Despite being a Southerner I am lucky enough to have family in the North and, as a result, have spent many a happy holiday in the beautiful county of Northumberland. It’s an often underrated place that many people miss out on their way up to Scotland, and populated by warm and friendly folk who have always made me feel at home there. But I am not going to attempt to describe the entire county, my absolute favourite spot of all is a magical little place called the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
It’s a tidal island, just 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, and cut off from the mainland twice a day. It boasts a rich history dating back to the 6th century; the ancient ruins of a monastery; a castle (a Tudor fort refurbished by Sir Edwin Lutyens); a Gertrude Jekyll garden; a working harbour; a former coastguard station; a small village; several churches; sandy beaches and a wealth of natural wildlife to enjoy.
Traditionally a quiet place of Christian pilgrimage, over the years Lindisfarne has become increasingly popular with tourists of all beliefs and backgrounds, especially in the summer months. In daytime throughout August, between low tides, the car parks, gift shops and tea shops fill up with holidaymakers, nature enthusiasts, children and dogs, and the village bustles with life. The local businesses rely on these waves of tourism and the income they bring. But for me, it is when the tide has come in and the day-trippers have gone home, that the island is really at its best.Part of me is tempted to keep silent about this place – to hide my passion rather than share it; as if the island is some treasured secret all of my own. But of course I’m not alone in my love for Lindisfarne. Many an artist, poet, film-maker, musician and author have been inspired by it – Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Sir Walter Scott, Roman Polanski, James Blake and LJ Ross, to name but a few.Describing the innate tranquillity of this small pocket of the world, and the effect it has on me, is a challenge. It can be cold and bleak in winter, exposed as it is to the winds off the north sea – I thoroughly admire the islanders who live there year-round – but even when it’s under snow and ice and it feels like you might lose your fingers to frostbite, Holy Island has a quiet, raw intensity that inspires and allures. And when I am nestled in the sand dunes of the north shore on an early autumn morning, watching mist creep in over an almost-still sea; or lying on a sun-drenched hillside among summer wild-flowers, listening to the ghostly calling of seals on the wind and waves crashing below; with my notebook in hand … I feel happy.
I have never been religious, but I feel Holy Island is my spiritual home. I urge you to visit if you can.
Where is your favourite place?