Although time and the comfort of modern living insulate us; a stormy weekend on the English north east coast shows how different and difficult a life by the sea used to be
The area around the Northumberland town of Seahouses is a great base for a long outdoor weekend break. Just reflect that the poor weather you are likely to encounter simply makes the seascape more dramatic and imposing!
The Farne Isles
Although many people know about the scary causeway route and holy island of Lindesfarne in Northumberland, fewer take time out to explore the more isolated but no less fascinating Farne Isles.
Visitors can look out to sea from the quaint harbour town of Seahouses, and easily spot the reassuring blink of the lighthouses placed on the Farne Isles a couple of miles out.
On rare calm days, it’s easy to feel that a brisk swim will take you out to the nearest islands, but during a storm it’s a completely different story. Of course, the wisest and safest way to take a tour of the Farne Isles is to take one of the boat trips available from one of the wooden huts at the base of the harbour in Seahouses. There are three or four companies to choose from, and each does a slightly different tour, and anglers can decide to take a longer sea fishing trip if they wish. Some operators do tours in good weather all through the year.
While the late summer and autumn months bring seals, the earlier season will see the Farne Isles absolutely full of nesting sea-birds. It’s a good time to bring a hat and waterproof not because of the weather, but because the birds will protect their young vigorously by dive bombing intruders, and with so many birds around it’s almost impossible not to receive a “lucky” splash or two! While the rocks are extremely slippy with bird poo, it’s a great experience to get close to so many nesting birds.
The most famous occupant of the Farne Isles was Grace Darling, daughter of the lighthouse keeper, and commended for her bravery in taking a rowing boat across treacherous seas to help save 13 men from the wreck of the SS Forfarshire in 1838 when aged 23. Sadly Grace wasn’t to be rewarded with a long and happy life; she died of TB just 4 years after her heroic rescue aged just 27.
If you choose the Golden Gate tour operator (www.farneislandsboattrips.co.uk/) , two hour boat trips (approximately £12) take you to the far Farne Isle lighthouse where Grace lived. For an extra couple of pounds (donated to charity), it’s worth taking the climb up the narrow circular staircase to catch the wonderful view from the top.
While the distance of the rescue doesn’t seem huge with the aid of a powered boat in good weather, the thought of travelling that distance in terrible weather in a rowing boat with no support and no light shows just how brave Darling was.
Out in the harbour, seals bob and others look on anxiously from their perch on the rock of the island. Seals can get a little nervous on dry land as they cannot travel fast, so avoid getting too close, else you will be welcomed with a spit and a growl.
Back on shore, Seahouses is a pleasant little town to explore. In particular, try fish and chips in one of the pubs or restaurants. I’ve tried most places over the years, and all are good. I can never decide whether eating fish and chips from a takeaway in paper on the bracing sea front is better than enjoying them indoors with a pint of beer or a glass of crisp white wine. I hope to keep on trying to decide for many years to come!
One “must do” stop is the little crazy golf course on the front. It may be a little run down but it is a nice place to while away a few hours and the course is surprisingly frustrating.
Bamborough Castle (http://www.bamburghcastle.com/ +44(0)1668 214515)
From Seahouses, it is also possible to take a wander along the beach to imposing and gothic form of Bamborough Castle, picturesquely close to the sweeping beach and striking range of coastal sand dunes.
If you catch the weather being kind it’s difficult to find many places more beautiful. If you haven’t picked up something to eat by now, then the pub, The Castle Hotel (7 Front Street 08721 077 077) serves excellent and very filling seafood chowder at around £11 a head, and very good traditional meat dishes. We spoke to the landlord who seemed very passionate about his food, and shared his secret about the green stalks in his chowder (leek tops!). The beer is pretty good too.
There is (budget cuts permitting) an hourly bus from Bamborough back to Seahouses if the food (and beer) in The Castle take too much of a toll.
Alternatively, you might like to travel south and visit the seacoast town of Craster, home to the famous Craster Kipper. The Craster smokeries , L Robson and Sons (http://www.kipper.co.uk/home.html 01665 576223) are open every day, selling the kipper and particularly nice fish cakes and smoked salmon pate. There is an attached cafe if you want to sample the goods there and then.
I much prefer to earn my food, and take the few mile hike along the coast past the impressive ruins of Dunstanborough Castle (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-dunstanburghcastle, 01665 576231) and dramatic seascape to the village of Low Newton By the Sea, and the fantastic Ship Inn (http://www.shipinnnewton.co.uk/ 01665 576262). Here Craster Kippers, fresh crab sandwiches and the like top the menu. The pub also brews and sells its own excellent beer. The India Pale Ale is particularly good. If you intend eating on an evening then booking ahead is a must.
Somewhere to rest your head
Unfortunately accommodation is something of a premium in the area, and we usually rent a cottage a little out of the area near Berwick and drive in via the very fast A1.
However, in Seahouses, the Olde Ship Inn (7-9 Main Street, Seahouses), is almost on the harbour, has great views, and clean (if a little old fashioned and small) double rooms available at £100 a night in low season.