One crazy lady and a bizarre obsession = an ongoing tour of the best lighthouses the UK has to offer

Cornish lights with an added bonus

Our summer holiday for this year had been booked for the Isles of Scilly, which presented the perfect opportunity for a quick stop at a couple of Cornish lighthouses I had yet to see.

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Mevagissey lighthouse

The first of these was at Mevagissey, just south of St Austell on the South Cornwall coast. It’s a lovely little place with plenty of gift and craft shops for tourists and some great pubs and eateries on the seafront with views across the harbour. The lighthouse sits on the end of the south breakwater and has done since 1896 – although it has been well-maintained and is clearly regularly re-painted. The white tower with a black band at the bottom is 8 metres tall and made of cast iron. The spot is popular with fishermen, which was evident during our visit. I was particularly pleased that we were joined by my parents for this lighthouse visit as I couldn’t recall ever having visited a lighthouse with them both (the closest we’d been previously was on our wedding day). Mevagissey is a perfect example of a small, visitor-friendly fishing village. Driving around it may be a challenge, but parking is easy enough in the public car parks to avoid the narrow, pedestrian-filled roads.

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The new and old lighthouses at St Ives

The challenge of driving around Mevagissey pales into insignificance though in comparison to our second stop, St Ives. To start with it’s like a maze, with roads of varying sizes all over the place going uphill, downhill and everywhere. Secondly, it’s busy – and I don’t just mean on the roads (which actually weren’t too bad considering – clearly everyone knows St Ives better than we do and uses the Park & Ride). There are a lot of people in St Ives though. There are also very few places to park. Once we’d found a road close enough to the pier (we managed to avoid the easy route straight along the seafront) and decided it was too risky to drive down the narrow road with tight bends, I leapt out and hurried down to the pier while Bob sat in the car in a cul-de-sac. Smeaton’s Pier had a surprise lined up for me though, boasting not one lighthouse, but two! I’ve since read that the original lighthouse, built in 1831 by John Smeaton (of Smeaton’s Tower fame), was replaced in 1890 by the new lighthouse after the pier was extended. The old lighthouse is a more rustic and, in my opinion, attractive tower. The new tower, apart from being a metre taller and octagonal, looks very similar to that of Mevagissey, which was based upon the design of the St Ives tower. Although my visit was a bit rushed, it was great to see an example of lighthouse heritage in St Ives and another of Smeaton’s creations.

Overall, it was a successful day in a county in which I very rarely find myself. Setting aside the challenging roads, both places were well worth a visit 🙂

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Discovering Wee Cumbrae’s lighthouse heritage

At the weekend we spent some time in Ayrshire and, thanks to our friend Rick, we went on a fantastic trip over to Little Cumbrae (also know locally as Wee Cumbrae). It’s always exciting to visit a small island with more than one lighthouse – sort of like visiting the Calf of Man. It’s always a treat. Wee Cumbrae is particularly special though in that it has three generations of lights.

Little Cumbrae old lighthouse

Little Cumbrae old lighthouse

The ride over to the island in a RIB was very short and uneventful, which made a nice change! After saying goodbye to our chauffeurs and their very excitable dog, we began making our way towards the island high point, which was of interest to us all. For me it was to see the island’s oldest lighthouse, while the rest were keen to reach the high point in order to legitimately say they had bagged the island. There was a nice path most of the way to the high point, but as we got closer it became apparent that we would need to go off piste, so we cut across the grass, ferns and various other types of foliage.

We finally reached the old lighthouse and explored the remains. The tower was originally built in 1757 and, according to Canmore, was a 30ft tower with 3ft thick walls. The coal for the light was supported by an iron cage or grate. From inside the tower it is still possible to see where steps up the light used to be and, to the north of the tower, are the remains of the old keeper’s cottage. Less than 40 years after it was first lit, the lighthouse was replaced. From the lighthouse it was just a short walk to the island high point.

Little Cumbrae lighthouse

The 1793 lighthouse on Little Cumbrae

Our next destination was the second of the island’s lighthouses, first lit by the Cumbrae Lighthouse Trust with funds generated from the shipping dues from the old lighthouse. The lighthouse was designed by Thomas Smith, the first Northern Lighthouse Board’s engineers, and its construction was overseen by Robert Stevenson, the first of the “Lighthouse Stevensons”. The lighthouse is a fascinating place to visit now that it is no longer operational. The tower, all of the keeper’s cottages and associated buildings are now open so you can have a good look around. We were pleased to be able to get right to the top of the lighthouse and there is still a distinct smell of mercury about the tower. The keeper’s cottages are home to an interesting array of relics, including some 1970s editions of Reader’s Digest and, oddly, a few sets of old airplane seats. We spent quite some time exploring the buildings and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Little Cumbrae beacon

The Little Cumbrae beacon now sits on the old fog horn tower

Located close to the lighthouse was the old fog horn control room and tower, upon which the operational beacon now sits. By this point the sun had come out and we enjoyed lunch near the lighthouse, explored the old pier area which was clearly where access to the lighthouse from the sea had previously been, and then headed back across the island.

