Adorable puffins, the ancient tidal Holy Island of Lindisfarne, and the imposing Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castles make the Northumberland Coastline one of the most dramatic, beautiful, and perhaps underrated in the UK! There is an amazing flock of migratory birds, seals and dolphin tours, beautiful beaches and cheerful seaside towns that offer unique experiences… so there really is something for everyone!
We had a unique experience watching thousands of adorable puffins, and so wanted to write this blog and tell you all about it so you can experience it for yourself… as late April to early July would be the best season to visit!
So, this is going to be a change from the norm for one of our blogs and we’re going to start with the highlight of the day… our boat trip out to the Farne Islands to see the puffins and other sea birds.
But for our usual readers who are here to get the one-day itinerary…we have included the itinerary as well at the end of the blog!
The Farne Islands are a group of islands a few miles off the coast of Seashouses and Bamburgh Castle, and are famous for the visiting wildlife they attract. With thousands of puffins and other sea birds making them their home during the summer months, seals living there all year round, and dolphins playing in the surrounding waters, Sir David Attenborough declared they were his favourite place in the UK to see nature… and who are we to argue with Sir David Attenborough! (If you’re not sure who is he, then check this out… https://attenboroughfilm.com/)
We’ve already purchased our tickets for the boat tour out to the Farne Islands to see the puffins, and when we arrive at Seashouses we can’t wait for the tour to start! Our trip is with Serenity Boat Tours (check the FAQ section for booking details), and climbing aboard at the harbour we sail out into the North Sea, excited about what’s to come…
It is a scenic 20-minute boat ride, passing Bamburgh Castle, a couple of lighthouses, and plenty of other boats, before we pull up to the first rocky outcrop and see our first flock of birds (we’re not sure what they are… Sir David Attenborough wouldn’t be too impressed with us! 😂). If any bird watcher can help us with the name of the birds in the comments …it will be gratefully appreciated!
After the boat has manoeuvred around to allow everyone to get a good sight and some photos of the birds (maybe they are Skua Terns?), the engines fire up again and we’re back on the move towards a bigger group of islands… and as we get closer, we can see that the white coloured rocks are absolutely covered with thousands and thousands of Guillemots! (are you impressed with our bird knowledge now??)
As we cruise slowly past the rocks the birds are everywhere, covering every inch of them, and looking up into the sky it’s a similar sight! The photos don’t quite do it justice, as they’re flying so fast they’re difficult to capture, but it’s a really impressive sight (and sound)!
They are an absolute delight to see… Sneha was so interested in taking pictures having them in the background, she thought of taking a selfie and asking them to pose too!😂
As we move on we see gulls and other birds, until the captain tells us to look to the left, and we spot some smaller birds with multi-coloured beaks bobbing around on the water surface… it’s some puffins!
They’re quite far away so it’s difficult to get some good photos of them, but we only have to wait a few more minutes before we pull up alongside some cliff faces and there they are, nestled onto the ledges keeping an eye out to see what’s going on.
They seem quite interested in the boat that’s just pulled up and peer at us all, or are they looking for some fish to feed on?? Either way they look super cute and are amazing to see so close up!
Again the boat takes some slow manoeuvres to make sure everyone gets a good sight and a chance to take photos, before we start to make our way back towards the shore.
Everyone on the boat is chatting away excitedly and looking through the photos they just took when the boat slows up again, and the captain says to look on the shoreline to the right. Everyone jumps up and looks, and it takes us a few seconds to spot what we’re supposed to be looking at… a herd of seals chilling on the beach, and some playing in the water!
The trip back to the harbour offers some amazing views too… now we’re looking back at the mainland rather than out to sea we can see Bamburgh Castle standing above the beach, with the rolling green countryside and the mountains of the Northumberland National Park as a backdrop in the distance… stunning!
We booked with Serenity Boat Tours on their website… https://farneislandstours.co.uk/. You can also find more tours on the Visit Northumberland website… https://www.visitnorthumberland.com/explore/destinations/islands/farne-islands
Most tours start in Seashouses, and parking can be found at the Harbour Parking Lot, NE68 7SJ
A few miles up the coast from the Farne Islands is the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Only accessible during certain hours of the day due to being a tidal island connected by a causeway, when the tide of the sea is in, the island is completely cut-off from the mainland. But when the tide is out, you can walk or drive across and explore the rich history and stories connected to the island. Check the FAQ section on how to ensure you will be able to drive to the island!
