Advantages Beauty, wildlife, peace.
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The Farne Islands are a group of beautiful and unique unpopulated islands that lie off the Northumberland coast, just opposite the village of Seahouses. They are owned by the National Trust, who bought them in 1925 when they were threatened by commercial exploitation due to the large numbers of holidaymakers. Today the Farnes are one of the most important nature reserves in the British Isles, with National Trust wardens living on the islands for part of the year, and disembarkations strictly monitored.The Islands lie between 2 and 5 miles out to sea, and although they are easily visible from the mainland, it is impossible to see their true extent and beauty from land. There are 16 islands at high tide, 30 at low tide and they are divided into two groups; the inner group consisting of Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens and the Megstone; the outer group consisting of Staple Island ,the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone. Once dusk falls they are a romantic sight, with the islands silhouetted against the sunset, and the atmospheric Longstone Lighthouse winking back to shore at night.
~~History~~The islands are best known for two of their most famous inhabitants. Grace Darling was the 22 year old daughter of Longstone lighthouse keeper William, and in 1838, rowed out through a gale, and rescued nine survivors from the Forfarshire, a paddle steam ship which ran aground on Big Harcar. The story of the rescue attracted extraordinary attention throughout Britain and made Grace Darling a heroine who has gone down in British folklore.
Famous for his spirituality and life as a holy hermit, St Cuthbert lived on Inner Farne from 676 to 684 and after two years as Bishop of Lindisfarne, returned to the island to die in 687. He built himself a small cell, he used half as an oratory (for praying) and half as his dwelling place. Sadly, there is no trace of this building today. Cuthbert is said to have been the first person in England to protect birds. He made special rules to safeguard the eider ducks, even allowing them to nest on the steps of his altar. Cuthbert was followed by other hermits, many of whom came from the Monastery of Durham. In 1255 they established the House of Farne, a small Benedictine monastery on the island.~~Visiting the Farnes~~
Today, a boat trip to the Farne Islands is on every holidaymaker's itinery. There are four companies selling tickets for a variety of trips, and boats leave Seahouses harbour once an hour from 10am to 3pm daily. A round trip, including island stop off, takes between 2½ to 3 hours. The cost of a round trip to Inner Farne (excluding landing charges) is £12 per adult and £8 per child. Perhaps the most renowned of the Seahouses boatmen is Billy Sheils MBE, who operates a fleet of 7 passenger boats, each named Glad Tidings. His grandfather started taking people over in 1918 and the family continue to provide an entertaining and enjoyable trip today.Boat trips to the islands take much longer than you would imagine. Chugging out to sea, the wind and spray blows into your face in an exhilarating way, and you can look back to see Northumberland's stunning coastline with its long sandy beaches and dramatic castles silhouetted on the horizon. I would advise you to prepare well for any of these trips, but especially the longer ones. There are no toilet facilities or refreshments on the islands, and the loud engine noise can often induce a headache or nausea, particularly in younger children, who often have to lie down on the benches on the return trip. This is no luxury cruise, but is well worth any minor discomfort.
The shortest of the trips is the Grey Seal Cruise, which is a 1 ½ hour round trip which does not land on any of the islands. At the other end of the scale is the 5 ½ hour all day birdwatch; landing on both Inner Farne and Staple Island, this one is strictly for the enthusiast.++The Inner Farne Trip++
Once we had landed on the island, we were taken to the National Trust information centre, where one of the wardens gave a very interesting talk. He told us about life as a warden, on a 9 month contract living and working on the tiny islands every day. A rather dangerous part of their job in the autumn is to go out and spray different coloured paint on every new born seal pup - this can easily identify how many there are, and when they were born. The warden recommended that we return at a different time of year, as the Puffins burrow all over the island and can easily be seen at close quarters in the spring and early summer. In addition, the Arctic Terns are extremely tame, and from April to July, tend to nest all around the visitor centre, seemingly unafraid of the visitors. Terns can be very defensive of their eggs or chicks. Expect to be dive-bombed and bring a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap to help protect yourself.We were then given time to walk around the island to look at the lighthouse, down from the steep cliffs, and around the tiny St Cuthbert's Chapel, built in 1300. The feeling of peace that comes over you in this distant location is exceptional: there is no sound of civilisation at all, just the cries of birds and the crashing of waves. Looking back to the beautiful coastline and further out to sea to where the lilac sea merged into the purple horizon, I could understand why Saint Cuthbert returned to the isolation and spirituality of the Farne Islands time after time.
The circular boardwalk around this island makes it fully accessible to disabled visitors.++Other trips++
The second trip visits Longstone Island and includes a 30 minute landing. Unlike the other 2 islands, there is no landing fee to pay on this trip.~~Wildlife~~
The casual visitor will have two things in mind when visiting the islands: the seals and the puffins. There are an estimated 6,000 grey seals at the Farne Islands, with several hundred pups born every year in September-November. The seals are apparently unafraid, and the adults frolic very close to the tourist boats, which moor just off the islands so that visitors can take photos.Puffins, with their white fronts, black backs, brightly coloured parrot shaped beaks and ungainly walk can only be seen from April to mid August, when they fly off to spend their winter at sea. The islands host the largest breeding colony in England, with around 35,000 pairs. Using their vicious bite, the Puffins evict rabbits from their burrows so that they can use them for nests. Although they stay in the nests until the eggs hatch, they can be easily viewed once the chicks are born and many people travel thousands of miles just to see the Puffins in their natural habitat The dedicated wardens have to put their hands down the burrows, encountering guano slime as well as sharp pecks, as they count the puffin population.
For the keen birdwatcher, a day out on the Farnes is a real treat. The variety is huge and includes Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Cormorant, Oystercatcher, Shag, Arctic Tern, and Eider. A nice story around the Eider is that St Cuthbert had the eiders feeding from his hand, hence the affectionate name of "Cuddy's Duck", by which the eider is sometimes known.~~Opening Times~~
Opening times are strictly controlled in line with the breeding times of the birds, but when they are open, trips run 7 days a week.Both islands are open during April, from 10.30 - 6.00
During August and September, both islands are open from 10.30-6.00.
In addition, extra trips are run during October to see the seal pups.
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Pages: 164, Paperback, Kessinger Publishing
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