253. Inner Farne and the Farne Islands

October 2014

One thing that has been a common theme on my coastal walk is saying I am not going to go to visit all the islands and then going to visit all the islands I pass. Today is no exception! My last walk ended at Seahouses and Seahouses is where boats leave to the Farne Islands.

There are three islands it is possible to land on, Inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone Island, though Holy Island (also known as Lindisfarne) is also strictly one of the Farne Islands, but further away than the rest of the islands and a tidal island, because it is accessible by road at low tide.  Today I was exploring the first of these, Inner Farne, which is part of the Inner Farne group of islands.

I was staying at the Berwick-upon-Tweed Travelodge. Berwick-upon-Tweed is is a lovely town and one of my favourite towns in Britain. I had travelled up by train yesterday and done a walk then. As it was a Sunday today, the public transport was rather more limited than usual, which made for a challenging journey. Having said that, the first bus from Berwick to Seahouses, where I was heading is actually earlier on a Sunday than the rest of the week (or at least it was when I did this walk, it isn’t at the time of publishing it).

I headed down the road from my hotel into the centre of Berwick and down to the Golden Sqaure, which is not a square but the road leading down to the modern road bridge over the River Tweed. I was a bit early so headed down on the path beside the river to take a good look at the 3 bridges that cross the Tweed, which was looking especially lovely on this sunny morning.

The River Tweed, Berwick-upon-Tweed

To the left is the original road bridge, above me the more modern replacement and to the right, and most impressive of all, is the Royal Border Bridge, which carries the railway line high over the town and the river.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

The Royal Border Bridge, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Despite the name I don’t believe the bridge has ever actually been the border between England and Scotland, which has been both north and south of here at times.

As the departure time neared I headed up to the bus stop and the bus arrived a couple of minutes early, which was nice. I bought a 1 day explorer ticket and then head a pleasant journey south along the coast, passing the road to Lindisfarne and onwards past the beach at Budle Bay, a beautiful and remote beach, which is a mixture of sand and mud.

Budle Bay

Soon we reach the magnificent Bamburgh Castle, such a lovely sight with this magnificent castle overlooking a stunning sandy beach. It’s a famous site of Northumberland and once which never fails to bring a smile.

Bamburgh Castle

Onwards we head along the coast road to Seahouses, except rather confusingly, the bus turns inland to North Sunderland first and then back along the road to Seahouses, ,where I got off.

Seahouses is presumably so called because it is by the sea and there are some houses. It is rather more touristy than I remembered when I was here earlier in the year. I knew that the boat trips went on the hour from 10:00am but unfortunately the first bus got me here around 10:05 – too late for the first trip (note that now the first from Berwick-upon-Tweed does not arrive until after 11am). So I booked onto the sailing at 11am to Inner Farne, which also included a trip around the inner islands. I explored the town for the next 40 minutes or so and walked out onto the harbour for a view back to Bamburgh Castle. The castle can be seen for several miles along the coast and it was a highlight of the year for me to visit it earlier in the year (more on that in a post to be published later).

Seahouses

Soon it is time to depart and I was told to get to the booking office 10 minutes before departure and directed to the waiting boat, Glad Tidings.

Seahouses Harbour

It was quite an old looking boat and all the seats were outside, but thankfully it was all dry on the seats. There was a little over 20 of us on the trip and a couple of minutes early, we head out of the harbour. The boat was more powerful than I expected and was actually quite fast. Soon we left the harbour and headed out into the sea. There were lovely views over the coast to Bamburgh and back to Seahouses.

Seahouses from the coast

As we headed out to the island, the first island, Inner Farne which is where we will land later. There is a lighthouse here and a tower which is an ancient lighthouse and now the home of the wardens that live here. We don’t land here first though, but head round the coast and onto the next three islands, West Wideopen, East Wideopen and Knoxes Reef.

The Farne Islands

The Farne Islands

There were a lot of shags (the birds) around the islands and we went around the islands to look at them.

The Farne Islands

The Farne Islands

Sadly all the puffins have gone this late in the year. The second set of islands is a little further out and as we head out it gets windier and colder, unfortunately for me, since I didn’t bring a coat with me. Soon we reach Staple Islands, where the boats sometimes land – but not today. There is another house here, well kept and again lived in by wardens for most of the year.

The Farne Islands

Inner Farne

We head out past Brownsman and past North Wamses and towards the lighthouse at Longstone. I hadn’t expected that we’d head so far out on this trip (Longstone is almost 4 miles from shore).

