Wednesday, 19 October 2011

THE FARNE ISLANDS

I have visited the Farne Islands twice: once in April and once in June. Early summer is an exciting time to visit the Farne Islands, a short distance offshore from Seahouses. What makes it so exciting? Pods of dolphins leaping out of the sea? Whales rearing up and spouting so close to the shore that you can feel their droplets on your face? Well no, although dolphins have been seen here, and on once occasion a humpback whale was spotted to great excitement. What makes June so exciting is the arctic tern. What, I hear you cry, the arctic tern? Yes, that’s right. You see, this is the time of year when these feisty little birds are guarding their nests, and they do not take kindly to visitors. Some birds limit themselves to a bit of a hiss or flapping of wings when confronted by unwanted intruders. Not so the arctic tern, whose modus operandi is to lurk by the pathways waiting for the approach of an unsuspecting tourist, then to suddenly rise up and swoop down, trying to peck the hapless visitor on the head with its sharp little beak. This is why some sort of headgear – a Bob The Builder hard hat would be ideal – is essential for a visit to the islands at this time of year. However, any trauma incurred by an encounter with these little terrorists will quickly be softened by the sight of their most endearing neighbours, the clownlike puffins, who are abundant here at this time, not to mention the equally charming seals who pop up out of the water to check out the passengers on arriving pleasure boats. These creatures share the islands with huge numbers of other sea birds, making this a must-do destination for twitchers.

The islands can be visited by boat from Seahouses, with a number of operators vying for visitors’ custom from their kiosks by the harbour. There are different options available, one of the most popular being the trip to Inner Farne, with the chance to spend an hour on the island. As well as the wildlife, there is a lighthouse on the island and some monastic remains dating from the time when there were monks living there. St Cuthbert spent some time on the island prior to becoming the Bishop of Lindisfarne. Another island which can be visited is Longstone Island with its lighthouse, made famous by Grace Darling and her father (of which more in my next post).

Map of the area.

'Farne Island workhorse' photo (c) 2008, Peter Mulligan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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