Inner Farne and its lighthouse. There are white bird droppings on the cliff.
Farne Islands shown within Northumberland
|OS grid reference|
The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the state of the tide. They are scattered about 1 1⁄2 to 4 3⁄4 miles (2.4–7.6 km) from the mainland, divided into two groups, the Inner Group and the Outer Group. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens (all joined together on very low tides) and (somewhat separated) the Megstone; the main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island, the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone. The two groups are separated by Staple Sound. The highest point, on Inner Farne, is 62 feet (19 m) above mean sea level.
Monks and hermits
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the Farne Islands were various Culdees, some connected with Lindisfarne. This followed the old Celtic Christian tradition of island hermitages, also found in Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
The islands are first recorded in 651, when they became home to Saint Aidan, followed by Saint Cuthbert. Cuthbert isolated himself on the islands until he was called to the bishopric of Lindisfarne, but after two years he returned to the solitude of the Inner Farne and died there in 687, when Saint Aethelwold took up residence instead. Among other acts, Cuthbert introduced special laws in 676 protecting the eider ducks, and other seabirds nesting on the islands; these are thought to be the earliest bird protection laws anywhere in the world.
A formal monastic cell of Benedictine monks was established on the islands circa 1255. The cell was dependent on Durham Abbey, now Durham Cathedral. A very small cell, it was usually home to only two monks, although on occasion this rose to as many as six. The cell was dissolved in 1536 as part of King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Following the dissolution of the monastic cell on the islands, the islands became the property of the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral, who leased them to various tenants. The islands remained a detached part of County Durham until 1844, when the Counties (Detached Parts) Act transferred them to Northumberland. In 1861 the islands were sold to Charles Thorp, who was at the time Archdeacon of Durham. In 1894 the islands were bought by the industrialist William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong. The islands are currently owned by the National Trust.
Remains still exist of the seventh-century anchorite cell used by Saint Aiden and Saint Cuthbert, as do the remains of a fourteenth-century chapel associated with the cell. Known as St Cuthbert's Chapel, the chapel is described as a "single-cell building of four bays". The remains of a second chapel have been incorporated into a later building.
The Farne Islands are associated with the story of Grace Darling and the wreck of the Forfarshire. Grace Darling was the daughter of Longstone lighthouse-keeper (one of the islands' lighthouses), William Darling, and on 7 September 1838, at the age of 22 years, she and her father rescued nine people from the wreck of the 'Forfarshire' in a strong gale and thick fog, the vessel having run aground on Harcar Rock. The story of the rescue attracted extraordinary attention throughout Britain and made Grace Darling a heroine who has gone down in British folklore.
The islands have no permanent population, the only residents being National Trust Assistant Rangers during part of the year: they live in the old pele tower on the Inner Farne (the largest and closest inshore of the islands), and the lighthouse cottage on the Brownsman in the outer group. The pele tower was built around 1500, by or for Thomas Castell, Prior of Durham.
Built in 1811 and originally named Inner Farne Lighthouse
Built in 1826 and originally named Outer Farne Lighthouse.
Former lighthouses on the islands include:
- Farne Island Lighthouse (built in 1673 but never lit; replacement built in 1778, which was itself replaced with the current Farne Lighthouse in 1811)
- A minor light was also established on the north west of Farne between 1811 and 1910.
- Staple Island Lighthouse (built in 1778 and blown down in 1784; a replacement, built either in the same place or on Brownsman Island, was knocked down by heavy seas in 1800)
- Brownsman Lighthouse (built in 1800, replaced with a new tower in 1811 and closed in 1826 when Longstone Lighthouse was established)
All the operational lighthouses on the Farnes are now automatic and have no resident keepers, although in former years they did. The lighthouse is now maintained by Trinity House via its local lighthouse attendant, George Shiel, who provides guided tours inside the lighthouse. Ruins of some of the older lighthouses may be seen: for example on the Brownsman, where there are two. Before the lighthouses there were beacons on several of the islands. The prominent white streak on the cliff facing the mainland (see photo) is often thought by visitors to be bird droppings: although many parts of the islands do exhibit this colouring, in this case it is the result of chalk deposits from the many years of spent calcium carbide from the lighthouse being thrown down the cliff; this calcium carbide was used to generate acetylene which was used as fuel for the light before electricity came.
