“Lindisfarne” – A poem by Sir Walter Scott with photos from my journey there

Lindisfarne ruins seen from the graveyard

Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Walter Scott’s poem Lindisfarne is very much like a travel description of the Northumberland area starting a few miles from Lindisfarne in Tynemouth outside Newcastle upon Tyne, believe it or not. The 6th line mentions Tynemouth’s priory and bay. From here the poem travels further along the coast up to Bamburgh. And from Bamburgh to Lindisfarne. In fact, one can see Lindisfarne from the Bamburgh Castle which is also mentioned in the poem as king Ida’s Castle.

Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD. It was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on the island in 1550.

I travelled through Newcastle, Tynemouth, Bamburgh and Holy Island in 2011. All photos by me in this post.

Scott’s poem – First lines

(From Marmion)

AND now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland;
Towns, towers, and halls successive rise,
And catch the nuns’ delighted eyes.
Monk-Wearmouth soon behind them lay, [5]
And Tynemouth’s priory and bay;
They marked, amid her trees, the hall
Of lofty Seaton-Delaval;
They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods; [10]
They passed the tower of Widdrington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet Isle their beads they tell
To the good saint who owned the cell;
Then did the Alne attention claim, [15]
And Warkworth, proud of Percy’s name;
And next they crossed themselves to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
Where, boiling through the rocks, they roar
On Dunstanborough’s caverned shore; [20]
Thy tower, proud Bamborough, marked they there,
King Ida’s castle, huge and square,
From its tall rock look grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown;
Then from the coast they bore away, [25]
And reached the Holy Island’s bay.

Tynemouth priory


Bamburgh Castle
IN THE second section of the poem Scott describes the sorrounding nature of Lindisfarne and mentions the tide as well.

Second section of Scott’s poem

The tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the saint’s domain:
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle; [30]
Dry-shod, o’er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.
As to the port the galley flew, [35]
Higher and higher rose to view
The castle with its battled walls,
The ancient monastery’s halls,
A solemn, huge, and dark red pile,
Placed on the margin of the isle. [40]

The Holy Island is a tidal island

 
Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory
Much of the place was under renovation when I visited the place in 2011.

The Lindisfarne castle is located in what was once the very volatile border area between England and Scotland. Not only did the English and Scots fight, but the area was frequently attacked by Vikings. The castle was built in 1550, around the time that Lindisfarne Priory went out of use. The raids of the Vikings is mentioned in the third and final section of Scott’s poem.

Third section of Scott’s poem


In Saxon strength that abbey frowned,
With massive arches broad and round,
That rose alternate, row and row,
On ponderous columns, short and low,
Built ere the art was known, [45]
By pointed aisle and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alleyed walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls the heathen Dane
Had poured his impious rage in vain; [50]
And needful was such strength to these,
Exposed to the tempestuous seas,
Scourged by the winds’ eternal sway,
Open to rovers fierce as they,
Which could twelve hundred years withstand [55]
Winds, waves, and Northern pirates’ hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style,
Showed where the spoiler’s hand had been;
Not but the wasting sea-breeze keen [60]
Had worn the pillar’s carving quaint,
And mouldered in his niche the saint,
And rounded, with consuming power,
The pointed angles of each tower;
Yet still entire the abbey stood, [65]
Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.

The Lindisfarne Castle seen from the Churchyard