A Country Life editor’s pilgrimage to Lindisfarne

Country Life magazine's Editor-in-Chief Mark Hedges pays a visit to Lindisfarne, the castle owned and restored by the magazine’s founder as his Northumberland retreat.

When I first became Editor of Country Life back in 2006, I was deeply thrilled to have been offered the job I most coveted in publishing. Country Life had been a triumphant success for more than a century and was one of the most recognisable publications in Britain. It had always been the most eclectic of magazines and, remarkably, was — and still is — the only perfect-bound title produced weekly in the country. What I didn’t know about was its history and, in particular, the man who founded it, Edward Hudson.

His picture hung above the desk in my office, staring down with a tired expression at my labours, but, as time went by, I found that I wanted to find out more about him, the man whose vision had provided me with my dream job.

Lindisfarne Castle stands at the end of Holy Island on the north-east coast of Northumberland. In 1901, Hudson bought the castle on proceeds from the swift success of Country Life, which he had launched four years before, on January 8, 1897. The island is of enormous importance as a centre of early English Christianity, cut off by tides from the mainland twice a day and was the scene of the first Viking raid on Britain in 793. Is there anywhere else in which so much of our history has taken place in such a small place, outside of London?

When I visited Lindisfarne to find out more about Hudson, I was struck by the ethereal light across the mudflats; the seals’ mournful singing and the broken monastery destroyed by the Scandinavian invaders. It is a mysterious place of beauty, piety and sadness. In the distance, past the little fishing boats, stands the castle, which you approach on foot. Hudson commissioned his protégé, Edwin Lutyens, to remodel the rooms, which have a troglodyte simplicity, as, outside, Gertrude Jekyll made a small garden a short distance from the castle.

This was where the great man greeted his guests in evening dress, waving a glass of Champagne as they arrived from the nearby station on the mainland. There, he built a nine-hole golf course in the dunes and spent his summers, notably with his grand amour, the Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia, who performed small concerts in the castle and to whom he was briefly engaged.

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However, Lindisfarne Castle is a refuge of exclusion, rather than inclusion; Hudson, like me, was a shy man. It was ultimately somewhere to be with close friends, to think, escape and allow the waves and the wonder of the place to combine.

Where to stay near Lindisfarne

For many living in southern England, their thoughts turn to the West Country for a summer break, but Northumberland offers everything to be as glorious as Cornwall. The beaches are as good as any in Britain and, although the sea is often cold, the county more than makes up for that with its splendid castles (there are more than 70), including Alnwick, Bamburgh and Chillingham.

We stayed at East House, one of more than 100 holiday cottages in Northumberland selected and offered by Crabtree and Crabtree. There is a beautiful home — from romantic getaways to great houses with 20 beds — to suit the most discerning of tastes.

East House is an imposing Grade II-listed Georgian manor, surrounded by a pretty, well-tended garden only a short walk from Cheswick sands, one of the quietest beaches in Northumberland, which, out of season, means that you will be alone on the sand. In even better news, the house accepts dogs, so it would make the perfect place to host a family celebration.

There are plenty of excellent restaurants and pubs nearby, a welcome reward after a day in the freshest of air under astonishingly big skies. This was the third Crabtree and Crabtree I have stayed in, including The Boathouse at Norham for fishing on the River Tweed. I can’t imagine going back there without trying out another.

Seven nights at East House (sleeps up to 12 guests) from £1,950 — 01573 2267111; www.crabtreeandcrabtree.com