The Farne Islands, Northumberland

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.

Bamburgh Castle from the sea

Bamburgh Castle from the sea

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.


Huge variety of birds on the Farne Islands

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!


Seals near Longstone Lighthouse

Behold – a gymnast seal! I love it when they lie on rocks like this, it looks so uncomfortable.


Farne Islands gymnastic show

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.

Seals farne islands

A lot of seals relaxing

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!


Peekaboo! Inquisitive seals swam near the boat

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.


The Beautiful Puffin

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.


A bird in flight!

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.


Nests on the Farne Islands



Green Shag



My mystery bird – any ideas?

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.


Boat passing Longstone Island

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.


Former lighthouse on Brownstone

If all of that great history and wildlife are not enough for you, this view should be! Spectacular part of Northumberland.


The view from Staple Island

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?


  • Jenna Kvidt says:

    Aww, I love the seals–how cute! And the view of Bamburgh Castle from the sea is so great–I would love to take a trip here! Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow, what amazing pictures! What kind of lens did you use to shoot the seaguls and other birds?

  • Ben says:

    What an awesome place. Your pictures definitely wanna make me go there now. Especially the one with the gymnastic seal haha. Doesn’t look that comfortable but he seems to be enjoying it 😀

  • I think your mystery bird is just a young seagull 😉

    • Kate says:

      I thought it might be a totally different species! The guide was naming them as we went along but there were so many. Thanks

  • Danka says:

    Hi Kate!
    What a great article! To be honest I haven’t heard about Farne Islands until now so thank you for that! Even though I would feel very uncomfortable on that tiny boat I would love to go to there! Your photos of those beautiful birds and seals are amazing! I especially love the one of that awkwardly positioned seal 😀 How do they do that seriously? 🙂

  • The seals look so playful, and those puffins are beautiful! What a lovely place to be with nature-great idea for a company outing!

  • Emma Hart says:

    It’s so nice to get out into the country side isn’t it? I loved reading about your day there and I need to go visit asap. I haven’t visited for a few year so it would be nice to come back and see those cute seals and fluffy puffins!

  • brmsimmons says:

    You had me at puffin, they are one of my favorite birds. I can only imagine the smell with all of the seals!

  • What a great boat trip! I love taking nature trips like these, the sound of the boat and the waves and the animals. Great experience. It looks like it was a bit nippy huh? I loved those penguins!

  • ohhh! I would certainly would love to visit Farne Islands since I love wildlife! You caught a good photo of that seal too! haha 🙂

  • Annita says:

    What a fantastic article. I must go for a visit. I had not heard of the Farne Island but would love to visit. Looks like a photographer’s dream! Thx for sharing.

  • Tom Bartel says:

    Wow, I had no idea there was such a place off the coast of England. Penguins? Who knew. This place is now on the list. We go back to England periodically and we’ll make an effort to get there.

  • Dawn Kealing says:

    Awe, oh my, first of all, I have to say that video made my day. Seals are absolutely adorable, I love the close up of the one swimming in. The water looks pretty rough, it must take some talent to live in it! The gymnast seal, BEST PHOTO EVER and it truly looks ever so uncomfortable. (At least he/she seems to have some padding, haha)

    What a sight it much be if you were living in the Bamburgh Castle, I’d love to grow up in this place! I’ve never seen a lighthouse in real life yet I truly hope to one day, maybe this will be my first! I’m desperate to see Puffins, they’re one of the cutest birds I have ever seen. This place is so stunning, it’s definitely a place I will be making my way to! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

  • This place looks amazing, so many animals and right near the sea. Love little islands like that. It kinda reminds me of New Zealand’s Kaikoura.^^

  • This is a great article.. gotta say I love to seals! The wildlife looks incredible and I hope to experience this some day 🙂

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