When we arrived back at our drop-off point we still had a fair amount of time left before we were picked up so a few members of the group wandered across to Castle Island, a very short distance off of the east coast of the island. When I say “wandered” what I mean is that, initially, the group used various methods of getting across the fairly shallow stretch of water. Bob was first across and just waded his way through with his shoes on and everything. The next three sensibly removed their shoes and paddled across. As the tide continued to recede, the next two or three people threw rocks into the water to use as stepping stones for getting across. By the time most of the group had crossed, the water had gone down enough for me to just stroll over to the island without getting wet feet at all.

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Castle Island viewed from the grounds of the yoga retreat

Castle Island is so called due to the beautifully preserved lighthouse which sits upon it. Apparently dating back to the 16th century, there is now a set of wooden steps leading up to the castle entrance. There are some fantastic rooms in the castle, some of which contain some wooden tables and benches. The views from the top, where more benches can be found, are stunning. We spent quite some time up there. By the time we returned from Castle Island the tide was fully out and the crossing was dry.

We spent the remainder of our time on the island looking around the grounds of the yoga and meditation centre. A really well-kept garden and definitely a good island for some relaxation. It was a great island and I was pleased to be able to bag two new lighthouses there 🙂

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Welsh offshore rock lights

Last weekend we spent a day in South West Wales in the hope of bagging two very exciting lighthouses! A good friend of ours, Adrian, had organised a boat trip with Venture Jet out from St David’s and the forecast for the weekend was looking good. So, being the committed lighthouse-baggers that we are, we made the day-long trip each way from home to South Wales.

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Smalls lighthouse and me – on the same piece of rock!

Due to the tide at the time, our first destination was to be a stunning piece of architecture that sits around 21 miles west of St David’s, Smalls lighthouse. On the journey out, the captain informed us that it may not be possible to land on the rock, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up. We were encouraged to sit on the tubes at each side of the boat and hold onto two handles (basically, clinging on for dear life!), which proved to make for a pretty bumpy ride. Very sensibly, everyone gradually realised that sitting in the centre of the boat was a much more pleasant experience.

As you would expect, we spotted the lighthouse from some way off and as we approached it was looking like a landing on the rock would be possible. In fact, it turned out to be a particularly dignified landing, just hopping off of the front of the boat onto some steps. The trouble came at the top where we encountered a wide area of flat rock covered in particularly slippery seal poo! Obviously that couldn’t dampen our spirits though for having got so close to such a majestic structure.

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The remains of two of the oak struts from the previous lighthouse at Smalls

The rock, in fact, turned out to be even more interesting as we discovered the remains of the bases on numerous oak struts, hidden within the rock. Having not done my research prior to our visit, I was informed while we were there by someone a little more forward thinking than me, that the tower that currently sits on the rock is actually the second lighthouse to have appeared on the rock. The previous being a timber lamp room and keeper’s house perched on top of these struts as well as some cast iron legs. This lighthouse was built in 1776, but didn’t last long until vital repairs were needed following storm damage. Between January and September 1778 the light was not in operation. After repairs had been made, it then guided mariners for over 80 years until it was replaced by the existing tower in 1861. There is more information about, and drawings of, the old lighthouse on the Trinity House blog and another blog from Heritage of Wales features a diagram showing the positions of all the old struts as well as an artist’s replica of the old lighthouse.

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The door to the lighthouse with some damage below

The old lighthouse was the setting for the story of the two lighthouse keepers, one of whom died during their stay on the rock and the other, in the process of trying to deal with his colleague’s passing, was driven mad. It is said that this incident, which is believed to have occurred around 1800, was the reason behind the introduction of the rule that three keepers had always to be present at any one time.

Now, to the existing tower – and what a tower it is – all 141ft of it! It was originally based on the design of Eddystone lighthouse and originally featured red and white stripes, which were sandblasted off in 1997. It is still possible to climb up to the the lighthouse door, which Bob did and tried knocking, but apparently no one was in! I think we were all in awe at how such a building was constructed on such a challenging piece of rock.

