Sunday, 29 May 2016

Lovely things to do #1: Get a boat to the Farne Islands

Ahoyhoy, and welcome to the first in an occasional series of posts here on Patchy Growth which are related directly neither to eating out or our allotment, but are still, I think, worth noting for one reason or another. I'm calling it "Lovely things to do". You know how when you go to work on a Monday and someone's all like, "hey, I did this lovely thing at the weekend", and then they tell you what they did and you think "hmm, maybe I'll do that sometime"? Well, that's the kind of thing that'll be going on here. There are literally loads of things to do, so I doubt I'll ever run out of ammo for these pieces. When a man tires of things to do, he is tired of life, as the poet once said. Well, I'm not tired; I'm full of vim and raring to go. Let's do this!

We've been up at Kasia's parents's caravan, just outside Warkworth, this bank holiday weekend, and bloody marvelous it has been too. We ended the mini-trip by taking a boat ride from Seahouses round the Farne Islands, landing on Staple Island. We booked the boat trip with Billy Shiels, which was £20 each for a two and a half hour round trip. You also need to shell out an extra £8 per head to the National Trust in order to land on Staple Island. £28 a pop ain't cheap, but it's still cheaper than a night on the razzle and how many Puffins do you see out in the Bigg Market? None, that's how many.

Kasia eyeing up some birds
We've done this trip, and a similar one which sets you off at Inner Farne, a few times now, but it just never gets old. The weather was grey but calm today, our vessel slicing through the slick-still waters with quiet authority as it left the early morning throng of Seahouses behind. A dolphin had been spotted just outside the harbour, but it had made itself scarce by the time our 10 o'clock boat departed.

It's pretty hard not to play the "who can spot the first Puffin" game. A victor usually emerges about halfway through the 20 minute cruise to the Farne Islands after a few false alarms ("ah bollocks, no; another Guillemot"). The sheer bpm of their wingbeat is the first giveaway, the dash of colour around their bill the confirmation. Watching them try to take off is the animal equivalent of seeing someone fall over; you feel bad for laughing, but it's not your fault that they're an idiot.

A bob of seals (I think that's actually the correct collective noun)
Also rating highly in the comedy stakes are the seals. The Farnes host England's largest population of Atlantic Grey Seals. They're inquisitive buggers, bobbing their heads out quite close to the boat to check you out. What the hell do they make of us, as we shuffle round the boat to get a better pic of them on our Ipads? Who knows. As much as it furthers no particular cause to anthropomorphise such beasts, they do have the most wonderfully expressive faces. Just look at these guys:


A Guillemot attempts to get some altitude
Shag! No really, it's a Shag.
After a quick telling of the story of Grace Darling and a trip to the lighthouse from which she made the rescue that brought her such fame (there's an interesting museum in Bamburgh) we landed on Staple Island where we were free to get right up in natures face (while obviously respecting its personal space issues). Shags, Puffins, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Eiders, Fulmers (I think- it's been a while since I was in the YOC) and other less notable species were all nesting. Shags eggs had hatched, with their weirdly dragon-like chicks in various stages of development. We witnessed a feeding session which was quite a visceral experience and I thought a bit much. I'm glad human infants don't feed by throwing their heads down their parents throats while they're being violently sick, or we'd all be even more messed up than we already are. I'd like to see Freud come up with a myth to cover that one off.

Last word goes to the Puffins, they're a hoot. Look at these comedians. They're just not right, are they?

This trip was the very epitome, the absolute essence of a lovely thing to do so I can think of no better way to get this exciting new series underway. If twenty eight brick seems a bit steep, but you still want a dose of hot Puffin action, I can also recommend Dave Gray's Puffin Cruise round Coquet Island, which leaves from Amble. The last time we did this trip, which lasts about 45-60 mins, it was something like six quid, which is a total bargain ESPECIALLY as Dave is a total legend and let us pretend to drive his boat in the interest of comedy pictures.

There are lots of amazing things about Northumberland which make the North East a wonderful place to live. One of these is the coastline which is completely stunning. The Springwatch crew have been on the Farnes recording for the new series, so be sure to tune into that. But take my advice and get out a little way into the North Sea yourself; there's a whole other world out there.

Lovely thing to do rating: Easily 9/10. Would've been a ten if the weather had been bluer, or if we'd seen a dolphin


  1. A lovely trip with some wonderful photos and definitely worthy of a post!!

  2. Great post and great photos. I love the Farne islands xx

    1. Cheers. They're a bit of otherworldly magic, right on the doorstep, don't you think?

  3. Great pics of all the birds, it's a shame you just missed the dolphin! We did this trip last year when we were camping at Bamburgh, it was nice watching the seals.

    I'll have to keep up with this series of posts as I'm always looking for new things to do at the weekend!

    1. Nice one! Coming next- a nice walk up to Simonside.

  4. I've never done this but it's going on my list now. Great review, thanks.

  5. I love this trip! I've done it loads of times but last time we missed Puffin season so I'm hoping to do it again this year.

    1. Awesome innit. The one from Amble is really cool too though, and mega cheap.

  6. I haven't been to the Farnes for years. I must visit again soon. Love the puffins, such a unique bird

    1. They're cracking. The noise they make is good for a laugh too.


All comments gratefully received. Sorry about the word verification thing, but I've started getting bombed by spam.

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