I had been happily paddling Lakes and bobbling along down rivers but still hadn’t quite found my thrill level. Pondering this dilemma I went over to RoHo for a bit of retail therapy. It’s then I overhear a conversation about a paddle to the Farne Islands. A couple of people I knew were going so I asked if I could join them. ‘Yes sure’, was the reply, ‘as long as you know how to paddle’.
So I needed to learn to paddle a long pointy boat, and quickly! A borrowed Tahe Marine gave me the opportunity to do 3 laps of Roundhay Lake. I also knew my roll was good. OK it felt wobbly at first but wow it was amazingly fast. The only thing I hadn’t quite mastered was how to turn the bloody thing in anything less than a half mile turning circle. I thought my 3 point turn in a car was bad, but this was another level!
Still, I remained undeterred by the fact I had never actually paddled at sea. I arrived at the meeting point at Bamburgh sands near Seahouses, in view of the stunning Bamburgh Castle. Here I met Mike and some of his fellow paddlers. All of whom had clearly been paddling together a long time. George and Mark were there from RoHo (yes the rivers were actually that low!) offering me reassurance of seeing some friendly faces. Radios came out of BA’s and the guys started talking channels and stuff that I hadn’t even considered. OK so I don’t recommend this to anybody-always tell the truth about your paddling capabilities!
The Farne Islands
It was a beautiful June day and the sea looked calm. The plan was to paddle out to the Farne Islands for a leisurely day of Seal and bird spotting. The nearest of the islands sits approximately a mile and a half from the beach. I couldn’t wait.
The Farne Islands consist of between fifteen to twenty small islands. Seeing them all depends on the state of the tide. The islands cover an area from one and a half miles offshore to approximately four miles offshore. These are mainly categorised into two groups, Inner Farne and Outer Farne.
The islands boast the largest breeding colony of Grey Seals in England with some 1,000 pups born there each Autumn. A designated nature reserve with so many bird species and over 40,000 pairs of breeding Puffins alone! So with this in mind I paddled in eager anticipation for what may lie ahead.
From the beach you can’t see any of the Farne islands but it really wasn’t long before we approached Megstone, which lies to the West of Inner Farne.
This small island contained hidden narrow channels. Allowing us to skirt in and out around the Volcanic rocks where crystal clear water gently washed against the boat. The colours really were outstanding.
As I glide through the water it really is hard to believe you are just off the coast of Northumberland. This could have been anywhere in the Mediterranean. The beautiful clear water and wildlife are overwhelming.
After some exploring in and around at Megstone, we crossed the open channel and headed for the northern section of Inner Farne. I could see the pure white Lighthouse standing on its Southern most point. Built in 1809, it is still in use today, and you can see why, with the harsh rocks rising out of the sea.
We paddled to the north west of the island, past an area known as Cuthbert’s Gut. Keeping clear of the waves as they crashed on to the rocks. Grey Seals swam with us, popping their heads up to see what we were doing. It was the first time I had seen a Seal close up in the water, and the first time is always mind blowing.
Knoxes Reef and Staple Sound
Skirting out along the northern edge of Knoxes Reef, across Staple Sound and back around Knocklin Ends we entered the shallow waters of East and West Wideopen, the rocks joined together in the low water. So beautifully clear, I paddled along running my hands in the water. Many shipwrecks lay around the area, with most out towards the Outer Farnes. Though I had been told of one decommissioned trawler which had been towed out to Knoxes Reef to be sunk, though I saw no signs of it on this paddle.
Inner Farne and the Chapel of St Cuthbert
As we paddled between Little Scacar and Knoxes reef we crossed a narrow channel known as The Kettle, with deeper water taking us towards a landing at Inner Farne and our lunch stop. Inner Farne is the main island in this group and home to thousands of birds. The area is run by the National Trust who protect our native species.
Puffins, Guillemots and dive bombing Arctic Terns surrounded us, swooping over the boats as we neared the north of the island. I thought I’d do the lottery when I got home. I’d been shit on that much, I was convinced good luck was bound to follow.
It was good to stretch my legs so I climbed up the steep steps. There were nesting birds on either side of the pathway, so you really did have to be respectful and keep your distance from them where you could.
At the top stands the Chapel of St Cuthbert. Built around 1370, the Chapel once formed part of a monastery and home to Benedictine Monks. With normally only two Monks living here at a time, the Monastery was dissolved in 1536 during the reign of Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
After a lunch break and exploration of the island it was time to get back on the water, just as a boat full of tourists landed.
We headed back round the eastern shoreline of Inner Farne where the rock face stood tall, dropping into the sea. With gullies aplenty, there were many little areas to explore in the now deeper water, again watching us all from afar, the Seals kept popping their heads up for a look.
It was time to head back to the mainland. The forecast had changed so the Outer Farnes would wait for another day.
As we crossed the southern point of Inner Farne to paddle back across Inner Sound, I happily bobbled along marvelling at the wildlife and the huge towering cliffs to my right. I hadn’t actually looked up to see what lay ahead. Erm OK this looked different. The sea state had most definitely changed. The wind had picked up and I felt nervous. I had never paddled in conditions like this before. It may not have seemed much to many paddlers, but to me hitting F3 was a new experience. After some reassurance from the guys I just carried on paddling and focused on what lay ahead.
Soon the sea conditions calmed and I relaxed, landing on the beach with so much built up excitement and adrenaline I practically leapt out of the boat punching the air. Yes Yes Yes I had done it, I’d done a sea trip. I had paddled around 7.1NM with a top speed of 4.9KN, recording the journey and the data on my Strava.
And that, as they say, is where it all really began. This Farne Islands trip had been beautiful and an area I knew I would return to, next time paddling further to Outer Farne and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. I was totally hooked. That feeling of adventure, freedom, the vastness of nature and the sea around me. There is nothing quite like it. I had now found my thrill level. To be out sea kayaking.