The first island of year two and the closest to home. As a tidal island the rule is to be there whilst cut off by the high tide. Today’s was a particularly low high tide leaving us only 1½hours to spend there. Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, the lighthouse and visitor centre is not open while the causeway is flooded and the rocky foreshore is out of bounds to protect the wildlife so the space to explore is rather limited. Fortunately the wildlife hide was open leaving us a refuge from the fresh and chilly wind.
St Mary’s Island has also been known as Bates Island after a former owner, Thomas Bates, and not as old Ordnance Survey maps show as Bait Island, presumably assuming it was related to fishing bait. The lighthouse wasn’t built until 1898 to replace one at Tynemouth; it lasted less than 100 years being decommissioned in 1984. The island has the lighthouse and keepers’ cottage and another private house, which once was the Freemason’s Arms, and that pretty much fills the available space.
For many years disturbance by people visiting the island had prevented seals from resting up on the rocks and birds from using it as a high tide roost. However the introduction of a no-disturbance zone meant that today we were treated to over 40 resting seals as well as curlew, turnstone, lapwing and redshank waiting for the tide to turn again.
To the south the sun peeped out from the clouds now and again illuminating the lighthouse and silhouetting Tynemouth Priory and the breakwaters at the mouth of the Tyne. Between the island and the Tyne waves swept in to the shore, as they broke the wind whisked the spray back out to sea. The shallows around the island flattened out the waves causing a gentle slopping back and forth across the causeway, the neap tide meant that it was never covered to any great depth and we left a little before the official reopening time.