Inside treacherous UK island where 'idiot' tourists drive cars into sea and peer in fed-up locals' homes 'like a museum' | The Sun

A BIN lorry edges gingerly across the narrow causeway until the driver sees the North Sea lapping around his wheels and thinks better of continuing his journey.

Wisely, he waits until the water has receded completely before advancing slowly onwards.

This is daily life on historic Lindisfarne in north Northumberland –
better known as Holy Island – which is cut off from the mainland twice a day as the high tide rolls in.

The remote isle has a population of just over 160 people, with no supermarket, McDonald's or even an on-site doctors' office.

And unfortunately, many of the 650,000 visitors it attracts from all over the world across the year don't show the same caution as the bin lorry crew.

Time and time again hard-pressed coastguard volunteers must spend their time rescuing motorists from partially submerged vehicles because they've ignored the well-publicised safe crossing times.

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It's a sore subject when you mention it to the locals.

Fishing boat skipper Daniel Richardson, 31, isn't a man to mince his words at the best of times, but on this subject he is animated.

"It's just stupidity, pure and simple, there's no need for it," he says with a heavy sigh.

"One of the biggest myths you'll hear – and it gets repeated time and time again – is that tourists get cut off by the tide as if the water rushes in and suddenly surrounds them.

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"That's not what happens at all. What they do is set out across the
causeway, especially as they're trying to get off, and they find they've left it too late because the tide is coming in.

"But rather than stop they try to drive through the North Sea and that's only going to end badly for them.

"It's not as though the crossing times aren't well publicised, they're
displayed everywhere but people ignore them and then it's left to the locals to come to the rescue.

"You have the coastguard that has to go out to make sure they get out of their vehicle safely, sometimes when the car is almost submerged, and then it's often a local farmer who drags the car away with a tractor.

"The people who get in this situation are idiots. You can't outrun the tide in a car but it doesn't stop them trying."

'We live by the tides'

The skipper of the Sophie Rose fishing boat should know, having
spent much of his life on the island's beautiful two square miles of dunes and winding roads.

On a good day he rises at 4am to take the helm of his vessel as the sun rises over the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.

However, sometimes the dad of two will set off from his home on the mainland at midnight because the tide isn't in his favour.

"On those nights I stay in a caravan on the beach until it's time to
put out to sea," he says. "It's a tough life but I wouldn't have it any other way. My grandad was a fisherman here so it's a big part of
our family's tradition.

"This is an amazing place. We live our life by the tides and that's alright by us."

Daniel isn't alone in his scathing views on stranded drivers.

After a relatively quiet June, there was a spate of incidents in July
and this month, including a Volvo driver who found himself sunk to the axles in shifting, wet sand.

Holy Island's county councillor Colin Hardy fumed: "You can't stop
silly people driving into the North Sea. The cost of somebody having a little bit of fun and having no common sense is borne by the taxpayer. That is the problem.

"No matter what we do, you can't drive people's cars for them. Despite our best efforts, people still do silly things regardless of the consequences, regardless of their own safety and regardless of the
safety of those people who have to respond.

"On this occasion, they were very lucky as the tide was on the way in.
It was probably quarter of an hour away. They could have been rather soggy very quickly."

The car was towed away by a tractor, but the driver faced a hefty garage bill.

'Like living in a museum'

When The Sun visited Lindisfarne it was awash with tourists, winding their way up the hillside to the 930-year-old priory in the distance like a line of ants.

Others throng around the three pubs, quaint coffee bars and gift shops – and also around long-suffering Thelma Dunne's front door.

An islander born and bred, Thelma, 87, shakes her head wearily as she
speaks of the pitfalls of living in a village where tourists massively outnumber the locals.

"It's a bit like living in a museum," she says. "You'll be sitting in
your living room and a face will appear at the window, peering inside to see what's there.

"It's not an exhibit, it's me sitting in my house, but a lot of
visitors seem to have the view that everything here is public because it's historic.

"I get a bit fed up, to be honest, of all the finger smudges on my
windows and people resting against the house to have their sandwiches.

"They even took the wooden trellis from behind my roses on the side of the house – what would they want with that?"

