Lochs 'n' Trossachs Tour - Seahouses and the Farne Islands, Day 10, 19 May 2008
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19 May 2008 - Island of the misfit toyboys or Notes from a small island.

Ok, I know this isn't actually part of the bike tour, zero miles on the bike today, they didn't even come out of the B&B garage, but it was a really cool day. Breakfast in the Seahouses B&B is pretty standard full English breakfast. I have to be careful again, there isn't massive amounts of riding going on anymore. And I'm a little jealous, it sounds like Caroline's breakfast was really posh and fancy. However, I'm still totally full from all the meat at dinner last night.

We head through town to find some supplies for the day on our way to the harbor. The full day boat trip is supposed to leave around nine, so we need to rush and get food for the day and get there in time. We pick up a few things in the grocery store and then lots of nice things in the bakery. They have good looking pasties and we take a few of those, if they are good enough for Cornish shepherds, they should work for us on a boat headed to islands covered with loads of birds.

Along the coast in Seahouses.

Seahouses harbor.

The weather seems fairly nice but is slightly windy. Maybe that won't be so good. That is confirmed when we get to the harbor. The booths seem slightly emptier than they should be, lots of people already gotten the bad news and have wandered off. On last years tour, we made a trip to Seahouses to try to get to the islands but the weather was just way too horrible for the boats even go to out, so we gave ourselves two days this time to see if we could get out there. They tell us that the seas are too rough to go out this morning, but that they will turn the all day tour into a single landing, the Inner Farnes will be too rough even this afternoon, and just give us longer on the island. I guess that sounds fine, you can't really argue with the sea. But come back at noon and we will go there. That gives a few hours to kill then.

We are on the coast, have binoculars, see lots of birds out there, so the logical thing is just to wander up the coast a bit and see what is there. On a boat ramp, just up the way, there is a very tame pack of eider ducks, walking up and down, coming quite close to all the people, and making their funny cooing noises. A few people, looking like dedicated photographers, they have really big lenses on their camera, start taking lots of pictures of them. We are just quite excited to see them this close. They are such funny creatures, the triangle face just seems so elegant.

Lots of funny eider ducks.

Continuing up the coast, various boats sit stranded in the mud, in the low tide. We walk towards a stone hut on the rocky outcrops. I wonder what it is for, maybe if you get stranded on the rocks when the tide comes in, you have somewhere safe to sit and wait it out. I can imagine, with the waves the way they can really come in, it would be a bit uncomfortable sitting out exposed on a rocky outcrop.

Walking down the coast, waiting for the sea cruise to begin.

Low tide now.

After a little more bird watching from the sea wall and a bit of tea from a sandwich cart, it is just about time to start lining up for the cruise. The tide has come in much more now, the boats that were stranded in the mud are now just about floating again and the harbor is filling up. The tour operators keep shouting out confusing information, if you are going on the all day tour, this side of the wall, if you are on this one, over here. We have to ask to make sure we get on the right one.

Loading in, which seat is going to give us the best view? Some are on the edge, some you have to sit towards the middle. I guess the ones on the edge might be closer at some times but the ones in the middle will probably always be far away from things, no matter what side of the boat things are happening on. It takes about 20 minutes of cruising to come to the first island, the inner one. We were supposed to land on this island, but with the heavy surf, it isn't all that safe, so we just have to cruise around it.

Lining up to get on the boat.

Out to sea.

The sea was a little rough but it seems fine. I am vaguely worried about seasickness, but I generally don't seem to get it, just once on a pretty rough ferry crossing from Liverpool to Dublin, but then everybody around me was sick too. I am mostly curious because I'll be going back to Scotland in a few weeks to do whale and dolphin counting on little RIB boats, so I want to make sure I won't have trouble with that. (Of course, that wasn't a problem either, the bumpy rough sea days were some of my favorite there.)

The Farne Islands.

You know we are getting close, the cliffs are stained white and there is a lot of movement on them. The seas up to there have had a fair amount of movement too, mostly guillemots floating around and then flapping off when we get too close, or would do a synchronized dive. And even a few puffins which makes everybody happy. The guillemots are perched up high on the cliffs and every so often one would launch itself off. Around the next corner, we come across a number of shags (or cormorants, I can never tell the difference) nested on their own rocks, their great profiles against the sky. Then around the next corner, is a colony of seals, gigantic and huge lying on the rocks and then a funny contrast when you see them in the water and it is just a little bit of their nose sticking out. We circle around again to give the other side of the boat a chance to see them. It would have been nice to have been closer to all of those but it was still pretty amazing to see all of those.

Lots of shags.



Another 15 minutes of cruising takes us out to the outer island, the lighthouse coming up, a few minutes cruising around the back and coming in for a landing. The most distinctive thing I remember from coming in was the swarming. It looked like a cloud of flies from that distance, swarming over the buildings as we approached. But the flies of course where the Arctic terns, the birds that can be a bit scary and the reason you are advised to wear a hat on the island. Luckily for us, it was a bit early in the season and they didn't have young to protect, so they weren't quite as aggressive as they can be. I don't think anybody got hit, just a little bit of dive bombing.


