The Farne Islands are a birdie Mecca, and the great thing is that there are different birds to spot all year. In spring and autumn, Holy Island’s hedgerows are alive with migratory birds like wheaters, thrushes and warblers, and in winter the island is home to pale-bellied brent geese from Norway and other wildfowl and waders which search for food on the mud flats.
From May to July the neighbouring Farne islands and mainland cliffs resound to the cries of thousands of breeding seabirds like puffins, guillemots and little and arctic terns. You may also see atlantic or grey seals, thousands of which breed here every year.
Boats from seahouses depart around 10am and there are a variety of trips to choose from. The journey to Holy Island passes between the barren wave-lashed islands of Inner Farne – a great place to spot breeding seabirds in June and July, including some 70,000 puffins. There are between 3,000 and 4,000 seals, which are particularly fond of basking on the islands at low water.
As you approach Holy Island you’ll spot the castle, built in 1549 and now run by the National Trust. On arrival at the harbour you’ll see remnants of the island’s fishing past in the shape of old boats that have been upturned and converted into fishermen’s sheds.
In the 19th century herring fishing employed half the adult population but now just six boats fish for crab and lobster. Tourism is now the main earner for the island’s 160 permanent residents who live in the main town.
Your two-hour stopover won’t allow you to see everything on the island, but a good way to get a taste is to follow the marked nature trail, which starts in the harbour and follows the road to the castle. Originally a Tudor fort, the castle was transformed by Edwin Lutyens into an Edwardian holiday home for Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life magazine.
You’ll spot the walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll in 1911 on the left, and on the far side of the castle are the ancient lime kilns, where limestone quarried in the north of the island was burned. It was then taken by boat to sweeten fields on the mainland.
The industry flourished here until the end of the 19th century, and the remains of the wooden jetty, used by ships bringing in coal and carrying away the lime, can still be seen near the entrance gate.
When you reach fingerpost No4, turn left down Crooked Lonnen back towards the village. As well as birds, you may spot rare plants like the Marsh Orchid, Twayblade and Grass of Parnassus. There are a couple of hotels and cafes where you can fill up, then wander back towards the harbour. On the way you’ll see the tiny island where Cuthbert lived in a hermitage before becoming Prior on Lindisfarne in AD664 or 685. Just before reaching the harbour you will pass the priory built by Benedictine monks in the 12th century in Cuthbert’s memory. The return boat journey skirts the Northumberland coast with views of the striking Bambugh Castle atop its basalt crag.
Farm tracks and grassy footpaths for the walk on
How to get there
By car: Seahouses is 50 miles north from Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the B1318, A167, A1 then B1340.
BY Public transport: Seahouses can be reached by bus from Alnwick and Berwick-upon-Tweed
By ferry: Billy Shiel runs
a variety of trips to the Farne Islands (both half- and full-day) on his boat MV Glad Tidings. The Holy Island trip described here costs £16 for adults, £8 for children. Summer only.
% 01665 720308
Pilgrims Coffee House, Falkland House, Marygate, Holy Island TD15 2SJ
% 01289 389109
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 340.
Grid ref: NU 218 320
Lindisfarne Castle opens for 4½ hours, always including 12-3pm. It’s open 17-25 Feb, and 17 Mar-28 Oct daily exc Mon; also 27-30 Dec 10.30am-3pm.
% 01289 389244
Seahouses Tourist Information
% 01665 72088
% 01289 330733