For an unusual and uplifting outdoor walking experience in the north east, why not try a barefoot pilgrimage across the causeway to Holy Island?

Last year a friend told me about the Northern Cross pilgrimage which ends each Good Friday with a barefoot crossing of the ancient causeway carrying wooden replica’s of the crucifixion cross.

Image of 4 wooden crucifixion crosses leaning on grass bank with mud flats towards Holy Island and cars in background

The 3-mile crossing is the last leg of a 5-day Easter pilgrimage made annually by groups from churches in Cumbria, Scotland and Northumberland. The public can join the Northern Cross pilgrims at all stages though most take part in this last leg to enjoy the Easter celebrations that follow over on Holy Island. You don’t have to be religious, the friend who told me about it has been involved for over a decade and isn’t religious at all.

Black and white silhouette image of man holding cruxifixion cross at Holy Island causeway with mudflats and sun behind

It was a very spiritual occasion, full of community spirit, peace, laughter, reflection and rejuvenation.

Meeting the Northern Cross Pilgrims

Caroline and I went along, meeting early in a car park on the mainland where it turned out two more families we knew were taking part, a big bonus as Caroline had anticipated not knowing anyone else.

Image of girl, woman and black dog on lead walking barefoot on mud flats in sunshine on Holy Island causeway

Image of group of walkers in silhouette crossing wet mudflats at Holy Island causeway carrying crucifixion cross

It was a gorgeous sunny day with a gentle wind, hazy light and scudding clouds. We gathered in high spirits, perhaps 20 or 30 of us joining the five small pilgrim groups who had been valiantly carrying the crosses all week. We marched off towards the shore in a gaggle of good humour.

Image of woman from behind with bare feet carrying back pack and walking boots along mud flats at Holy Island Causeway with people and wooden waymarker posts
Otto came too!

At the single track bridge to the main vehicular causeway we blocked the road for a few minutes, to the disdain of certain car drivers, one of whom was particularly vocal and uncharitable. I wish I’d had the clarity of thought to have responded ‘And peace be with you too!’ to her tirade, but hindsight is a powerless ally in such circumstances! We smiled and walked on and hopefully she too was smiling by the end of her day.

Barefoot Pilgrim’s Crossing Experience

The ancient walkway begins where the modern road branches out across the mud flats towards Holy Island and we stopped here to remove our walking boots and socks.

Image of group of barefoot walkers carrying wooden crosses across mud flats on causeway towards Holy Island

This  is how the original pilgrims have made the causeway crossing for hundreds of years since 635 AD. Travelling on foot or horseback at low tide was actually the only way to access Lindisfarne until 1954 when the modern road was built. Before then the way was marked with similar wooden poles to those which we followed on Good Friday. You have to keep left of the poles to avoid possible quicksand!

It took around around 90 minutes to complete the walk, splashing in salty puddles, slipping on slimy mud and relishing soft mermaid’s-hair seaweed between our toes.

Image of two pairs of bare feet from above with toes covered in mud

Some people sang, some prayed, some meditated in silence. The children ran and played, collected shells and searched for fry in the tidal pools between the muddy furrows. Seals sang to us in the distance! We chatted and made new acquaintances and thoroughly enjoyed an extraordinary and uplifting walking experience.

I took over carrying the small cross after a lady slipped in the mud while carrying it (she wasn’t injured), and Caroline later got a chance to carry it too. A surprisingly meaningful experience.

Image of woman walking barefoot in mudflats carrying wooden cross along pilgrims causeway to Holy IslandImage of girl in green jacket with bare feet and rolled up trousers walking in mud carrying wooden cross over shoulder on causeway crossing pilgrimage to Holy Island

Once on Holy Island most of the public left the group but we continued with my friend, who was driving us back across the causeway to avoid being cut off by the tide (see below). The remaining pilgrims carried the crosses to their youth hostel singing a beautiful Easter hymn. Caroline and I were near the front, among the crosses and I videoed us walking with the singing in the background, to discover later that I must have turned the camera off when holding it in the air instead of recording. Technology fail! The memories are there forever though, it’s just a shame I couldn’t share the experience with you.

Image of girl with curly hair walking beside people carrying wooden crosses

Join the Northern Cross Pilgrimage Next Year

If you’d like to join the pilgrimage at any point along the journey in future years you can contact Northern Cross to make arrangements. Take a look at their website here.

Safe Crossing Times

Every year people get stranded in cars as the tide comes in swiftly over the mud flats. You MUST check the safe crossing times before arriving or leaving Holy Island, whether driving the main road or on foot on the causeway, and adhere to them strictly. Daily tide times are published here.

Image of girl on top of wooden refuge hut on causeway crossing to Holy Island
Caroline risk-assessing one of the wooden refuge huts along the causeway!

Below is  a fabulous reflective photo of the day taken by an enthusiastic ‘teen of the wild,’ our friend 15-year old Rowan Harris-Jones, whose photographs can be purchased to help fund his exciting outdoor adventure to the Galapagos islands next year.

Image of group of people and dogs carrying wooden cross over mudflats with bare feet

Great photo Rowan – check out his Facebook page, Northumberlense.

Back home in the garden Caroline and I celebrated completing the pilgrimage with a glass of rhubarb and ginger cordial made by my sister using rhubarb grown on Holy Island!

Image of woman and girl clinking glasses in garden

Cheers!

Keep your family safe at the beach with my beach safety guide and also print out my must-read rip tide survival guide.

For more fun family things to do in the north east check out my Northumberland pages.