A modern day Viking raid to the Holy Island


A modern day Viking raid to the Holy Island


Northumberland, England.

Year 793, a group of Vikings landed on the Island of Lindisfarne (aka. The Holy Island). They raided the Lindisfarne Monastery and killed the monks living there. It’s uncertain where these Vikings sailed in from, they might have sailed down from the Orkney Islands where they might have resided, or they came from the west coast of Norway.

A surviving monk lived to tell the tale, and this story became a part of the Lindisfarne Gospels. This is the first documented Viking attack, and the year 793 is therefore seen as the beginning of the Viking era, lasting until 1066 with the battle at Stamford bridge.

Norway with Pål arrives 1226 years later to witness the (crime) scene.

How to get to the Holy Island?

It turnes out there is a road, but as tides are going up and down on a daily basis, timing is going to be of importance. I head out early in the morning from Durham, about 1,5 hrs away. Arriving around 09:00 in the morning it seems I timed it well (I had checked the timetable for the tides in advance).

At the point where you start driving over to the island notice those sticks pinned down (see right picture below) for the pilgrims to follow. In case of bad timing and the tide starts to flow there are towers to climb where you’ll have to sit and wait out the tide (or swim). Also, if your car breaks down in the middle of the Island and the mainland on a rising tide that’s where you’ll keep your feet dry.

Driving to the Holy Island

Driving to the Holy Island

Walking to the Holy Island

Walking to the Holy Island

Tides have always fascinated me. It might be because I come from a part of Norway with almost no tides a tall. A 1 meter tide can impress me. A 4-5 meter tide can astonish me, and an 8-9 meter tide can complete blow me away. The fact that they ebb and flow every day adds to the awe of this never-ending up and down, almost like life itself…

Finally on the Island, I parked the car and walked into town. There are three touristic things to see:

  1. The Lindisfarne Priory (Church & Monastery ruin)

  2. The Lindisfarne Castle

  3. The Lookout tower

They are all worth checking out. The Monastery ruin however is not the one that the Vikings attacked back in 793 (that one was made of wood and is long gone). The Castle was built in 1550 and isn’t of much importance, but there is an exceptionally good view from the “rooftop”). The Lookout tower is an old coastguard tower converted into a viewpoint.

I took some time and wandered around on the Heugh, a word that is a descendant from the Norwegian word haug, meaning hill. It was sobering with all the fresh air, wild flowers, screaming sea gulls and beautiful vistas stretching as far as the Bamburgh Castle.

What's left of the 13/14th century monastery

What’s left of the 13/14th century monastery

The Castle seen from the Heugh

The Castle seen from the Heugh

Probably from the Norwegian word "Haug" (Hill)

Probably from the Norwegian word “Haug” (Hill)

My highlight of being here however, was the bay just in front of the Monastery ruins. I stood next to it and gazed at this bay, now at low tide, for quite a while. Trying to imagine the Vikings sailing in here more than 1200 years ago. The excitement they must have had at reaching land, and the terror that it must have spread amongst the monks seeing these fierce looking people with their dragon decorated ships approaching. A passage from the earlier mentioned Lindisfarne Gospels came to my mind:

On the seventh of the ides of June, they (the Vikings) reached the church of Lindisfarne, and there they miserably ravaged and pillaged everything; they trod the holy things under their polluted feet, they dug down the altars, and plundered all the treasures of the church. Some of the brethren they slew, some they carried off with them in chains, the greater number they stripped naked, insulted, and cast out of doors, and some they drowned in the sea.

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A modern day Viking selfie

A modern day Viking selfie

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The Bay - Perhaps the Vikings landed here?

The Bay – Perhaps the Vikings landed here?

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I’ve often wondered if my Viking heritage is much to be proud of… Perhaps they were not more than a bunch of pirates of the worst kind; pillaging, raping, killing. Actually we know at least some of them were, as history rarely portrays the Vikings in any favorable way. Then again, they did not write their own history down. Mostly they would scribble down a name or a sentence to mark their presence or give a short message in their runic alphabet.

I make my way up to the top of the Castle. The view was striking, with a lot of green pasture, a million sheep grazing, a sailboat hiding under the edge of the land and the bay with all its stranded ships. Whoa!

The Bay

See that sailboat peeking up?

Feels just like home

As I’m making my way back to the car I stop outside a shop selling what looks to be Viking swords and helmets (Note: the Vikings did not have horns on their helmets, Hollywood invention). It dawned on me that until now I had seen no writing or any evidence that the Vikings came here in 793. Not even a little plaque telling the story. Maybe for the English this is just a footnote in the tides of history. I beg to differ.

Your friend in Norway,


Pål of Norway With Pål

Pål of Norway With Pål

Norway native, veteran travel guide, sailor, filmmaker, and writer (you might have seen me in one of Rick Steves’ guidebooks!). I want to help you enjoy Norway the right way — like a local. Learn more about me.

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