HOLY ISLAND: A VISITOR’S GUIDE, by Ian Kerr. Published by the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership (www.northumberlandcoastaonb.org). £7.95. Softback.

Holy Island

IN his introduction, Ian Kerr – The Northumbrian’s expert ornithologist – asserts that Holy Island is one of the jewels of the Northumberland coast and one of the most popular, attracting up to 700,000 visitors annually.

Although famed for its saints and the Lindisfarne Gospels, evidence of much earlier ‘visitors’ are pieces of worked flint recovered around the old limestone quarry at Nessend dating back to the earliest days of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers around 8,500 BC.

The first known island map, made in 1611 by John Speed, showed features familiar today. The priory was depicted as the ‘abbey’, the village was rather grandly described as the ‘towne’, and the Market Place with its medieval cross was included.

The most spectacular religious ruin in Northumberland, Lindisfarne Priory, was established by the Benedictines who arrived around 1120, while Lindisfarne Castle only began life in the 16th century when the island was an important Tudor harbour.

The guide takes readers on walks to less busy parts of the island, including The Lough, which every winter is the scene of one of nature’s greatest spectacles, a huge roost of starlings; in some years up to 40,000 fly in at dusk. Other locations include Emmanuel Head, an area which was the scene of numerous shipwrecks, and the North Shore, where the remains of an 8th century Anglo-Saxon farming settlement have been excavated.

The author argues that the creation of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve in 1964 was the most important decision ever made to preserve one of the region’s most beautiful areas and to protect its wildlife.

Covering today more than 8,500 acres, the reserve stretches from Budle Bay northwards to Cheswick Black Rocks, and includes the rich tidal zones of mud, sand and saltmarsh, island dunes and Holy Island Lough. Today the reserve provides a winter home for around 50,000 Arctic wildfowl and waders, making it by far the most important wetland site in north-east England.