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One of the old storage rooms built into the rock at Smalls

The rock hid a number of other surprises too, like some old store rooms, which had been cut into the rock. I have also seen a picture that shows a separate building that was once located on the flat section of rock, which is no longer there. In short, the place is fascinating and I was pleased that all of the hill- and island-baggers that were on the trip seemed to enjoy the visit too.

Saying farewell to Smalls, we headed back towards the mainland. You may think that seeing Smalls was enough excitement for one day, but no, there was more! With the tide now at prime position, the landing on South Bishop was just as dignified as it had been on Smalls. We were greeted with a considerable number of steps, impressively crafted from the rock and pretty much all still in good working condition. The steps were worth the climb though when we reached the lighthouse at the top.

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South Bishop lighthouse

The lighthouse looks impressive from every possible angle from the sea and when on land has a fairly large compound. The lighthouse was first lit in 1839 and, in 1971 a helipad was constructed to allow easier access. However, the helipad was prone to flooding in bad weather and high tides. Both the old helipad and the newer one can still be seen on the island. Bob went off to explore the area surrounding the old helipad and happened upon a piece of concrete with a name engraved into it, ‘Cyril M’, followed by what looks like a date ’24 10′ and then an indecipherable year. Intriguing! It was a great place to explore and I could have happily spent all day there (particularly as the sun came out for us).

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South Bishop lighthouse from the old, damaged helipad

On the way back to St David’s, our guides took us to see a small rock island called Daufraich, through which the tide bubbled up to the surface. He said he would quite like to dive there one day, but has concerns about being drowned by an influx of disturbed seals! We were also taken around the south end of Ramsey Island where there are cliffs up to 100 metres high. We also went through a sea cave where seals were chilling out before arriving back at St David’s.

Overall a fantastic bagging day, both for me with the lighthouses and for Bob who then went on to bag 5 Marilyns! A great day and well worth the journey! 🙂

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A Lewis walk & a Harris surprise

Welcome to my 100th blog post!

We went over to the Western Isles earlier this month for a week-long holiday, staying in a great four-bedroom house on Harris. I’d been to the Western Isles a few years ago and visited the easier to get to lighthouses, such as Butt of Lewis, Tiumpan Head, Arnish Point and Eilean Glas. So this time the plan was to reach another that involved a bit more of a stretch of the legs, Aird Lamishader.

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Aird Lamishader lighthouse

I knew before we set off for the walk from Borghastan/Borrowston that the lighthouse was one of the “flat pack” style. To get there we had to navigate our way down some nice steep slopes (we seemed to miss the sensible path down). Once we made it to the fields below we encountered some particularly friendly/scary sheep that, instead of running away as I would normally expect them to do, started to follow us. I was later informed that it was likely to be because they, and their lambs, were still bring fed by the farmer at that point, so they expected us to feed them. Once we’d passed over the fields we started the wander up a hill that Bob wanted to climb and said would be a more direct route to the lighthouse. So, up we went and spent some time checking out the view before we went down the other side. By this point it was feeling like quite a trek, but at least we could see the lighthouse.

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Butt of Lewis lighthouse on a sunny, but chilly, day

After crossing more fields and going up another (considerably smaller) hill we arrived at the lighthouse. As with most “flat pack” lighthouses, there’s not a lot to say about them, but they are often located in places with rather good views and this one was no exception. We were even fortunate enough to catch sight of the Flannan Isles out to sea. Fortunately we walked around the hill on the way back, but in the process met even more over-friendly sheep. I managed to calm down though when we spotted a man heading the same way as us. He was a local former Gaelic teacher who has been growing carrots in the area. He was a friendly man and took us the sensible route back to the car.

The following day we revisited the Butt of Lewis lighthouse briefly. I say briefly because it was a bit wild that day!


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The old Flannan Isles shore station in Breasclete

On the way back to our accommodation that day we drove through Breasclete on the west coast of Lewis in search of the old Flannan Isles lighthouse shore station. We spotted the big house from the main road, and as we got closer, noticed the old Northern Lighthouse Board emblem above the front door. I believe there are plans to create a memorial in Breascleit at some point in memory of the three lighthouse keepers that went missing from the Flannan Isles lighthouse in December 1900.

During our trip we stopped by Hebrides Arts, a beautifully located art gallery and cafe with some amazing work from local artists. While we were there we spotted a painting of a lighthouse with the title ‘Leverburgh lighthouse’, which surprised us as we weren’t aware of any lighthouses at Leverburgh, just beacons. The story associated with the picture was that the top section had blown off during a storm, leaving just the tower.


