Farne From The Madding Crowd

I’ve never been to the Farne Islands.

This wildlife sanctuary maintained by the National Trust lies just off Seahouses on the Northumberland Coast, so with a long weekend at my disposal, it seemed like a good time to rectify the matter.

If I’m totally honest I did nearly visit once before, but a planned trip turned into one of  the flashpoints of my marriage so it was aborted.  As I pulled into the car park at Seahouses I wondered if one of the other visitors had had a similar experience.

The Red Barron (sic)

Because it had rained so much the previous evening, I’d checked the weather forecast before setting out on the 75 minute journey.  A young forecaster called Ben told me through a fixed smile that the grey start would quickly dissipate to bright and sunny skies.  Perfect.

I was a little disappointed then to find that as I drew nearer to my objective the skies were not so bright.  In fact they were rendered invisible by mist and fog, so I was surprised by the number of visitors in town on a murky Sunday morning.  Seahouses traditionally had two main attractions, the Farnes being one, and it’s reputation as a stop off point for quality fish and chips being the other.   Nowadays the whole of the Northumberland coastline is liberally provided with holiday lets and campsites that testify to the area’s growing popularity.

What brings people here?  Well for one thing there’s an excellent cycle touring route between Newcastle and Edinburgh, and with the growth of interest in cycling that has taken place in the UK following the successes Sir Dave Brailsford and his numerous medal winners, more and more people are taking advantage of this.  The name of that route is a further clue to the visitor numbers.  This is the Coast and Castles route.

Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle
Dunstanburgh Castle

Northumberland’s location on the border with Scotland means that it has seen more than its fair share of conflict over the centuries, and the county is studded with fortifications, from the Bastle Houses designed to defend against the raids of the infamous Border Reivers, through modest structures like Belford or Lindisfarne Castle, the ruined shells of Warkworth or Dunstanburgh, to the vast stone walls of Bamburgh and Alnwick.  The region’s appeal to the historian is obvious.   I thought of photographing Bamburgh while I was there, but sat atop its defensive cliffs it was lost in the mist.

APW_8740For walkers there is a 64 mile coastal path.  64 miles of beautiful, unspoilt beaches along an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  As England’s most sparsely populated county the ratio of people to acres of sand means that you can always find a space to build your sandcastle.  For me the broad expanses of sand provide opportunity to contrast the different textures sculpted by wind and tide,  from soft sand dunes held in place by bents grasses to the shattered rocks and crushed and cracked crustacean cases that litter the littoral.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Arriving at the harbour to book my crossing, I was told that due to the weather there wouldn’t be a crossing for at least an hour, and that a decision would be made closer to the time about that trip.  I passed the time photographing the greyness of the harbour and it’s unsaturated colours before returning to the news:

“We will sail out and around the islands, but won’t be landing.”

I’ve never been to the Farne Islands.