Holy Island Causeway Information

Tips, Tides and Safety Advice
1 Jan

Crossing Holy Island’s Causeway: Tips, tides and safety

We are often asked how to cross the causeway to Holy Island (Lindisfarne), is it dangerous? How do we know when to cross? This article provides our answers to these questions, but if there’s still something you’d like to know, use the comments section at the bottom of this page to ask.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is cut off from the mainland twice a day during high tide. During these times the causeway leading to the island (“Holy Island Causeway”) is submerged, either in parts, or entirely, and it is impossible to cross.

If you are unfamiliar with the causeway and the workings of the tides, it is best to educate yourself first, lest you become one of the unfortunates (read: idiots), who have to get rescued at taxpayers’ expense.

We got a lot of questions from guests coming to stay at our guesthouse on the island, and decided to create this article to answer the most common queries.

First and foremost: obey tide times, do not worry

If you have any concerns about crossing the causeway, you shouldn’t. As long as you obey the official crossing timetables, you’ll simply be driving on a normal road, with perhaps a bit of mud and water on the surface. With the exception of stormy weather or exceedingly high tides and high winds, there’s really nothing to the crossing.

Holy Island causeway as a road

If you’ve never crossed the causeway to Holy Island at low tide, you might be surprised to discover it is a normal road, and serves everything from commuter vehicles to flat-bed lorries. As long as you plan your crossing for the right times, there is really nothing difficult to the crossing. Yes, in winter the road gets a bit muddy and sandy, and you might drive through water puddles, or even a thin layer of surface water in particularly stormy weather, but other than that it’s simply a road.

The national speed limit (60 mph) applies on the causeway, though a lot of drivers seem to become overawed by the view, or are unsure of the rules and go at a steady 40 or even 20 mph.

By all means drive more slowly for safety if you need to, if the road is covered by water and you can’t see potholes, or if you see cyclists and pedestrians – but please be considerate and don’t slow down by default. The impatient car overtaking you is probably a local.

Causeway Crossing times (official and unofficial)

First thing first: ALWAYS check official crossing times on Northumberland Council’s Holy Island Tide Times page. If you’re visiting once and have no familiarity with the causeway, best thing to do is play it safe and stick to the official crossing times.

Now, here’s the important bit: the main risk to drivers is if they try to cross after the official time when the tide is rising. Yes, there is some flexibility, based on weather, sea conditions and tide height on the day, but unless you’re a local with good knowledge of how the causeway works, you should never attempt this. About once a month a driver attempts to ‘race the tide’ and gets stuck, with their vehicle being written off, and an expensive rescue launched. It’s also the case that if for some reason you break down or get stuck in the mud, there will be no time to tow you away.

Crossing early when the tide is receding

If you are coming onto Holy island and get to the start of the causeway a little before the official crossing time (that is, when the tide is receding) – and if there is no sea water between you and the bridge (where the shelter is) – it is usually safe to proceed. If you do come across water further along, you can simply wait until it clears, or until you see someone else (usually the locals) cross. Having said that, please use good judgement. If you are driving a mini and see a Range Rover crossing, it doesn’t mean you can too. And I’d like to stress again: do not take any chances when the tide is RISING. It’s very easy to misjudge the speed of rising seawater onto the causeway.

When coming off the island earlier than the official time when the tide is receding, one measure that helps predict the causeway is clear is to count poles from the Island-end entrance to the causeway. If the water has retreated from the base of the first five poles, then you can set off, but again (and I cannot stress this enough, sorry), don’t try to cross if you encounter water that looks impassable.

How high does the tide get?

The calculations the council uses to provide safe crossing times are based on a (conservative) formula that takes into account several factors. The most important of these are the timing of high and low tides and the projected height of each tide (though there are other factors too). The default crossing time assumes the causeway will not be passable up to two hours before high tide and three hours after it. These defaults are then reduced or increased based on the height of the projected tide. You can check tide heights for the next seven days on the UK Hydrographic Office website or, if you are a regular visitor, buy an annual tide table from the Holy Island Post Office. The tides range between about 3.5m (very low) and 5.5m (very high). That said, I don’t want to give you the impression that this is an exact prediction science. Changing winds and barometric pressure can create unforeseen significant tide rises. It’s worth repeating (again, sorry): do not brave a rising tide.

