Day 5 of St Cuthbert’s Way: Wooler to Lindisfarne
From the moment we received our itinerary, the last day of our journey along St Cuthbert’s Way loomed large with its big number 18 in the mileage chart.
Before we ever left home, I was harboring doubt about whether I could actually walk 18 miles in one day. The grace of our detours on the first day (both accidental and on purpose) was that we confirmed that we actually could cover a distance of 18 miles in one day. However, the problem remained that on the last day a tide would roll in and cover the final three miles of our walk by about 6pm. And we were slow. The first day we had finished our walk at nearly 7pm.
We figured that in order to reach the causeway by the recommended time (3pm), we had better get off to an early start, which is how we found ourselves already high above Wooler just after 6am munching granola bars for breakfast.
For the morning hours of our walk, it was just us and the animals. We crossed field after field full of green grass and grazing sheep.
I find that in the early hours of a long walk, if you think too much about how many miles are ahead of you, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Even defeated.
So one of the best parts of starting to walk while barely awake is that you can just put one foot in front of the other in your hazy dreamlike state, without giving much thought to the rest of the day.
The air was cool, but the sky was blessedly clear. My mind was lingering on the previous day’s events, while I moved slowly but steadily forward without worry or concern for counting miles.
By the time I was fully awake we had put many miles behind us in our quiet stupor. The sun had grown a bit warmer and we began to keep a sharp eye out for St Cuthbert’s Cave.
St Cuthbert’s Cave is a rock overhang where a group of saints brought St Cuthbert’s remains when they had to flee Holy Island because of a Viking attack in 875AD. St Cuthbert had died in 687AD, but his body, which according to legend had not deteriorated, became sacred and people traveled to Holy Island to receive the same healing and blessing from St Cuthbert in death as they had while he was living.
For eight years a group of saints carried around St Cuthbert’s remains, hiding from Viking raids, until they enshrined them in Chester-le-Street. St Cuthbert’s body stayed there for more than 100 years. Then it was moved to its current home, Durham Cathedral, which was actually built to house a large shrine to the saint. People still visit Durham today to pay their respects to St Cuthbert.
When I visited the awe-inspiring Durham Cathedral, it struck me as a tiny bit strange that a saint who wanted to live his days out quietly in caves and on islands resides in death in such a grand building.
These woods are where I imagine him. Walking and praying and speaking softly to farmers and sheep.
Reaching the wood that houses his cave was a blessing to us in that it helped us mark the way, and even better, the fact that we reached it by mid-morning also indicated that we were well on our way to making the causeway in plenty of time to cross over to Holy Island.
If we kept up our pace and managed not to get lost, we would finish this thing, these 63 miles we had set out to walk five days ago. Even more exciting was that after we left the cave and the woods, we crested our last hill and far off in the distance, there it was…
The North Sea.
We celebrated by having our lunch soon after spotting it. Yes it was still before 11am, but we were plenty hungry already.
We ate our sandwiches and Pringles. Apples and granola bars.
We thanked the Lord that it was not raining, and that we were only six miles from the end.
After lunch we reached the railroad tracks and followed the careful instructions to call the station master for permission to cross.
And then we called him again to let him know we were safely over on the other side.
You have to love the British regard for safety that inspired someone to put these extra measures in place. The only way that railroad crossing could have been any more British was if there had been a queue to use the telephone. (Anna got tickled while making this call.)
After the railroads, we passed the last of the yellow fields. Then we reached the sea. We were almost there.
Well, sort of.
It was a Monday and a bank holiday in England, so every family in the area looking to spend a day out by the sea seemed to be making their way over the causeway road to Holy Island. The road doesn’t really have a shoulder, and it felt a bit discouraging to have so many cars flying by us on the last stretch of our walk, so we opted to get off the road and walk the Pilgrim’s Path across the sand to reach Lindisfarne.
It was a beautiful sight, all the poles in the water guiding you across the sand and the sky reflected in puddles of sea.
But the sand is more a combination of sand and mud. It is recommended that you walk across the sand barefoot, but it was still a bit chilly for that. (Especially for Arkansans!) Also there was not really a place to sit down and put your shoes back on if you decided that you’d rather not be barefoot.
We tried to pick out the driest possible route across, but there were many mis-steps where our boots sunk deep down into the boggy mess.
I kept asking Anna if she thought the island was getting any closer. We were on the sand for what felt like hours and it seemed like we were not really gaining any ground.
Anna said that she definitely felt like the land behind us was getting further away. This was encouraging and stopped me whining that I was going to have to crawl up into one of the emergency shelters to rest for a bit.
Towards the end, I was sort of falling forward more than walking. Each time I got a boot stuck in the mud again, I would yell up at Anna and she would start laughing. She was getting stuck as well, but her boots had been bothering her, so she had opted for her running shoes which were easier to pull out of the bog.
Finally we made it and (literally) collapsed on the other side in the grass. I could not wait to get my boots off. We were resting and letting our feet air off a bit while we watched a party of four senior citizens come across. They were using our footprints to make their way, which helped them to see the sinky bits.
They marched right past us like they were not at all tired, which I thought was rather smug, but then when we got up twenty minutes later to make our way into the village, we realized that they too had collapsed on the beach, but just a bit further down from us.
We couldn’t find an official ending point in town, so we took our picture in front of a map we found.
Later we searched out and found the statue of St Cuthbert in Lindisfarne Abbey, but that was after we spent a while recovering at our hotel.
With it’s gorgeous views and lovely rooms, the Manor House Hotel was probably our favorite place we stayed.
We both about cried when we opened the bathroom door and discovered a TUB! Our first one all week. A soak in the tub and tea in our room was a perfect end to our long day.
We were completely taken with Holy Island. We walked (hobbled) about the island after dinner, and then went and explored with fresh legs the next morning, after which we declared that we would love to bring our families back and let the kids run and play on Lindisfarne.
We were ecstatic to have made it and both so grateful for all the time on the trail to talk and just be together. We agreed that the week had been a delight, and that we would do it again if we had the chance.
It was a wonderful way to see a bit of Scotland and England and to share part of my new home country with my sister. I’m so thankful that she took the time to come and have this adventure with me. Anna said she loved the simplicity of walking from place to place and that it was comparatively less stressful than many other forms of travel.
I even loved that we were following someone else’s story in walking St Cuthbert’s Way, and my journey with this saint has continued even since I’ve returned home. I might share a bit more in the future about tracing his steps, but for now I’ll leave you with these two photos of Holy Island. Above is the view of Lindisfarne Castle from our hotel room window and below is another shot of Lindisfarne Abbey. Both sights are well worth a pilgrimage of your own, even if you decide not to go on foot.
Disclosure: Macs Adventure generously discounted my booking for our walk in exchange for my being willing to tell you all about it here on my blog, which of course, I am more than happy to do since this trip fits in so perfectly with my Year of Walking. I’m trying to blog #48walks this year. Join me?
Read more stories from our wonderful journey along St Cuthbert’s Way.