When I say road trip, I mean more of a family holiday to Northumberland’s dramatic and powerful coastline. October half term holidays have been a long family tradition, that now I’m all grown up I’ve continued with my young family. I don’t think the family fully appreciate that the holiday would entail visiting fishing ports, oyster farms and evening meals predominantly in fish restaurants. I personally am having a great time!
A day trip to Lindisfarne takes planning and careful timing. The only access to a remote Island that for nearly 1000 years was a monastery (regularly raided by Vikings), is by a tidal causeway that is submerged for large proportions of the day. You really don’t want the embarrassment of standing on the roof of your flooded car waiting for the lifeguard, so it’s a day with an element of risk and a need to keep an eye on your watch!
The drive along the causeway and through the sand dunes itself is dramatic, the island is a step back in time with the ruins of the original abbey & priory, small village, and an imposing castle on the seaward side of the Island.
For the seafood boffs among us, the reason to visit! It has the oldest oyster farm in the UK. Established by the monks in 1381, when the monks trotted off to Scotland and bought 100 oysters back with them to start cultivating their own stocks. In 1881 a mere 500 years later the beds were rediscovered by Lord Tankerville and once again established and they continue to thrive until this day.
Monks were also partial to booze! To ‘warm the cockles’ obviously and next on the list of tries was Lindisfarne Mead. Not one for us to stock in Faber I have to say but worth a try in the tasting rooms on the island. The mead dates even further back than St Aidan’s arrival with Roman influence. It’s tasty but not wanting to miss that tidal window with the causeway was a big factor in keeping it to one small glass!
The day trip itself! Once you reach the outskirts of the village you park up and it’s on foot from there. Must see are the remains of the priory and abbey the along the waterfront to the castle which was built during Henry VIII’s reign with stones taken from the abbey after dissolution. From there continue walking around the recognised nature reserve all managed by the National Trust, to the Lantern chapel viewing platform (a former lifeboat station) and various navigation points like the rather other-worldly Emmanuel Head Daymark that looks like a shiny pyramid.
“The resulting oysters, due to being cultivated in an estuary in shallow waters, you get a lazy oyster that has a real minerally taste that is high in Zinc, a real punch of flavour but without the saline, sea flavour you get from other oysters around the UK.”
On the return leg of the walk time for a sit down in the sheltered walled garden before getting back to the harbour area where the pleads for ice cream comes from the younger amongst the family, but that’s locally produced as well so all part of the study tour, of course!
For lunch, plenty of local produce to buy from various shops in the area but we recommend the local pubs for a hearty traditional hot lunch. You’ve got The Ship Inn or The Crown & Anchor to choose from. Or on a sunny day grab some fresh seafood from the shack in the main car park and enjoy on the dunes.
All in all, it’s a day out for the whole family, a real adventure, the drive across the landscape alone is captivating and walking the island you get a real sense of the history and charm of the old kingdom of Northumbria. But whatever you do don’t miss the tide on the way home, it’s a long night’s sleep in the car otherwise!
Accommodation on the island is limited but both pubs have rooms and there are various cottages to rent. Failing that Bamburgh with it’s imposing castle is a short drive down the coast or 15 minutes further you are down to Seahouses, the home of the original smoked kipper… but that’s a story for another day.
Here’s a few recipes form Lindisfarne Oyster Farm
On the Shell
Grilled Creamed Lindisfarne Oysters
Put a spoonful of cream over each oyster, with a sprinkling of pepper and a little Parmesan. Preheat the grill and cook for approx. 3 mins. Serve with bread.
Lindisfarne Oysters Provencal
Cover each oyster with garlic butter and a thick layer of Gruyere cheese and fresh breadcrumbs. Place under a hot grill or bake in a hot oven for 5 mins, or until crisp and golden.
Fry breadcrumbs in butter until crisp and golden. Sprinkle over the oysters with black pepper, chives and parsley. Grill under a preheated grill for 2 mins. Garnish with lemon wedges and brown bread and butter.
Lindisfarne Oysters Rockefeller
Fry spring onions in butter, add parsley and spinach, stirring well. Add Anis de Pontarlier or Pernod, Worcester sauce, salt and cayenne pepper. Place some of the mixture over each oyster, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and grill for approx 5 mins until mixture is bubbling.
Out of the Shell
Angels on Horseback
Wrap each oyster in a rasher of bacon, skewer and grill until bacon is crisp, turning as necessary. Serve on buttered toast. Oysters can also be barbecued wrapped in bacon, held between a wire frame for about 2 mins either side.
Fried Lindisfarne Oysters
Dip the Lindisfarne Oysters in seasoned flour, egg and fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs. Fry until golden in oil and butter. Serve with lemon wedges and Tartar or Hollandaise sauce.
Stir-Fried Lindisfarne Oysters
Fry shredded ginger and sliced spring onions for about 3 mins. Add the oysters and cook for a few seconds before adding the cream and allowing to bubble. Season to taste and serve with rice and a green salad.