If you’d like to see what the tide heights above mean for cars in real life, see our tide experiment in the causeway video we produced where we show the effects of a high tide on a car and SUV.

Crossing the causeway during storms or high winds

Storms and high winds can sometimes shorten the crossing window to Holy Island. This means that there may be surface water on the road during low tide (which is usually fine to cross, with care), and you might even find that the causeway becomes impassable earlier than the advertised time. Exercise vigilance and good judgement. Don’t take risks.

If you decide to stop on the causeway

The Holy Island causeway is an extraordinary place, and visitors often stop along the road, be it to take photos or track waders and other wildlife. The light and sky reflected in the sea is magnificent, as is the eerie view of the poles on the Pilgrim’s Way reflected in the water or nestled in the mists.

However… in the last few months alone there have been several cases of drivers misjudging the soft shoulder beside the causeway road and getting stuck in the mud. Equally, some of the banks that seem like stable sand might be softer than they appear or have drops that are hidden by seaweed. Getting your vehicle stuck in mud is unpleasant at the best of times, but can be downright disconcerting if you’re in a race against time to get out before the road is reclaimed by the sea. If you do stop, it’s best to do so on the tarmaced or designated verges.

Stay on Holy Island. Book now!

If you come on foot

Everything in this article refers to vehicles, not pedestrians. You can walk along the tarmac road (again, minding tide times), though it is not great fun, as it’s often very busy with vehicle traffic and at points there is not a lot of path to walk on.

The real experience is walking on foot on the Pilgrim’s way, signposted by poles, and refuges. It is part of St Cuthbert’s way, a 62 mile long-distance walking route. You can find full details in our post on how to cross the Pilgrim’s Way on foot to Holy Island.

If things go wrong on Holy Island Causeway

If you do get into trouble on the Causeway, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard. If you were meant to get on the island or off the island and the tide gets in the way, take a deep breath and find a place to have a drink and relax.

MORE QUESTIONS?
Use the comment section at the bottom of this page to ask us a question about the causeway.

AND FINALLY
If you’re looking to stay on Holy Island when everyone else has to leave (highly recommended), be our guest! Book one of our rooms, and stay ‘on island’. Enthusiastically recommended on Tripadvisor. Details here.

New! Watch our video: Need to know: Crossing Holy Island’s CausewayLearn about how to the tides work, How high the tide gets, typical scenarios of how drivers get caught out, and additional important tips on how to cross the causeway safely (at the very end of the video).

Holy Island Causeway during high tide

Holy Island Causeway during high tide: I took this one on a day in 2017 when I got delayed on the A1, and was too late to cross.

 

 

Stay on Holy Island. Book now!

1 Response

  1. Ben Bacon

    Thanks for the article. The crazy thing is when i was 12 ir 13 my step dad along with my mother, 2 year old younger brother and 9 or 10 year old ypunger brother got stuck on this road. The tide had already started to come in, the current was very very fast as well. The reflection of the water om the road was quite deceptive and it made the water ove rthe road surface look like a little puddle. Little did we know that it was a foot or so deep.
    My step dad kept driving despute all of ys being concerned.
    Aany way we kept going and all of a sudden ut was like tge car hit a wall. The water got so deep it was waste high and coming into the car. The car stalled. My mum started panicking and so did my little brothers. Also my step father was stuck for ideas. I seemed to be the only one who took action. Immediately tge tide just kept getting deeper. Also the water comes in so quickly. We got out of the car which was hard as well dyee to the fact the water was pressing against it. I remember getting out the right side bwcause the left door wouldn’t open easily (this was over 14 years ago now).
    We started to push the car and we were probably only a third of the way when the car stalled. We kept pushing and pushing for ages wading through the water and it was getting deeper and deeper and the friction from the water was making it very hard. The car actually wanted to move with the water so we had to hold the side whilst pushing. The currents were very strong it was hard to maintain a proper footing. Either way what was minutes felt like an hour. We got to the other side with bystanders there with their cameras and the car just started atraight away and we drove off with the car pouring out water.
    I look back now and re6how much of a life and death situation we were in. All praise to God for assisting us because how we got through it was a minor miracle. Everyone stood and didn’t help. I was annoyed at them but now i understand why because it’s a life threatening situation in hindsight. DO NOT BE A HERO PLEASE. Especially if you have a young family to care for. It’s very very dangerous.
    Thanks for the article.
    Take care,
    Ben

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