The intention had been to get to Staple Island – one of the Farne Islands that, for various reasons, I have failed to visit over the many years in the north east of England. It was not to be and the only available option was to return to Inner Farne. Now it should be said that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with Inner Farne, it’s always a great experience to mix so closely with the seabirds that now call this island home (albeit for the breeding season).
The island is now the summer home of a few National Trust wardens and a large number of seabirds but it has a long history of habitation. St Cuthbert spent time here in the 7th century. The pele tower, a defensive stone building on the island, dates from the 15th century and is known as Prior Castell’s Tower. After the dissolution of the monasteries it housed a small garrison then fell out of use until being used as a rudimentary lighthouse; now it houses the wardens. Next to the tower is St Cuthbert’s chapel built as part of a monastery in the 14th century with heavy 19th century ‘renovations’. The other building is the 1809 High Light (lighthouse).
Despite the history the island is best known for the birds. The walk around the island runs the gauntlet of the terns though only one made contact with a suitably hatted head this time. The season is already coming to an end with large guillemot chicks ready for the imminent jump to the sea below and shag youngsters losing down and turning into full sized birds. The arctic tern chicks too were mostly drab versions of the adults soon to be ready for the immense journey south.
The island sees a day packed with visitors; it must take on a completely different life after the last boat has left. And yet the birds thrive with those hundreds of passers by with large camera lenses pointed at them day in day out. Close encounters with terns, puffins, guillemots, shags and kittiwakes are guaranteed and it all seems to work for the people and the birds.
A frontal sky above heralded a change in weather as we made the slightly calmer journey back to Seahouses on what was probably my fifth visit. But each visit never disappoints – though perhaps next time I might just make it to Staple Island?