The Farne Islands are found off the coast of Northumberland between the fishing village of Seahouses and the stunning coastline of Bamburgh. The number of visible islands depends on the tide but in total there are twenty with two groups called Inner Farne islands and Outer Farne. I was lucky enough to go up to this beautiful part of our coast with work on a team away day recently. I haven’t been since I was a child and I won’t leave it that long again!
This northern part of the North East region is probably one of my favourite places for nature and landscape. It is so beautiful and changes regularly. Different seasons bring different activities and the colour of sunsets or the landscape can be spectacular even in the winter. I find it very relaxing up here. Its not hard to see why.
The Farne Islands have been home to hundreds of species of birds, with over twenty breeding there in recent years. Puffins and Arctic Terns are the most famous birds to see and there are often seals in the area during summer. The rock formations that rise up out of the sea are very striking and have been eroded by the tide and nesting birds. As we made our way out of the harbour, the water was calm and the sights of the coastline were fantastic.
We made our way through smaller islands that are uninhabited by people. No buildings, only birds nesting.
The sound of the birds squawking and the smell was quite something at one point! We saw hundreds of birds and a lot of different species. These were pointed out by the guide as we went along. From gulls, to shags and terns of all shapes and colours. This has to be a bird watchers paradise.
One stretch of water that I love is alongside Longstone. The distinctive red and white lighthouse on Longstone comes into view and if you are lucky, you will see seals lying on the rocks. We went at the peak time of the year for this (during summer) and got to see large groups of seals. Some were pregnant as the tour guide pointed out and others were playing, making noises and occasionally a gymnastic show!
Behold – a gymnast seal! I love it when they lie on rocks like this, it looks so uncomfortable.
We slowed and turned the boat here to head towards Staple Island. Being out in the middle of the sea chugging around islands and watching the wildlife really makes you feel closer to nature. Our group spends time in an office in the city and it was really nice to get outdoors with people I work with. I always feel recharged when I go on coastal or countryside trips.
My favourite part was when a few seals got inquisitive about our boat. They slid into the water and then kept popping up close to us to get a better look. Such interesting creatures and so graceful in the water. Not so graceful flapping around on the rocks!
Next on our tour, we pull up at Staple Island and disembark. I feel like that is the correct maritime term to use. It didn’t look as professional as it sounds. I was about as graceful as the seals on the rock hauling myself off the boat and onto the island. The stones are quite uneven and it takes a little bit of forward planning to move around on Staple Island but the challenge is well worth it. The reward at the end of hopping and balancing is finding puffins! I absolutely love these birds. They are gorgeous little stubby things with a grey and orange beak. When they fly, its short sharp bursts around the islands and then skimming across the water. Occasionally, you see them with small fish in their beaks or peeping out of hollows that they use to nest.
Arctic Terns and Gulls are also flying overhead as we walk around and take photos. Terns are known for swooping on people so wearing a hat is a good idea. On Inner Farne, there is a slight incline of a path you walk up and it is notorious for swooping terns. It is their habitat though and tourists should be prepared to cover their heads. We had no bird related incidents on our trip and everyone enjoyed both birds and seal watching.
Kittiwakes were nesting along an outcrop of rocks that we passed. There were also a few birds we hadn’t seen before. One of them was spotted as it gleamed a bottle green colour in the sunlight. I think it was called a Green Shag (photo is below, please correct me if I’m wrong!) and the other pair were a brown/cream colour. I loved the tour and finding out more about the great nature reserve we have off our coast. I wish I knew more now.
Our blue boats were pretty comfortable with enough room to move around and take photos. They were clean and had very experienced crew for an enjoyable boat trip. I’d recommend going out to the Farne Islands and experiencing a different side of our coastline from the water.
The Farne Islands actually have a fascinating history that goes back centuries. They were once home to both St Aidan and St Cuthbert. These two religious men were hermits and also leading figures of Christianity in the Northern European region. Lindisfarne is an inhabited island in the group and has the medieval priory ruins as well as being the place the world famous Lindisfarne Gospels came from.
A family who are famous on the islands are the Darlings. They manned the lighthouse on Longstone and Brownsman for many years and the daughter of the family, Grace Darling turned out to be quite the heroine. She and her father saved nine people from a shipwreck in 1838 in just a rowing boat. Grace received gifts, money from Queen Victoria and even marriage proposals for her bravery. She became the nation’s sweetheart and her legacy lives on in the maritime community in Northumberland.
If all of that great history and wildlife are not enough for you, this view should be! Spectacular part of Northumberland.
This is in my top ten things to do in the North East of England, without a doubt. The Farne Islands boat trip and coastline of Bamburgh is a must for visitors and locals.
Have you visited the Farne Islands? Would you like to go exploring for seals and puffins?