Longstone Lighthouse has a new visitor area. The AONB team have been out to the Farne Islands to take a look.
“Fancy a trip to the Farnes next week?” It’s the start of a normal conversation in our office. “We’re going out to Longstone to see what’s been happening in the Lighthouse”
Of course I would! Who’d pass up on that? The trip is duly arranged for the following Thursday
It’s Wednesday: Northumberland is bathed in glorious sunshine all day. It’s a cloudless blue sky. Shorts are out, sun cream slathered on - summer has arrived.
Thursday: It’s raining.
We’re not sure if there’ll be any boats to the Farne Islands today. Standing on the harbour at Seahouses, we struggle to see through the mist to the beach in front of us, never mind the Islands a couple of miles out to sea. Bamburgh Castle is there too – to our left somewhere - but we just have to imagine it.
We’ve met with Ailsa in the Golden Gate kiosk and she’s assured us that her husband George will be sailing out later on. She’s chatty and friendly; she has a wealth of information about the local area and is keen to tell us about the new interpretation in the Lighthouse that we are going out to see. The landing is free and guided tours inside the lighthouse are exclusive to passengers on the MV Golden Gate.
After a little wait, we board our boat. There are several families, young couples and a dog (Longstone is the only island that allows dogs). We are greeted warmly by George and Dennis. The glum weather certainly hasn’t dampened their spirits.
It became clearer as we sailed towards the inner Farne Islands, but still no glimpse of the Lighthouse through the mist. We slowed down to view the seals lazing on the rocks before sailing past Staple Island. George explained to us that most people come to see the birds that nest here – puffins, guillemots, shags and terns - but they have flown now and won’t be back until next spring.
A little bit further to the Outer Farne Islands and there it is! All is as is should be – red and white, circular, and with a light on the top. George gives us a history of the lighthouse as we approach and of its famous resident and heroine, Grace Darling. He must have told this story thousands of times, but you can tell that he has a genuine love for what he is saying.
Once the boat is moored, we all disembark for our tour of the lighthouse. George walks us round to the door, mindful of our safety all the time. We have half an hour to look around – he suggests we climb as far as Grace Darling’s bedroom and work our way back down to the new visitor area on the ground floor.
The new displays are eye-catching and informative – they are a subtle blue/green/yellow in colour which reflects the coastal landscape. They aren’t imposing. They don’t make the rooms feel any smaller than they actually are. The views out the windows would be fantastic on any other day. Coming down the twisty stairs, it’s difficult to imagine how Grace Darling must have felt making the same journey on that stormy morning in 1838, knowing that if she and her father didn’t find any survivors in the ship, then they may not be coming back to the safety of the lighthouse themselves.
The new visitor area, which has been developed by Trinity House, the owners of the lighthouse, has been done sensitively and is in keeping with its surroundings. The colourful life buoys are an interesting way of displaying information, alongside the expected wall panels. There’s no information overload – it’s what you need to know and can digest in the time you have to look around. There are interactive displays for children – and adults too as it turns out! – that helps understanding about lighthouses and nautical disasters. Given that Grace Darling is part of the KS1 curriculum, this new area will be both beneficial and interesting for visiting children.
Back on the boat, George recounts the story of Grace Darling’s rescue as we leave the island, following the route she would’ve taken with her father out towards the stricken Forforshire. We’re all captivated.
It’s fair to say that we were a bit apprehensive about a trip to the Farne Islands on a wet, miserable day, but we need not have worried. There was plenty to keep us entertained. George and Ailsa were friendly and welcoming and the new interpretation in the Lighthouse is definitely an added bonus.