls and they can dry out - at least to some degree.

A wet slack on the Snook

One of several 'wet slacks', near the Snook House, that form where the ground surface is close to the water table. Slacks support a wide variety of plant-life, some of it very rare in the case of Lindisfarne, and are usually flooded in the winter months and after heavy rainfall events.

The Snook House

The Snook House - now converted for domestic use, but at one time it was a ventilation shaft for Scremerston Colliery on the mainland. The coal seams of dip gently towards the sea from the mainland, and are a a considerable depth beneath Holy Island. The colliery closed down in 1965 ending a period of over 450 years of mining in the area.

The salt marsh shore

The dunes on the south side of the Snook look out over a salt marsh which has grown in size steadily over the years, since the invasion of Spartina (Cord Grass), an American species orginally introduced into Britain to aid land reclamation from the sea. It has choked many of our major estuaries and threatens to join Holy Island back to the mainland. Measures are underway to control it, but a difficult battle lies ahead.

Sea Rocket

Just above the mean high water mark, the 'pioneer community' that starts to build the sand dunes, often includes the plant 'Sea Rocket' (shown here). Plants in this area have to be able to endure submergence by the sea during storms, burial by sand and drought during long dry spells in the summer.

Sea Orache

Sea Orache (seen here) and Sea Beat are common in the 'pioneer community' just above the high water mark. These plants trap sand and start to build the sand dunes. They have to withstand tough conditions where submergence by the sea occurs during storms, burial by sand is common on windy days, and drought typifies any long dry spells in the summer.

Sea asters at the margin of the saltmarsh

At the landward margin of the saltmarsh, where inundation with sea water is infrequent, sea asters grow, often in the most unpromising places.

Dunes on the north coast of the Snook

The dunes on the north coast of the Snook stretch eastward towards to main body of the island, which in this case is shrouded in haar (sea fog). Haar is typical along the North East coast between April and August, any time the wind is light and blowing from the sea. It often occurs when the mainland is enjoying warm sunny calm weather. As the haar rolls in the temperature often falls 5oC - enough to drive most people off the beaches in search for warm clothing!

Boulder beach and wave cut platform

At their eastern end, the dunes on the north coast of the Snook are replaced by a boulder beach formed from glacial erratics which lie on top of a wave cut platform of gently folded outcrops of limestone and limestone shale, some of which are quite rich in fossils. Crinoids, brachiopods, gastropods and occasional corals can all be found here.

Dunes on the north coast of the Snook

The dunes that form the north coast of the Snook are quite 'active'. They are constantly being eroded by the sea and re-established by blowing sand. At their eastern end they are gradually growing towards the mainland. In the times of Aidan and Cuthbert, the dune system would have been much smaller, making Lindisfarne much more of an island!

Clouds reflected by the watery surface of the slakes

A typical view of the Slakes, looking back towards the mainland and the Kyloe Hills. 'Slakes' is a northeastern word for sand or mudflats. Further south on Tyneside the the same features are described as 'slacks', e.g. Jarrow Slacks. In this usage, the term probably refers to 'slack' water, i.e. shallow without much current. The currents in the channels that cut the Slakes, however, are strong and dangerous for swimmers.

Clouds reflected by the watery surface of the slakes

A typical view of the Slakes, looking towards Holy Island from a little south of the Pilgrims Way. Walking across the Slakes is easy enough provided care is taken to start off with a falling tide and enough time is given. Those who can 'stride out' will do it in an hour, but those of us who are a little unfit, or elderly (or both!) will take double this.

A view across the harbour on a calm day

In this view across to the mainland the two hills appearing faintly beyond the Kyloe Hills are Hedgehope (left) and Cheviot (right). The cave where Saint Cuthbert's body was reputedly hidden during the viking invasions lies in line with the Cheviot, in a col in the Kyloe Hills.

An atmospheric view across the harbour towards the Cheviots

An atmospheric view towards the mainland on a February afternoon. The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill are wreathed in cloud and a watery sun struggles to shine through a veil of altostratus.

The dunes at Coves Haven

The main dune ridge at Coves Haven, looking south east towards the cliffs. The ridge is dominated by marram grass, which has the deepest roots of any grass. As the dunes grow, marram converts its leaves into root tissue, to ensure they can still access water. Root systems can go down as much as 10 metres.

Snipe Point, the Back Skerrs and the dunes at Coves Haven

The main dune ridge at Coves Haven, stretching west and north towards Snipe Point and the rocky promontory of the Back Skerrs. This is one of the quietest beaches on the island and a popular spot with the flocks of black and velvet scoter that often mass in the waters of this bay during the winter months. Grey seals can often been seen on the rocks.

