Farne Islands

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.[1] They are scattered about 1 12 to 4 34 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.

Farne Islands
Inner Farne and its lighthouse. There are white bird droppings on the cliff.
Farne Islands
Geography
LocationNorth Sea
Coordinates55.622°N 1.628°W / 55.622; -1.628
OS grid referenceNU235365
Total islands20
Administration

History

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.[2] 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.[3][4]

The islands were used by hermits intermittently from the seventh century. These included Saint Bartholomew of Farne.[5] The last hermit was Thomas De Melsonby, who died on the islands in 1246.[2]

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.[5]

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.[5] In 1894 the islands were bought by the industrialist William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong.[2] The islands are currently owned by the National Trust.[5]

Remains still exist of the seventh-century anchorite cell used by Saint Aiden and Saint Cuthbert,[2] 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.[5]

Grace Darling

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.[6]

Today

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.

Lighthouses

The first lighthouse was built on the islands in 1773;[5] prior to that a beacon may have been installed on Prior Castell's Tower, permission having first been given for a light on Inner Farne in 1669.

There are currently two lighthouses operated by Trinity House on the Farne Islands:

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 by Captain John Blackett in 1778,[8] itself replaced by Trinity House with the current Farne Lighthouse in 1811)
    • A minor light was also established by Trinity House on the north west of Farne between 1811 and 1910.[9]
  • Staple Island Lighthouse (built by Captain Blackett in 1778 and blown down in the Great Storm of 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 by Trinity House 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.[10] 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:

A total of 290 bird species have been recorded on the Farnes, including in the 1760s, an example of the now extinct great auk.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.

Geology

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.[14]

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:[15]

NameYear
Abessinia1921
Acantha1915
Adelina1862
Advance1891
Aepos1920
African Prince1931
Aid1853
Alert1918
Alexander1845
Alexander1947
Arab1849
Arbutus1890
Ardincaple1833
Armed Dutch Vessel1650–1715
Arms1825
Ascot (HMS)1918
Assuan1943
Athelduke1945
Attwood1876
Auckland Castle1918
Augusta1823
Autumn1834
Baltanglia1940
Bonaventure1559
Bowling1939
Brave of Inverness1850
Breeze1852
Britannia1795
Britannia III1875
Britannia IIII1915
Britannia PSS1849
Byron1851
Cairnduna1875
Calcium1876
Caledonia1917
Caledonia of Montrose1802
Caroline1955
Cherokee(1818)
Cheviot1853
Children's Friend1993
Chris Christensen1915
Christa1976
City of Aberdeen(1816)
Constance1972
Coryton1941
Countess of Mar1847
Courier1875
Cresswell1869
Cydonia1916
Danio2013 (Refloat)
Doore1855
Dublin1805
Dunelm1949 (Refloat)
Earne1859
Eclipse1851
Elizabeth Fawcett(1846)
Elliott1852
Emerald1865
Emily Reaich1924
Emma1914
Empire Ford1943 (Refloat)
Enterprise1876
Est1871
Euphemia1848
Everene(1940)
Excel1939 (Refloat)
Expedit1917
Faith(1847)
Falcon1851
Fame1833
Fifeshire1852
Flora(1882)
Florence Dombey1933
Florence Nightingale1860
Flower of Ross,1890
Forfarshire1838
Formica1894
Fædreland
French Caravels (x2)1462
Friends(1857)
Friendship1795
G.R. Grey1918
Garent1842
Gebruder1916
Generous Mind(1809)
Geir1908
George & Mary1823
Glasgow Packet1806
Glen(1909)
Glenorm(1906)
Glenorca1913 (Refloat)
Good Cheer2000
Gowan1917
Graciana1920 (Refloat)
Grade1955 (Refloat)
Grosvenor1935
Gudveig1940
Gustav Vigeland1916
Gwendoline1893
Harmony1857
Hazard1815
Helen1853
Helmsdale1939
Hero1817
Hetos1940
Hibernia1876
Holmrook1892
Holy Island Coble1895
Holy Island Yawl1875
Hope (Smack)1819
Horley1922
Humber Packet1812
Igor1918
Ilala1876
Inatje Baaf1894
Industry1774
Isbul & Margarit1849
Isabella Fowlie1941
Isorna1941
Ivanhoe1857
Jægersborg1916
Jack Tar1854
James B Graham1922
James Harris1881
Jan Ryswyck1924
Jane and Margaret1867
Janet Johnson1853
Jean and Jessie1856
Jemima1851
Jeremiah1806
Jessie1847
Joan1845
Johns(1841)
Johns(1845)
John1849
John & Isabella1808
John G. Watson1930
Juno1819
Kestrel1917
Kincardine1818
Kopanes1941
Lady Duff(1853) (Refloat)
Lady of the Lake1866
Lady Panmure1851
Lady Ross1847
Lancaster1854
Leda1886
Liberty1849
Liddle1774
Lilly Miles1899
Loch Leven1902
Lord Strathmore,1917 (Refloated)
Lucerne1915 (Refloat)
Luiste Josephine1851
Lunesdale1929
Maggie Lauder1804
Maid of Aln1863
Manchant1852
Manly1852
Martha1827
May1894
Maystone1949
Medora1865
Mermaid1823
Merwede1918
Mistley1951
Monkwearmouth1823
Mormilion Frederick1800
Myrtle (Brig)1864
Nellie1849
Neptune(1819)
Nisus1853
Ocean Bridge1873
Orca1982
Otago1915
Otto M'Combie1895
Paciline Defecamp1850
Pallas1901
Paragon1821
Paragon1842
Paragon1895
Patia1941
Peace and Plenty1860
Pearle1740
Peggy1774
Plough1850
Pluto1940
Prosperous1854
Queenstown1916
Rececca1899
Resolute1886
River Leven1953
Ryoll of Stockton1801
Saint Evelyn Joyce1922
Saint Louis1924 (Refloat)
San Bernado1916
Sarah1815
Scottish Prince1913
Sedulous 21975
Shadwan1888
Sisters1832
Skovdal1917
Sloop no 28(1806)
Snowdonia1881
Somali1941
Sootica1985
Smilax(1851)
Sphynx1919
Spica1916
St Abbs Head1949
St Andre1908
St Fergus1885
St. Salvator1472
Stamfordham1916
Storfors1940
Strive1856
Success1774
Success1853
Thistle1883
Thomas1837
Thomas Jackson1825
Tioga1943
Tredegar Hall1916 (Refloat)
Trio1860
Two Brothers1841
U-12741945
Urdate1823
Vaagan1916
Valhal1890
Volunteer1846 (Refloat)
Waren Packet1830
Werner Kunstmann1914
William Thorpe1852
William (Schooner)1864
Yagen1916
Yewglen1960