We park at the large Chare Ends carpark and walk the short distance to the town, passing The Manor House where you can stay on the island. But we’re starting our Lindisfarne story at the 12th century Lindisfarne Priory. The site is really important in England’s and Europe’s history… going back almost 1,400 years to around 650AD, a monastery was founded which would spread the teachings of Christianity across Britain, becoming the epicentre of the religion in Anglo-Saxon times. And then less than 200 years later, it was the site of the first Viking raids in Western Europe, sending shockwaves and fear across the continent… how could such a holy place not be protected from pagan attackers?! We learn these stories and much more in the fascinating museum at the Priory, before we explore the ruins and adjacent church outside.
Only the ruins of the Priory remain, but it’s fascinating to visualise from some of the information placards on how gigantic the priory would have been!
Once we’ve had a good look around, we climb up the path and head towards Lindisfarne Castle at the other side of the island, and witness the spectacular views for the first time. The castle is perched high on top of a hill in the distance, and looks like a strong gust of wind could blow it off into the sea below! But having stood there for over 500 years, it must have been pretty well built!
The castle is closed to the public due to Covid restrictions (we visited in Summer 2021), so we have to make do with looking at it from the outside and admiring the views overlooking the sea from the high vantage point. We also spot a beach in the distance which was hiding behind the castle as we approached it, so we continue on to investigate.
As we reach the beach we see it’s made of different sized pebbles, and people have made small cairns all over it, and it’s a cool place to chill for a while after the busy day we’ve had.
Holy Island is a tidal island, meaning that twice a day it gets cut off from the mainland by the sea tide. Always check the safe crossing times and make sure to give yourself enough time to return to the mainland after your visit, otherwise you’ll get stuck! Up-to-date crossing times can be found on the Holy Island website… https://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/
There is a large car park close to the town once you cross the causeway called Holy Island Chare Ends Car Park, TD15 2SE
By the time we leave Lindisfarne it’s early evening and it’s been quite a long day… lots of sight-seeing, seeing the puffins and seals, and not a lot of food! So we’re looking forward to our next stop and we don’t have far to travel for it… just over the Holy Island Causeway back on the mainland is The Barn at Beal, a restaurant, coffee shop, and campsite.
An old converted barn with great views of Holy Island and the North Sea, the bar and restaurant have a really cool rustic yet modern feel, and the food and drink on offer is just as good as the amazing views!
We go for a locally sourced Seafood Platter, including tiger king prawns, Holy Island Crab, mussels, oysters, and topped with langoustines. And Sea Trout with smoked potatoes, beetroot, and topped with sea vegetables. Both dishes are delicious, but it’s definitely the seafood platter which takes the crown as the best!
The evening restaurant is currently closed but the coffee shop is still open for lunch every day, and the bar for drinks on Friday and Saturday nights. Check the website for up-to-date opening information… http://barnatbeal.com/
Going back to the start of our day in Northumberland, we begin at Dunstanburgh Castle in the morning with an unexpected but beautiful walk!
We park at the Craster Quarry and Dunstanburgh Castle car park in the village of Craster, not realising that it’s almost a 1.5-mile walk to the castle! This is the closest car park though so come prepared… but on a gorgeous sunny morning like it is today, the walk up the rugged Northumberland coast is well-worth the effort!
The castle can be seen from the harbour at Craster, and looms deceptively closely as we walk along the rocky beach and farmers’ fields, and the views are incredible.
The castle itself is a 14th century ruin ran by English Heritage, and was the scene of battles against the Scots and during the War of the Roses. There isn’t much left standing to see today apart from the crumbling keep and gatehouse, but it’s more the dramatic location which gives it such an amazing feel and impressive look. The yellow carpet of dandelions and wild flowers definitely add to the beauty!
The closest car park is the Craster Quarry Car Park & Dunstanburgh Castle Car Park, NE66 3TW. It is approx. 1.5 miles from the castle over fields, so be prepared for some walking.
30-minutes up the coast from Dunstanburgh Castle is perhaps the more famous, and certainly better-preserved, Bamburgh Castle.
Unfortunately, when we visited the area, the castle was closed to the public as Harrison Ford was busy filming the new Indiana Jones movie there! So we had to make do with a view of the outside as we drove past, and then some zoomed longshot photos from the boat on the way to the Farne Islands (unfortunately we could only see the film set rigging and not Indianna Jones!). Maybe we can see the castle when it releases next year!
The puffins stole the show for us and were definitely the highlight of the day! The boat trip seeing them along with the rest of the seas birds and seals was super cool, and made the journey up to Northumberland worthwhile just for that!
We were disappointed that we couldn’t visit Bamburgh Castle, but going to Dunstanburgh Castle for the stunning location and beautiful walk made up for it, even if the castle itself is not as impressive.
And Lindisfarne was a really interesting and different place to visit… getting there by crossing the causeway is an experience in itself, the Priory has a fascinating history, and the castle and rest of the island is great to explore!
It’s been a great day out exploring some of Northumberland’s coastline sights, and we’re sure to be back to see some more!
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