What remains of Leverburgh lighthouse

That evening we headed to Leverburgh pier and sure enough, just as the lady at Hebrides Arts mentioned, the tower was visible just across the water to the right. As we headed back up the road, we parked up at the side of the road and walked along to it across some, boggy in places, moorland. The tower turned out to be bigger than I’d imagined and Bob made a note of its coordinates as we hadn’t found it on any maps. Later in the week we spoke to Seumas Morrison, who runs Sea Harris and regularly goes out from Leverburgh pier. His take on it’s history was that the top section on the lighthouse was actually removed and not blown away.

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Bob’s picture of Leverburgh lighthouse in 2006

Bob had a look back at some of his pictures from the area and found one from 2006 showing the lighthouse intact. A picture he had from 2012 shows the tower alone. There is very little information about this lighthouse online. I was pleased to find out about it though and to visit it during our holiday.

We were due to take a trip out to the Monach islands and possibly Hasgeir, which would have involved two new lighthouses for me, but sea conditions weren’t in our favour on this occasion, so they will be for another time. We did manage to make it to Taransay and Scarp though, and although there were no lighthouses they are still fantastic places to visit if you are lucky enough to be able to get to them.

I have only one lighthouse left to visit on Lewis and Harris now, Rubh’ Uisinis, which involves a lot more planning. I’m not sure I fancy the 10 mile+ walk out to it over bog land (and then there’s the return journey), so will need to think a bit more creatively about that one!

Finally, once we arrived back in Ullapool and began our journey home we took a minor detour as we noticed the van in front of us belonged to the Northern Lighthouse Board. We’d never seen one before so had to get a quick picture 🙂

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Seeing Strathy Point from the inside

Back in April I was given a particularly great opportunity to have a look inside our most “local” lighthouse, Strathy Point. Through a very kind work colleague of Bob’s, who lives in the lighthouse compound, we managed to have a really good nose around.

The tower itself, which only came into service in 1958, marked a previously “dark” area on the north coast. The first proposal for a lighthouse to be positioned here was submitted, and rejected, back in 1900 and a temporary light was displayed at Strathy Point during the Second World War. Joan, my new friend at the lighthouse, lent us a short film which followed one of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s visits to various lighthouses around the north of Scotland in 1958 (the film can be viewed online here). The film shows the opening of Strathy Point lighthouse.


Strathy Point lighthouse from inside the compound

After a review of local shipping and, apparently, local consultation, a decision was made by the General Lighthouse Authorities in 2010 that the light should be switched off. This happened in March 2012, a sad occasion for the residents of Strathy and the surrounding villages who had become so used to seeing the light sweeping across the nearby land.

The lighthouse tower was then sold in 2013 to a very friendly man named John, who is currently renovating the internals of the building. We enjoyed our tour around. My favourite part had to be the lamp room, which John has a couple of stools in for making the most of the impressive panoramic views. I had a vision while up there of how I would have done it up with a lovely window seat around the sides and Joan and I agreed that the wide staircase on the way up to the lamp room would be the perfect place for some nice, curved bookcases!

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Recent damage to the lamp room

One of the glass panes up in the lamp room has sustained some damage fairly recently after the tower was struck by lightning. There was also damage done to the outside of the structure.

While we were there, John took us down a ladder leading to a platform and showed us a hidden room that is only accessible from the tower. He told us about his plans for the room, which will turn it from a disused water tank store to another viewing area for gazing out to sea.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit, including our little man, who seemed particularly keen on trying to climb the first steps of the ladder up to the lamp room. It was fantastic to be able to see inside and I am very grateful to Joan for showing us around and for then offering us a cup of tea in her former lighthouse keeper’s cottage – and allowing an 18-month-old into her home. Also, thanks to John for letting us be nosey! 🙂

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More Skye lights

So, lighthouse bagging season begins again…

At the end of March, we made the most of the long Easter weekend and booked a trip to Skye to discover a bit more about what goes on south of the bridge. We’d both been to the centre of the island a few times, but seen very little of the south. We booked ourselves into an annexe at Tigh Na Cairdean in Duisdale, owned by the lovely Emma and Jon. They very kindly left us some fresh eggs (as well as chocolate eggs) on Easter Sunday!

