St. Abbs, Holy Island and the Farnes

Posted by Swaledale Outdoor Club on 2008-06-09

by Pete Bridgstock

With some disbelief, I had watched the weather forecast for the weekend improve. Our planned trips to St. Abbs and the Farne Island have been dogged by bad weather for the past couple of years, but it looked like it might be different this time.

 Five of us met at Beachcomber Campsite at Goswick just north of Lindisfarne on Friday night, and we were then joined by an acquaintance of Terry’s, John, from Skipton. There was no difficultly getting an early start, the sun hit the tents about six o’clock, and it was soon too hot to stay inside. We were on the water at Coldingham by mid morning after shuttling cars. It was hot, there was no wind, and the sea was calm - perfect condition for pootling about under the cliffs and through the rocks. Hundreds of seabirds nest on the cliffs, and a wide brimmed hat and a robust sense of smell can add significantly to the enjoyment. The geology is fantastic, with the strata curved, folded and inclined. More or less every ledge has nests - mainly guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars. Wendy found some big gear wheels which probably came from one of the many wrecks in the area. The water is incredibly clear, and there were hundred of moon jellyfish. Eventually, we arrived at our end point, at Pease Bay, some 19 km from the start. Not a bad day out in itself BUT some fool had suggested a quick after tea trip (by referring of this person in the third party and as a fool, it should not necessarily be implied that it was someone other than the author). After a meal, four of us: Terry, me, John (the acquaintance of Terry) and Richard (the pal of John, who had just arrived) carried our boats from the campsite onto the beach, intending to paddle round Lindisfarne. As you’ll probably know, this is joined to the mainland by a causeway, which is impassable to vehicles for a couple of hours either side of high water. Although we had access to the lagoon from our put in, we had to detour out beyond the small surf, to push back in where the water was flowing strongly out. This set up some interesting sea conditions, allowing you to surf the waves up the flow. It took an hour to cover the first two kilometres, and all the time the tide was falling. We had a real possibility of being stranded in the middle of the mudflats - not a good portent. Once we got across the causeway, on which the white lines were clearly seen, things started to improve, and we got into some deeper water. It was straightforward after that point, we were soon passing Lindisfarne harbour and castle, on the ebbing tide. Once on the seaward side, we were treated to the sunset over the castle. We only had to find our landing point, on the, now huge, beach, some six kilometres further on, which we did at ten thirty. Another 19 km had taken us up to just short of 40 km in the day. It was about a kilometre carry across the beach back to the campsite for a well earned kip.

Sunday had thirteen people from SOC, Skipton Canoe Club and Sedbergh CC heading out to the Farnes, in virtually flat calm conditions. It was a long slog to get there, as the tide was running against us, but it meant we should have slack(ish) tides around and though the island in the early afternoon. We had the usual wildlife-fest, with thousands of seabirds - eider, guillemots, razorbills, cormorants, shags, puffins, gulls of various types, hundreds of seals and scores of tourists. Lots of time spend pootling around the cliffs meant that tide was against us on the way back, making for a long ferry glide. The beach can pick up a lot of surf, and carnage on landing is not uncommon, but this time we had almost flat calm. All in all an absolutely cracking weekend, good paddling, good weather and above all, good company.

Pete Bridgstock

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