Getting off the boat, they gave us a time to be back, a few hours later, and said they would be back. We offload and they take off again and we are alone on the island, ok there are lots of other people and there are a ton of birds, but yeah basically we are alone then. After running the gauntlet of the terns up to the little chapel and visitor center, the first order of business is some lunch. There are the pasties and oatcakes and other things to eat. After a bit of time at sea and in the sun, it is really nice and tasty.

Loads of terns.

Hidden female eider ducks

What an amazing island though. I would totally recommend the place, even if you are not all that into birds. It is beautiful there. But really though, the birds do own this island, each section has their own special territories. The landing area is pretty much dominated by the terns. The puffins seem to be mostly burrowed in the center of the island (although sadly the last survey said they have declined by 1/3 since the last survey 5 years ago, the first time that figure has dropped since they started surveying them). There were not a whole lot of puffins there, a lot of them were still out to sea, and then according to the survey, they just didn't end up making it back this year. Eider ducks then fill a lot of the center section too, the females totally blending in with the surroundings and it is hard to spot them sitting on their nests, while the males are very white and very distinctive.

The cliff areas surrounding the island are dominated by lots and lots of guillemots, a few puffins, and number of razorbills, and a good number of shags. The shags are quite funny, they are rather stubborn about their nests, coming back to the same one year after year, even nests that are just a few inches from the sides of the paths that lots of people like us walk on during these tours. They sit there, seemingly oblivious of the people, occasionally standing up and checking their eggs, turning them over and sitting back down.

There is so much to take in, we have like 2 1/2 hours there, the island doesn't take long to walk around, but every corner of it is crammed with birds to see. One of the nicest parts is sitting on the grassy part by the lighthouse, lying back, closing my eyes, half sleeping, and listening to the sounds, the sounds of the sea and the different types of bird calls. It is just an amazing symphony.


Arctic tern

On the way back to the landing spot, I peek around the chapel, which I didn't look in on the way into the island. It is quite small and apparently much of the stuff in it had been looted by soldiers stationed on the island years back, but it is still a nice place, it is a bit rustic, lots of it is carved wood.

Our boat should be back in a few minutes, so we head back down to the dock to get on. A few terns say goodbye, practicing their technique, which I have to say is rather effective, I felt a bit jumpy around them. We then cruise straight back to the harbor and disembark. Wow, that really was pretty great, sad we didn't get there last year but it was worth the diversion this year to see it.

Leaving the island.

We head back towards the B&Bs and Caroline has a train shortly after this in Alnmouth, so she has to gather her things and zoom off to catch that. It was nice having her along for this part and she seems quite happy for having seen the islands too. She then makes pretty good time getting back there and we get some texts back later saying she made it and recommending a nice swimming spot for us tomorrow on our way out.

We rest a bit in the B&B and clean up and then head out again to find some dinner. There was the Links place from last night, it was nice but it would be nice to find something different, if only for variety sake. The only other place in town that serves anything (besides fish and chips and takeaway) is the other hotel which has a pub and serves food. We look at the menu, waver a bit, I don't know, do you want this one, and decide to go back to the Links. It is busy but they find us a place, we look at the menu for a bit and then decide, no, really want to go to the other one, the seafood stew sounded too nice to skip and this one was just so meaty. Sorry, as we sneak out. Well, they seemed to be kind of short staffed too tonight and it seemed a bit annoying being there.

The other one seats us in a sort of lounge room where we order drinks and then realizing that we are not guests at the hotel, they move us into the main dining room. I'm still not quite sure of the logic there, but it doesn't matter. I could have either in either room and I'm sure it would have tasted the same. The stew was really nice too, just right with a beer and after a day at sea. We also spy the Farne Island wardens coming in the back door, I guess sneaking off the island for a few pints and a bit of food.

The day has been long and a bit exhausting, but for our last night, we have to see the ocean again. As much as I liked the Scotland tour, one thing that was strange about it is that we never ended up at the sea at any point. This part to Northumberland was a personal diversion and I'm not sure that the part where we went over the Forth Bridge really counts. It seems a bit strange going on a cycle tour without being at the sea for at least some part of it, hopping onto different islands, doing a coast to coast ride, or whatever.

Sunset on the beach at Seahouses.

The sun is just starting to set and a walk on the beach is called for. The tide is out again and the setting sun on the vast stretches of damp sand is quite pretty. The Farne Islands don't seem that far out there, except we know better now. The funny thing is how the lighthouses look, they seem like they are right next to each other although we know one of them is kind of quite a bit behind the other one, the islands look like a big long island instead of ones quite far back from each other. We then make our way back in the growing darkness, trying to avoid the large group of school kids who have been running around the beach off in the distance and diving off the cliffs onto the sand. They make their way back to their coach waiting to take them away somewhere and we head back to our B&B and call it a day. 0 miles today on the bike, but I've already said that. There were quite a few miles of walking though.

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