The forecast wasn’t looking great so we decided that the relatively “dry” day would be the best day for a walk to the Point of Sleat, the very southern tip of Skye. We set off on the five-mile walk from Aird of Sleat – all kitted out in waterproofs, which we didn’t actually need for the first hour or so and even after that the rain wasn’t much more than drizzle. The path was initially quite good and we happily splashed through puddles in our wellies – partly to entertain our son, but mostly because it’s what you do when you’re wearing wellies (isn’t it?!)

The path got a little more interesting after we began heading south off of the main track. Due to the amount of rain in recent days, the path was pretty wet and muddy and we were both even more glad of the wellies at that point. The track passes by the secluded Camas Daraich beach, which we chose to save for the return journey. Past the beach it felt like we were heading out further and further without making much progress, but once we’d spotted the lighthouse at the very end of the point and navigated our way down a slope, we arrived.


Point of Sleat lighthouse

Being a “flat-pack”-style lighthouse (as I often refer to them), the structure lacked the beauty of the traditional lighthouses, but the surroundings certainly helped to make it appear better than the average “flat-pack” lighthouse. Although the cloud was low, we were able to see across to Eigg and it’s little neighbouring island of Eilean Chathastail, which we had visited last year, and to the east at various points of the walk we could see the mountains of Knoydart.

We stopped for lunch near the lighthouse, with Bob pulling a 4-man group shelter out of his bag for us to sit under. It’s essentially like being in a tent, but you use your heads to keep it up at either end and sit on it to keep the weather out. All in all quite a fun little picnic!

On our way back we stopped off at Camas Daraich beach, which may not have looked its best with the grey skies, but would certainly be quite a find on a nice, sunny Scottish day! The walk back went well and we stopped off at the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale Castle on the way back to warm up and dry out.


Eilean Ban lighthouse

The following day we had some time to kill in the morning – we were waiting on the tide, you see to get to the next lighthouse. We decided to pop to Kyleakin for a ride on Seaprobe Atlantis, a glass-bottomed boat that offers various tours of the local area. Fortunately, the trip we were on took us north underneath the bridge, providing us with another view of the Eilean Ban lighthouse and the cottage we stayed at last year. We’ve now seen it from above, from inside, from the island itself and now from the sea. I don’t think we can do much more to improve on this one! Watching the underwater wildlife from the bottom of the boat was really quite fascinating. Not being a particular fan of being submerged in water, it’s not something I’d experienced before, so it was a great little trip.

Now, back to that tide and the plans we had during low tide. On my lighthouse tour I’d been to Isleornsay and looked across the water at the lighthouse on Eilean Sionnach, but the tide had been in, so there was no chance to get across to it. Even if the tide had been out, I would have been hesitant to wander on over. My theory with any tidal island is to make sure you do your tide research first, unless you fancy getting stranded overnight!

Fortunately, Bob had done the research this time so I didn’t have to. The realisation that the clocks had changed overnight came as a bit of a shock and led to some confusion (for me anyway), but we got it sorted and set off across to the tidal island of Ornsay to then wander along to the further tidal island of Eilean Sionnach. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to walk across to a tidal island to then walk to an additional one. It also means you need to be extra careful with your timings though!

As we walked across, for a change we were attempted to the stick to the seaweed rather than the soft sand. We’d learnt earlier in the day on the Seaprobe Atlantis that seaweed sticks to rocks and doesn’t have roots in sand as we had previously thought. So, treading on it (although it may have been slippy) was preferable to sinking into the sand. We made it across the first stretch of exposed sand and then across to Eilean Sionnach. There is a house on the island, the former lighthouse keepers cottages, which are currently being renovated. We made a mental note to keep an eye on it. If it becomes available as a holiday let then we’ll be there!


Eilean Sionnach lighthouse (bigger than my usual pictures, so you can appreciate it)

Unlike the lighthouse at the Point of Sleat, this one is a traditional Stevenson lighthouse, first lit in 1857. What I find particularly interesting about this one is that, unlike many of the others within Scotland (and the Isle of Man for that matter), it is not monitored remotely from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s headquarters, but instead relies upon an observer to let them know if there are any problems. The most amazing thing about this lighthouse though has to be the fantastic views across to the Knoydart mountains. We found a small mound a short distance from the lighthouse that provided a panoramic scene of the lighthouse with the mountains in the background – we were obviously both happy with that.

Fortunately, we decided to leave the lighthouse after a short time to make sure we got back across the sand before the tide came in. Our return path was a little less direct due to the already incoming tide, so once we reached the mainland of Skye we hugged the coast a little more closely and made it safely back.

