I ended my blog last week with a mention of my trip up to Northumberland in order to pay a visit to the Farne Islands.
Managed in part by the National Trust, the Farne Islands are an important wildlife outpost off the NE coast. The nearest point of the 28 island archipelago is around two miles from Seahouses and the furthest point around five miles with only 15 of the islands visible at high tide.
Understandably the islands are a navigation hazard and so lighthouses at Longstone and Inner Farne warn of their presence.
There are regular boat trips out to the islands (weather permitting) to see the breeding seabirds and the seal colonies around the islands. Staple Island and Inner Farne are the key seabird islands and where I was aiming for on my day out.
Monday and as I tucked in to a full breakfast at my B&B I watched Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins and a Wren all busying themselves around the feeders outside the breakfast room window. Fantastic and much better than watching any morning TV. Set up for the day I got myself on the road to Seahouses, though not before watching the House Martins busily putting the finishing touches to their nest attached to the top corner of one of the farmhouse?s window frames. Swallows too were making flypasts between the farm buildings on their hunt for a breakfast of flies and bugs before settling on the telephone wires and putting out their bubbly chatter.
It?s only a short drive from Rock to Seahouses along some beautiful Northumbrian lanes. The scene was made all the better by ?wall to wall? blue skies though there was a cool northerly breeze taking the edge of the temperatures. It really couldn?t have been a better day.
Arrived in Seahouses and parked the car in the harbour car park. I walked over to the boat company booking office huts just by the harbour entrance and found the one for Billy Shiel?s Boat Trips. I?d booked my name in on Sunday morning for the ?All Day Two Island Trip? due to sail at 10:00am. All I had to do was settle up. Unfortunately, I was told they could not do the full trip as the boats could not land on Staple Island due to the heavy tidal swell. However, they would land on Inner Farne in the afternoon and spend more time there. The sailing would now be at 12:00 meaning I had a couple of hours in Seahouses to fill. It turned out to be no hardship as the resident Eider Ducks kept me entertained around the harbour.
There were six or seven pairs about of these beautiful chunky sea ducks. They dive for their food of crustaceans and weed and they were regularly disappearing below the water surface to bob up a minute later with a beak full of food. There was definitely love in the air too as they bobbed heads and coo-ed to each other, females being closely chaperoned by the male birds.
I spent some time along the shoreline adjacent to the harbour walls and found that several pairs of the Eider were coming ashore and were waddling about. There was another photographer already there taking advantage of getting up close. Further round I met a husband and wife team also photographing the Eider. He was English and his German wife was a doctor in biological science, specialising in wildlife behaviour. They were over from their Hamburg home to photograph and watch the bird behaviour at this important time of year and were also booked on to the 12:00 boat to the Farne?s. Some bread from one of their sandwiches was tempting the birds ever closer. I?ve mentioned before how apparently tame and trusting these birds are and it was a thrill to be so close to these wild birds. A few House Sparrows and Starlings were also attracted down to the shoreline by all the activity.
It was an absorbing couple of hours and time flew. There was just time for a spot of lunch whilst sitting in the sun on the harbour wall before it was time to join our boat for the afternoon, ?Glad Tidings 1.? The small wooden boat bobbed around as we made our progress towards the Farnes. You are so close to your environment and to the birds that are resting or feeding on the water surface. Rafts of ?auks,? comprised of Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins were just seemingly in touching distance from the side of the boat.
We ventured up to the further most islands to tour round the sheer rock outcrops of Staple Island. ?The Pinnacles? a line of sea stacks and home to nesting Guillemot and Kittewake are an impressive sight around Staple. Our skipper skilfully got in close so that we could get a photograph or two. The noise, sight and smells of this ?bird island? overloads the senses. Navigating round we passed near Longstone lighthouse before coming round to Brownsman and Wamses Islands home to some Grey Seals. There is an indescribable buzz you get seeing wild animals so close. I have to at this point also admit to not quite having my sea legs in order. Even so it was still fantastic to be out there.
We got underway again to approach Inner Farne, the largest of the islands. At 16 acres it has a grassy centre to it?s craggy exterior. It?s a wedge shaped island really with steep cliffs on the southern side grading to rocky shore line on the northern side with some small sandy beaches in places. This contrast of habitat provides a home to a more diverse selection of seabirds compared to Staple Island. We landed on the northern side of Inner Farne just after 13:30 and were told to be back at the jetty for 16:30 for our boat back.
The island is managed by the National Trust and to non-members there is a landing charge to pay. You are limited to where you can walk as it is after all, first and foremost, an important breeding outpost for seabirds. Roped off wooden slatted walkways guide you across the island but you are never too far away from the thousands of seabirds that make it their home from May to July. There are a few buildings on the island. The small church close to the jetty is dedicated to St Cuthbert and has a small courtyard off it with a couple of stone built building used for accommodation for the resident wardens, a small information centre and toilets. The other building is the Farne lighthouse at the southern end of the island.