Ecology and natural history
In the warmer months the Farnes, an important wildlife habitat, are much-visited by boat trips from Seahouses. Local boats are licensed to land passengers on Inner Farne, Staple Island and the Longstone; landing on other islands is prohibited to protect the wildlife. At the right time of year, many puffins can be seen and these are very popular with visitors; on the Inner Farne, the Arctic terns nest close to the path and will attack visitors who come too close (visitors are strongly advised to wear hats). Some of the islands also support a population of rabbits, which were introduced as a source of meat and have since gone wild. The rabbit and puffin populations use the same burrows at different times, the puffins being strong enough (with a vicious bite) to evict the rabbits from the burrows during the nesting season. The islands also hold a notable colony of about 6,000 grey seals, with several hundred pups born every year in September–November.
Breeding birds on the Farnes (as of 2012) include:
- Shelduck – 2 pairs
- Mallard – 17 pairs
- Common eider – 443 pairs
- Fulmar – 276 pairs
- Cormorant – 135 pairs
- Shag – 965 pairs
- Oystercatcher – 39 pairs
- Herring gull – 72 pairs in 2011 (not counted in 2012)
- Lesser black-backed gull – 52 pairs in 2011 (not counted in 2012)
- Ringed plover – 4 pairs
- Black-headed gull – 461 pairs
- Black-legged kittiwake – 4,241 pairs
- Sandwich tern – 966 pairs
- Roseate tern (endangered species) – no pairs, several individuals
- Common tern – 88 pairs
- Arctic tern – 1,180 pairs in 2011 (not counted in 2012)
- Guillemot – 49,076 birds
- Razorbill – 365 pairs
- Puffin – 36,285 pairs
- Barn swallow – 4 pairs
- Pied wagtail – 5 pairs
- Rock pipit – 20 pairs
On 28–29 May 1979, an Aleutian tern, a rare tern from the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific Ocean, visited the Farnes. It was the first, and still the only, member of its species ever seen anywhere in Europe. It remains a complete mystery how it arrived.
A longer-staying unusual visitor was "Elsie" the lesser crested tern, who visited the Farnes every summer from 1984 to 1997; during that period (paired with a male Sandwich tern) she raised several hybrid chicks and attracted several thousand birders keen to see this species in Britain. Lesser crested terns normally nest on islands off the coast of Libya and migrate to West Africa for the winter; it is thought that "Elsie" took a wrong "tern" at the Straits of Gibraltar on spring migration.
An Arctic tern from the Farnes, ringed as a chick not yet old enough to fly in summer 1982, reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982, a sea journey of over 14,000 miles (22,000 km) in just three months from fledging. This remains one of the longest distances travelled by any bird.
One classic view of the Farnes, very popular with photographers, is that from the harbour at Seahouses. However, they are closer to the mainland further up the road northwards towards Bamburgh and excellent views may be seen from here, in the vicinity of the Monks House Rocks, as well as from Bamburgh Castle and beach.
The Farnes are resistant igneous Dolerite outcrops. These would originally have been connected to the mainland and surrounded by areas of less resistant limestone. Through a combination of erosion of the weaker surrounding rock, and sea level rise following the last ice age, the Farnes were left as islands. Because of the way the rock is fissured, Dolerite forms strong columns. This gives the islands their steep, in places vertical cliffs, and the sea around the islands is scattered with stacks up to 66 feet (20 metres) high. Many of the small islands are bare rock, but the larger islands have a layer of clay subsoil and peat soil supporting vegetation. The rock strata slopes slightly upwards to the south, giving the highest cliffs on the south and some beaches to the north.
Shipwrecks and diving
As well as being popular with bird watchers, the Farne Islands are a popular scuba diving location, with a variety of sites suitable for all levels of diver. The islands appeal to divers for the seals and wrecks. The grey seal colony at the Farnes numbers about 5,000. They are curious and will often look in on divers in the water and are impressive to watch underwater.
