The last of the Farne Islands that it is possible to visit and requires a boat to get to that I hadn’t yet visited was Longstone Island. My last attempt to get there was thwarted by the boat being cancelled, as I mentioned last time.
As I mentioned in a separate post, I’d ended up with two free 1st class tickets to anywhere on the Virgin Trains East Coast Network (which had, by then become LNER), valid for a year. I hadn’t used one of them because, as I also mentioned in that post, I’ve greatly reduced the amount of travelling I do by train, because of how unreliable it has become and the amount of disruption I’ve suffered.
However it seemed a pity to waste this ticket, given it was free. I had a rare Saturday when I had nothing planned. The weather was forecast to be fine. I decided to see if it might be possible to get to Longstone Island from home as a day trip by train (and bus and boat). I had by then already completed walking all the rest of the east coast of England and the east coast of Scotland so there was no need to stay overnight and I didn’t want the expense of booking another hotel with the risk I might not get there on time to complete my planned visit to Longstone Island anyway in the event the trains were delayed again.
I checked the train and bus times to see what time it would be possible to depart to from home to arrive at Seahouses, and what time I’d need to leave Seahouses in order to make the last train home. Having worked this out, I needed to find out if the boats were running to Longstone Island that day and if so at what time, because unfortunately the company does not publish the times of the trips on their website (which I believe vary daily due to tides and weather conditions), so I had to telephone instead. They told me trips would run at 11:30am and at 1:30pm. Well it turned out that the stars had all aligned in my favour! The earliest I could get to Seahouses from home without staying overnight was 12:58pm – not very early – but then it is around 350 miles away! That was half an hour before the 1:30pm boat. Then I’d need to be leaving on the 17:01 bus in order to get to Berwick-upon-Tweed station in time for the last train to London.
The boats were running and at a time that suited the train and bus timetables, so my plan was feasible if everything ran to time. So I had a plan and hoped I’d have better luck this time.
So I bought a ticket as from my local station as far as London (as my free ticket was only valid from stations on the route formerly served by Virgin Trains East Coast, of which the closest station to home is London Kings Cross). I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo (filling in the destination and scratching off the appropriate dates on my free ticket on the way). I then took the tube to London Kings Cross in order to use my free ticket onwards from there.
I had no seat reservation but whilst 1st class was quite busy, it was not full. I was well plied with (free) food and drink for the journey and got a seat on the right hand side of the train, so I could enjoy the fine views of Durham, The Angel of the North, the Tyne and Newcastle and then the wonderful Northumberland coast at Alnmouth and around Berwick-upon-Tweed. The train rolled into Berwick precisely on time. I headed outside for the bus. At the time the bus was due (it started it’s journey from the rail station) it hadn’t arrived. It arrived 5 minutes after it was due to depart, which had made me a bit nervous (having come this far, I didn’t want the plan to fail at this point!). However it soon departed and I took it to Seahouses, enjoying the views of the coast on the way and arriving only a few minutes late, and in enough time to make the 1:30pm boat.
The main street in Seahouses was decorated with Northumberland flags, which you see all over in Northumberland, it was rather attractive.
At Seahouses I found the correct kiosk and bought a ticket for the 1:30pm boat, relived it was running at that time and tickets were still available.
I found a nice bench overlooking the harbour to eat lunch before heading down to the boat (not that I wanted much to eat since I’d been stuffing my face on the train). There were about 30 people this time and we had a pleasant trip out, passing Inner Farne, Staple Island and the numerous uninhabited islands and enjoying the views of Bamburgh once again.
The wildlife was wonderful, with seals a plenty and numerous shags and cormorants.
Sadly I was too late in the year for puffins, but otherwise it was wonderful. The boat captain took us right up to some rock stacks with the birds on top, and we stopped to watch the seals.
The Farne Islands really are wonderful and this is why I was keen to visit as many of them as possible.
We then headed out to Longstone Island with it’s lighthouse.
The lighthouse is still in use. It was opened in 1826 and the lighthouse is perhaps best know for the story of Grace Darling.
Grace Darling was the daughter of the then lighthouse keeper in 1838. They lived an isolated life out here, largely self sufficient only returning to the main land about once a month. During a storm Grace noticed, just as it began to get light, that a ship was wrecked on rocks nearby. This was the Forfarshire that had set out from Hull, heading for Dundee. Once it was light enough they looked at the wreck with telescopes and they could see there were survivors walking about on the rocks.
