Farne Island: Sleepy seals: Galapagos in Northumberland.

With reticence about the risks - not to mention the soaring costs - of long-haul travel, the Farne Islands magnificent wildlife is guaranteed to enrapture and ignite experience-starved imaginations.  

Home to the UK’s largest grey seal colony, now is the perfect time to swap the Galapagos for Northumberland’s magnificent coastline - a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty spanning 64 km.

Sacred Sanctuary

With an estimated 100,000 plus individual birds, including more than 35,000 pairs of puffins inhabiting the islands, I was blown away by the abundance of seals and seabirds.

Home to one of the largest colonies of Atlantic grey seals in the UK, around 1,000 seal pups are born every autumn.

Thousands of guillemots on Farne IslandBirdlife abundance: guillemots are among the 25 plus nesting bird species.

Serious bird watchers and novices alike are captivated with the prolific variety of species.

They include puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, four species of tern, shags, cormorants and eider ducks - not to mention dolphins, whales and porpoises.

Puffins galore on Farne IslandPuffins are the Farne islands most iconic bird species.

Fascinating Insights

Trips to the islands - which include a stop at Inner Farne - leave from Seahouses and we set off with Bracken, our excited golden retriever, who was also up for an adventure.

The knowledgeable crew enhance visitors’ experience with an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge about the wildlife.

They also give a fascinating insight into the islands famous former inhabitants including St Cuthbert who lived there as a hermit in the 7th century.

Longstone Lighthouse: home of heroine Grace Darling.Longstone Lighthouse: home of heroine Grace Darling.

A famous tale of heroism and bravery lies behind another famous resident, Grace Darling.

In 1838, aged just 22, Grace and her father William, the keeper of Longstone Lighthouse, was hailed a national heroine.

The accolade came after she made a perilous but successful attempt in a small open boat to rescue survivors from a stricken paddle steamer which had struck a rock. The boat trips follow the rescue route Grace, who sadly died four years later of tuberculosis, and her father embarked on.

The stunning scenery on the excursions include Bamburgh Castle, a Norman stronghold and one of Britain’s best loved fortresses.

Bamburgh Castle: one of the country’s largest inhabited castles.Bamburgh Castle: one of the country’s largest inhabited castles.

Magnet for Nesting Birds

A major highlight is a one hour stop at Inner Farne. Dogs are understandably not allowed on the island and well-looked after by the boat crew.

The National Trust is custodian and owner of the Inner Farne, the largest of the Farne Islands which acts as a magnet for thousands of nesting seabirds every summer.

The 356x24 dedication which National Trust rangers give to the birds' welfare is inspirational - living and working through all weather conditions for nine months of every year without running water or electricity (lights are powered by gas).

Vital breeding ground: shags on Inner Farne. Close up to the ShagsVital breeding ground: shags on Inner Farne.

With thousands of birds nestling on what appeared to be precarious cliff top ledges, we were just yards away from shaggs nesting - with something new and incredible around every corner.

Becoming one of the first designated sites of special scientific interest in 1951 and declared a national nature reserve in 1993, vital conservation work including repairs and decorating for this precious habitat continues when the nesting seabirds take flight for the winter.  

Birds of a feather: The islands team with wildlife. See birds in the sea.Birds of a feather: The islands team with wildlife.

Hailed as one of the country’s top wildlife experiences, there is no higher endorsement than acclaimed naturalist and prolific documentary maker David Attenborough recommending the Farne Islands for its ‘magnificent nature’

For an exceptional experience that will remain in your memory long after the seabirds depart for warmer climes, taking time to see this precious jewel in England’s conservation crown is a must.

Key Facts

Serenity Farne Island Boat Tours:

Golden Gate Farne Island Tours:

Billy Shiel Boat Trips:

This article was first produced for The Yorkshire Times

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