Ever since we moved here in 2017, one of the most common questions we are asked is how to get to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne if you don’t have a car and want to use public transport. The answer is that trains and buses are not the easiest option, but with a little perseverance and careful planning around tide times, you can certainly make it.
How to get to Holy Island by train (via Berwick)
I’ll start with how to get to Berwick-upon-Tweed, and then how to get from there to Holy Island.
There used to be a train station just across from Holy Island in Beal, but unfortunately it closed in 1968 (apparently, not because of Dr Beeching). A campaign to re-open Beal Station has been running since 2016 by the South East Northumberland Rail User Group, but that’s not much use to you just now, except that you are welcome to support them.
The nearest train station to Holy Island is Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is easily accessible from London Kings Cross (3h35m), Edinburgh Waverley (45m), Newcastle (45m), and all stations in between on LNER (previously Virgin East Coast).
If you are coming from the North-West, you can get from Manchester to Holy Island in about 3.30 – 4 hours (with changes). The best route seems to be Manchester Piccadilly to Leeds or York and then from there to Berwick-upon-Tweed (see below on how to proceed from Berwick).
Before booking your train, always check the tide times for Holy Island’s causeway, and give yourself ample time to get here before the road disappears under the waves of the North Sea. It takes about 30 minutes drive to get from Berwick station to Holy Island, and you might want to plan for an earlier train, to account for train and road delays. If you miss the crossing time, you’ll have to grab a drink on the other side of the causeway and wait for the water to recede. For information on crossing the Holy Island Causeway, see my previous post. When the tide is here, crossing is not an option.
Buses from London and elsewhere to Berwick
I thought I’d add this option too, for those willing to travel for hours on a coach. Times quoted are as they are at the time of writing, so check for changes. National Express run daily services from London Victoria to Berwick-upon-Tweed. They operate a day service that leaves London at 8am (arriving 5.25pm, about nine hours later) and a night service that leaves at 10.30pm (arriving at 6.40am, about eight hours). Return services from Berwick to London leave at 10.40pm and 11.20am. Prices can be very competitive (e.g. £12 one way), if booked in advance.
There are also buses from/to Edinburgh and Newcastle, and if you really have time on your hands, you can change to those from any National Express destination, for example: Manchester-Newcastle-Berwick (6 hours)
National Express Bus Stop locations in Berwick**
Towards Newcastle and London:
Golden Square, The Coffee Shop.
Golden Square, The Leaping Salmon pub
** Correct at the time of writing, please check before you travel.
Getting from Berwick station to Holy Island
Once in Berwick, you have three options (or two options and a bit, as you’ll see below):
477 bus to Holy Island
If you wait for a bus to Holy Island without planning, you’ll be waiting a long time, sometimes days. I haven’t yet met anyone who’s used them, but I’m sure highly organised people might be able to plan around their timetable.
Borders Buses runs the bus service from Berwick station to Holy Island (it was previously operated by Perryman’s, so you might hear reference to the Perryman’s bus). As you would expect, their timetable is dictated by the tides, and varies from day to day. In winter there are hardly any services, and those operate (some) Saturdays and (some) Wednesdays. In summer they are a little more frequent, but you’d have to plan carefully, as it is not really a viable option unless you plan for an exactly timed bus. For the latest timetables see the 477 schedule on their website.
Warning: We’ve heard of at least two cases of people who took a bus from Berwick or Newcastle to the junction on the the A1 that leads to Island with the intention of catching the 477 bus at the stop there. Unfortunately the bus did not stop (either because it was full, or because… well… it just didn’t). Because 477s are so infrequent, their only option was to walk to the Island, which is a very long way.
Taxi services from Berwick to Holy Island
People seem to shy away from using taxis, but actually they are a great option, and the ones that we have used to date (Woody’s and 1st Cab) have been very good at showing up on time and taking account of train and tide times, both for meeting you off the train and for pickups from Holy Island. A one-way trip in 2017 was about £23, give or take a couple of pounds.
Update (Nov 2018): taxi prices have seen a dramatic increase this year to around £28-£30 for a trip from/to Berwick station. Woody’s, however, still offered a fixed price of £25 when I last checked (you’ll need to book by phone to get this price, the website shows a higher rate).
Local car hire
If you prefer the freedom of having a car, another good option is to organise a hire car to meet you at the station. The local prices are fairly reasonable, and start at around £40 a day or £240 a week (correct Jan 2018). I can recommend East Coast Car Rental, who we’ve used three times without any issues. You’ll have to provide your licence and national insurance numbers when booking. They generally take a few days to respond to emails, or you can call them.
By Air to Holy Island
A slightly misleading headline. You can’t actually fly here, but if you are planning a trip from further afield, for example London, and the train prices make your eyes water, it’s always good to check if you could get a cheaper deal flying to Newcastle or Edinburgh airports, and then making your way by train from there to Berwick. Edinburgh airport does not have a train station, and you’ll have to take a tram or a bus to get to one. Newcastle is connected to the rail station by Metro.
With check-in, waiting and transfers, flying into either of the above airports will not usually make your journey shorter than a train, but sometimes costs less.
UPDATE (Spring 2018): New bus service from the mainland (Haggerston Castle) to Holy Island
Woody’s taxi service has set up a new service in 2018 that runs from Haggerston Castle on the mainland, through the junction to Holy Island and then Beal and onto the Island. It operates during high season only.
If you can get to the junction using a public bus, then you might find this quite useful. They seem to make three journeys each way every day, and publish their daily times (that vary according to tides) on their page here.
And don’t forget to check the tide times for the Holy Island causeway, and read my tips on how to cross it safely.
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