It was a very long time ago but I really remember my first trip to the North as being wonderful, and very, very cold. While we were staying in Alnwick we took a day trip over to Sea Houses, a little harbour town home to wonderful, traditional fish and chips and great boat trips to the Farne Islands.
This was probably one of the most fun wildlife trips I’ve done in the UK, heading out on a little fishing boat, which made sea-sick-prone me feel very ill, in bracing winds and changeable weather to see seals and puffins (for the first time!). I expected us to squint and perhaps spot one or two bobbing seal heads in the water – which is what you can sometimes see off cliffs in the UK or sometimes close in to the bays. What I got was a whole colony of seals, flip-flopping their way on and off the beautifully rugged islands, slumped in warm piles, with fluffy little round-eye babies in their midst, and slipping gracefully into the grey water. I love the innocence of seals, they seem so benign and almost confused; I find them adorable. I’d forgotten till I revisited these photos, taken with my first ever camera I think, quite how many there were; the ungainly piles of grey and white mass. They look almost part of the landscape they bear so much similarity to rocks.
It was the first time I’d seen puffins, and the only time I’ve seen them in the wild. I tried to photograph them but with my little digital camera I failed miserably, my phone didn’t really have a camera back then either. I’d always imagined them so much bigger – in drawings they always seemed to be portrayed as quite big birds, so I was shocked to witness these tiny, delicate birds zipping around in the water. They are irresistibly cute and were almost impossible for me to capture with my camera at the time, so I took to just looking. Unlike the Shags and Fulmars, which were out in force along with several varieties of gull and seabird. Don’t get me wrong, I do like these under-appreciated birds and they’re very interesting to watch, but they like to vomit (just the Fulmars I think), apparently as a defence mechanism, and this kind of puts me off. They’re not super pretty birds either, unlike the puffins, they’re just quite noisy and flappy.
I’d forgotten as well, just how many sea birds there were, amicably sharing shelves of steep grey rock. Making more noise than I thought feasible and almost causing a breeze of their own with all the wing flapping. It was a beautiful cacophony, of which humans can make little sense but the birds seem to find order.
I remember loving the boat trip but feeling pretty wobbly when my legs finally did hit solid ground and I was so thankful to find a traditional, hearty chip shop within staggering distance. It was the right kind of chippy too, where you can get a mug of tea and a solid plate of fried goodness for a good price. Okay, it may not be the healthiest thing but it’s a British-must.
The Northumberland coastline is without doubt one of my favourite coasts in the UK. It’s pretty unforgiving, and a lot less touristy than many spots in the South, but I love the rugged edges, the variable weather and the richness of the colours up there.