My Holy Island Circular Walk is a 6 mile hike around scenic Holy Island, home to the famous Lindisfarne Castle.
Historic Holy Island is one of Northumberland’s most visited tourist sites. It is a tidal island, meaning that it can only be reached by car at low tide. The causeway linking it to the mainland is underwater during high tide. You can check for safe crossing times on the Northumberland County Council website.
Highlights of the Holy Island Circular Walk
For my hike I parked at The Snook car park which is located at the skinny western side of the island. This area is part of the 4,000 hectare Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve which, in the words of Natural England, is ‘an ever-changing landscape of sand-dunes, mudflats and coastline constantly re-shaped by sea, wind and time’. Alternatively you could park at the main Holy Island Car Park. These are the only places on the island where non-residents are allowed to park.
From The Snook there is a short path through some sand dunes before emerging onto one of the widest beaches you will ever see (at low tide) which appears to go for miles.
As you can see the beach is not too crowded.
The sand-dunes have been plagued by an invasive plant originally from New Zealand called the pirri-pirri bur with sticky spines which like to hook on to clothing and the fur of your dog and can easily be spread to other sites and harm our native wildlife. If you visit during the months of July-October you may have to spend hours de-burring your dog but when I went in March there was no sign of it.
Another plague was this pile of rubbish dumped amid the dunes and spoiling the normally pristine beaches of Northumberland. I was a bit mystified by this dump. How did it get to this difficult-to-access spot and who could have dumped it? It included household items like Cillit Bang limescale cleaner, not something you would take on a picnic. There were crab pots used by fishermen and cans of strong and cheap white cider of the sort favoured by alcoholics. I think the culprit might be a drunken, house-proud fisherman.
The walk continues to a lovely sandy bay with cliffs which are home to numerous seabirds. The island is frequented by wintering waterfowl who feed on sea grasses and marine creatures. Pale bellied brent goose, widgeon and bar-tailed godwits are among the species found here.
Evidence of former mining activity, probably lime, can be seen nearby.
Another calm beach. In summer the salt marshes burst into flower with ten species of orchid recorded on Holy Island.
On the headland is a white brick pyramid, about 25 feet high, called Emmanuel Head built around 1810 to aid navigation in these waters where shipwrecks were common.
From Emmanuel Head, the trail turns south along the rocky east coast of the island, shown here with Lindisfarne Castle in the background.
Farming, tourism and fishing are the main activities on the island today. There are a number of tourist attractions on Holy Island including Lindisfarne Castle, Lindisfarne Priory, the Heritage Centre and St. Aidan’s Winery. I’ll write about these on another day.
These wooden posts mark the walking route over the sands and mud from Holy Island back to the mainland. This is the Pilgrim’s route and for those interested in following in the footsteps of medieval saints and pilgrims this is supposed to be a great experience. Since it would almost certainly mean getting wet feet I think I will save this adventure until the weather gets warmer, if ever.
With light fading and the end of the safe crossing time approaching I walked back to my start point alongside the causeway road. There is no real footpath here and quite a few cars on the road but it is safe enough, though not for this poor deer which presumably was hit by an inattentive motorist.
Lindisfarne Castle Lindisfarne Priory Lindisfarne Heritage Centre St. Aidan’s Winery
At Wallington House and Gardens you can enjoy a pleasant few hours admiring the interior of this historic stately home and exploring the extensive grounds with woods, ponds, walled garden and conservatory.
Wallington was the home of the Trevelyan family from 1777 until it was gifted to the National Trust in 1942.
Here are some of the highlights:
The central hall is decorated with a series of eight murals by Newcastle-based Scottish artist William Bell Scott (1811-1890) telling the history of Northumberland. Here are a couple of them:
Other outdoor attractions include a wildlife hide from where you might be lucky enough to spot red squirrels, an adventure playground, a play train and a play fort
Walllington is a National Trust property with all the facilities you would expect including a café and refreshment kiosk, parking, toilets etc.
You can find details of opening times, ticket prices etc. on National Trust’s website.
Prudhoe Castle dates from the 12th century, originally a stronghold for two leading northern families, the Umfravilles and later the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland. It has a turbulent history and is famous as the only castle in the north never to have been captured by the Scots, having survived two sieges during the 1170s.
The chapel above the gateway contains England’s earliest example of an oriel window, built around 1300.
This fine Georgian manor house was built within the walls of the castle by the Duke of Northumberland in 1816, during the Napoleonic Wars. Major repairs of the ancient castle, which was in a ruinous state, were also carried out at this time. The manor house now contains exhibits on the 900 year old history of the castle.
Prudhoe has many of the features we associate with a traditional medieval English castle such as a moat, fortified gatehouse, a bridge, surrounding curtain wall, cross-shaped window slits, crenellated walls etc
This outer courtyard, or outer bailey, was the site of the kitchen, brewhouse, stores, workshops, latrines and accommodation block.
Prudhoe Castle from the south by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, 1728.
Painting (print) on display at the castle. Possibly by, or in style of, Thomas Miles Richardson (1784-1848).
The castle is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. You can find details of opening times and ticket prices on their website. The castle is closed during the winter months (4 November – 31 March).
Location of Prudhoe Castle
If you get in a taxi and ask for the castle and pronounce it as ‘prood-ho’ the driver will know you’re not from the area. The locals pronounce it as ‘prudda’.
In my garden it seems to be mating season for toads.
They could be frogs – I’m not an expert in telling the difference – but they seem to have warty skin and they crawl rather than hop so they’re probably toads.
This amorous couple is locked in a tender embrace.
Another pair doing their thing.
There seems to some kind of toad orgy happening here.
Not all the toads have been so lucky. In our pond I saw a number of mangled toad remains.
It appears that some predator has skilfully eaten the choice morsels and left behind the skin, attached to the head, turned inside out, perhaps to avoid the poisonous or distasteful glands found around a toad’s neck and skin.
Which creature could have carried out this clever butchery? The chief suspects are cormorants or herons, or an owl or even an otter, all of which are known to frequent our pond.
Nature can be harsh but there should be plenty of toads to go round. As common toads can lay up to 6,000 eggs in one go we should be overrun with toadlets in a couple of weeks time.
Aydon Castle is a well preserved 13th century manor house which was lived in and used as a farmhouse right up until 1966. It is now owned and managed by English Heritage.
History of Aydon Castle
Construction of the original timber hall is believed to have begun in 1296 by Robert de Reymes.
The house was later fortified and surrounded by a curtain wall around 1305 to protect it from Scottish raiders but could still not avoid capture by the Scots in 1315 and again in 1346.
In the more peaceful 17th century it was converted into a farm with an orchard within the castle walls and additional farm buildings added later.
The Reymes family owned Aydon for several centuries. Later owners and occupants included the Carnaby family whose coat of arms can be seen carved above a fireplace and the Collinson family who left initials in stone on a door lintel.
If you want to visit (closed currently due to Coronavirus) you can find all the details you need on English Heritage’s website. Like many attractions in Northumberland it is closed during the winter months.
As with all English Heritage places, it is best to become a member for free unlimited visits. No only is it good value for money but it is a charity and you are helping to preserve the nation’s history and heritage.