Becoming Holy Island, pt. 1

I have been on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) twice: once in June, at the height of tourist season, and again in December, the week before Christmas, as out of season as can be. Of the two experiences, I highly recommend the latter. Other than another young couple who spent one night at our B&B–and the people who came over for the Christmas service at St. Cuthbert’s Centre–I’m fairly sure Tammy and I were the only non-islanders to put in an appearance that week.

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A clear December morning, 2007, through the condensation-fogged window of our B&B accomodations. There is something about this image that fascinates me: taken on a lark, I have come to treasure it as one of my favorite from the visit. It is a fitting symbol for an island defined by the wishful thinking of those who go there seeking the ghosts of saints gone by–not as it is, or even as it once was, but as we would that it were…

We were fortunate enough to stay at Rose Villa, a small bed and breakfast at the center of the town. The concept of renting a room in someone else’s house and sharing, albeit briefly, the intimacy of their home life is still new to a person raised on a diet of Motel 6’s and Super 8’s. It took me a bit to get comfortable with the idea. Once I did, though, I learned to love it. Furthermore, if you have never had the pleasure of an English breakfast, this is the place to seek out your first. I have seen less food on some buffet lines, and cooked to absolute gorgeous perfection, from the expertly prepared haggis right down to the little roasted tomato (and I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes). Added bonus: Tammy couldn’t do the haggis, so…more for me!

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Rose Villa. Highly, HIGHLY recommended. And tell them the Woodses sent you. Maybe there’s a discount in it for us!

One of the joys of traveling to Lindisfarne in the off-season is the strong sense of solitude it confers upon one unfamiliar with island living, and the opportunity to wander for the most part unhindered, uninterrupted, and unnoticed over the wide expanse of duneland (declared a national nature reserve in 1964). Legend (and Bede) has it that St. Cuthbert, abbot of Lindisfarne from 684-686, walked these dunes during his tenure, communing with the nature he so loved, and a patchwork of fading and faded footpaths testify to the great number of pilgrims who have, in the interval, sought to follow in his steps.

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One caveat: To wander these dunes is to court confusion, and it takes someone willing to become completely lost to truly feel at home here.

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That being said, if you give yourself over to the possibilities, wonder awaits…

During our week on the island, I dedicated several hours to exploration among the dunes and along the shoreline of the North Sea, not a few times thinking I had finally done it–I’d never be seen or heard from again. Somehow, though, it didn’t seem to matter. There was too much to see, so much beautiful bleakness to take in. So, there I stayed, fearless and freezing, lost but found, simultaneously sure and unsure of where I was. I was, in all events, THERE–and if I had vanished into the ether nevermore to appear, I’m not convinced I would have minded…

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The North Sea in winter rests immobile as a pane of liquid glass. There is no deeper peace than this…

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Land gives way to sea so gradually that it becomes almost impossible to determine where one ends and the other begins.

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The island is known for its waterfowl, and the winter months are the best time to see them (presumably because there aren’t any crowds to frighten them away). They did seem somewhat taken aback when I peremptorily invaded their personal space. (My apologies for the grainy nature of the image. My camera at the time was a bit “zoom-challenged.”)

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My only companions as I wandered (besides the birds) were the sheep. This is another of my favorite pictures from the trip. It’s ready for a close-up, Mr. DeMille…

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In the distance, the rock of Bamburgh, ancient seat of the Northumbrian kings, emerges from the mist.

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Wood meets stone in one of the multitude of dividing walls that honeycomb the island.

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Leaving the dunes to re-enter civilization (sort of).

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Standing below Lindisfarne Castle. One of the rare instances in which I find myself in front of the camera rather than behind it. After all, how could one go to such an amazing place and not provide proof of having been there?

They say that Lindisfarne is a “thin place,” a place where heaven and earth meet, so closely intertwined that one might punch right through whatever metaphysical barrier hangs in between and touch the face of God. Now, I did not stumble upon any wayward medieval spirits, and I never heard voices from beyond the edge of time. But I did, in my own small way, manage to break through that barrier and glimpse–perhaps–just a fringe of what lies beyond. I leave you with this succession of images I captured while strolling from town out to the castle, just after a midafternoon rainstorm.

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Calm returns in the wake of the storm…

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A wind from the southwest begins to break up the lingering clouds and blow them out to sea…

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The returning sun chips away at the receding front…

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A gentle glow…

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A pathway appears, a sunshine road stretching to the horizon…

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The pathway becomes a highway…

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And then, prompted by who knows what whispered call, I turned from sea to land…and captured perfection.

Until the journey continues…

3 thoughts on “Becoming Holy Island, pt. 1

  1. Wide open spaces create awe for me. One summer I went to Wyoming and discovered that you can travel for 60km without seeing another soul. It was terrifying and captivating.

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