Inner Farne, Northumberland – St Cuthbert

While at Embleton I saw a poster for the Farne Churches Together Annual Service at St Cuthbert’s Chapel on Inner Farne on 20 June 2011. Gareth and I drove north on a Summer evening – and Seahouses is a long way north. There was time for an ice cream before the boat, run by Billy Shiel’s – website – left with about 30 of us on board. It’s only about 20 minutes across to Inner Farne, and we were welcomed by the National Trust summer wardens. The fact that their hats and anoraks were covered in guano was a warning of what was to come. Gareth and I had been joking about “killer terns” and the need to take a hat … the reality was interesting. Incidentally, did you know that “guano” comes from the Quichua language of the Inca civilization and means “the droppings of sea bird.”

Bede tells us that St Aidan would come across to the islands, and Cuthbert built himself a cell – where he died in 687. Later hermits also stayed here and in 1246 a small Benedictine cell was established here. Pevsner says the remains “form an intensely romantic group in this wonderful place” – he doesn’t mention the terns! Here is Gareth looking dubious.

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St Cuthbert’s Chapel – NU218359 – was built in 1369-72 and cost £50. After the Dissolution it became a lighthouse keeper’s cottage, then fell into ruin, and was restored in 1850 by Archdeacon Thorp of Durham. Inside, the furnishings came from Durham Cathedral – they date to circa 1665. I wish we knew what Seahouses sailors thought of having to ship them across and carry them up from the harbour.















The cross has been carved to replace one on the east end of the roof – blown off at some point. £1800 is now needed to put scaffolding up. The Memorial to Grace Darling has a wonderful Wordsworth poem – you can read the whole thing here  – a superb piece of English literature!!

We had an excellent service, accompanied by Philip on his piano accordion – “Jubilate ev’rybody” is great on an accordion (especially as we’d just said Psalm 100 in Latin), and we had a hymn about the Northern Saints written by Valerie Pomfret. We were told the story of King Oswald, given a small holding cross to help with our prayers, and said prayers for Billy Shiel the boatman who died last week. His son, the boatman, came and joined us.

Coffee was served afterwards – hot water brought over the mainland – and went for a walk. Prior Castell’s Tower was erected prior to 1500 – it became a fort, then a lighthouse, after the Dissolution. Now the NT folk live there for the summer. The lighthouse was built by Trinity House in 1809 – “white-painted and extremely pretty” says Pevsner. The puffins were marvellous, the gulls were amazing, the terns are rather frightening. A gorgeous boat ride took us back round the island. I’d like to boat out to Longstone and the other islands – I may not land and risk my head again!

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