Farne Islands – National Trust Bird Sanctuary

The Farne Islands Bird Sanctuary is a National Trust attraction, a few miles off the NE coast from the fishing port of Seahouses. It comprises Inner Farne, Outer Farne, Brownsman, Staple Island and a number of rocks that are awash only at low tide. Access is only provide by one of the local boat operators from Seahouses.

It is one of UK’s premier bird sanctuaries, with over 23 species of birds, some which have thousands of nesting pairs. There are an estimated 37,000 pairs of Puffins on the islands. In addition to the birds, they have a large colony of sea lions, with over 1,000 pups born every Fall.

In addition, the islands have a number of structures dating back to the 7th Century.


These islands date back to the 7th Century, when St Cuthbert moved to the island, living the life of a hermit. He arrived on Inner Farne about 676 and died on the island in 687. A monastery complex was completed in the 14th Century, with the Church of St Cuthbert, visitor centre & tower being the only remnants.

Remnant of the monastery

The above buildings on Inner Farne Island are the remains of the original monastery. The small building is the visitor centre, the closest is the Church of St Cuthbert and the tower is now the residence for the Rangers residing on the island.

St Cuthbert’s Church Stained Glass Windows


With the islands extending 5 miles off the coast, they create a risk to navigation; therefore, numerous lighthouses were built over the years. Only 2 remain, and both have been automated. The captain narrated an interesting story of the Darling family, who tended the light for many years and aided in rescuing survivors from the Forfarshire in 1838. The lighthouse keeper and his daughter Grace saved 9 crew members. Her heroism was recognised when an RNLI lifeboat on Holy Island was named in her honour. We subsequently saw the lifeboat at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent.

Longstone Lighthouse located on outer most island

Inner Farne Lighthouse

Visiting Farne Islands

The Farne Islands can only be accessed by boat, with a number of companies offering tours departing from Seahouses Harbour. I reviewed many of the tour options and had tentatively selected Billy Shiels Farne Island Boat Tours. This was confirmed by Matty at the B&B we stayed at.

Two of Billy Shiels Boats at Farne Island

Weather in the North Sea can change quickly, so I suggest checking with the company, if they will be landing on Farne Island the day you plan to visit. When the wind blows, you may not get ashore, which is without a doubt the highlight of the trip.

Parking is available in the village, but we opted to drive down and check out the harbour. Bonus – lots of parking is available right on the breakwater, and at reasonable rates. All boat company booths, are lined up in a row, at the entrance to the breakwater. We went to the Billy Shiels booth, confirmed they were landing ashore and booked tickets for the 14:00 tour. Once confirmed, you then head to the National Trust booth, which is located at the end. You either pay the daily fee to land ashore, or show them your membership cards for complimentary access. Visiting UK for 5 months we elected to join the National Trust.

The tour starts by visiting each of the islands then returns to Inner Farne, where we had about 1 hr ashore.

At the outer islands we stopped at one of the large sea lion colonies. Spot the camera shy sea lion!

Selection of Sea Lion colony photos

On return to Inner Farne Island, the Captain landed us ashore for the short hike up to the visitor centre, where we congregated in the church for a 10 – 15 minute presentations by one of the Rangers. It was most informative.

Concrete path up to the visitor centre

The path had numerous hazards, with the lower tidal reaches being slippery and above tidal you ran the risk of being dive bombed by irate Arctic Terns.

Arctic Tern squawking

Having read the Farne Island brochure we knew that the squawking was a precursor to dive bombing, so only a single quick photo of this chap without actually stopping.

Placid Eider Duck at side of path

The Eider Ducks were in complete contrast to the Arctic Terns, as they just flopped on the nest and never moved or made a sound.

After the Ranger presentation we were encouraged to follow the boardwalk route around the island, which was well maintained and reasonably flat. Length was about 1/2 mile and took 20 to 30 minutes depending on number of stops.

A fellow visitor being dive bombed and pecked by Arctic Tern

This was on the first leg of the walk around the island, with this Arctic Term being especially feisty. He dive bombed everyone, regardless of whether you stopped or continued through. I also got dive bombed and had my ear pecked.

Pair of Black Headed Gulls

Yes, they have brown heads, but are called Black Headed Gulls. None of the Rangers knew why and no doubt they are asked this question multiple times a day.

Some of the 37,000 pairs of Puffins

Single Puffin close-up

Puffin flying just off shore


Shag nesting on the cliffs

Shag with lots of young chicks in the nest

Shag close-up with almost cotton wool strands on its beak

Guillemot population has doubled in past 10 years

Guillemots, which are part of the Auk family are one of the most common coastal birds. They come ashore to nest, but spend the rest of their life at sea.

Guillemots & Gulls co-exist on the same cliff

Two Guillemots having a chat

Guillemots and a nesting gull

Black Headed Gull & Eider Duck Nesting in close proximity

Black Headed Gull with 3 eggs in the nest

Black Headed Gull & eggs close-up

Black Headed Gull lying peacefully in the nest

Black Headed Gull coming in for a landing

Black Headed Gull flying at altitude

Guillemot coming in for a landing

Three photo sequence of a Guillemot take-off

Guillemots taking-off with Puffins in the background

Once back on the boat we headed directly back to Seahouses to bring to an end today’s almost 3 hour spectacular tour.

Cost UKP 15.00 per person, which was exceptional value

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