Exploring the Farne Islands

There is something magical about visiting islands. Maybe it is that they are that bit removed from the real world, isolated from the everyday by their watery surroundings. By visiting we can share that remoteness, feel that shift in time, half a beat out of step with the mainland. Maybe it is that visiting an island takes that bit of extra effort. A short stroll or a car ride won’t cut it, there is a stretch of open ocean to be crossed if you want to set foot on their shores. Then there is the ever present mystique that despite your best efforts, the sea and the weather still have the final say on wether you can make the crossing. Maybe it is their windswept, wave ravaged, rugged shores that call to me or maybe it is the calls of the seabirds that call these wild places home. It was time to answer the call with a visit to the Farne Islands.

The Farne Islands are a group of 15 to 20, (it changes depending on the tide), islands off the coast of Northumberland. They are famous as being a favoured breeding ground for seabirds, home to a grey seal colony, site of over 100 shipwrecks, home to Saint Cuthbert during 680s and site of the heroic rescue carried out by Grace Darling and her father in 1838. For me the highlight was definitely getting to spend more time amongst the puffins. Since I last visited Lunga's puffins the birds have hatched and fledged their 'pufflings' - possibly the cutest word in the English language. We were lucky to see them as any day now the puffins will be leaving their summer island home and heading off to spend the winter at sea. It is hard to imagine these tiny birds spending a whole winter on the ocean, braving the winter gales and being tossed around on the waves. Enough introduction, time for some pictures of some seriously cute little birds...

Puffins aren't the only sea birds to make the Farne Islands their summer residence, there are also:

Kittiwakes - This little lot have made their nests on impossibly small looking ledges on the side of the cliffs. The nest themselves are made up of a combination of grass and kittiwake poop, trampled down by the birds to make a cosy spot to hatch their eggs. By the time we arrived the eggs had hatched, the young birds were fully fledged and sporting their juvenile / teenager plumage.

 Juvenile kittiwake

Juvenile kittiwake

 Kittiwakes on their cliff side nests

Kittiwakes on their cliff side nests

 Shag holding it's wings out to dry

Shag holding it's wings out to dry

 Not quite so cute now!

Not quite so cute now!

Shags - Easily confused with cormorants, that shag is the smaller of the two, with a yellow patch at the base of it's beak. If you get the opportunity to look closely at these birds it is easy to imagine that they could be dragons with their beautiful, iridescent bottle green plumage.

 Bird or dragon?

Bird or dragon?

Fulmars - This is one of the chicks hidden in the grass. It looks a bit defenceless and vulnerable but it has a trick up it's sleeve, or rather up it's beak. Should a predater take a fancy to it, the chick can spit a revolting smelling oil out of it's specially adapted tube nose.

It's not just about the birds, the Farne Isalnds are also home to up to 5000 grey seals. 

 Pregnant female grey seal looking pretty happy with life

Pregnant female grey seal looking pretty happy with life

 Young grey seals, they are independent hunters now but during their first few weeks they were fed milk by their mother that is 50% fat, a bit different to our 2% semi-skimmed!

Young grey seals, they are independent hunters now but during their first few weeks they were fed milk by their mother that is 50% fat, a bit different to our 2% semi-skimmed!

 Grey seal bulls, maybe it's just me but they don't look quite as cute as the pups!

Grey seal bulls, maybe it's just me but they don't look quite as cute as the pups!

The birds are heading back out to sea and it will soon be time for Narwhal to join them. We will be leaving our summer base in Craobh and heading out for some more open ocean and island adventures.  

I hope that you are enjoying reading about our adventures. The reason that I share them is threefold. Firstly It's not always easy to keep in touch from on the water and this is my way of letting you all know where we are, what we are up to and how Narwhal is getting on. Secondly, adventuring on Narwhal I feel amazingly lucky to see and experience some beautiful places and wildlife. I don't want to keep those experiences all to myself so this is my way of sharing them with you. Finally and most importantly, I hope that Narwhal's adventures inspire you to take on some kind of adventure of your own. It doesn't have to be huge. It has been some of the small adventures that I have done that have been the most enjoyable. So much so that I have added a 'mini-adventure' category to the blog, these are small adventures that don't need much equipment or time but are still great fun. It would be great if you feel inspired to take on an adventure of your own! Sharing Narwhal's adventures and inspiring people is really important to me. You can help to inspire even more people by spreading the word and hitting the share button.