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 (55°38.397′N 1°36.182′W).[16][17]
  • 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 (55°38.9′N 1°36.12′W).
  • 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.[18] The wreckage lies between about 26–98 feet (7.9–29.9 m) at (55°37.688′N 1°35.991′W).[19][20]
  • 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.[21] She lies in about 56–82 feet (17–25 m) at (55°37.84′N 1°37.18′W).

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.[22]

References

  1. 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".
  2. MONUMENT NO. 8298, English Heritage: PastScape
  3. "Eiderdown: Famous Eider Colony".
  4. BBC. "BBC - Radio 4 - The Living World: The Eider Duck".
  5. ST CUTHBERTS CHAPEL, English Heritage: PastScape
  6. www.bamburgh.org.uk. Gives details of Grace Darling.
  7. Middleton, Penny (October 2010), "The Farne Islands" (PDF), Historic environment survey for the National Trust properties in Northumberland, Achaeo-Environment Ltd for The National Trust, p. 40, retrieved 26 February 2019
  8. "Lighthouses on the Farne Islands". National Trust. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  9. "Farne Lighthouse". Trinity House. Archived from the original on 10 March 2013.
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. Wallis, John (1769). The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland, London: Printed for the author, by W. and W. Strahan. pp. 340–341.
  12. Incredible Birds. Documents Aleutian Tern on Inner Farne in May 1979.
  13. www.towhee.net. Confirms "Elsie" the lesser crested tern visited Farnes.
  14. www.seahouses.org. Archived 25 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine Gives geology details.
  15. http://www.farne.co.uk/ship-wrecks.html
  16. "Farnes area Dive Site Info and Dive conditions". Divesiteinfo.co.uk. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  17. "Wreck Tour: 32, The Christensen". Divernet - Diver Magazine Online. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  18. 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.
  19. Archived 5 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  20. "Divernet - Diver Magazine Online - SCUBA - Diving - Dive Shows - Gear Tests - Travel - News". Archived from the original on 8 July 2007.
  21. Dive North East, Dave: Winfield, Barry Shaw, ISBN 978-0-946020-16-4
  22. The Guardian Travel. Gives some details of scuba diving in Farnes.
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