I enjoyed new excitements this week: as promised, we accompanied a visitor from the south on the obligatory boat trip out to the Farnes, on a brilliant blue-sky day, with the sea only swelling gently; fortunate as the newcomer warned about a tricky tummy. It was a week for returning to familiar places – churches, castles and eateries alike – and putting on the spectacles of a new perspective which, of course, always brings novelty.
Kemo Sabe chose me as her outrider as I am small, nimble, and hadn’t been on a sea trip before, so that very fact – and the uncertainty of our guest’s stomach – made things more interesting from the start. I found the whole thing exhilarating and set about concentrating quietly, staring up at the puffins as they flapped with determination across our path and peering fixedly at the seals as they lazed, banana-like, in the wash.
Andrew’s catamaran makes for a spacious look-out both on to the waters (where there is always the hope of seeing porpoises or minke whales – already around the area) and the islands themselves, once you arrive at them ten minutes away from the harbour. From my perch I could enjoy the myriad scents from near and far, of fur and feather and guano a-plenty, as well as Newman’s beloved seaweed, which washed in Freudian tangles around our keel. NuNu himself is never considered for a boat trip since he almost fell between jetty and deck on his first attempt to board, blessed enthusiastic and clumsy beast that he is. Life with him is full of rapid eye movements, as someone famous once said, so certain things – like wearing contact lenses – are not recommended. The sea bird colonies of the Farne Islands – guillemots, shags, puffins, little and Arctic terns, razorbills, and the great gannets plunging into the deep – are all familiar to us here, so a trip to our islands, which we can see from upstairs, feels like a kind
of homecoming to the world of St Cuthbert, who had even more reason to welcome the returning migrants to his hermitage. Occasionally, he would have had a rare visitor, like the roseate tern. Their only breeding colony is further down the coast, on Coquet Island, just offshore from Amble though it is so protected and special that it might as well be in uncharted territory. Today we heard the cheery Helen Mark, who has an unmatched gift for succinct depiction of scene and setting, describe her very special time on that particular holy island – in a land of many holy little islands – and the encounter with the endearing and enthusiastic Wesley, who with his volunteers protects and provides for the birds that breed there, stopping prospective nest-raiders from landing.
You will find this absolutely delightful piece from the Open Country series on Radio 4, on the BBC’s website:
When I was close to the islands myself I felt that I was trespassing upon others’ territory, gazing upon a land where I could not think of surviving and where, in a sense, none has a right to roam. We borrow the islands, from St Cuthbert and the hermits of another kind who, for a few months a year, serve creation humbly and wait upon nature’s wishes.