Thelma reckons she's one of around 50 "Islanders" – those born and raised on Lindisfarne – who are still living there.

She said: "I was born here and had a really wonderful childhood, it was a bit like living in a commune.

"We played on the beach and in the dunes and everyone treated each
other's children with the same care as their own. If there was a problem we found a way to fix it without outside help.

"As a little girl there was only one rule. You could go anywhere on
the island and play freely – but you weren't allowed to cross onto the mainland.

"There was the feeling that if you left the island no one would know where you were and anything could happen, so we stayed close to home and we loved it.

"I didn't leave the island until I was 13 years old and never once felt that I'd missed out on anything."

Thelma eventually moved away when she started a nursing career that would see her live as far afield as London and Glasgow.

But after serving 44 years in the NHS, she, her late husband Patrick
and their young family moved back to Lindisfarne where she's lived in her stone cottage with roses climbing the walls ever since.

Thelma says the tourist influx can be "overwhelming" and traces it back to a specific day in 1954.

She said: "That's when they built the bridge to allow traffic from the mainland. I sometimes wish they hadn't.

"I remember the first bus – it was a red one – crossing from Berwick
with sightseers on board. The islanders went out to watch it arrive, it was quite an occasion for us.

"That was the start of it and now the number of tourists can be overwhelming."

No supermarkets or fast food

The island has been a place of Christian pilgrimage since 635AD when
King Oswald gave Lindisfarne to St. Aidan to establish a monastery.

But the modern pilgrims who settle there are more likely to be escaping the rat race.

Jim Tierney, 67, worked in the printing industry in Birmingham but he
and his artist brother John had a dream to open a gallery selling John's work on Lindisfarne.

Jim said: "Until I came here to start looking at property I had never
even visited Lindisfarne, but as soon as I got here I fell in love with it.

"It's such a special place and there's more to it than the tourists
get to sea. I like it best when the tide is in and you feel that sense of peace and calm.

"We have the darkest skies in Europe and on a clear night just looking up at the stars can be breathtaking.

"I couldn't live in a city again, I find it difficult enough when I
have to go to the mainland to do my shopping – and that's only in Berwick."

There are no supermarkets on Holy Island and the big brands that rule the rest of the UK are also absent.

The nearest McDonald's is 13 miles away in Berwick and it's 60 miles to Newcastle for the nearest TGI Fridays or Waitrose.

You can't even buy a Costa coffee – the closest is at a garage at the end of the causeway.

There is a GP, although his surgery is on the mainland at Belford and the island doesn't have a manned fire or police station.

The lack of amenities would have horrified Andy Cowan, 38, when he was living in the Midland and working in the motor industry.

Now he and partner Sophie Bankcroft take it in their stride and relish the peace of the life they've made on the island.

Andy said: "I used to commute from Leicester to my job in Birmingham and it would take me over an hour to get there. I started arriving ridiculously early and sitting on my own drinking coffee just to avoid the hell of that traffic. Now I can look back at those days and laugh."

He arrived for a temporary stay to manage his parents' pub, The Ship Inn. But somehow LIndisfarne took hold.

He said: "I started to realise I really loved the place and Sophie
started to feel the same. She always imagined herself living and working in London but we couldn't be further from that and it's hard
to imagine being happier."

The couple have two young daughter and have established a distillery, 793 Spirits – named after the year the Vikings pillaged the island.

They spend their days on LIndisfarne but go home to the village of Ford across the causeway, taking care not to get trapped.

Andy says: "It always amused me when I was running the pub to see people oblivious to the fact the tide was coming in.

"They'd comment that it had got quiet and I'd point out that was because everyone else had left before they got trapped.

"I'd turn around and there would be an empty pint glass on the table as they sprinted for their car."

Gary Reed, 69, has lived on Lindisfarne for four years, running his walking tourism business from home.

He said: "I tend to go in the opposite direction to the tourists, there's so much more here than the priory and castle.

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"There are beautiful golden beaches that you can walk on without seeing another soul, it has the most spectacular landscape and most of it is unseen.

"If I'm honest I prefer those places to be a well kept secret, somewhere that the people of the island can enjoy in the peace and quiet."

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