Nessend Cliffs, looking north to Castlehead Rocks

Clear visibility and a stiff northerly gale throwing massive waves against the cliffed shoreline at Nessend. The rocks here are a mixture of sandstone and limestone, the latter of which has been heavily quarried in the past for processing into lime. At one time a tramway ran from here to the limekilns east of Lindisfarne Castle.

Nessend Cliffs, looking north to Berwick and the Scottish border

The western end of Nessend Cliffs, looking north to Castlehead rocks and the wave cut platform. While they have no great height these cliffs are marked contrast to the dunes that make up much of the north coast of the island. They also provide a welcome nesting place for fulmars, which are often seen here between February and July.

Castlehead Rocks

Castlehead rocks mark the eastern limit of the cliffs on the north coast. The alternating sandstones, limestomes and shales have very different strengths, the weaker shales eroded back and undercut by the sea and the stronger limestones standing out as slabs. At the headland, boulder clay deposited during the last ice age, covers the solid geology.

Castlehead Rocks

Castlehead Rocks jut out into the sea in this locality, and in certain conditions they cause so much refraction that waves advancing from the north break on both sides. As the tide comes in, the waves can actually break into each other creating a line of spray. Seals love the far end of these rocks and can often be seen slabbed out on the strata. Although they are large, they lie motionless for long periods, so they are not always obvious!

Sandham Bay Dunes

The dunes in Sandham Bay come under fierce attack from northerly gales, when huge waves crash up the shore and undercut them, producing temporary sand cliffs. Generally these wounds are healed in the summer months when gentler winds blow sand up the shore covering up the scars. There is no land between here and the North Pole.

Sandham Bay

Looking west along Sandham Bay towards Castlehead Rocks. While open to the north and north east, the bay is sheltered by the dunes when the wind is blowing from other directions. In contrast to many of the other beaches around the island, the sand here is very firm and smooth with a fair gradient down to the low water mark. This allows encourages quite large waves to break close in to the shore.

Sandham Bay

Looking east along Sandham Bay towards Emmanuel Head. Perhaps the most attractive beach on the island, but being at the northeastern corner, few tourists venture this far. Like most of the north coast beaches, Sandham often has huge pieces of driftwood which have been washed down the River Tweed before finding a home here. In the winter half of the year dunlin, redshank and turnstone frequent the wave margin, while sanderling run up and down the beach in time with the swash and backwash.

Sandham Bay

A windy day at Sandham Bay. Sand drifts have formed in the lee of any obstruction, e.g. seaweed, driftwood, etc., while sand ripples have developed on the normally flat beach above the high water mark. Watched closely, you can see individual sand grains blowing along and the ripples gradually migrating downwind, by which time you might have a sand drift covering your feet!

Emmanuel Head

The white pyramid at Emmanuel Head was created as a navigation marker for inshore fishing boats. High water obscures a rocky foreshore to the east and north of the point. This is a good place to take a rest as there are a couple of garden chairs next to the pyramid and it is usually possible to find one that is out of the wind. The boulder clay cliff here is rapidly eroding and it is probable that over 100 metres have been lost from the east coast of the island since the time of Saint Aidan.

Emmanuel Head

A view east along Sandham bay towards Emmanuel Head. Driftwood washed down by the River Tweed provides a natural sculpture exhibition most of the year. Emmanuel Head is an excellent place to watch gannets flying past in the summer half of the year, as they make their way to and from the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth estuary to the north. Flocks of scoter and eider duck are common in the bay in the winter.

Nessend Links

The links area near Nessend Quarry is a bleak expanse with only the thinnest of soils as a result of the industrial activity. Despite this there are some rare plants in the damper areas between the old dunes. In a mist it might be difficult to find your way back to the village here, so a series of white posts have been fixed into the ground to help walkers find their way back onto the track.

Straight Loaning Slack

As you reach the end of the Straight Loaning (pronounced straight lonnen) and move north into the dunes the path is frequently under water in the winter, and even at other times of year the slacks are often partly filled. A good variety of plants can be found here.

The Lough

The Lough (pronounced lowf with the ow as in owl) is the only freshwater pool on the island. While providing a water supply for the village, it also gives a home to a variety of wildfowl such as coot, moorhen, heron, teal, mallard, etc. There is a bird hide here - it is the only place for miles to get out of the rain on a bad day!

Castle Point

A view east from Castle Point towards the limekilns and Lindisfarne Castle. The ground here is stony, covered by only a meagre layer of soil and prone to flooding in wet weather. During the life of the limekilns it was used for disposal of slag, some of which can still be seen near the kilns themselves.