You are greeted as you step on to the island by hundreds of noisy Arctic Terns and it is not unheard of for them to make aerial attacks on visitors. I didn?t have that problem as they were all busy pairing up after their long migration from the southern oceans. The male birds were making offerings of sand eels to their prospective breeding partners. The birds are literally flying in front of you and you can clearly see why they get called ?Sea Swallows? with their Swallow like tail streamers. It?s tremendous. Some pairs had already started nesting in the grassy areas by the walkways and you could see the speckled eggs being incubated. There were one or two female Eider ducks incubating as well close to the paths and were seemingly totally un-phased by people passing only inches away.
The colony of the larger Sandwich Terns can be seen in the centre of the island. You can not get as close as they are more sensitive to disturbance, but you could see them doing there courtship type dance, shuffling around each other with an offering of a sand eel. Brilliant.
I wandered up towards the lighthouse and it?s here were you can get up really close to the nesting birds on the cliff tops. Shag, Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot noisily calling to each other. A few birds were already sitting on eggs. Of note were the Shags incubating their eggs in a nest made up of dried seaweed. At one point one Shag flew in with a beak full of seaweed. It proceeded to waddle below my feet and offer the seaweed to it?s partner sitting on one of the nests I?d just been photographing. Fabulous. It?s not until you get up really close to birds like this that you realise how beautiful they are. The colours and markings are incredible. I hope the selection of pictures below conveys some of this.
Spotted some Puffins as I wandered round from the lighthouse area and managed a few shots of them in flight. There are hundreds of Puffins nesting in the burrows peppering the grassy area of the island.
My time on the island seemed to pass all too quickly but I just managed one last picture of a pair of Ringed Plover displaying on the sandy shore line near the jetty with a pair of Eider ducks watching on.
I can thoroughly recommend a trip out to the Farne Islands. A truly memorable day. I?ll be back there soon I hope.
Tuesday and I was back home having got back from Northumberland at around 21:00 on the Monday evening. My first call of the day was to Fixation to check on the progress of my camera and flash gun repairs. Fixation had had the equipment since the Wednesday before and I?d heard no news since. They had I found a quote ready and I gave the go ahead for repairs and stressed I needed the equipment back as soon as possible as I had an event to cover at the weekend, that being the National ?10?.
I booked my accommodation for the weekend and got in to the Georgian House Hotel in Haselmere just a short drive way from the TT start in Liphook. Sorted a few other things regarding accommodation for the Dauphine and Tour. Finished writing my blog for the week and before I knew it, it was well in to the afternoon.
Changed the tyre on my bike from the cross/hybrid tyre that got me back home from Parsley Hay the previous Sunday. I was a bit longer than expected and John Charlesworth arrived for our arranged ride out in to the Peak.
Set out around 16:45 and had a good tempo ride using the regular Matlock run.
Wednesday morning I spent sorting a few work related things once again. Drove out to the photo lab later to collect a print I?d had done for a client. Whilst out in the car I took a detour to go up to Wheston and investigate further the orchids I?d seen down the valley there on last Sunday?s pedal with Simon Owens. I?d thought they were Marsh Orchids but after having a closer look I?ve decided they are Early Purple Orchids. They were perhaps past their best but had certainly put on a good show. Just got there in time really. Another couple of days and I think they would be looking really shrivelled. There was also opportunity to photograph Common Field Speedwell and Meadow Saxifrage.
Early purple orchid
Met up with John later for a pedal. Did a couple of hours taking in our Cressbrook run.
Thursday morning I was back on the phone to Fixation to check on progress of my camera equipment. I was told the camera body had been repaired and was ready for dispatch. Unfortunately the flash guns were still awaiting parts and weren?t likely to be ready until after the weekend. A bit disappointing but at least I?d have two camera bodies to work with over the weekend. I have a standby flash gun a Nikon SB-80 but it doesn?t sync to the higher sync speeds available with the SB-800s away on repair. Anyway, I?d get by.
Gave the car a treat and washed it. It hadn?t been done since before the last of the ?Spring Classics.?
Met up with John later for a pedal. Arranged to meet at the old Riverlin post office and put in a run that worked out just over two hours. Took in Bamford, Hope, Castleton. Out of the back of Castleton up Pin Dale (would make a good ?Killer Climb?). It was then over the tops to the Anchor Inn junction to turn left back to Bradwell, back along the Hope Valley and retrace back to Riverlin.
Glimpsed the Lapwing chicks in the damp meadow area at Moscar. They are growing rapidly and seemed noticeably bigger to when I?d seen them the week before.
