Meet the Founder of Award-Winning Serenity Farne Islands Boat Tours
The Visit England Awards for Excellence are the highest accolade in English tourism, so when Serenity Farne Islands Boat Tours won the Experience of the Year Award in June it was a huge achievement for the family-run business - and the region as a whole
Andrew has loved being by the sea ever since he was a child but it was a tragic family event that meant he’d spend his days on the water as a career. ‘I have lived in Seahouses all my life and have been brought up with the sea as my father was a fisherman,’ Andrew explains. ‘After I left school I went to become a fisherman but then decided to travel a bit. Returning home, I did various different jobs but the sea always pulled me back. My dad sold his fishing boat to get a small diving boat and a year later I got my own boat to join him doing the same thing.
‘The business went from strength to strength, but a few years later my dad sadly passed away. It was heart-breaking for the whole family as he was so young but these things can make you stronger too. My brother was working for another company at the time but left to come back to help me. We decided that we were putting all our eggs into one basket just doing diving, so we bought a passenger vessel that could do the tours around the islands too. Of course it was hard to start with, but we persevered and here we are.’
‘This recognition shines a spotlight on the beauty of our region, inviting more visitors to explore its breathtaking landscapes and immerse themselves in its rich history’
Sailing daily from Seahouses harbour, Serenity Farne Islands Boat Tours are a family-operated business running guided wildlife tours around the Farne Islands. Andrew and his brother Toby work together, with the help of their small and friendly team of staff, to provide a unique experience for their passengers.
‘We want to bring the experience to life instead of watching it on TV, and by doing that we can educate people on how important nature is to our planet,’ explains Andrew. ‘Our experienced wildlife guides offer full on-board commentary and help everyone make the most of their Farnes experience. It is a truly wonderful place to visit and if our guests leave with a smile on their faces then we have done our job well.’
Serenity tours are unique in that they use twin-hulled catamarans. ‘The benefits of these boats are that they’re a lot more stable on the water, and because they are shallow drafted, we can get closer to the wildlife,’ Andrew says. ‘The design has also proved very popular with passengers, especially bird watchers and photographers who enjoy the 360-degree platform.
Catamarans are also more fuel efficient which is good for the environment. After the success of all our other vessels, we went a step further to do something that has never been seen before in Seahouses harbour and we got ourselves a 15-metre, double-decker, multi-purpose catamaran. This vessel brings the “wow” factor to the Farnes and gives views that have never really been seen before.’
Just a few miles off the coast between Seahouses and Bamburgh, the Farne Islands are actually a group of 28 individual islands with varying exposure depending on the tide. The furthest out is Knivestone, more than four miles from shore; Longstone is home to the iconic striped lighthouse; while the largest, innermost and most historic of the Farne Islands, once home to Saints Aidan and Cuthbert, is Inner Farne. The islands are formed by the most seaward outcrops of the volcanic intrusion called the Great Whin Sill and the dolerite rock gives them their distinctive blackened appearance.
Today the Farne Islands are also an incredibly important wildlife reserve, home to many bird species including puffin, eider, razorbill, guillemot, shag, kittiwake and fulmar. There is also a large colony of grey seals breeding through the autumn and winter months. All of these things combined make the Farnes a great place to tour.
Serenity Farne Islands Boat Tours operate all year and run everything from a four-hour trip to Holy Island, to a two-hour sail to watch the sun set – but it’s their Grey Seal and Seabird cruise which has just won the prestigious Experience of the Year award. ‘Our Grey Seal and Seabird tour has something for everyone,’ Andrew tells us. ‘It only lasts one and a half hours, meaning it’s not too long for children while still being long enough to see all the wildlife on the Farne Islands, and in particular the grey seals and seabirds. We also tell visitors about the history of the Farnes and of course we tell them all about our heroine Grace Darling.’
Andrew and Toby found out they were nominated for the Visit England award in January but it wasn’t until the award ceremony in June that they found out they’d actually won gold. ‘As we sat down for dinner, I looked around the room and I had to give myself a little pinch as I could not believe I was there,’ says Andrew. ‘To be nominated for the Experience of the Year award was an honour in itself—a testament to the tireless efforts and passion our team pours into providing exceptional experiences for our guests. When we found out we’d won, my heart was racing and I could not hold back my tears of joy.’
‘We are filled with a deep sense of pride, not only for our team but also for our beloved Northumberland’
The Visit England Awards are all about championing the very best of the country’s tourism industry, but Andrew is keen to remind people you can’t win if you don’t enter, and it’s always worth a try. ‘Winning was wonderful, but it has inspired me to work harder and encourage others in the business to reach their potential too,’ he says. ‘Entering your business for the tourism awards is an invaluable opportunity to shine a light on your achievements. It proves anything is achievable in life as long as you have the right mindset and put the effort in. Winning the award really was like a dream come true.’
Andrew puts the success of Serenity Farne Islands Boat Tours down to the power of family. ‘Mine and Toby’s relationship became closer through the business. We are strong as a family. We’re both married and we have our own families now, who are really close which is lovely. But our other family is all our staff at Serenity. This achievement would not have been possible without the incredible individuals who make up the Serenity Farne Islands Boat Tours team. Each member brings their unique talents and unwavering dedication to creating unforgettable moments.
‘From our lovely ladies in the booking office who are full of wit and banter to our skilled skippers manoeuvring our vessels close to the rocks, to the crewmen who point out seabirds and other types of wildlife, everyone plays a vital role in ensuring that each trip is remarkable.
‘As we bask in the glory of this remarkable achievement, we are filled with a deep sense of pride, not only for our team but also for our beloved Northumberland,’ continues Andrew. ‘This recognition shines a spotlight on the beauty of our region, inviting more visitors to explore its breathtaking landscapes and immerse themselves in its rich history. It is a testament to the magic that resides within Northumberland, and we are honoured to be a part of showcasing the wonders of the Farne Islands.’
Andrew loves seeing visitors enjoying what our region is all about. ‘Coming down the harbour and getting my boat ready for the day ahead is the most rewarding thing to do. Yes, it’s a job, but it doesn’t feel like a job as when I see someone’s face seeing a puffin or a seal for the first time, it makes it all worthwhile.
‘When someone parts with good money for a trip around the Farne Islands and they get off the boat with a smile from ear to ear, saying it was the most wonderful experience they have ever had, it really makes my day. We hope to bring joy and happiness into everyone’s lives, and if we can grow and learn along the way that will be great. We also hope to encourage young people to join us and become crewmen and eventually skippers to help our business expand.’