Castle Point

Storm beaches at Castle Point, thrown up by large waves during the winter gales. Strong tidal currents rip through the strait between the point and the Ridge End reef, which is inundated at high water. On the skyline is the unmistakable silhouette of Bamburgh Castle. Fossil corals of the Carboniferous period are common in the shingle forming the ridges.

Castle Point

A view north from the castle mound, looking out over the eastern fields of Lindisfarne. On the higher ground where drainage is reasonable, some arable farming occurs, elsewhere sheep and cattle are the mainstay. In the middle distance and slightly to the left is Gertrude Jekyl's walled garden.

Gertrude Jekyl's Garden

Gertrude Jekyl's Garden, protected by 2 metre high walls on three sides and a slightly shorter wall on the south side, was built so that the owners of the castle could look out on it from their northern windows. Lindisfarne is one of the most windswept parts of the British Isles with storms force 10 and above fairly common in most winters - hence the height of the walls!

Sunset over the Slakes

A tranquil sunset over the slakes during February. The delicate pinks and blue greys of the sky are reflected in the still waters. Thin stratus and fragmenting stratocumulus clouds decorate the evening sky.

Sunset over the Slakes

A winter sunset over the slakes with the Kyloe Hills in the distance. With the tide out the patterns made from the rocks, seaweed and reflections of the sky present an unforgetable scene.

Sunset over the Slakes

A winter sunset over the slakes and Saint Cuthbert's Island with the Kyloe Hills in the distance. The oranges reflected in the pools on the beach, match the tops of small cumulus clouds catching the dying sun

Saint Cuthbert's Strait

Sunset over Saint Cuthbert's Strait, the shortest passage between Holy Island and Saint Cuthbert's Island. The alignment of the seaweed in the middle distance shows the strength of the current that flows between the two islands when the tide is moving. Each year many people get trapped on the island by failing to take note of the tide!

Saint Cuthbert's Strait at Sunset

Sunset over the Slakes, with rocks, shadows and reflections in the foreground. The eastern extremity of Saint Cuthbert's island can be seen in the middle distance.

Sunset over the Slakes

A spectacular summer sunset over the slakes looking northwest towards the Snook and the Scottish border. In the distance towering cumulonimbus clouds produced thunderstorms and heavy showers on the mainland, while Lindisfarne remained dry throughout the day - not untypical, as Lindisfarne receives significantly less rainfall than the mainland.

Poppies in the wayside

Poppies brighten the wayside along the track down to the beach overlooking Saint Cuthbert's Island. In the distance the Kyloe and Cheviot Hills stretch along the horizon.

Saint Cuthbert's Island

Saint Cuthbert's Island at half tide. The island is only accessible for a couple of hours each side of low water. It was Cuthbert's earlier refuge from the monastic community on Lindisfarne, where he sort time out for prayer and contemplation. Even here, he felt too distracted, and later moved to the much more remote and inaccessible Inner Farne.

Saint Cuthbert's Island

Saint Cuthbert's Island as the sun sets on the Kyloe Hills. A freshening westerly wind stirs the waters. Despite the short distance from the mainland strong westerly winds at Holy island can still produce some quite large waves and if there is a high spring tide, Saint Cuthbert's Island can be virtually inundated.

The Lime Kilns

The Lime Kilns are the remain of an extensive limeburning industry on the island. The limestone was transported by tramway from the the quarry at Nessend a mile to the north. Coal and finished were both shipped from a jetty, the remaining posts of which can still be seen near to the gates into the castle grounds. The kilns are preserved by the National Trust.

Lindisfarne Castle

The true severity of the cliffs at Lindisfarne Castle are best seen from its north side, where columns of dolerite rise over 15 metres from the boggy ground below.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle views from the east, stands on top of a major dolerite dyke, the rock of which is particularly hard and resistant to erosion. To the immediate right ofthe castle redundant herring boats have been turned upside down, covered with roofing felt and tarred to make them into water proof storage huts.

Lindisfarne Castle

The Ouse is a well protected anchorage for small craft. Even though it appears open to the southeast, and waves have to pass over the Parton's Steel, Ridge End, and Long Ridge reefs before they enter. Most break a long way offshore losing their energy. At low tide, the exposed mud flats are a favourite with dunlin, redchank, bar tailed godwit and curlew. At high tide eider ducks often gather here.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle rises from the low lying fields to the north, as seen in this view from the Castle Drive. The south side of the hill is less precipitous and the track up to the entrance affords some excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

Lindisfarne Castle

The most impressive view of Lindisfarne Castle is possible from this western position. The steep dolerite cliffs provide a natural defence for the site, plus a home for a few pairs of fulmar, which can often be seen between February and early July.

