Farne Island fun...
Updated: Apr 11, 2020
As has become a habit recently with working away all week and little time to think about weekend plans, my girlfriend Emma and I sat down on a Friday evening and decided that we would make the 4 hour drive to Seahouses on the Northumberland coast to visit the Farne Islands the following day.
Manic late night organising began and on the Saturday we got up early and made our way up to Seahouses. It wasn't long before the early morning tiredness wore off as we parked up in the relatively large pay and display car park, bought our tickets from Farne Island tours sales hut and got on board.
With Farne Islands tours, we were able to book the tickets in advance. This is a big advantage to Skomer Island where it is pot luck on the day and you cannot book or pay for tickets online or in advance. All we needed to do at Seahouses was take our booking confirmation to the Farne islands tours hut next to the car park and get our tickets, then get our landing passes from the National Trust stall near the boat in the harbour before being called onto the boat when it boarded. Landing passes are free for National Trust members which was a nice bonus! (like Skomer, you pay for the boat ticket itself and separately for a landing pass to get onto the island itself).
Luckily when we got on the boat there were very few people on it with us and so getting a seat and good views was easier than it was when we had visited Skomer Island and completed the island boat tour there. At Skomer I could barely see the coast and anything from the boat as there were so many people on board at one time. This meant photography was far easier for me on the boat for the Farne Islands.
We had a great guide on board who gave us information about the islands and wildlife as we skirted inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone Lighthouse (this lighthouse has an incredible history which I won't spoil here). This was well worth doing in addition to getting onto inner Farne itself which we did.
As we approached each island it was incredible to see the sheer number of birds nesting and flying around the coastline. The noise and the sight was fantastic, and the birds are clearly thriving on these islands.
Below you can see some of the birds on the cliffs, views of Longstone Lighthouse and some of the birds flying around the sea close to the coastline of inner Farne.
Once a tour of the coastline of each island was complete, it was time for the boat to let us get off at inner Farne so we could see the puffins and other wildlife/bird types on the island.
Before getting off the boat, we were strongly advised to wear a hat. This was because there were dive bombing Arctic Terns who were protecting their young at the walkway which we had to walk past to get onto the main section of the island. You could see them swooping down from height and pecking at people's heads on the jetty as we arrived so I swiftly took their advice and put my hat on! I was glad I did so, as huge numbers of Arctic Terns dive bombed my head and pecked at my hands and ears. It was an unavoidable gauntlet but it was good fun and an unforgettable experience.
It was clear to see that the poor island guide who was stationed at the jetty to help people onto the island and through the protective Arctic Terns was getting a raw deal though!
If you ever go, not only make sure you take their advice and wear a hat - but make sure that you don't wear a nice jacket. With the number of birds there you are unlikely to come out unscathed or without having been "targeted" for a splattering as you can see from the island guides hat and coat below...
Once on the island we ran the gauntlet of swooping birds and got onto the top section of inner Farne. It is a tiny island and one that you can walk around in less than 10-15 minutes.
Don't be fooled by the islands size however as this island is hectic, manic, crazy, ridiculous and jam packed with birds! It is impossible to give you an idea of the sensation and visual impact of so many birds swooping and flying around you but it is a fantastic experience.
There are over 84,000 pairs of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars, shags, Arctic terns and more on the island in spring - so for an island this size this is an incredible number of birds. It is actually difficult to know what to focus on where you are there as a result as they are literally everywhere in huge numbers.
On the cliffs, you are restricted to protected roped off pathways which you cannot stray from as this protects the birds habitat and their burrows. As you make your way around the island, you have thousands of birds like guillemots and puffins perched on the edges and flying off to sea. Inland, the Arctic Terns swoop and dive at you and a large number of puffins are also found near their burrows in protected areas (which you can easily see, but cannot walk through as they are barriered off to protect the weak burrow tops).
Below you can see some of the photos taken once on the top of the island. These are more isolated shots, as capturing birds in flight was incredibly difficult due to their numbers and the speed at which they all fly. I therefore tended to try and focus on the birds perched on the cliffs as this gave me more hope of getting some success.
You only get an hour on the island, and this really does fly by. It is enough due to the size of the island in terms of walking around it and seeing it all - but for photographers it can be a challenge as there is so much to capture and only an hour to do it as well as taking it all in as an experience.
This is where Skomer has an advantage as you are on the island for several hours and it feels a bit less manic and a bit more relaxed. You can soak it in more easily and you feel less rushed.
Inner Farne was more wild however which I loved, and a lot less accessible which meant it felt less "touristy" - and I liked this. It didn't feel like the hoards visited en-masse like they do at Skomer. That said, I have fallen in love with both islands and appreciate that they are totally different experiences.
Skomer still edges it for me of the two as it is a bigger island with more to see overall. You also get a lot longer to explore it and it felt less rushed/manic with the number of birds for the size of the island. I will never forget being dive bombed by the Arctic Terns on inner Farne however and the sheer sensory overload experienced by the number of birds around you was amazing.
Serenity boat tours (Farne Island Tours)
Location: Seahouses Harbour
Postcode: NE68 7RN
Tel: 01665 721 667 (day time) 01665 720 750 & 07984 668 093 (evening time)
Parking: £4 all day (at time of visit in June 2019)