We had a great weekend and were really pleased to be able to explore a part of Skye that had been fairly unknown to us beforehand. Since we took a trip there last year and another this year, I’ve informed Bob that it should now be an annual tradition. We’ve still got Waternish Point to get to after all! 🙂

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Returning to Hoylake and off to the Skerries

Hoylake lighthouse

Hoylake lighthouse

Last weekend we were heading to Anglesey for a boat trip and decided to drop into Hoylake on the way. In one of my blog posts from last month, I mentioned that the good people at Bidston lighthouse had informed us that the building I had previously thought was the Hoylake lighthouse actually wasn’t. We were travelling with my sister as she was looking after our little boy while we went on the boat trip that afternoon. We found Valentia Road in Hoylake easily enough and my sister and I looked out each side of the car as it’s not always so easy to spot them when they’re among houses. My sister had the joy of spotting it first and we continued along the road to turn around. We decided to drive to the end of Stanley Road to show my sister the building I’d previously seen, which she was very impressed by. She recommended we do something similar with our little old house on the north coast of Scotland – if only I could! We drove back to Valentia Road and got some great pictures of the actual lighthouse, which is nicely framed by big trees when you see it from the road. It’s a stunning building. The light was last exhibited in 1886 and was one of two built in 1865. The lower lighthouse no longer remains, but actually was operational until later than the existing structure, finally being discontinued in 1908.

South Stack - it would have been rude not to visit

South Stack – it would have been rude not to visit

Finally satisfied that I’d seen the real lighthouse, we drove on to Anglesey. We had a brief stop at South Stack to see the lighthouse there, where my sister had a particularly amusing Marilyn Monroe-esque experience with the wind! We parked up at the marina in Holyhead and found a cafe for lunch before meeting the other island-baggers. I’d seen the Skerries before from Holyhead and been fascinated by its beautiful white lighthouse with the red stripe. Fortunately a friend of ours had managed to get hold of Rib Ride who run boat trips from Holyhead and they had agreed to take us out. The boat we went out in was actually formerly owner by Bear Grylls, who just keeps on popping up in my lighthouse endeavours (see my post from August). Bear is actually involved with the company and his boat is actually quite a comfortable set up with nice padded seats. Our pilot, Charles, was also a friendly chap and managed to quickly sort out an engine problem we experienced on the way out, so we made it there safely and Charles moored up alongside a ladder leading up to the island.

The Skerries lighthouse

The Skerries lighthouse

The Skerries is a stunning place, and I really believe that this is in large part due to the positioning of the lighthouse (though others may disagree). The way it has been built to sit on the highest point of the island is fascinating and every view you get of it from wandering around the main island is perfect. Right on time, the sun decided to come out as we arrived too, so we had great weather for exploring the island. We were also joined by the regular howling of the seals playing about in the natural cove, which offers respite to sailors on rougher days. Apparently, some refer to the Skerries as “the Scaries” due to challenges it presents when the sea is rough. The lighthouse on the Skerries has an interesting history and was originally built by the lease-holder of the island, with the light making its first appearance in 1717. Trinity House had previously objected to the lighthouse being built, but in 1834 they made clear the wishes to purchase the structure. For seven years they fought for ownership and, finally, in 1841 it was sold to them and became the last of the privately owned lighthouses to be bought by Trinity House. It was a wonderful place to visit and nice to be able to share it only with the seals (and some made island-baggers too)!

That trip marked the end of our lighthouse bagging trips (as far as I know) for now. Hopefully there will be more before the end of the year, but we’ll just have to wait and see. The more and more you visit the harder they become to get to. We have some great trips lined up for next year already though, which I’m very excited about 🙂

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And finally to Orfordness!

I’d attempted to visit Orfordness lighthouse twice before, the first time missing the last boat by about 15 minutes and the second time turning up on a Sunday or Monday when the boat doesn’t run (bad planning on my part there). So, it had to be third time lucky, surely!

The Bailey Bridge and the lighthouse beyond

The Bailey Bridge and the lighthouse beyond

With more forward planning this time, we arrived in time for the first boat of the day and happily received the tickets from the National Trust office at Orford. It’s not the cheapest boat trip I’ve ever been on, but you do get maps and a welcome from the National Trust staff on the (roughly) 10 mile long shingle spit that is Orford Ness. They informed us that, although it does say it on the map we’d received, it was very unlikely that we’d step on some unexploded ordnance. The spit was used by the Ministry of Defence during both the First and Second World War as well as the Cold War for secret testing and was also a test site for early developments in radar. There are a number of the old atomic testing buildings still standing on Orford Ness. Although the general outline of what went on there in the past is known, there is still a lot that remains secret. Visiting it on a quiet, calm day as we did, you can’t imagine all of this going on there.