Lindisfarne Castle

An atmospheric scene taken from the steep road up to the castle. A watery sun peeks out between high altostratus clouds lighting up the waters of the sound between Holy Island and the mainland.


Fog shrouds the waters off Saint Cuthbert's Island. At the southwestern point of the island a high rock provides an excellent lookout point and good shelter from strong westerly winds on its eastern side. This is almost certainly a point Cuthbert would have used for contemplation and prayer. It is also an excellent point for bird watching at low tide.

Fort and Castle

Lindisfarne Castle trying to hide in the fog, viewed through a gap in the walls of the old fort at the end of The Heugh. The fort was originally built to protect the island from dutch pirates.

Morning Light

Morning Light over a stormy sea, looking out over Long Ridge towards Bamburgh. The night had been one of northerly gales with snow and hail showers. The line of surf is picked out by the sun's rays in an otherwise dark and sombre scene.

Black Law, Low Scap and Guile Point

Calm waters, looking south over the straits between Lindisfarne and Guile Point. The twin pinacles at Black Law, in front of the dunes, were built to aid navigation into the harbour and are still useful for the islands fishermen.

Pilgrims Refuge Hut

A refuge hut for pilgrims that get caught out by the rising tide. Big spring tides can advance very rapidly across the slakes catching walkers out; even more so if fog or nightfall descends. The huts are high enough to remain above water even with the highest of tides.

Pilgrims Refuge Steps

Steps up to a refuge hut. Walking across the Slakes is normally straightforward but danger lurks if a dense fog descends and the tide is rising rapidly. Pilgrims can get caught out - hence the series of refuge huts along tghe Pilgrim's Way.

Pilgrims Way

The lower parts of the posts along the Pilgrims Way are covered by barnacles and seaweed. Walking along the Pilgrims Way is the most direct route between the village and the mainland. In places the sand becomes very muddy and bare feet or wellies are the order of the day. The worst of the mud can be avoided by staying somewhat to the north of the Pilgrims Way at the island end and drifting a little to the south of it where the salt marsh extends south from the Snook.

Pilgrims Way

The Pilgrims Way is marked by a series of poles that run staight from Chare Ends on the island to the mainland. These prove their worth in foggy weather.

Cockle Banks

A bank of cockle shells lies just to the north of the Pilgrims Way near the island end of the trail. One might expect the shells to be displaced by the tides, but wave action in this area is very limited due to the shallowness of the water. From a distance the bank looks as though it has been subjected to a heavy fall of hail!


A close up of the cockle shells that line a sand bank near the island end of the trail. The calm shallow tidal conditions here are ideal for cockles, in marked contrast woth the beach north of the Snook, where razor shells dominate

The Pilgrims Way

The Pilgrims Way: an almost straight line of poles and refuge posts marking the most direct route from the village to the mainland. Anyone attempting to walk from the mainland should note that the published safe crossing times are for the road and not the Pilgrims Way, which is covered by the sea for a lot longer in its lower parts.

The Pilgrims Way

Saint Cuthbert's Island seen from the Heugh shoreline as the tide falls. A mixture of knotted wrack (paler) and bladder wrack (darker) make up the emerging seaweed. This island is a popular high water roosting spot for eider duck, oystercatcher, redshank and gulls.

The Heugh

The Heugh is a sharp ridge to the south of the village. It owes its origin to a vertical sheet of dolerite magma that cut through the surrounding rocks and solidified to form a dyke. Being very resistant, even glaciers have failed to flatten it. It continues on the other side of the Ouse and forms the mound that the castle is built on.

The Heugh

Reflections in the water as visitors look for fossils on the limestone shales at the foot of The Heugh. Close to the dyke, the shales have suffered metamorphism due to the heat of the intrusion. In this area they are very pale in colour, becoming spotted, with distance from the contact. This beach can be accessed from a path that passes from the village.

The Heugh and Castle

The Heugh is a remarkably linear feature. It re-emerges beneath the castle. Why it disappears under the Ouse is uncertain, but there are two possibilities. Either it is cut by faults which have reduced its resistance to erosion, or the magma simply did not intrude so far towards the surface here.

A yacht in the sound

A lone yacht makes lies anchored in the calm waters of the sound between Lindisfarne and Guile Point, while the silhouette of Bamburgh Castle can be seen on the horizon to its right, and the Farne islands to its left.

