Book review: The Farnes & Holy Island
Ron Young updates his successful 1998 dive guide
Ron Young’s new book is a weighty and detailed guide to diving the many sites of the Farnes Islands and Holy Island.
The rocky Farnes Islands lie just a few miles east of Seahouses on the Northumberland coast, tantalisingly close to the casual observer. Although exposed to significant North Sea elements, they’re a haven for marine and bird life, attracting thousands of migratory and nesting birds, as well as colonies of seals below the waves, and abundant fish and sea life necessary to sustain both.
there’s a ready history lying just beneath the waves
Just six miles north is the peninsular of Holy Island or Lindisfarne, only accessible on foot or by car at low tide. The coast here has been contested by invading barbarian hordes and Lindisfarne has a long and dark past. Benedictine monks were the peaceable inhabitants for 450 years until Henry VIII took offence and turned the site into a fortress. Today the only visitors are nesting seabirds and the many tourists.
For centuries the coast here has been a trade route for shipping and fishing, a navigational nightmare that has lead to many shipwrecks. The coast was also both an ally and hindrance to those committed to war. As a consequence, there’s a ready history lying just beneath the waves for those interested enough to look for it.
Ron Young has written a guide to diving in the region before, but his latest work is a welcome update and a comprehensive stand-alone reference. Although no longer a diver, the author unashamedly loves his shipwrecks and they form the basis of the book.
The Farnes themselves are made up of 33 islands, islets (small islands) and rocks, although just 23 of these are permanently above the waves. You don’t need to be Jacques Cousteau to appreciate that rocky coastlines offer some of the best diving there is, with a plethora of sites to choose from and the opportunity to dive at all states of the tide or all weathers – although the North Sea occasionally dictates otherwise.
Dive boats chartered out of Seahouses often find themselves sharing space with boats of snorkellers and birdwatchers. Ron has deliberately made his guide useful for all, with an overview of the Tern, Guillemot, Cormorant and other birds to be found here.
The book contains a history of the people who live along this stretch of coast too, from Seahouses and Beadnell village to Bamburgh Castle, formerly home of the Kings of Northumberland.
But the book will particularly appeal to shipwreck lovers, whether or not they like getting their feet wet. Ron has meticulously researched an array of recorded sinkings or founderings, with the history of a vessel including where it was laid down, by who, its many names (vessels are sometimes renamed when sold), and the ship’s fate, including any casualties or fatalities. Contemporary newspaper report clippings make for some interesting reading, and would sustain the book alone as a record of shipping activity in the Farnes area over many centuries.
Grab your dive gear though and get ready to get splash in, as Ron’s book will undoubtedly whet your appetite. GPS co-ordinates are provided for each dive site, along with typical conditions, depths, unusual hazards and top tips. The author isn’t afraid to say if a site is barely worthy of your attention, or who it might appeal to (trainees, for example) which adds to the usefulness of the guide: there are star ratings providing at-a-glance information and paragraphs of text from Ron’s extensive skill set to take in. At 284 pages it’s hard to imagine finding a more in-depth account.
Mr Young also finds space amongst the technical detail to include some excerpts from his life and experiences. He’s led a colourful existence, beginning adulthood as a soldier in the jungles of Borneo and discovering relief from tough, hellish terrain in the seas off Malaysia. His awakening is an extreme example of a familiar story – the one of igniting a life long love of snorkelling, diving and exploring that only failing health has managed to put a stop to.
There are 178 sites to check out in total, which could take years – a lifetime – to explore. Ron Young has done them all and packaged them up lovingly in a practical, entertaining and thorough fashion. If you’re planning to explore the Farnes and Holy Island area, buy this book. And if not, perhaps the book can encourage you to reconsider – you’re certainly missing out.
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