It is also an important conservation area and there is a trail, as defined by the National Trust, that provides the best route if that is your priority. We had plans for the afternoon, so decided to head straight for the lighthouse. It’s possible to see the lighthouse from Orford itself, but it’s actually on the other side of the spit, so it’s a bit of a stroll – a nice one though.

A picture on display in the old Bomb Ballistics building showing testing near the lighthouse

A picture on display in the old Bomb Ballistics building showing testing near the lighthouse

It was back in 2013 that I first heard of the problems with Orfordness lighthouse. Early reports on this said that the lighthouse had been discontinued by Trinity House with the optic removed as the risk of it being washed away was imminent. Another story shortly afterwards revealed that it wouldn’t happen quite as suddenly as the original story suggested and that it had a few years remaining yet (it turns out that an earlier lower lighthouse on Orford Ness was actually washed away in 1730). So, it came as a bit of a surprise to see a vehicle drive past us with ‘Trinity House’ on the side. As we continued our walk, we noticed the vehicle stopped at the lighthouse. I’d received news earlier in the summer that the lighthouse was to be open to the public for three days, none of which I was able to make. So, the idea that someone would be at the lighthouse and might let us get inside was unexpected and a quite exciting. We stopped off at the old Bomb Ballistics building on the way to the lighthouse, which contained some information about what used to take place there. It showed some of the testing exercises they carried out with bombs being dropped into the sea just off of the coast there, scarily close to the lighthouse in my opinion.

The lighthouse and its buildings

The lighthouse and its buildings

As we set off for the final stretch towards the lighthouse we noticed that the door to the main tower was open and, as we approached we could hear voices coming from inside. It turned out that Nicholas Gold, the owner of the lighthouse, was there that day showing people around and, even better, he was happy for us to have a walk up the tower. Apparently, he’d heard about the risk to the lighthouse and contacted Trinity House to ask if they could come to some sort of deal over ownership of the buildings and tower. Fortunately they could (I assume Trinity House were pleased to get rid of it, as it no longer served a purpose for them) and he set up  the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust to allow the local community to have a say over how the lighthouse was maintained in the future. The Trust aims to preserve the tower for as long as possible and some stabilisation work has already been carried out to protect the lighthouse.

The view down from the lamp room

The view down from the lamp room

So, in we went and met the owner on our way up. We made it all the way to the lamp room, which offered some great views of the surrounding area and we could look down and see from above the distance between the sea and the lighthouse. It’s an interesting lighthouse with some unusual platforms on the way up unlike any I’ve seen before. Just inside the entrance there is some information about the lighthouse and the work that has already been done to try to preserve it. We left a donation and made our way back outside where the owner allowed us to look inside the interestingly-shaped building that had previously been used to store the oil for the lighthouse. Such a great smell inside that building! There was also the other building, which would have provided living quarters for the keepers. All in all, a fantastic visit and perfect timing as, on our way back, the owner drove past us and offered us a ride back to the boat on the back of the vehicle. We said “no, thank you” at the time, but realised with hindsight that it could have been quite fun – the three of us bouncing about on the back! So, he’d obviously not stayed there much longer after we’d left. Perfect timing!

A beautiful location for a beautiful tower

A beautiful location for a beautiful tower

It was a great few hours spent in a unique place. Whether or not the lighthouse is open, it’s definitely worth a visit, particularly to see the beautiful lighthouse tower with it’s perfect stripes before it ceases to be a part of the skyline there. I just hope the Trust are able to preserve it for many years to come.

We have one more trip lined up this coming weekend, which I will report on soon. There’s nothing, as yet, following that, but these things can change in the space of a week if we suddenly decide we want to do something! 🙂

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Cramming in some lighthouse visits

The middle pier light at Granton

The middle pier light at Granton

At the weekend, we travelled down from the north coast to the Isle of Wight to see my family for our son’s first birthday. Of course, it wasn’t possible to do the journey without at least one lighthouse stop! In my attempt to finalise a list of lighthouses in the UK, I have discovered more and so we took a detour along the coast north of Edinburgh after our stopover in Perth. I’d been to Granton during my lighthouse tour in 2012 to see, what I have recently discovered, is actually a former Northern Lighthouse Board training facility. There is a Stevenson-style lamp room sitting on top of a building and, rather than being used for navigation, it was only ever used for trainee light keepers. I had found out about the additional two lighthouses here though just last week, one on the end of the east pier and the other on the middle pier. I won’t say a huge amount about either as there’s not a lot to say. We weren’t able to get very close to the middle pier light, which is essentially a small lamp on the top of a pole. The other was a white square structure on the end of the pier. It was a nice wander out to it, but it’s looking a little derelict now with graffiti all over it. We’re not sure if it is still in operation as it doesn’t look like it, but there is a solar panel on top. We didn’t spend long in the area as we had to get down the road.

