Bird Brains

Another picture-heavy post today, but can you blame me? Adventures like this one don’t come along every day, and you better believe I’m going to document the heck out of them.

I have been super anxious to get these pictures up on the blog (yeah, don’t let the fact that they’re almost 6 months late fool you…) because it was one of my absolute favorite days in England. The Kinghorns, the missionary couple that works with the YSA group in Newcastle, organized a trip up to the Farne Islands and Lindisfarne Castle in June. I was neck deep in dissertation research, and it was just the break I needed.

Our first stop of the day was at a lovely little village called Bamburgh (say “BAM-bur-ah”), named for the imposing castle that sits on a bluff by the coast. Bamburgh Castle is still inhabited by the family that has owned it for generations. (Could you imagine? “Hey! Want to come over to my castle and play video games?”)

Bamburgh is also home to a Royal National Lifeboat Institute museum dedicated to the heroic Grace Darling. Grace was the seventh of nine Darling children, and spent most of her life living with her family at the Longstone Lighthouse on Brownsman Island. In 1838, when Grace was 22, a terrible storm arose and shipwrecked a boat called the Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a nearby island. From her lookout in the lighthouse, Grace spotted a small group of survivors. The weather was too rough for lifeboats to disembark from Seahouses, so Grace and her father William took their small rowboat out into the storm to rescue the people stranded on the island, which was nearly a mile away. While her father helped the survivors into the boat, Grace held it steady against the onslaught of wind and rain–a feat of no small significance considering the storm was as fierce as a hurricane! You can watch a fun little stop-motion animation of Grace’s actions here.

From Bamburgh, we headed up the road a bit to Seahouses, where we boarded a boat that would take us on a tour of the Farne Islands. We got up close and personal with lots of sea creatures–seals, jellyfish, and more birds than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. We’re talking, hundreds of thousands of birds. There were Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Terns, Kittwakes, Eider Ducks, and several varieties of gulls. The noise–and the amount of poo!–was unbelievable!

The boat dropped us off at one of the islands, where we were able to wander around for an hour and explore the nesting grounds of many of these birds. Most of them weren’t bothered by our presence in the slightest, but the Arctic Terns were quite vicious. We all had to wear hats or carry an umbrella because the birds would peck you right at the top of your skull if you even so much as looked in their direction. I had two of them follow me down the pathway, taking turns pecking each side of my head, until I was a safe distance away from their fuzzy little chicks.

The birds I was most excited about seeing were the puffins. I have loved puffins ever since I learned that the puffin from The Swan Princess was based on a real creature. And they’re even cuter in real life! Seriously, I can’t even look at these pictures without getting giddy over how stinking cute they are.

We saw lots of other birds on the island, too, and it was really fun to get some good shots in. There were all sorts of photographers there with big fancy lenses, but you didn’t even need them. The birds were literally right there, and the hardest part about getting a shot was waiting your turn.

After the bird boat tour and a quick stop for ice cream, we headed up to Holy Island to see Lindisfarne Castle before the rising tide cut us off. Holy Island is aptly named–it is secluded and peaceful, and the lovely little 7th century chapel lends itself well to quiet pondering.

I’d had many people tell me that I needed to visit the Farne Islands while I was in England, and now I know why. The whole area is absolutely gorgeous, and it was so fun to explore it with some good friends. Here’s to many more adventures like this one.

And Happy Belated Thanksgiving! I hope you had a wonderful holiday and ate your fill of turkey and stuffing.

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