Of the sparsely scattered villages of the Northumberland coast, Seahouses is perhaps the most bustling during the summer months. A fishing port since the late 1880s, it still harbours a small fleet, and is the embarkation point for trips to the Farne Islands.
Numbering from the low teens to the high 20s, depending on the tides, the Farnes lie between one-and-a-half and five miles from the coast. Remnants of the dolerite intrusion known as the Great Whin Sill, which manifests itself most notably along the course of Hadrian’s Wall, some islands are no bigger than rocks, while others are stacks standing more than 20m (65ft) tall.
The rocky area has a long and stormy past. In 678 AD, St Cuthbert retreated from the monastery on Holy Island to live out the rest of his life as a hermit on Inner Farne. In 1838, Grace Darling, the 22-year old daughter of the Longstone lighthouse keeper, twice braved the stormy sea in a rowing boat to rescue survivors of the wreck of the SS Forfarshire. The modern lighthouse on Longstone island, now unmanned, is said to be the most powerful in Europe.
On the boat trip from Seahouses, it is not uncommon to be accompanied by a dolphin. Approaching the islands, you will sail between the bobbing heads of grey seals, while being scrutinised by their companions basking on their rocky perches.
Landing on Staple Island, you can follow a wooden boardwalk through carpets of sea campion, thrift and scurvy grass that shelter the burrows of hundreds of puffins. Continuing over bare rock, you will pass within touching distance of cormorants, shags, kittiwakes and guillemots.
There are few sandy beaches on the Farnes, but those on Inner Farne provide nesting sites for sandwich, Arctic and common terns, with tiny numbers of rarer roseate terns.
On returning to Seahouses, your appetite can be satisfied at one of the seafood restaurants, fish and chip shops or hotels in the village. Also, be sure to visit the fascinating lifeboat station.
Around half a mile’s easy walk south of Seahouses lie Annstead Dunes, a narrow strip of high sand dunes that are an important site for ground-nesting birds, such as lapwings and curlews.
Continuing south, by-pass Beadnell before swinging inland, then turning south again to reach the coastal hamlet of Low Newton-by-the-sea.
This tiny former fishing village, now owned by the National Trust, is an ideal place to conclude a day’s exploration of this wild coastline.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car, take the A1 south from Berwick-upon-Tweed, B1342 from Belford to Bamburgh then B1340 to Seahouses. From Newcastle, A1 north to Alnwick then B1340 to Seahouses. By bus, the Arriva X18 between Newcastle and Berwick passes through Seahouses.
The Ship Inn
Organic rare breed meats and locally sourced fish. Has its own micro-brewery, producing 20 beers.
Bamburgh Castle Inn
This delightful hotel has fantastic views, looking over Seahouses harbour toward the Farne Islands.
Visit the site of one of Britain’s most impressive castles, the Grace Darling Museum and St Aidan’s Church.