If you like your garden visiting to be a little magical, a little bit mysterious, to be something you want to go back to, to see if it was really real, go to Lindisfarne on Holy Island.
Designed by the legendary Gertrude Jekyll over a century ago, it is no more than 30 x 50 metres inside a wall on a bare, North Sea headland. Owned by the National Trust the path to it across grassland is wholly unpromising. You may imagine it’s a broken down sheep fank until you go through its small gate.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Step one is to check the tidetables. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne lies just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, literally one simple turn off the A1. However you can only get on to it, and most importantly off it, when the tide is out. If, like Cinderella, you tarry too long, your car will be submerged and your trip will be even more memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The causeway crosses a beautiful flat expanse of sand and low water that looks for all the world like the French Camargue and already the magic is beginning. You can readily believe its popularity among film directors.
Park up in ‘the car park’ – there really is only one, for around £2.50 for three hours, after that your garden experience is free. Together with a myriad of other surreally happy people – most of whom seem to have dogs – you are then free to roam around the charming sandstone village and head off towards Lindisfarne Castle which rides a volcanic plug above the sea so dramatically that Edinburgh Castle looks quite work-a-day in comparison.
But rather than go to the Castle (which will cost you a few pounds to view), head to the left, to that apparently broken down collection of stones some distance off, in reality the walls of what used to be a veg patch feeding soldiers of a bygone era.
It’s changed since then. When you finally go through that gate you will be thoroughly astonished. We visited in mid September and, despite its desperately exposed position, the sweet peas were still flowering, the chrysanthemums were rampant and while it wasn’t meticulously maintained and the planting isn’t exactly the same as Ms Jekyll’s design, the colour was just as she intended – like a wonderful impressionist painting.
It took six years to create and all the wonderful attention to detail – the way the level drops away almost imperceptibly from the middle to the outer walls to allow the dry-loving sedums and stachys to flourish at the centre – produces an oasis of contrast and warmth in that raw setting. While the rose border has rather ‘failed to ignite’, a myriad of geraniums + friends are perfect substitutes. On the seaward side the sea buckthorn had refused to add the splash of orange berries it’s capable of in September, but gardens are like that – infuriatingly human!
A plaque about Ms Jekyll outlines her penchant for sowing wild flowers in the walls of the castle by firing them from a gun (don’t try this at home), and tells you that her architect friend Edwin Lutyens (who designed a refurbishment of the castle) nicknamed her ‘Bumps’, all add to the wonderfully intimate experience you’ll have there.
It looked doable if you have an infirmity but it’s a good walk and rough underfoot so some robustness is required. There are plenty, and I mean plenty, of cafes and pubs in the village but it doesn’t feel overly commercial. You could easily do this garden and the Alnwick Castle garden in one trip to the area and have a really fantastic weekend.
Check out those tidetables at the island’s website
By car: Go along the main A1 roadway to the crossroad at Beal which is approximately 8 miles South of Berwick-upon-Tweed and about 60 miles (halfway) between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Edinburgh. (Note: From the A1, Beal appears to consist of `The Lindisfarne Inn’ and `Lindisfarne Services’ both to the East (or seaward) side of the road.) `Holy Island’ is signposted East from Beal – distance about 5 miles. Post Code: TD15 2SH.
Car Parking: Pay and display – about .5 mile from the garden. It looks as though you could park closer if you have mobility issues.
Admission to garden: Free but donations requested.
Facilities: Plenty of cafes, pubs and public loos in the village. The place is full of dogs and their owners – doggy water bowls everywhere. If you want to look around the castle you can tie your four-legged friend up to the fence outside – it’s all very nice and informal.