Magazine article Geographical

Fatal Attraction: The Residents of Lindisfarne in Northumberland Are Facing a Catch 22: Although the Future of the Holy Island Depends on the Development of Tourism, Many I Fear That It Will End Up Destroying Its Distinctive Character

Magazine article Geographical

Fatal Attraction: The Residents of Lindisfarne in Northumberland Are Facing a Catch 22: Although the Future of the Holy Island Depends on the Development of Tourism, Many I Fear That It Will End Up Destroying Its Distinctive Character

Article excerpt

Twice a day, the North Sea rushes across the mudflats and causeway, closing the door on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, cutting off this remote and lonely Northumbrian outpost from the mainland. It isn't difficult to imagine how this spectacle struck a chord with the pilgrim monks of the seventh century, led by Aidan and Cuthbert.

Holy Island is known as the cradle of Christianity in the north of England and is drenched in history: the skin of island cattle was used to make the vellum that formed the richly decorated pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels. And that resonating sense of elemental remoteness has persisted to this day--just about.

Lindisfarne receives around 500,000 visitors each year, mostly squeezed between Easter and the August bank holiday. They flock to see the island's headline acts: Lindisfarne castle, an impressive, slightly Transylvanian affair, perched on a crag above a broad sweep of green grass; and the wonderfully fragmented and atmospheric priory.

The castle is managed by the National Trust, the priory by English Heritage, and this historical picture of fragmented land ownership and interests lies at the heart of Lindisfarne's contemporary challenges. Natural England, the National Trust, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Natural England and English Heritage all own, manage or dictate the dos and don'ts of major portions of the island, leaving the local community of barely 150 people on the margins.

'All the agencies were operating fairly individually on the island, and working in isolation from the community,' says David Suggett, development officer at the Holy Island Partnership. There was no sustained, co-ordinated way of managing day-to-day change. English Heritage held a Viking event, they got 6,000 people and they managed it very well, but the impact on village life was fairly substantial. That's not to point the finger at English Heritage but it's the sort of thing that, if people sit around the table and talk, can be sorted out.'

CONCERNED RESIDENTS

Local fears centred around whether their island was morphing into a theme park. 'Visitors can come here and forget there are villagers working here, that people have retired here,' says Suggett. 'It can be quite scary when six people walk abreast down the road from the car park. This is a living, working village. You can't just come and stare through people's windows, although some visitors do. For such an iconic destination, that's a very negative experience for local people.'

That's putting it mildly, says Dick Patterson, the trust's chairman, who worries that the island of his birth could become a tourist-saturated museum like Bruges. This isn't Beamish [an open-air museum of rural life in Northumberland],' he says. 'I can be gardening and at the same time feel that people are looking at me and wondering whether I'm an actor. What do people expect when they cross that causeway? I don't know, but if you asked everyone, you would get some interesting answers.'

The islanders are feeling the heat in other ways, not least the decreasing population of inter-generational islanders and that ubiquitous bane of rural life--second-home ownership. 'If we're lucky, there may be ten islanders who are living where there grandparents lived. Half the houses are now second homes or wholly commercial lets,' says Patterson.

In a pioneering move, the islanders built 11 affordable homes--a project that has been duplicated across the UK. 'But if it goes just a little bit more towards holiday homes, we will become an upmarket Butlins,' Patterson warns.

COLLABORATIVE PROJECT

In such an atmosphere, opinions can easily polarise. Instead, thanks to judicious diplomacy and old-fashioned people skills, islanders and the parties who manage the island and its main attractions have begun to work more closely together.

The name given to this programme is Peregrini Lindisfarne. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.