The Farne Islands – August Bank Holiday 2004
The Farne Islands are situated just off the coast of Northumberland. They are in the care of the National Trust, and are noted for their large colonies of sea birds and as a home of the grey seal. The grey seal colony is one of the most important in Europe and this species of seal, which is the rarest in the world, is the largest surviving carnivore in the British Isles.
This dive trip has been organised for a few years now and is very popular, so when the opportunity came up we were keen to go.
## We’re Off
We met at the dive club for 08.30 all of us eager to get going. Jim and Kevin had picked up the mini bus and Peter and Colin were driving the van with most of the kit. As soon as the kit was stowed and Bo had got the bacon and sausage sandwiches (not an easy task for a veggie!) we were away al- though a little later than planned. The journey is about 365 miles, and on the way I kept hoping that it would be worth it. The traffic wasn’t too horrendous considering it was a bank holiday weekend. We made three stops on the way and the time was spent laughing, joking, and sleeping, with a few drinks thrown in. It was raining when we left the club-house, but the further north we went the better the weather got. When we arrived in Seahouses at 6.30pm the sun was still shining. We found the camp- site easily as there weren’t that many to choose from, and tracked down Len who had picked up all the keys for us.
We let ourselves in and made ourselves comfortable.
Jim and I were sharing with Terry, Irena and Bo. Len, Mary, Matthew, Sarah and Gren were together. Eraina, Kevin, Simon, Julia and their friend Alex were in the next van. Then there was Ted, Lorraine, Andy, with Chris Drabble and his wife. Peter, Colin, Tony Colato and his wife were staying in bed and breakfast.
The van allocated to us can only be described as luxurious. Exceptionally clean, well designed and surprisingly comfortable. The master bedroom even had an en suite loo!! Gas central heating, very handy for drying out dive gear, and a brilliant shower (big enough for two) to wash away the salt after a days diving. Having had a look at Len’s van I definitely think ours was the best. Each caravan had a monitor who was responsible for sorting out the food for the weekend and I was the monitor for our van. We were advised to bring enough food for breakfasts and lunches for the weekend, which seemed a bit of a pain (a bit like taking coal to Newcastle). On reflection it worked quite well as we didn’t have to worry about shopping over the weekend. That evening we wandered down to the harbour, had fish and chips; then onto the Schooner Inn to ‘discuss arrangements’ for the morning.
## Saturday 28th August.
Two boats had been booked Wave dancer 1 and 2. There was a shortage of advanced divers, due to some people dropping out, so Len had the unenviable task of re-arranging who went on which boat.
* Julia and Simon
* Ted and Lorraine
* Terry and Irena
* Peter and Colin
* Len and Matthew
* Sarah and Gren
* Jim and I.
We met on the slipway in the harbour at 10.00 to load the kit on to each boat. Timing was important as the boats could only moor in the harbour when the tide was in – too late or too heavy, and the boat would be grounded.
With the right kit on the right boat, off we went for the first dive of the day.
On the way out to the dive site, about half an hour, buddy pairs were decided.
Kit fiddling commenced, as always, and the general atmosphere was fairly relaxed.
Our skipper, Colin, was not a man of many words, so the briefings were brief. When he did speak his ac- cent was fascinating; that said we were all too busy watching the seals popping their heads out of the water to look at us.
We formed an orderly queue and did a giant stride into the water when the skipper’s mate gave the OK. The water was 15 degrees, a bit chilly, but the visibility was pretty good 10-15 metres. The first site, called The Hopper, was a reef/wall dive.
At this point I can only speak for me and Jim and say that we saw an abundance of sea urchins and soft corals, white and pale orange deadmens fingers. A few good sized fish, starfish, jellyfish, hermit crabs, crabs and lobsters. But I never saw a single seal. My disappointment increased back on board, as it sounded as though most of the others had seen plenty of seals.
After a reasonable surface interval and lunch, we made off to the next dive site which was called Blue Caps. Once again, a pretty dive and this time I did see two seals diving down into the gulleys but they didn’t come very close. Back on the boat we stowed our kit away and headed back to the harbour with plenty of time to shower, change and go out to eat.
Len had booked a restaurant, Jennings, in Seahouses for us that evening at 8.30pm so we all met for a drink first. In the restaurant we were all on separate tables and consequently some of us got served first and others had to wait; it can’t be easy to cater for twenty people and serve them all together. After dinner we made our way through to the karaoke bar, which was mostly kids, some stayed on, but when you are married to the ‘Horlicks Kid’ you say goodnight to everyone and make your way back to the caravan!!
## Sunday 29th August.
We met at 9.30am the weather was still good, sunny but a bit breezier. There was a bit of a chop on the way to the dive site – Longstone Point – near the Lighthouse. Jim, as most of you know, is famous for sharing the contents of his stomach with everyone else on the boat. He did however manage to keep his breakfast to himself – until after the first dive!
The dive, for us went well, we descended to about 15 metres and finned gently along the wall. We came to a gulley and went in to have a look. Lo and behold we found a seal that looked as if it was sleeping on a bed of kelp just a metre away. We kept still and watched it for a while, if we moved suddenly it opened its eyes wider, if we kept still it half closed them. I don’t know how long we stayed there enjoying the encounter but I didn’t want it to end. Then suddenly the seal was up and away – a very special moment! We saw five seals on this dive.
