Thursday, 16 September 2010

Holy Island and The Advent Of Writing

I was invited by a friend to visit Holy Island to have lunch with another friend in a tower a hundred yards across the dunes from the sea. Dunes at Holy Island 008

The last time I was on Holy Island was when I was sixteen, two generations and a universe ago. I have a photo somewhere of me sitting on a beach in a red anorak, the harsh wind blowing my hair into greater tangles.

I was there on a ‘pilgrimage’ from my church. Not that we walked the eighty or so miles. There was a church bus, if I remember rightly. But we did walk across the Causeway, which is only accessible if the tide is right. I think I loved it. but really I was too full of my own adolescent concerns properly to  appreciate this extraordinary place.

This time it was different. The day was bright and the wind was soft; the isolation was healing. We sat for a while in the top of the round tower which has small square windows cut into three foot thick walls at all the points of the compass – towards the Causeway in one direction, towards the sea in another.

Three of us – all writers – considered the possibilities of writing about this separDunes at Holy Island 006ate, isolated uniquely spiritual place, this  meeting place of wild nature and the spiritual universe.  The island landscape has inspired films, poetry,  historical and more meditative writing but not, we thought, fiction. Somehow the spiritual depth of the place, did not lend itself to the rough trade of  contrived narrative. I thought that perhaps it might lend itself to fable, to a fabulous weaving of inspiration and vision  -- like the ancient magical tales that thrived here before  advent of writing.

I sat for a while and drew the marram grass in the dunes that holds the island together just as the stories of saints, their writings and their journeys, hold together the myth of Lindisfarne in our imaginations.

I think I have to go again and stay. And write.



  1. Thank you again for a very thoughtful post.
    I know why I keep coming back.

    I have been to Lindisfarne (I should really say near to) exactly once. Unfortunately I was pressed for time and the tide was close to turning, so I did not cross the causeway for fear of being caught by the tide.
    I would like to go again, alas it is a little far from my shores.

  2. Hello Wendy
    I recently discovered your blog via Al's and began following.

    Thank you so much for this reminder of Holy Island. In my youth I went there on a church trip and we walked across the Causeway. I recently viewed the island from the mainland on a visit to Bamburgh and Seahouses.

    I love your phrase 'the rough trade of contrived narrative'.

  3. somehow I've stopped following you Wendy, don't know how I managed to do that so I've signed up again...
    lovely post, that part of the coast and country holds many fond memories for me...

  4. Hello Al - I hope that next time you go you catch the tide because the island is so special. Your camera will be out! wx
    Welcome Christine - how interesting that you too went there on a church trip. That is such a lovely part of the coast. wx
    Welcome back A.M. Given your name I guess you must love the sea, and the sea rules on Holy Island. wx



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