Thursday 27 March 2014

Half a lifetime!

John Walton (right hand side)
At 11.45 on Tuesday 27th March 1979 I set sail for the Farnes, aboard a ‘Glad Tidings’, for my first stint as a seasonal warden. My intention was to get a couple of years experience and see where it led – 35 years later and I’m still here! Then, as now, the weather ruled our lives as I should have sailed on the 26th…………………..

Meal time for the team of 1979 on Inner Farne

John Walton sitting down (on right hand side)
I had abandoned an eight year career with Lloyds Bank for £25/week, no running water, no electricity, limited communication with the outside world, and an uncertain future – and I loved every minute of it. Island living is the ultimate Marmite experience, love it or hate it - boy, was I in the former camp! Five seasons passed in a flash and in 1983 I said my farewells. Contracts on Brownsea Island, Sandwich Bay, two seasons with the RSPB on Stone Curlew research – and still the Farnes, as I came back each autumn to manage the seal team. Blakeney Point in 1988 was my final contract – as the Bible should have said ‘Man cannot live on contract salary alone’. A full time job as a Ranger on Cannock Chase was my choice and that, I thought, was that.

Two years into the job an envelope arrived through the post from a Farnes team-mate of the 1982/83 seasons. In it was a single sheet of paper: the National Trust internal job sheet, and ringed in red felt-tip ‘Head Warden, Farne Islands’. To save his blushes I won’t reveal the sender’s name – but he changed my life.

Maureen and I came up to Seahouses in October 1990 and I started as Head Warden, then promoted to Property Manager. I added the 12 miles of Trust-owned Northumberland coast a few years later and, for one year only, ‘baby-sat’ Lindisfarne Castle. A couple of years ago I moved away from the ‘business’ side of things back into conservation as the Coastal & Marine Officer – those who know me will appreciate my first-love is/was/always will be the Islands, coastline, and seas (oh – and Maureen!)

Maureen, without whom………………

Highlights: seen some great birds/missed some great birds – don’t mention the Aleutian Tern of 1979! Brilliant cetacean sightings – yes, the Killer Whales were genuine. Being hospitalised by an angry cow seal – I could go on. But the one thing that has really made my life fun have been the teams of people it’s been my pleasure to work with – all memorable in their own inimitable way. Islands attract ‘characters’ and, believe me, the Farnes has had its fair share. No names, no pack drill – you know who you are! You all made my job the brilliant experience it’s been – even the instigators of the ‘Great 1992 Lifeboat Fiasco’ (don’t ask!). Thanks for the memories.

Happy the Man.........

Oh, and 14 years ago, I appointed a fresh-faced, dark-haired, youngster called David Steel – I always wondered what became of him?


Paul said...

I was on the Farnes in 1989 (Peter Hawkey's last year). Your name was was whispered in hushed tones! Will be up in Northumberland in late May and will be visiting the Islands!

Ipin said...

Brilliant, great stuff!

Unknown said...

Well done John,
Thanks for the post card and I thought you'd be announcing your retirement when you said look at the blog.There's plenty more years in you yet!I enjoyed the transition year 1990 (Peter's last and your first)and two more great summers (thanks for the mention of the Lifeboat disaster but I had left the lads with a don't do anything silly whilst I'm away! Hope to get up soon.Best Wishes. Pete