Hundreds of ships have been wrecked on the Farnes over the years, providing plenty for wreck divers to look at. Among them are:
Name Year Abessinia 1921 Acantha 1915 Adelina 1862 Advance 1891 Aepos 1920 African Prince 1931 Aid 1853 Alert 1918 Alexander 1845 Alexander 1947 Arab 1849 Arbutus 1890 Ardincaple 1833 Armed Dutch Vessel 1650–1715 Arms 1825 Ascot (HMS) 1918 Assuan 1943 Athelduke 1945 Attwood 1876 Auckland Castle 1918 Augusta 1823 Autumn 1834 Baltanglia 1940 Bonaventure 1559 Bowling 1939 Brave of Inverness 1850 Breeze 1852 Britannia 1795 Britannia III 1875 Britannia IIII 1915 Britannia PSS 1849 Byron 1851 Cairnduna 1875 Calcium 1876 Caledonia 1917 Caledonia of Montrose 1802 Caroline 1955 Cherokee (1818) Cheviot 1853 Children's Friend 1993 Chris Christensen 1915 Christa 1976 City of Aberdeen (1816) Constance 1972 Coryton 1941 Countess of Mar 1847 Courier 1875 Cresswell 1869 Cydonia 1916 Danio 2013 (Refloat) Doore 1855 Dublin 1805 Dunelm 1949 (Refloat) Earne 1859 Eclipse 1851 Elizabeth Fawcett (1846) Elliott 1852 Emerald 1865 Emily Reaich 1924 Emma 1914 Empire Ford 1943 (Refloat) Enterprise 1876 Est 1871 Euphemia 1848 Everene (1940) Excel 1939 (Refloat) Expedit 1917 Faith (1847) Falcon 1851 Fame 1833 Fifeshire 1852 Flora (1882) Florence Dombey 1933 Florence Nightingale 1860 Flower of Ross, 1890 Forfarshire 1838 Formica 1894 Fædreland French Caravels (x2) 1462 Friends (1857) Friendship 1795 G.R. Grey 1918 Garent 1842 Gebruder 1916 Generous Mind (1809) Geir 1908 George & Mary 1823 Glasgow Packet 1806 Glen (1909) Glenorm (1906) Glenorca 1913 (Refloat) Good Cheer 2000 Gowan 1917 Graciana 1920 (Refloat) Grade 1955 (Refloat) Grosvenor 1935 Gudveig 1940 Gustav Vigeland 1916 Gwendoline 1893 Harmony 1857 Hazard 1815 Helen 1853 Helmsdale 1939 Hero 1817 Hetos 1940 Hibernia 1876 Holmrook 1892 Holy Island Coble 1895 Holy Island Yawl 1875 Hope (Smack) 1819 Horley 1922 Humber Packet 1812 Igor 1918 Ilala 1876 Inatje Baaf 1894 Industry 1774 Isbul & Margarit 1849 Isabella Fowlie 1941 Isorna 1941 Ivanhoe 1857 Jægersborg 1916 Jack Tar 1854 James B Graham 1922 James Harris 1881 Jan Ryswyck 1924 Jane and Margaret 1867 Janet Johnson 1853 Jean and Jessie 1856 Jemima 1851 Jeremiah 1806 Jessie 1847 Joan 1845 Johns (1841) Johns (1845) John 1849 John & Isabella 1808 John G. Watson 1930 Juno 1819 Kestrel 1917 Kincardine 1818 Kopanes 1941 Lady Duff (1853) (Refloat) Lady of the Lake 1866 Lady Panmure 1851 Lady Ross 1847 Lancaster 1854 Leda 1886 Liberty 1849 Liddle 1774 Lilly Miles 1899 Loch Leven 1902 Lord Strathmore, 1917 (Refloated) Lucerne 1915 (Refloat) Luiste Josephine 1851 Lunesdale 1929 Maggie Lauder 1804 Maid of Aln 1863 Manchant 1852 Manly 1852 Martha 1827 May 1894 Maystone 1949 Medora 1865 Mermaid 1823 Merwede 1918 Mistley 1951 Monkwearmouth 1823 Mormilion Frederick 1800 Myrtle (Brig) 1864 Nellie 1849 Neptune (1819) Nisus 1853 Ocean Bridge 1873 Orca 1982 Otago 1915 Otto M'Combie 1895 Paciline Defecamp 1850 Pallas 1901 Paragon 1821 Paragon 1842 Paragon 1895 Patia 1941 Peace and Plenty 1860 Pearle 1740 Peggy 1774 Plough 1850 Pluto 1940 Prosperous 1854 Queenstown 1916 Rececca 1899 Resolute 1886 River Leven 1953 Ryoll of Stockton 1801 Saint Evelyn Joyce 1922 Saint Louis 1924 (Refloat) San Bernado 1916 Sarah 1815 Scottish Prince 1913 Sedulous 2 1975 Shadwan 1888 Sisters 1832 Skovdal 1917 Sloop no 28 (1806) Snowdonia 1881 Somali 1941 Sootica 1985 Smilax (1851) Sphynx 1919 Spica 1916 St Abbs Head 1949 St Andre 1908 St Fergus 1885 St. Salvator 1472 Stamfordham 1916 Storfors 1940 Strive 1856 Success 1774 Success 1853 Thistle 1883 Thomas 1837 Thomas Jackson 1825 Tioga 1943 Tredegar Hall 1916 (Refloat) Trio 1860 Two Brothers 1841 U-1274 1945 Urdate 1823 Vaagan 1916 Valhal 1890 Volunteer 1846 (Refloat) Waren Packet 1830 Werner Kunstmann 1914 William Thorpe 1852 William (Schooner) 1864 Yagen 1916 Yewglen 1960
