Explore history and heritage on the St Cuthbert’s Way

01 January 2021
edwinrijkaart-59628.jpg Melrose Abbey copyright EdwinJkaart
Explore the beautiful countryside between the Scottish Borders and Northumberland with History Scotland’s guide to walking the St Cuthbert’s Way.

St Cuthbert’s Way is a long-distance walking route from Melrose in Scotland to Holy Island in Northumberland that can be walked in four to six days, with lots to see and do along the way.

The Way is named after Saint Cuthbert, who began his religious life at Melrose Abbey and was finally laid to rest on the beautiful, tidal Holy Island. The St Cuthbert’s Way is both a long-distance walking route and a pilgrimate route and is enjoyed by thousands of people every year.

St Cuthbert wall painting, Durham CathedralWho was St Cuthbert?

St Cuthbert (c.634- 20 March 687AD) was a monk, bishop and hermit of the early Northumbrian church. Seventh-century Northumbria was a golden era for the Christian church, with a flowering of religious literature and practice following the conversion of King Edwin to Christianity in 627AD.

Cuthbert was born around 634AD and grew up near Lauderdale in present-day East Lothian – at the time part of the kingdom of Northumbria. His home town was close to Old Melrose Abbey, which stood near to the present-day 12th-century ruin.

Cuthbert became prior of the abbey in 662 and around 665, become prior of Lindisfarne Abbey on Holy Island (Lindisfarne), Northumberland. He lived as a hermit in his final years and died on 20 March 687 on the island of Inner Farne, where his hermitage was. His final resting place is Durham Cathedral.

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Walking the St Cuthbert’s Way

Opened in 1996, the 100km St Cuthbert’s Way is one of Britain’s most accessible long-distance trails and is well served by places to stay and eat, visitor attractions and support services (eg for the transport of luggage, guided walks, visitor information). You can either plan to walk the full trail in under a week, or simply dip in and out by walking one or more sections of the trail.

The trail begins in Melrose and is marked throughout by resin cross markers. During the journey, you’ll travel through the pretty Borders countryside, with its medieval abbeys, along the River Tweed, into the glorious views of the Cheviot Hills and on towards the North Sea and the tidal island of Lindisfarne, your final destination.

Whilst the walk can be completed in either direction, the most popular direction of travel is east from Melrose to Lindisfarne, which puts the prevailing south-westerly wind behind you, together with the excitement of a memorable finish when you reach the North Sea and make the final barefoot crossing over to Lindisfarne, like so many pilgrims and travelers over the centuries.

The route stage-by stage

Melrose to Harestanes – 24km

Leave from medieval Melrose Abbey and the town of Melrose, climbing into the Eildon Hills, before passing through Bowden, along the banks of the Tweed (with views of Dryburgh Abbey) and on through Maxton to Harestanes, where there are lots of accommodation options around nearby Jedburgh – another abbey town.

Harestanes to Kirk Yetholm – 28km

This section runs alongside the River Teviot to Jedfoot, then on towards the Borders stronghold Cessford Castle. Leave the village of Morebattle before a climb to Wideopen Hill,k the highest point on the trail, then through to the end of this stage at Kirk Yetholm.

Kirk Yetholm to Wooler – 19km

This section continues to the hillfort of Green Humbleton then crosses into England and the Northumberland National Park. Continue the trail through Elsonburn and Hethpool before reaching the Iron Age fort of Yeavering Bell and the busy town of Wooler.

Wooler to Fenwick – 19km

The walk now crosses Weetwood Moor and continues along the River Till, with its 16th-century bridge, along to Horton and St Cuthbert’s cave, where the saint’s remains were hidden in 875AD by monks fleeing a Viking raid at Lindisfarne.

The track continues through Shiellow Wood and the end is in sight, with views of the island of Lindisfarne ahead.

Fenwick to Holy Island – 10km

This final stretch rewards walkers with glorious views of the end point as the North Sea comes into view. Enjoy a walk along past the World War Two coastal defences and Fenwick Granary before planning your final section of the walk when the twice-daily low tide times allow.

Where to stay

Drybrugh Abbey Hotel, Melrose

A country house hotel and restaurant next to the River Tweed with pool, sauna and fireside lounges. Website.

Lamingfield Cottage, Kelso

Enjoy a break from the Way with a stay at this self-catering cottage on a working farm. Sleeps up to four adults. Website.

St Cuthbert's Retreat, Wooler

Bed & breakfast or self-catering in the pretty town of Wooler. Cosy bedrooms and a lovely garden with pond. Website.

Lindisfarne Hotel, Lindisfarne

Mark the end (or start) of the trail in style with a stay at this hotel that also offers self-catering accomodation. Website.

Services for walkers

Walking Support at Melrose offers assistance to help you plan, book and enjoy your St Cuthbert's Way experience.

Trail Magic Baggage can organise baggage transfers along the route.

For more information, visit the official website. Access Lindisfarne tide times here and plan your crossing with care, due to the fast incoming twice-daily tides.

St Cuthbert’s Way is maintained by Scottish Borders Council, Northumberland National Park Authority and Northumberland County Council.