254. Staple Island and the Outer Farne Islands

July 2015

Well there wasn’t really much walking involved on this “walk” it was more a nice boat trip and a wildlife watch!

Today I had planned to visit the remaining 2 of the Farne Islands that I had not visited and that are accessible to the public and possible to visit, Staple Island and Longstone Island. I was staying at the Newcastle Airport Premier Inn as this was a “gap filling” trip for a few bits of the Northumberland coast I’d not yet walked (both north and south).

I had hired a car for this trip, as not all that I had planned was possible by public transport in the time I had available, including this day, so I drove up the A1 to Seahouses, which took around 1 hour. This is the only place in Northumberland so far that I have had to pay to park, which was a shame but I did well because the car park I used near the ferries was small and soon filled up and was full later in the day.

I had a bit of a wander around Seahouses, but it is not the prettiest of villages in Northumberland so I didn’t linger long. I then headed down to the harbour.

Seahouses harbour

Staple Island is only accessible from 1st May to the end of July (you can check the opening times of Inner Farne and Staple Island on this part of the National Trust website). Last time I was in the area was outside these dates, so the only island I could visit was Inner Farne. But I enjoyed it and wanted to come back, so today I had an ambitious plan to visit two of the other islands, Staple Island and Longstone Island. I went to the various boat kiosk and booked a trip for Staple Island in the morning and to Longstone Island in the afternoon and had around half an hour to wander about and get lunch before the first boat departed, to Staple Island.

The boat was one of the Glad Tidings boats which I think is run by Billy Shiel. In fact although there are many kiosks on the harbour at Seahouses but I suspect many sell tickets for the same boats!

Anyway at the appointed time it turned out we were a group of around 25 which was a comfortable size for the boat we had, meaning there was room to move around to get the best of views. The captain of the boat was a bit of a fuss pot making a right fuss over the correct way to get off the boat we would have to follow when we docked. However he seemed to relax once we were out to sea and initially took us to Inner Farne, which I had seen before, where we got fine views along the coast to Bamburgh Castle.

Bamburgh Castle

Staple Island

There was far more bird life present than I had seen here on my previous trip.

Inner Farne

Staple Island

However the captain said that he would not stop here for long and instead we would have a tour around the other islands on the way back which suited me, so we picked up speed and header over Staple Sound (which separates the inner and outer group of islands) to the outer islands, including Staple Island.

Cormorants, Staple Island

Staple Island

Cormorants, Staple Island

We soon docked at the steps leading up onto the island. The boat was bobbing about a bit making getting off difficult not helped by the captain shouting at anyone that didn’t stand on the box he put up but stepped directly off the boat.

Once on the island there was a bit of boardwalk to pay the National Trust warden (I am not a member). I had not expected what I saw, and it was a delight. There were puffins everywhere!

Puffins on Staple Island

Puffins on Staple Island

I seem to have had little luck trying to see these birds so far. On trips, to Lundy, Inner Farne and assorted other islands I have got just one distant glimpse of a puffin. So I was so pleased to see these wonderful birds in abundance on the island.

Puffins on Staple Island

Puffins on Staple Island

They live for most of the year at sea, never coming onto land, but head onto land (often islands) for a few months of the year from spring to mid summer in order to breed and raise their young and then return to sea again, so this time of year is the best to visit.

Puffins on Staple Island

The island is small, only about 200 metres tall and 300 hundred meters wide. The only structure on the island is a National Trust shed (which I noticed the roofing felt had already blown off – I suspect the shed is replaced each year) and the remains of some sort of tower, which is roofless. The wardens live on the neighbouring island of Brownsman, which has a house and a few other buildings, although they can only reach the island at low tide, when it is linked to Staple Island, presumably at high tide they must take a boat, or wait until low tide. You can see the house here and the rather awkward “walk” the wardens have to get to it!

Staple Island

Staple Island

Staple Island

Once paid we were free to wander around about half of the island, the rest being roped off.

Staple Island

Staple Island and Longstone Island

Staple Island

It really was a photographers heaven, for everywhere you looked was assorted bird life, either perched on the cliffs or in the case of the puffins coming in and out of their burrows in the grassy cliffs, about the only area with any vegetation on the island (and it looked as if the puffins, or more specifically, their pooh) had killed of much of that!

