Many day trippers to the island are familiar with low tide on Holy Island, but what happens when the island is cut off from the mainland?
Holy Island has two distinct sides, when it is low tide and when the tide is in. During low tide all facilities and amenities are usually open during the high season, but when at high tide many will be closed, with the exception of the pubs (sometimes businesses will remain open during a high tide in the summer season).
In our view, Holy Island is a much better experience for visitors when the tide is high. Yes, some of the facilities and shops may close, but the peace and quiet you can experience more than makes up for it.
You have the island to yourself (only shared with others living or staying here). As soon as it is high tide, the majority of day trippers have to leave (or be stranded), meaning that the island becomes a delightful tonic away from the world. The streets are empty and the pubs become a haven for locals and those staying on the island. The walk up to the castle and past the harbour feels different when you have it to yourself.
Walking around the island’s coastline is a magical experience – the mudflats and sands surrounding the island disappear under the waves and the sea is much nearer, providing a different experience when walking on the coastline. Castlehead Rocks, between Coves Haven and Sandham Bay beach is particularly beautiful at high tide, with waves crashing below you, while you climb across ancient, smooth volcanic rock. Details about this walk can be found here.
The pebble beach at Castle Point is also a great place to sit and listen to the sea rolling over the rocks. The shoreline opposite St. Cuthbert’s Island is a great place to look out into the bay and across the sands at high tide. The seals often come closer the island, as the sea covers the sandbanks they usually congregate at, meaning that you can see them more close-up than when they are basking on the sandbanks or the shores opposite.
The pubs and bars of Holy Island – if the weather turns, the pubs and hotel bars are the best place to go, especially outside the summer high season when cafes may be shut. Both The Ship and The Crown and Anchor do great food, and the Manor House also have great food in their “Priory Restaurant” (better fare than their bar area) . In summer, if you want a meal, especially in the evening (6 – 8pm service only) it is advisable to book, ahead as there is limited space and time for diners. For a drink, you will be fine and there is usually space (Covid note: pubs will usually have more space after 8pm, when the booked dinners are done).
Better still, stay overnight, for the eerie feeling of a place like no other. When the sky is clear you can stargaze with little light pollution, hear the seals sing and the waves crash, and experience Holy Island in a way that day trippers never do. In summer the island gets booked up very quickly, so plan this early, or come and visit in winter for a more authentic experience, when storms batter the beaches and walks on the beaches have a primal feeling to them.
We fell in love with Holy Island after one visit and moved from London. Part of the attraction was that despite being a busy tourist attraction, high tide gives the island back to those who stay, especially in the evenings, when only residents and those staying in accommodation here remain. Now we run our own guesthouse here, for those who want to get the full Island experience without the crowds. We love to share this special place with our visitors. Click here for details of our accommodation.