Dive sites and wrecks
- Chris Christenson, a Danish steamer that sank on 16 February 1915. She lies close into the reef off the south tip of Longstone, Outer Farnes in about 98–115 feet (30–35 m) at ( ).
- Abessinia, a 453-foot (138 m) German steamship that drove onto Knifestone, Outer Farnes, on 3 September 1921. She lies in about 30–66 feet (9.1–20.1 m) at ( ).
- Brittania, a 740-long-ton (750 t), 210-foot (64 m) British cargo/passenger steamship that struck the Callers, Outer Farnes, in thick fog on 25 September 1915. The wreckage lies between about 26–98 feet (7.9–29.9 m) at ( ).
- St Andre was a 1,120-long-ton (1,140 t) French steamship carrying pig iron. On 28 October 1908 she hit the Crumstone and floated off to sink finally at Staple island. She lies in about 56–82 feet (17–25 m) at ( ).
It is generally possible to dive at the Farnes regardless of wind direction. There is always shelter somewhere. Some dive locations even provide the opportunity to combine diving and bird watching, in particular the Pinnacles, where guillemots can be found fishing at safety stop depth.
- e travel guide to Northumbria. Archived 31 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine. "There are between 15 and 20 islands in number, depending upon the tide".
- MONUMENT NO. 8298, English Heritage: PastScape
- "Eiderdown: Famous Eider Colony".
- BBC. "BBC - Radio 4 - The Living World: The Eider Duck".
- ST CUTHBERTS CHAPEL, English Heritage: PastScape
- www.bamburgh.org.uk. Gives details of Grace Darling.
- "Farne Lighthouse". Trinity House. Archived from the original on 2013-03-10.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
- Wallis, John (1769). The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland, London: Printed for the author, by W. and W. Strahan. pp. 340–341.
- Incredible Birds. Documents Aleutian Tern on Inner Farne in May 1979.
- www.towhee.net. Confirms "Elsie" the lesser crested tern visited Farnes.
- www.seahouses.org. Archived 25 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Gives geology details.
- "Farnes area Dive Site Info and Dive conditions". Divesiteinfo.co.uk. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Divernet - Diver Magazine Online - SCUBA - Diving - Dive Shows - Gear Tests - Travel - News".[permanent dead link]
- Data, Sue Mitchell, Spot-on. "Farnes area Dive Site Info and Dive conditions". Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
-  Archived 5 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Divernet - Diver Magazine Online - SCUBA - Diving - Dive Shows - Gear Tests - Travel - News". Archived from the original on 2007-07-08.
- Dive North East, Dave: Winfield, Barry Shaw, ISBN 978-0-946020-16-4
- The Guardian Travel. Gives some details of scuba diving in Farnes.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Farne Islands.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Farne Islands.|
- Farne Islands information at the National Trust
- Farne Islands access and information (commercial)
- John Whiterig, Benedictine Hermit on Farne
- Northumberland Coast — Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) — Northumberland Coast AONB Site
- Lighthouse access & boat trips
- Diving around the Farne Islands