Puffins on Staple Island

Puffin on Staple Island

Puffins on Staple Island

Puffins were not the only birds present, there were also Cormorants and Guillemots.

Staple Island

Cormorants, Staple Island

Guillemots, Staple Island

Guillemots, Staple Island

Many of the birds were feeding young, too.

Cormorants, Staple Island

Fulmar, Staple Island

Cormorants, Staple Island

The puffins were clearly not afraid of humans and did not seem bothered by our presence, meaning you could get quite close to them to take photographs.

Puffins on Staple Island

Puffins on Staple Island

It was a real joy to watch them. It was not just the puffins either, there were also a large number of guillemots, which look a bit like penguins and seemed to particularly favour a perch on a rock at the east of the island. Shags, Terns and Cormorants were also much in evidence and indeed the whole island was a real wildlife haven. I had certainly not expected to see so much at this time of the year.

Puffins on Staple Island

The views from the island were also good, but rather secondary. There was the wonderful Bamburgh Castle of course but I could also see down to Dunstanburgh and the low hills behind the coast, and the miles of sandy beaches.

Dunstanburgh from Staple Island

Inner Farne

There were also good views of Longstone Island, just to the north.

Longstone Lighthouse, Farne Islands

All in all it was a wonderful trip, which I highly recommend.

Puffins on Staple Island, Farne Islands

Puffins on Staple Island, Farne Islands

Sadly the hour was soon up and just as the rain started, we were back on the boat. Thankfully it was just a short shower and the captain took us further north, quite close to the other islands that are north of Staple Island where there were huge numbers of Atlantic Grey seals on the rocks and islands.

Grey seals at the Farne Islands

Grey seals at the Farne Islands

They too were clearly quite used to human contact what with the number of boats that pass them and so we could get close and get a good view. It was wonderful to see them all.

Grey seals at the Farne Islands

Grey seals at the Farne Islands

Grey seals on the Farne Islands

Sadly it was all to soon time to head back to Seahouses, as we headed back there were again fine views of Bamburgh and Inner Farne.

Bamburgh castle

Inner Farne

On reaching Seahouses, I had nearly 2 hours before my next trip, enough time for lunch and a wander up the coast towards Bamburgh.

I returned in time for the trip to Longstone Lighthouse and was directed to wait by the harbour. When the boat arrived there were only 5 people waiting, myself included. We were then told it was not possible to go to the Lighthouse because it was being converted to solar power at the time and the boat was needed to transport water over to the island instead, so the trip was cancelled. I suspect this last point was an excuse and they had simply cancelled the trip because there weren’t enough people having booked for that day for them to run the trip and make a profit (as the boat seemed to moor up in the harbour, not head out to the lighthouse with water, as we had been told it would be). So that was rather frustrating. We were offered a choice of a trip to Inner Farne and around the islands instead or a refund. Since the offered boat trip was very similar to the trip to Staple Island that morning and I had already been to Inner Farne I opted for a refund.

That was rather frustrating because I had made an early start in order to be able to do both trips in one day and now my plans had been spoiled by the cancellation of the second trip. A visit to Longstone Island would therefore have to wait for another day.

Still I highly recommend a trip to Staple Island (especially if you like Puffins) and I was very glad to have done it. In fact I think the boats generally run when the puffins are there, so you hopefully have a good chance of seeing them.

The Farne Islands are generally accessible to the public between early April and late October (closed in winter), but Staple Island is only accessible from 1st May to the end of July. 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 Staple Island, 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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4 Responses to 254. Staple Island and the Outer Farne Islands

  1. Good to see so many puffins as their number has been in decline. Great photos of them!

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks yes I was rather pleased with the photos. The only other place on the UK coast I have seen them in similar numbers is Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire, but it will take me a while to get to the point of writing up that walk.

  2. Pingback: 255. Longstone Island | Round the Island

  3. Pingback: 257. Bamburgh to Budle Bay (Bamburgh Circular) | Round the Island

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