Tuesday. A trip round the Farne Islands.
Here’s our journey, courtesy of Billy Shiel’s boat. We pass one of the most densely populated housing estates in Europe – but despite having to jostle for a tiny space to call home, this community is not socially well-integrated . Kittiwakes don’t live with puffins. Cormorants won’t talk to guillemots. Grey seals loll indolently beneath the cliffs, doing as little as possible till hunger forces them into the sea to hunt. The stench is intolerable.
We land on Inner Farne, taking our hats as per instructions. This is why. Arctic terns nest all over the island and they have young to protect. We are the enemy, as they make clear, as they hurtle towards us, piercing our hats and hands with their dagger-like beaks. I nurse a war-wound on my finger.
We decide puffins are less bellicose. They waddle about among the undergrowth, occasionally pottering down into their burrows.
Then it’s time to explore further. The cliffs are cordoned off, but there, immediately beyond the fencing are birds in their hundreds, caring for their young. They’re close enough to touch. We don’t though. Being so close we can see every detail of their (usually ramshackle) nests, their plumage, the young unfledged birds, and this is privilege enough.
With thanks to Maureen and Andrew for organising this trip for volunteers at NT Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, and to the volunteer rangers at NT Farne Islands for managing this special place, despite irreparable damage to their hats.