Friday a chance for one last pedal between jobs and my weekend trip down to the National ?10? Championships. I put in my Matlock run. The weather was overcast and looked like rain was always imminent. My thoughts were confirmed around the Matlock area as rain began to fall. However, by the time I got to Froggatt it seemed that that area had been unaffected as the roads were completely dry.
Started my journey down to Haslemere in preparation for Sunday?s National ?10? at 10:30on Saturday morning. My journey didn?t start out too well as I was held up on the Chesterfield by-pass by two accidents within a half mile of each other. Fortunately I don?t think anyone was too seriously hurt.
Progress on the M1 was not too bad at first. Traffic volume was high but moving nicely. Then around the Luton area things got progressively worse. Stop, start all the way to the M25. The M25 was then not much better. The sheer volume of traffic made for slow progress and I didn?t turn off on to the A3 until around 15:30. Stopped at a service station as I?d not eaten and devoured a Ginster?s Ploughman?s sausage roll and washed it down with a bottle of Lucozade. Not really my first choice but was all that was left in the chillers.
Checked out the courses for Sunday and worked out where I needed to be on the turn used by all Sunday?s competitors. That done it was in to Haslemere for my overnight stop. Had a wander around this pleasant Surrey village. It?s hard to know which county you are in around this area at times as the boundaries of Hampshire, West Sussex and Surrey are all so close.
Found ?Ask? a pleasant contemporary style Italian restaurant in the village for an evening meal. It was in one half of the old post office building with the other half still retained as a post office.
Had a stroll after my meal and it was soon apparent how affluent an area it is. Leafy lanes leading to some beautiful secluded period houses.
After a beautiful day on Saturday, Sunday dawned to heavy drizzle which was better than the down pour that had passed through over night. I had breakfast in my room as the service downstairs didn?t start until 08:30 and I needed to be away. By the time I got to the race HQ in Liphook there was still drizzle in the air but it felt like it would improve as the mornings TV forecast had predicted. I went inside to find that the start of the events had been delayed by half an hour as the Women?s and Junior course had suffered some flooding from the overnight rain. Picked up a start programme and set off down to the course turn near Liss with more time than I?d expected.
Found a spot where I could see the men?s and women?s arrival to the turn point but as the morning went on I found it still difficult to catch everyone. There were a number of spectators on the fly over but not as many as I?d anticipated. From my vantage point it was clear how dangerous dual carriageway time trial-ling is. The A3 is a very busy road and there seemed some close calls as riders exited and re-entered the carriageway. It perhaps looked worse than when you are riding in it but neither the less I can not say I?d like to have been riding the event. The constant road noise wasn?t pleasant either.
I eventually found a point in the grassy area in middle of the slip roads where I could get a better shot of riders. I?d not really been happy with the shots I was getting on the flyover section and was pleased I?d moved for the last third of the field. A pity I?d not been there sooner. There were some strong rides with a number of people getting PB?s for a ?10?, including the ?Weekly?s? Dan Duguid with a 20:33.
Hutchinson looked impressive, I don?t think I?ve seen him looking leaner.
Hutch motored past me and it was then a quick dash to the car to try and catch him again in the five miles to the finish. The lay-bys were packed with spectators and I found I wasn?t far enough ahead of Michael to stop so I went to the finish, parked in a pull in up the slip road and ran back down to where the time keepers were sitting at the finish line. Just grabbed a shot as Hutchinson flashed by having clocked 18:07. How quick is that? An average speed a touch over 33mph. Awesome.
Back to the HQ I arrived in a clammy heap. The weather had held essentially over the morning and was in fact starting to brighten by the finish. I?d still had my wet weather gear on and with rushing about at the end I was feeling a bit damp inside. Got a few layers off and dumped them in the car and went to grab a few ?Bike of the Week?s?. Did four in total which included the bikes of Alex Dowsett, Tony Gibb, Joanna Rowsell and Michael Hutchinson.
With presentations over I decided I?d make the most of the improving weather with a quick visit to the nearby Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve in West Sussex. I?m glad I did as the weather was glorious in the end. Spotted a Shelduck family on one of the flood meadows with eleven ducklings in tow. They could only have been a day or so old but incredibly independent. It was quite amazing to see their automatic evasion system kick in as they all simultaneously dived to outwit a passing Heron.
Also of note were a pair of Little Egrets feeding in the shallows by the grass and reeds along the waters edge. They are small white herons from the continent that are now seen in ever increasing numbers around the UK.
It was back on the road at 17:00 with a relatively trouble free journey back to Sheffield. The M1 motorway was full of returning Leeds United and Doncaster Rover fans who had seen their sides do battle at Wembley in the division one play off. Doncaster fans came away the happier.
Arrived back home a little after 21:15, a much better run back.
Catch up once again in a week.
Andy Jones is Cycling Weekly’s resident photographer, and has covered pretty much every major cycle race there is, from downhill mountain biking to the Tour de France. You can see many of Andy’s photos in our online Gallery section.