Seals at the Farne Islands

Here is the real treat of the trip, large numbers of seals on the rocks and in the sea, to the point all the seal heads almost look like boulders in the water.

Seals at the Farne Islands

Seals at the Farne Islands

Seals at the Farne IslandsSeals at the Farne Islands

There are all sorts, including spotted seals and they seem friendly and pleased to see us. The boat stays in this area for a while, so we can really enjoy the view and watching these wonderful creatures, that live out on these rocks and in the sea.

Seals at the Farne Islands

Seals at the Farne Islands

The Farne Islands

The Farne Islands

The Farne Islands

The Farne Islands

It was a really lovely sight to see and it was nice to spend so much time here. Soon we head back passing numerous more shags and gulls to finally return to Inner Farne.

Inner Farne

The boat lands on a jetty at one side near the chapel and we are met by the National Trust wardens, after first paying a landing charge (National Trust members are free, but I’m not a member).

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

The wardens give us a little tour of the beautiful old chapel on the island and then we are free to wander. The tower the wardens live looks an unusual building, but is sadly out of bounds to us visitors.

Inner Farne tower

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

Inner Farne church

I took the path out to a nice viewpoint at the west of the island, giving views over to Bamburgh and the unusual rock formations around the island, which looks a little like the sort of rocks that form the Giants Causeway in Antrim (which I have since visited, in March 2019, but had not been to when doing this walk).

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

I then head on the path out to the lighthouse, which sadly is not accessible to visitors, and enjoy the good views from here too over the neighbouring islands of West Wideopen and East Wideopen, which are flat and undeveloped.

Inner Farne

Inner Farne lighthouse

Inner Farne lighthouse

The coast of Inner Farne

Inner Farne

I’m surprised to see the boat we travelled out on heading back out to sea, I had expected it to wait for us!

Inner Farne

The island is small but very lovely and even has a small sandy beach, which I head down onto for a while.

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

Inner Farne

In the main square around the chapel there is also an information hut with a little of the history of the island, and a small shop (although shop might be stretching it a bit). I head back up onto the higher paths one last time and then head back down to the quay, where the others on our trip are waiting. The boat is nowhere to be seen, although soon I see it approaching. The captain apologises for the slight delay when he arrives back and explains they went to assist some divers that got into trouble in the strong winds (which explains why I saw it leaving earlier).

Thankfully everyone was OK and we soon head back to Seahouses, although the wind has got up during the day making the sea rougher and the wind colder. Again we are treated to the lovely views of the glorious sandy beaches that make up this part of the coast on the way back including at Bamburgh. It is a bit rougher for a while but we soon near the coast and then run parallel to the coast back to Seahouses, where the water is calmer, and then head back into the harbour.

I very much enjoyed this trip and was pleased that it included all the Farne Islands, as I wasn’t sure how much of the other islands we would be able to see. But we got to see all of them and a huge number of seals to boot. These are a remarkable set of islands, which I highly recommend a visit to.

After my boat trip I walked south along the coast to Craster, which I wrote up in my last post.

The Farne Islands are generally accessible to the public between early April and late October (closed in winter). It is possible to land on Inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone Island. The islands are owned by the National Trust, who have a website about the islands.

There are various companies that operate boats to the Farne Islands and land on Inner Farne, the details of which are below. I used Billy Shiel, but click each company for details of the trips and prices.

  • Billy Shiel. Operate trips to Inner Farne and Staple Island from Seahouses.
  • Golden Gate. Operate trips to Inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone Island from Seahouses.
  • Serenity. Operate trips to Inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone Island from Seahouses.
  • St Cuthbert. Operate trips to Inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone Island from Seahouses.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link

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5 Responses to 253. Inner Farne and the Farne Islands

  1. Nasty moment when the boat abandoned you 😄 Great photos of the seals, and lovely little church too.

  2. Again, all familiar – in fact, we were in Berwick just last week! If you’ve done the Berwickshire Coastal Path you will have passed the cottage where we were staying in Lower Burnmouth. I have only been to the Farne Islands once on a school trip and don’t remember much about it, except that some of us were inappropriately dressed (not me) and very, very cold. We’d be about 14 so that wasn’t yesterday.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I have indeed done the Berwickshire Coast Path. Perhaps I photographed the very cottage you stayed in! You will have to point it out to me if I did.

      I sometimes wonder if school trips put people off visiting places again! Anyway certainly worth a visit again I think, but yes you do have to dress warmly. I made the mistake on my previous trip to Inner Farne and was rather cold on the boat.

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