Sea kayaking trip to the Farne islands, Northumberland, England

On a fine end-of-May spring day several friends and I, all experienced sea kayakers and members of clubs in the north-east coast of England and south-east coast of Scotland, met at Bamburgh beach and set off for the Farne Islands, a round trip of over 10 nautical miles.

Group setting off from Bamburgh beach (Bamburgh Castle in background)

We initially paddled through open water due north/north east for about an hour, until we got to Megstone, where we were greeted by the first seals of the day – there were going to be dozens more! The friendly and curious sea mammals were easily approachable and took great pleasure diving between us and even right under our sea kayaks – sheer pleasure!

Farne Islands: resident seal, by Hugh Simmons

We carried on due east/north east, effectively wending our way through the islands. Despite the lovely day and relatively calm sea, the local tidal races were present and cautious paddling was required at all times, particularly near North Wamses. When near an island, you were first greeted with smelly bird-dropping air and the white colouring on the dark volcanic rocks was testament to the rich bird life present on these islands.

Farne islands, by g-hat

We were heading to Longstone, the north-easterly extreme largest island where the Farnes lighthouse is located, for lunch, but first had to await the rescue of a female diver that had gotten the bends due to too rapid an ascent – she and her diving buddy were airlifted to the decompression chamber in Hull and fortunately were fine eventually.  Our lunch at Longstone was a chatty and relaxing affair, Sarah had even baked a rich chocolate cake that she shared with the rest of us!

Longstone lighthouse, by MGSpiller

The return trip saw us heading first south, then south-west past Staple Island and Staple Sound and eventually past inner Farne. This journey took us past fantastic geometric rock formations housing a myriad of sea birds, with puffins, razorbills, shags (a shiny khaki-green cormorant-type sea bird), terns and guillemots, the last species present in their hundreds (if not thousands.)

Farnes Puffin, by left-hand

Return to Bamburgh on the mainland was a fast-paddling, well organized affair – we aimed mainly west with the afternoon tidal flow actually taking us north west (our true destination.)  We ended back at Bamburgh beach, enjoyed some gentle sea surfing and practising of routine manoeuvres and eventually loaded the boats back on the cars.

A perfect end to a great day out – but we did have the weather, something not always available in this part of north east England. The sea kayaking trip to the Farne Islands had taken just under six hours in total.

Many thanks to David Grieve who led the trip and Sarah Stark who coordinated.

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