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Farne Islands

The Farne Islands (also referred to less formally as the Farnes) are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. They are reported as numbering about 15 to 20 or more depending on the state of the tide.They are scattered about one and a half to four and three quarter miles distant from the mainland.

The Inner Farne seen from Seahouses harbour

The islands have no permanent population, the only residents being National Trust bird wardens during part of the year: they live in the old pele tower on the Inner Farne, the largest and closest inshore of the islands. The pele tower was built by or for Thomas Castell, Prior of Durham about 1500. There is also a chapel set up on the site of St Cuthbert's oratory 600 years ago. It was restored in recent times with old material all from Durham Cathedral. The first recorded visitor was St Aidan followed by St Cuthbert. The latter 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.

All the lighthouses on the Farnes are automatic and have no resident keepers, although in former years they did: the Grace Darling story originates from the Longstone lighthouse. Ruins of 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 many years of chemical waste from the lighthouse being thrown down the cliff.

In the warmer months the Farnes, an important wildlife habitat, are much visited by boat trips from Seahouses. At the right time of year many puffins can be seen and these are very popular with visitors; on the Inner Farne, terns nest close to the path and will attack visitors who come too close. 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.

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's castle and beach.