The Farne Islands lie just off the coast midway between Seahouses and the ancient Northumbrian capital of Bamburgh. They are located at the most easterly point of the 'Great Whin Sill' which begins in Cumberland some 80 miles distant and gives a distinct and spectacular character to the North Northumbrian coastline.
Comprising between 15 and 28 islands the number to be seen depend very much upon the state of the tide and consisting solely of bare igneous rock.
The Farnes are divided into three main groups:
The southernmost group, closest to the mainland, made up from East and West Wide Opens, Scarcar and the Inner Farne.
The northernmost group made up from Staple, Brownsman, Big Harcar and Little Harcar; North and South Wamses and Longstone Islands.
Though lying very much closer inshore and to the north-west of the Inner and Outer Farnes, The Holy Island of Lindisfarne justifies is claim to be included mainly through its geological associations. It is also the only inhabited Island within the group.
Originally the Farne Islands were connected to the mainland and the reason for separation is probably a post-glacial rise in sea level and marine erosion, cutting along lines of weakness. Dolerite is the dominant rock of the Islands and in places the intrusive sheet reaches around 30m in thickness. It is columnar and well fissured. The columnar nature of the dolerite can be seen in three pinnacles weathered away from the south-east of Staple Island and reaching 20 feet in height, the fourth was destroyed in a storm over 200 years ago.
Close to the Inner Farne, the stack has similar characteristics and fissures have been enlarged into into deep chasms thus forming the 'Chasm and St.Cuthbert's Gut' - both on the Inner Farne. During a storm the sea rushes up the churn and can thrust a column of water to over 100 feet!
The general trend of the rock is from south-west to north-east and this means that the islands have cliffs or rocky faces on the south and east and slope gradually to the north and east. The cliffs reach a height of around 24m near the Inner Farne lighthouse. There are three sandy beaches, the most extensive being that in St.Cuthbert's Cove. Striae on the whin clearly show the effect of glacial action but the most important result of glaciation was the deposition of boulder clay on the Brownsman, Staple Island, Inner Fame and West Wide Opens. On top of this clay subsoil is a layer of light peat and it is here that virtually all the vegetation is found.
One of Europe's most important seabird sanctuaries, the islands are home to more than 20 different species, including puffins, eider ducks and three species of tern. Many of the birds are extremely confiding and visitors can enjoy close views. There is also a large colony of seals.
Despite the small areas of soil there is a wide variety of vegetation and some 116 plants have been recorded on the Farnes. The majority are on the Inner Fame and include daisy, primrose, ragwort, thrift, scurvy grass, silverweed, bugloss, sorrel, nettle, dock and purple sea rocket Amsinckia intermedia is the most unusual plant on the Farnes - a native of California. This orange-yellow flowered plant is said to have been introduced in poultry feed by lighthouse keepers many years ago. Sea Campion is the most common plant and in summer its white flowers cover much of Inner Fame, Staple Island and the Brownsman. There are no trees on the islands and only a few elder bushes on Inner Fame planted by the previous lighthouse keepers to shelter their vegetable plots.
Together, the Farne Islands represent one of the most dangerous hazards to shipping around the entire British Isles and have claimed numerous victims over the centuries. There are many island and land-based beacons to warn seafarers on the busy shipping lanes navigating into the port of Berwick-upon-Tweed or on a northern passage to nearby Edinburgh. Indeed the lighthouse that stands upon the Longstone is reckoned to have the most powerful light in Europe.
The Farne Islands are probably best known for their Christian associations with the Northumbrian Saints - most notably St.Cuthbert and St.Aidan.
At the invitation King Oswald, who ruled the mighty kingdom of Northumbria from Bamburgh, help was sought from the Celtic monastery on Iona to introduce Christianity into northern Britain.
Help came in the form of the Irish monk, Aidan, who in 635AD founded the first monastery on Lindisfarne and became the first 'recorded' person living on the Island. Under Aidan's influence Christianity grew from strength to strength. None was more so responsible for this than Cuthbert, the warrior son of a noble English family. Cuthbert responded to the call of the church after seeing a vision of Aidan whilst on guard duty over flocks of sheep in the surrounding hills.
During his lifetime Cuthbert was never far away from his beloved Farne Islands. Even after his death on the Inner Farne 687AD, his spirit lives on today through a tremendous world-wide following. Many visit his 'final' resting place in Durham Cathedral. Those who choose to understand the man visit him in the surroundings he chose to live in - The Farne Islands.
It is interesting to note the attraction of the Farnes for spiritual people. Lindisfarne has relics dating back as far as the Stone Age, Iron Age and Celtic period. It is probable that certain of the other Farne Islands were also inhabited. All this very much before the arrival of Aidan.
The islands are managed by The National Trust and information on opening hours and admission charges can be found at:
The National Trust Website
For details of boat trips to the islands please see
Things to do