A yacht in the sound

A peaceful scene as a yacht lies anchored in the sound between Lindisfarne and Guile Point, while clouds are reflected in the pools between knotted wrack seaweed in the foreground.

Lobster Pots

A stack of lobster pots near the fishermens' sheds indicates that Holy Island still has an active fishing community. There are several small inshore craft working here, mostly harvesting crabs and lobsters, a trade not lacking in danger given the capricious tidal currents and weathe conditions that affect these shores.

Lobster Pots and Castle

A view of Lindisfarne Castle from the fishermens' sheds across the Ouse, on a cold grey day in winter.

The harbour at Lindisfarne

A yacht lies moored to the pier at Lindisfarne, with Bamburgh Castle in the distance and an upturned boat-shed in the foreground.

The Ouse and Castle

The Ouse and Castle seen from the path that cuts The Heugh. The path that runs along the edge of the Priory Close in the foreground marks the top of a small cliff that formed the ancient shoreline. The land housing the farm house and port was reclaimed to put distance between the sea and the priory and prevent erosion of soft boulder clay cliffs close to the priory and provide a defensive wetland that any invaders would have to cross.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory seen from the Palace Field. Closed and dismantled following the Reformation, the ruins are now a major tourist attraction. The priory was built long after the monks of Saints Aidan and Cuthbert had spred the gospel from Lindisfarne to much of England, Southern Scotland and parts of the Continent.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory and Saint Mary's Church viewed from the top of The Heugh. The Priory is managed by English Heritage, who have visitor centre telling its story. The church is still very much in use!

The Manor House Hotel

The Manor House Hotel looks out over the Ouse and the Castle. Packed out in the summer, in winter it is one of four pubs and hotels on the island that open for meals in rotation during the week.

The gardens at the back of Fenkle Street

The gardens at the back of Fenkle Street terminate with a steep wall marking the former coastline prior to land reclamation. Excavations by Time Team hoped to find the remains of a bishops house in the garden on the corner, but only discovered an old brewery dating from the period of the Napoleonic wars!

Boat Shed

A close-up of one of the Boat Sheds at the rear of the castle. Despite their humble origins as disused herring boats, the boatsheds are listed buildings and every effort has to be made to preserve them. The National Trust have even converted one of them into a small display room for serving visitors to the castle. The remains of the tramway used to bring limestone to the kilns can be seen on the right.

The Village and the Ouse

The west patio outside the upper floor of the castle affords spectacular views of Holy Island village and the Ouse, as well as views of the Northumberland coastline southwards.

Beached Cobbles

Fishing Cobbles beached for winter with a good example of one of the islands converted boat sheds on the left. The farm houses behind have been partly converted into holiday lets, such is the importance of tourism to the island's economy.

Palace Field

The path across the so-called Palace Field running back towards the village from the Heugh. The Manor House Hotel and the Crown and Anchor pub are left and right of the path respectively.


The western end of Marygate, the island's main street that continues into the Castle Drive.


The houses on Marygate, have a variety of styles and building materials but most of them have the red pan tile rooves so typical of the coast of North East England. Most of the houses are built from local sandstone, which cuts easily but is rather subject to weathering. The harder whinstone (dolerite) is much darker in colour, very difficult to cut, but highly resistant.


The trees lining parts of Marygate are very much the exception rather than the rule on Lindisfarne. Trees are rare over most of the island because of the high winds. The few trees that exist in the village are often targeted by migratory birds and rarities are not uncommon, attracting twitchers far and wide!


A view south alongCrossgate Lane towards the village green.

Village Green

A view of the small village green at the centre of the village.

Saint Cuthbert's Centre

Saint Cuthbert's Centre was once a united reform church serving the island, but while it is still managed by the United Reform Church, it is now a visitor centre charting some of the island's spiritual history. It has a bothy which pilgrims can use for overnight stays by arrangement with the warden.

Fiddlers Green

Looking north along Fiddler's Green towards Lewin's Lane.

A Virtual Tour of Holy Island

Tour Notes

This tour is based on the webmaster's walks around the island over many years. The emphasis is on the natural world more than the island's history, which is well documented elsewhere. While tens of thousands visit the island every year only a small percentage of visitors ever stray beyond the castle or the village.

Should you choose to walk right around the island, make sure you are well equipped to survive the weather as there are few places to shelter. Take careful note of the tide times especially if you are going to walk the Pilgrims Way. Do remember that the tide comes in fast here and some parts of the Pilgrims Way are much closer to the low water mark than the road.

Scroll down to reveal the aerial view of Lindisfarne. Move your mouse around the image to explore different parts of the island.

All photographs © Webmaster