The next stop for us on this leg of our England trip was the Farne Islands, just off the coast of Northumberland directly facing Bamburgh Castle. The tides render a number of the islands inaccessible, except by boat. We took a Billy Shiels boat trip to one of the outer islands, Staple Island, home to many species of birds from Guillemots and Razorbills to over 10,000 pairs of Puffins who come to breed on the islands from the beginning of May to the end of July. The National Trust manages visitor access to the Islands to ensure the birds remain undisturbed for their breeding season.
What an incredible experience! Birds everywhere you look, nesting right beside the paths, or right on the rocks. Puffins burrow into the soil to nest, and pop out from their little holes comically from time to time.
We spent about an hour on the Island, before taking the return tour past all the grey seals, about 3,000 of whom inhabit the oceans around the Islands. In the fall, 1,000 grey seal pups are born, and have a very short period of time to put on weight sufficient to sustain them through the coming months. Sadly, the mortality rate is high at about 50%.
Inner Farne island is home to both the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage with the remains of the old lighthouse (the attached round tower in the top picture) and St. Cuthbert’s church (middle picture). The game wardens now stay in the little house for the summer to keep an eye on the nesting birds. The red lighthouse shown in the bottom picture is now fully mechanized.
Our original intention was to visit Inner Farne, as it is also home to nesting Terns. We were fascinated and mildly horrified to learn that the Terns dive bomb and peck visitors viciously as they arrive on the Island, however, so we decided that prudence was the better part of valour and went to Staple Island instead.