Sunday, 16 June 2019

Dodging the rain in Northumberland 7th June.

Visiting Northumberland in the summer had now become something of a pilgrimage and so it was at the crack of dawn on 7th June that I caught the first train to Chesterfield and thence to York for the third leg to Berwick-upon-Tweed. All was going well until I left York. After ordering the full English, which is complimentary in first class, we had probably been going for 15 minutes, when the train ground to a halt.

A train went past after five minutes and I assumed we were at a junction, but another five minutes and still no movement. In the absence of an announcement, I asked the stewardess, who said she didn't know what the problem was, and that the conductor was in communication with the driver. Another 10 minutes passed and then there was an announcement, stating that there was a technical fault and the driver was investigating what a red light meant on his console.  Thinking back to my recent delay free journeys in Europe, I had a sinking feeling that my trip would be kyboshed before it had begun, with my change over time in Berwick now looking very tight.

A further announcement some time later - I had by now lost track of time - stated that there was a severe technical fault and that the train would now return to York but at half speed. This was the worst news possible. Faced with a grim weather forecast, I considered jacking it in and heading home.

Breakfast arrived as we chugged back to York and this was at least some comfort. Checking the onward northern connections, it looked like if I got the next train to Berwick, I could get a taxi to Seahouses and catch my boat to Inner Farne by the skin of my teeth. Expensive, but with a promise from LNER of a full refund, I would be in pocket.

And so, I did a quick change in York and hastily organised a taxi from Berwick station. The cost of £35 for the 22 miles journey seemed quite reasonable and I was in Seahouses with 10 minutes to spare. En route, I passed Monk's House Pool where two days earlier there had been a Baillon's Crake - a bird I still needed for my low British list of 423.

The sun was shining as I boarded St. Cuthbert's II for Inner Farne.  There was the usual tour of the different islands and the story of Grace Darling, which this time included a little more interesting nautical detail relating to the Forfarshire before foundering on the rocks.  At last we arrived on Inner Farne. It doesn't matter how many times I go, there is always a thrill accompanied with running the gauntlet of the Arctic Terns. Getting to see these birds at such close quarters is a privilege along with the Puffins, other auks and Shags.  

Remarkably, there are still people going on their without any headgear and those Artic Terns draw blood!

Also, two things I noticed in contrast to last year. The numbers of gulls on the island appear to have increased. There were gangs of Black-headed Gulls whose raison d'etre seemed to be to mug Puffins as they came back with bills full of fish. Secondly, I couldn't see any Sandwich Terns nesting, although there were plenty loafing around off shore.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Arctic Tern

Common Guillemot



You get an hour on the island, which is just about enough and I was back at Seahouses for 3pm, where I had managed to blag a lift from a local who was going to Newcastle. 

I was dropped off at Amble, which is the Skegness of Northumberland. If it weren't for the Roseate Terns, I wouldn't go to Amble. It is singularly lacking in character in comparison to its neighbours, especially Warkworth, which has an amazing castle. Apart from the birds, it has one redeeming feature, which is the chippy by the harbour (The Quayside Cafe.) It's fish and chips are truly stupendous!

I had booked on the 16.16 sailing, which sails to Coquet Island, which is managed by the RSPB. One isn't allowed to land here, but the boat goes as close as it can to the island. Because there was a neap tide, we wouldn't be able to get that close, but there you go.

The trips run by Puffin Cruises, have a somewhat more cosy feel to them.  They have got a more intimate feel to them than the trips to Inner Farne. Boarding the boat, the woman immediately lost count of the number of people, after four participants. I did wonder if this was for comic effect.

Dave Gray, the Skipper walked to the stern, as we arrived at Coquet Island. There were Common Terns and Sandwich Terns very close to the boat, although it was now getting very cloudy and so my photos weren't the best.

Common Tern

Sandwich Tern

Roseate Tern

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