Monday, 29 June 2015

Farne Islands - 27th June 2015

My back has been playing up again, so it was touch and go as to whether I'd make the weekend trip to Northumberland, but I decided to go.

Perhaps it is being a bit boring, but I've done the same thing a number of times on this trip - paddle the Farnes on the Saturday, then race around Coquet Island on the Sunday. Perhaps next time I should sample some of the other delights of the Northumberland coast.

Waiting to launch
After a bit of a faff about who was actually paddling in our group, we set off from Bamburgh sands near Harkess Rocks in warm sunshine and headed towards the small rocky island of Megstone. The main attraction of paddling the Farnes this time of year is the abundant birdlife and the Megstone was covered in both birds and their rather smelly by-product. We decided not to navigate the small channel that splits the rock into two in order to minimise disturbance to the nesting birds.

Jim by the Megstone
Clouds were coming and going and their was a light, but warm, breeze from off the land to our W. Our next cluster of islands were Brownsman and Staple Island. On reaching them we found ourselves floating through flotillas of Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots, with many other birds flying in all directions.

Puffins galore

We carried on working our way towards the outer islands of the chain. There wasn't really much swell and we hugged the rocks looking for the odd challenging gap to paddle through. Off the end of North Wamses, Jim and I made our way over to paddle through some small waves that we had seen breaking on the end of the island. Jim paddled just in front of me and just as we entered the break zone a large wave reared up from nowhere - Jim had time to get over it and out to safer deep water, but it broke on me sending me backwards onto the rocks. I was bracing and trying to pull myself off the wave, fearing the heart wrenching sound of my boat being smashed onto the jagged rocks. Luckily I managed to stay afloat, but it still took me a couple more attempts to get through the next waves to get out off the break zone.

Needless to say my paddling companions made no effort to get themselves into a position to rescue me if needed and left me to my own devices. Once I caught back up with them they seemed very amused by the incident. I'll not make such a misjudgement in a hurry again.....

After that excitement we made our way over to the Longstone Island and its seal colony. We ate lunch sheltering from the breeze behind the Longstone Lighthouse.

Longstone Lighthouse
A quick circumnavigation of the Longstone, and we set off on our return trip that took us round the S end of the reefs and islands. We passed through the impressive pinnacles on the S end of Staple Island. Nesting birds occupied all possible perches, and a few seemingly impossible ones. The pinnacles look as though they are white-washed with droppings and the stench is pretty powerful.

The Staple Island pinnacles

Our final stop was the bird sanctuary on the Inner Farne. This popular attraction gives the unique opportunity to walk on a boardwalk through hundreds of nesting birds. You are first "greeted" by Arctic Turns aggressively protecting their nests (some of which are even on the boardwalk). They click their warning before pecking you on the head to send you on your way. Further round you come across Puffin burrows and watch the incoming parents, mouths full of sandeels, run the gauntlet of the scavenging gulls. Then at the end of the path there is a lookout over the nesting gulls and auks perched on the small cliffsides.

Arctic Turn chick
Turn and chick
Puffin burrows
After getting our fill of ornithology we made the final crossing back to Bamburgh and a surf landing on the beach.

Bamburgh Castle
About 20km paddled.

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