The Farne Islands
Landscape In Seahouses, Northumberland
Group of islands off the coast of Northumberland.
The Farne Islands are a pretty special place to visit. Managed by the National Trust, they are made up of between 15 and 20 islands, depending on the tides. The main Islands are Inner Farne in the Inner Group and Staple and Longstone Island in the Outer Group.
A trip to the Farnes is an absolute must if you like a bit of an adventure. The trip we took in April 2022 was booked through Billy Shiels and was a 3 hour trip incorporating a 1 hour stop on Inner Farne. There are a number of different trips you can book, however, so it's worth having a look at their website for further details. If you are landing on Inner Farne or Staple Island, you will also need to pay a landing fee, unless you are a National Trust member.
A word of warning about the boat trip though: you're in an open top boat in the North Sea (it's cold!), so we recommend lots of layers, hats, gloves and waterproof clothing. Even if it is glorious sunshine at Seahouses, you're still going out into the North Sea and chances are if it's windy, it will be a bit choppy. We had the occasional wave hit the boat, covering us in sea water, so I would recommend putting away any cameras, phones, etc at this point.
OK, that's the H&S out of the way, onto the good stuff. So, Inner Farne is the main island for sightseeing, which takes around 25 minutes to sail to from Seahouses. On your journey over you get fantastic views of the Northumberland coastline and we could see as far as Lindisfarne Castle. The closer you get to the island, the more seabirds appear too and we spotted hundreds of Puffins, Razorbills and even a Gannet (which would be hard to miss, as they have a wingspan of 2m).
Once on the island you get an hour to look around and take photos. Your first stop is a talk by one of the National Trust rangers who live on the island for 9 months of the year. They live there from Monday to Friday and go home at weekends. There is no running water on Inner Farne though so there are no luxuries such as washing. Still, it seems a pretty amazing job to have.
The talk takes place inside St Cuthbert's Chapel, which was built in the 14th century. The chapel was originally part of a larger monastic complex built by St Aiden and added to by St Cuthbert, but was no longer in use after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. It was restored in the 1800s when the current furnishings were added, along with the East window, created by renowned glazier William Wailes in 1844.
There is also a pele tower close to the chapel, known as Prior Castell's Tower. Thomas Castell was prior of Durham Cathedral from 1494 to 1519 and the tower was built in 1519. It is now home to the National Trust rangers who live on the island.
The main reason people flock to Inner Farne is of course to see the wildlife that lives there, notably the Puffins and Arctic Terns. When we visited, the ranger estimated there were around 1,000 pairs of breeding Puffins on the island. However, this can increase to around 37,000 pairs later in the season, which is pretty impressive. During early summer, the Arctic Terns begin to nest and they can nest very close to the edge of the path, so be prepared for divebombing. National Trust recommend you wear a hat on your visit. I have visited when the Terns are nesting and they aren't afraid to draw blood.
The Farnes are also associated with the story of Grace Darling, who is buried at St Aiden's Church at Bamburgh. Grace Darling's family lived on Longstone Island and her father was the lighthouse keeper there from 1826-1860. Longstone Lighthouse is an impressive building, built in 1826 and is still active today. Tours of the lighthouse are available through Golden Gate Boat Trips.
Staple Island is the only other island you can visit and this is open later in the year, from 1st May. The island is also well known for it's seabird colonies including Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins - perfect if you're a birdwatcher.
After our stop on Inner Farne, our tour took us round the smaller islands, where we got to see Grey Seals, Kittiwakes and more Puffins, but probably the highlight of the trip was seeing a pod of dolphins close to our boat. This is apparently a rare occurrence, but we were lucky enough to see them for a good 5 minutes, swimming under the boat and jumping out of the water. An amazing sight to top the day off.
How To Find The Farne Islands
Contributed by Sandra Clemens
I love the great outdoors and have been a National Trust & English Heritage member for years. I also love going off the beaten track and finding places like Sharp's Folly or Rothley Castle which are hidden gems in Northumberland. My favourite recent hike was climbing Red Screes in the Lake District on a whim, not fully grasping how high 776m was. It was still an achievement to conquer a Wainwright walk and I hope to do more one day.More Places from Sandra
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