Grace and her father decided they had to try and do something. It was too bad for the lifeboat to get out from the mainland and they only had a small boat, with the two of them. They determined that if they could make it to the rocks, they would need the help of the survivors to get back. In the end they did make it and managed to rescue 9 survivors from the wreck, who they took to the lighthouse. Eventually the lifeboat did make it out from Seahouses, but by then they only found bodies rather than survivors. Without the help of Grace Darling it seems highly likely that there would have been no survivors.
However the lifeboat crew determined it was also then too dangerous for them to return to Seahouses (or North Sunderland, as it was then called) and so also had to row to the lighthouse and take refuge there, along with the Darlings and the survivors. They all remained at the lighthouse for a couple of days until the storm passed. Grace and her father became local heroes, and were well rewarded for their bravery. Sadly Grace died of tuberculosis just 4 years later aged just 26.
Today visitors to Longstone Island can visit this lighthouse and see the rooms in which Grace and her father then lived. In fact the lighthouse was still manned until 1990. Today it is automated and controlled remotely from Harwich with crew only visiting the lighthouse to carry out maintenance.
So back to my trip, the lighthouse soon loomed on the horizon getting ever closer. It was almost high tide and I was surprised at how small the island was. The lighthouse and it’s buildings around it occupied almost 50% of the island!
Admission to the lighthouse was not included in the boat trip, and cost an extra £2. The captain of the boat seems to have an agreement with Trinity House since he then came and unlocked the lighthouse and collected our fees, for those that wanted to go inside (I believe that whilst several companies offer boat trips to Longstone Island, the company I used, Golden Gate, are the only one with permission to bring people inside the lighthouse too).
Inside the ground floor and 1st floor was a museum whilst the 2nd floor was Graces’ bedroom.
It was very spartan now, with the only furniture a wooden chest of drawers – not even a bed.
The chest of drawers was of rounded to fit against the round walls of the lighthouse.
Facilities here were clearly basic and it must have been a lonely existence, especially during the winter months.
Sadly the top of the lighthouse, where the light is, is not open to the public, so we were not able to go right to the top which was a shame, as I was hoping to enjoy the views, but there was still a good view from the 2nd floor.
Still it was good to have got in the lighthouse. We had 30 minutes on the island and with 10 minutes left I walked around the coast of the island. This took about 5 minutes!
The rest of the time I watched the curious seals swimming around the coast of the island – it is a real wildlife haven.
We then returned back to Seahouses, in fact arriving about 15 minutes late, as we had got a slightly longer trip than expected, which was nice (and didn’t cause me a problem because I had enough plenty of time before I needed to catch the bus home).
My plan for the rest of the day was to re-walk the coast to beautiful Bamburgh which I hoped I’d have enough time to do before the bus back, which I decided to catch from Bamburgh instead. I absolutely love this part of the coast. Loving the coast as I do, I also enjoy a good castle. Bamburgh has both combined, so it’s heaven for me! (I’ll be writing this part up in more detail next time, along with photos).
I followed the path along the cliffs by the road, then dropped down to the sandy beach and was able to follow this all the way until I was behind the castle.
I didn’t have time to visit the castle too, but at least I could see the outside again, and I had visited the castle before.
Now I headed for the bus stop, arriving in plenty of time, where I waited. I was getting a little stressed because 10 minutes after the bus was due, there was still no sign of it. It eventually arrived nearly 15 minutes late – by then I was beginning to doubt it would arrive at all! Thankfully it made up a bit of time, arriving back at Berwick-upon-Tweed station about 10 minutes late. However my train home was also 10 minutes late, so I still had 20 minutes to wait. Berwick-upon-Tweed however has a 1st class lounge and since I had a free 1st class ticket I went in there (I was the only person in there – and no one was there even to check I had a 1st class ticket, or indeed any ticket at all). Here I could help myself to copious quantities of biscuits, tea, crisps and muffins, which is exactly what I did, until my train arrived.
It was a good journey back and we arrived only 2 minutes late into London. By the time I’d transferred over to Waterloo and taken the train back to my local station, I got home around 23:20. It had been a long day, but a very enjoyable one. My ambitious plan to do a day trip from Surrey to the outer most of the Farne Islands had been a success!
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Golden Gate boats run boat trips out to Longstone Island and also allowing admission to the lighthouse. You will need to contact them or go to the kiosk at Seahouses harbour to find if the trip is running and at what times. The trips take around 2 hours.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link