Ever wondered what it would be like to volunteer on a beautiful remote island?

In the first of our two part spotlight on Coquet Island, Brian McCullen blogs about leaving Brighton behind, dealing with complete isolation, challenging himself, Terns and Puffins and living a more simplistic way of life. Week two to follow next week . . .



A BIG thank you to my lovely friends for taking me to the coach station. 05:30hrs and Brighton alive with youngsters coming out of the nightclubs, staggering around dishevelled and drunk. Fish and Chip wrappers blew around in the breeze as refuse workers clanked and cluttered around emptying bins.  Quite funny really, I am just about to board a coach that will take me to as near to complete isolation as it gets. I arrived in Alnwick at 17:30hrs, an hour late as the driver had to detour to avoid traffic jams on the M1 (nothing new there then). Alnwick is a lovely town, most of the houses built of sandstone. I was met by Wesley who was everything I expected. A modern day “hippy”, one of the “planet of the earth” children I surmised!!! We drove to Amble Marina where I was to board a small “Launch” to take me to Coquet Island. There I met Paul the site manager, a big burly chap with a broad Geordie accent.  We then set sail for the island. I have never experienced cold like it before and my hands and face became non-existent in a matter of seconds. It was like being on a roller coaster for the first few minutes, but we arrived safely on the Island 10mins later. As soon as I took my first island steps, I was overcome by the peace and tranquillity. No human life here (except of course the RSPB team), no cars, no rat-race; just as much peace and quiet as you could handle… After a brief tour of the grounds, the team cooked a meal of chicken and crispy spuds, all washed down with a couple of glasses of “chilled” red wine (room temperature here is fridge-like !!!). After a “get to know” chat, it was time to crash out. The front door here is left wide open all night, yet it’s quite safe. Where can you get THAT on mainland UK?? Goodnight one and all, I’m knackered.


If you like waking up, getting out of a nice cosy bed and switching on Breakfast TV, flicking a switch to boil a kettle for your morning cuppa and slouching on your comfy sofa, then deciding (after dropping off for ANOTHER half hour) that you’re going to jump into a nice hot shower, then DON’T come to Coquet Island. This is not about comfort. This is about primarily helping the RSPB and aiding conservation, but it’s also (well it is for me) challenging yourself, taking yourself out of your “comfort zone” and reverting back to a more simplistic way of life. That is EXACTLY what it is, but it is surprisingly easy to adjust to if you just embrace and accept it. Time seems to stand still here. Just take it all in and go with the flow. You will get things done in your own time at your own pace. You can also, I guess, learn a bit more about yourself. For me, the pinnacle of Day2 was enjoying a couple of glasses of Chianti (after an enjoyable day of sand and shell shifting, lawn mowing and raking) whilst chatting with the team and watching the sun set over the Cheviots. You really ARE back to nature here.  Bliss.


Not too much to report today. Continued shifting sand and shells from the South Beach to the Tern terraces ready for their arrival. Should be finished by tomorrow. Took loads of photo’s of various birds and the Seals. Just gonna tuck into Chilli Con Carne very soon… (Species of Seabird identified so far… Kittiwakes, Black-Headed Gulls, Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Oystercatchers, Curlews, Shags, Cormorants, and a Black Redstart)


Pretty much the same really. Finished the North Terrace in terms of preparation for the arrival of the Roseate Terns. Mowed the Heli-Garden, then spent the rest of the afternoon learning Pétanque (a form of boules) … I scored 8 ! ! !... Must have been the Mead and Gluhvane they “tanked” me up with. Off to the mainland to try my hand at a spot of welding tomorrow…(dear god) !!!


Over to the mainland today to learn some new skills in Stephen’s Blacksmith’s Forge near Amble… but not before a hot shower and a hearty breakfast supplied care of Paul… then on to the Smithy. I hadn’t seen a real Blacksmiths in ages; think they are some sort of dying breed. They are making a pirate ship and some waves for the Puffins, and I helped to make a barbeque for the island out of an old stainless steel beer keg… Was a great experience and like stepping back in time. No “modern” here!! About half-past 5, we headed back to Amble, went to the Co-op for supplies (wine) oh yes and errrr some food too (hic), got some fish-n-chips, and sailed back to the island.  We then watched the sun going down over the Cheviots, whilst eating our takeaways and drinking Weston’s Cider. Lusssssssssshhhhh…


My time here started at snails pace, but maybe as I have got used to “living” an island life then the hours seem to be accelerating but be that as it may, the fun hasn’t stopped. Yes it’s hard work mainly, but you get used to it and it’s fine by me. Today I painted the sides of the “hide” which is to be erected onto its base, by the jetty on Friday, weather permitting.  Hilary had “fingered in” a picture of a Puffin on one of the panels !! I almost obliterated it with a coat of industrial white gloss, but they caught me in time. After a welcome lunch of “Spam butties” and crisps (healthy stuff eh) and a quick stomp around the island with my camera, my next task was to start applying wood preserver to the Terns’ nesting boxes…. 8 down, 196 to go !!!


So, am halfway through my “Coquet Experience” and all is well. Today I’m going to continue with the Tern boxes…. It’s now late afternoon and have done about 150 of them…. Only 50 odd to go J It’s one of those island tasks where you don’t really concentrate on what you’re doing, THAT comes automatically… so your mind goes walkabouts instead, and for me a feeling of a strange sense of isolation. Don’t get me wrong it’s not in a bad way, but I’m finding that I’m “moulding” into my temporary surroundings and accepting this very different way of life. I’m just going with it and it’s great. I think the problem for some people would be to bring the “mainland” over with them in terms of stress, worry and general day-to-day drudgery. If you leave it all behind, it tends to leave you!! A great feeling J