Lindisfarne is a tiny tidal island in the North Sea. It is in northern England, not far from the Scottish border. Lindisfarne was founded by St. Aidan in the seventh century to help spread Christianity in that part of England and it has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The island’s first priory was destroyed by Vikings in the ninth century. The ruins below were built c. 1150 and housed a small community of monks until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1537.
Twice a day the rising tides make passage on or off the island impossible. Sir Walter Scott wrote:
For with the low and ebb, its style
varies from continent to isle;
dry shood o’er sands, twice every day,
the pilgrims to the shrine find way;
twice every day the waves efface
of staves and sandelled feet the trace.
I made the walk onto Lindisfarne last week with 2 other adults and 8 newly confirmed teenagers. We followed the ancient route known as the Pilgrim’s Way. Tall poles mark the safest route (there is the possibility of quicksand) and rescue boxes are available for those caught by a rising tide.
I quickly took off my sandals and walked barefoot through the squishy, splashy mud with the kids. We had been asked to make the first part of the journey in silence. It would’ve been easier to ask the tide to stand still. You see, it turns out that one of our group is afraid of mud–terrified of its texture, especially when slippery seaweed is added to the mix.
She thought she had the right shoes, but they quickly filled with mud and silt. So I gave her my shoes and I gave her my hand to help her along the way. Soon others were helping–one on each side–preventing slips and offering encouragement. And when that wasn’t enough, the boys literally carried her through the mud. It was simultaneously funny and moving. We worked as a team and helped our fellow pilgrim.
Fast forward a couple of days. We’re off the island and in the fabulous city of York with its centuries-old wall surrounding the town. The Romans built the walls to serve as a defense against invaders in the second and third centuries. We climbed up the stairs and set off to walk the walls. It was an easy stroll until we got to a section that only had one wall and no railing…meaning there was only a narrow passageway between me and the ground. Most of our group walked on without a care.
But not me. I am as afraid of heights as some people are of slippery mud. I don’t even like to stand on chairs to change a light bulb. I didn’t go up the scary stairs in my grandmother’s antebellum home until I was a teenager.
I was toward the end of the group, so most didn’t realize my fear. I mentioned to the one behind me that it was “pretty scary” as she passed me. So there I was with no other pilgrims around, navigating the way. Pressing myself to the one wall when others passed going in the opposite direction. Heart racing. Knees like jelly. Focused on putting one foot in front of the other, trying not to cry.
But I made it, by myself.
I much prefer having my two feet on the ground. Or in the mud–that’s fine with me too.