Back on the boat, some of the others hadn’t seen any seals, which just goes to show that it is down to luck, and being in the right place at the right time. With Jim puking and others feeling sick by this time, the skipper managed to find a fairly quiet spot for lunch.
Second dive was Brada, a sheltered bay with loads of seals popping their heads out of the water. Jim, Len and I dived together, I decided to take a waterproof disposable camera with me, and try to get some pictures of the seals. This turned out to be a really good idea, we dropped to 3-4 metres and it seemed as though there were seals everywhere. We didn’t move very far as they were coming to us, nibbling at fins, reels, arms and legs. Popping out from behind rocks, hanging vertically in the water with their heads up looking around. One swam directly towards me, allowing me to stroke it and then it veered away, it felt very soft. It wasn’t long before I had used up all the film, and I just hoped that I would have at least one decent picture.
Len, being the more sensible one of the three of us, went up to get a bearing on the boat so that we could get into deeper water for the boat to pick us up. Back on the boat Len told us he had counted 12 plus seals with us at one point!! A truly memorable dive!! – Bo and Tony’s seal count – nil !
Back on dry land, having showered and some of us eaten, we were discussing how we could fit a trip to Lindisfarne into our busy schedule.
To visit Holy Island you have to drive across a causeway, which is underwater at high tide. Terry looked up the tide times in the information pack in the caravan and it was open from 19.00 to 01.00. It was an ideal opportunity to see some of the area, and we decided to go that evening. Often, when diving we miss attractions above the surface, so that we can see as much as we can below the water. We let everyone know what we were planning and ended up with a minibus full. We arrived on Holy Is- land – very quaint – parked up and had a wander. Lindisfarne castle was closed, but we had a good look round the Priory ruins, a quick visit to St Mary’s Church to sign the visitor’s book and make a do- nation and visited the local pub just to see if the beer tasted any different!
After a drink we all climbed back into the bus came back across the causeway, admiring the moon as we went, passing Bamburgh Castle on the way back which I am reliably informed is also worth a visit if time permits.
Arriving back at Seahouses most of the others wanted to be dropped off to get something to eat. The rest of us went for a ‘not too late’ night as it was a 7.45am start
## Bank Holiday Monday
Woke up and the clouds were gathering. The boat had to be back by 2pm because it was the RNLI day in Seahouses. Cylinders were loaded from the slipway quickly and we were away.
On the way to the dive site the heavens opened before we could get our drysuits on, and we were soaked. (Almost worth it to see two complete rainbows) Again quite choppy. By the time we reached the site – North Hopper – the sun was out! Jim and I had a really good dive spending the majority of it at 10-12 metres amongst stunning soft corals, urchins and starfish. We sat on a shelf and were visited by a seal just as we were about to deploy our SMB. It nibbled my arm, came closer still giving me a good view down it’s throat, and looked as if it was laughing. With that off it swam only to return seconds later for a nibble at Jim’s fins. Back on board the boat we ate lunch and then realised it was only
During the surface intervals we had been meeting Wavedancer; but today they were nowhere to be seen. This was a bit of a drag, as there were rather primitive toilet arrangements on our boat (men peeing over the side, women balancing on a porta potti in the wheelhouse with no curtains!). and we had been nipping across to use the loo on the other boat. Our skipper radioed through and due to the adverse weather forecast Julia, as dive marshal for Wavedancer, had cancelled the days diving. No de- cent loo for us today then!! By this time of course the sun was out and we were all drying off. We felt for the others as we knew they would be feeling let down and disappointed at missing a days diving.
The last dive was Brada as it was reasonably sheltered. I think we were all getting the hang of it by now and to Len’s surprise we were all lined up ready to get into the water together, minimal faffing having taken place. Jim and I got swept into the bay and kelp beds making it hard work to get out again. It wasn’t long before the swaying kelp had Jim throwing up again. In the end we surface swam into deeper water and inflated our SMB so the boat could see us, watched curiously by the seal audience that had gathered around us. The boat picked us up and the skipper had a good laugh about us
getting stuck in the kelp. With everyone back on board we established that we had all had some brilliant seal dives over the weekend. We quickly stowed our kit away preparing for a choppy trip back, but it wasn’t too bad at all.! Back in the harbour it was quite busy. We transferred all the kit from the boat to the van and returned to the campsite.
Most of us spent the afternoon in ‘The Olde Ship’ swapping stories, comparing notes and generally having a laugh and relaxing. Terry and Irena had organised a meal in Seafields Restaurant for 8pm for twenty of us, and the meals had been pre ordered which made life easier for everyone.
After a leisurely meal and a toast to a great weekend and absent friends by Bo, some went on to ‘The Schooner’ and others went back to get organised for the return trip in the morning.
To sum up the trip, fun, excellent diving, and a really good laugh. On reflection, any doubts that I had about the trip being worth the length of the journey have gone, and yes it is definitely a trip not to be missed.
Lastly, organisation was particularly difficult this year as there were a few last minute changes, and it is only because everyone put in a lot of effort that the trip was so successful – teamwork in the true sense of the word – thank you and well done everyone!