Off we go to St Mary's lighthouse!

Off we go to St Mary’s lighthouse!

This didn’t stop us from calling in on St Mary’s island lighthouse nearly Whitley Bay as we passed by though. When I’d originally been in 2012 the tidal island had been cut off and when Bob and I had made a quick stop there more recently we didn’t have time to enjoy a walk across the causeway to the island. This time around we chose to make time for it. It’s a stunning tower and it’s tidal access adds an extra appeal to it. It turns out they have a real good set-up there, although the funding hasn’t come easily to keep it going.

We had a quick walk around the outside of the tower before heading in to the shop and buying tickets to go to the top of the lighthouse. What I often find in many lighthouses that you can reach the top of is that you need to go on a guided tour with someone who works there. St Mary’s is different though and you can wander up at your own leisure. This time we had our son with us and he is very keen to walk up steps at the moment, so he was more than happy to wander on up (holding his daddy’s fingers). He got about two thirds of the way up before Bob decided it was too much for his back, so he was carried the rest of the way up. It was a bit of a challenge to get Bob and our son through the small opening up to the lamp room, but they got to the top and, for our little man, it was the first time he’s been to the top of a lighthouse.

The old Withernsea optic in St Mary's lamp room

The old Withernsea optic in St Mary’s lamp room

There were some great views from the top and, although the optic in there is not the original (it came from Withernsea), it is still nice to see an optic in there. After having a good look around we started our descent. At the bottom of the tower we noticed live footage of the nearby rocks so people could look out for seals. However, I noticed that the camera could be spun around to see the lamp room. So, I then headed back up to the top, leaving Bob with the instructions to take pictures of me at the top once I got there. I’m not really sure why I decided to go back up – it’s much more exhausting the second time around, but we got the pictures and I then returned to the bottom of the tower. While we were there, we got a certificate for our little man to mark his climbing of the lighthouse.

By the time we left the lighthouse the sun had come out and so we took a slow wander back along the causeway before grabbing an ice cream and hitting the road again.

The following day was particularly exciting as I managed to bag another lighthouse on my third attempt at it. That’s all I’ll leave you with! More to follow soon 🙂

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A brief lighthouse trip to Wales

The lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West

The lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West

A couple of weekends ago, Bob and I made a break for freedom, leaving our little man with his grandparents for the weekend. The purpose of this trip was to spend some time in Wales, particularly for a boat trip out to get a closer look at the lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West off of the west coast. A hill-bagging friend of ours had arranged the trip with the owner of St Tudwals Island East who had kindly agreed to take us to his island. Due to it being August, the owner of the West Island (Bear Grylls) was staying on the island and, understandably, very much likes some privacy with his family. That meant it wasn’t possible for us to land, but Carl did take us on a spin around the West Island so I could get a good view of it. Carl, who co-owns the East Island, was telling us that he suspects the St Tudwals lighthouse may be discontinued shortly, which would mean that Bear Grylls would inherit a lighthouse. Lucky him! It’s an attractive little structure. We spent a short time on the East Island, enough time to wander up to island high point for Bob and to take a stroll around some of the coast there – with some nice views across to the lighthouse too. What amazed me most though was the small house that sits on the east side of the island. From the outside it doesn’t look like there’s much going on, but as soon as you step inside there are tables, decorations aplenty and even an upper floor with a double mattress! It’s a great little island and the owner is full of some amusing stories. He described how he went about getting large stones airlifted onto the island for a stone circle he set up there about 10 years ago. It was a really enjoyable trip and the weather was absolutely perfect.

Llanddwyn Island lighthouse

Llanddwyn Island lighthouse

During my tour in 2012, I attempted to visit the lighthouse on Llanddywyn Island off of the south coast of Anglesey. Officially its not a tidal island, but many (and the name itself) would tell you otherwise and, when I visited before it was spring tide time so the tide was particularly high and access to the peninsula was not possible. This time we were able to time our visit perfectly so we arrived as the tide was retreating. From afar it didn’t look like there was much to it, but it’s actually a great place to explore, with paths leading out to the beacon at the very end. The old lighthouse there is really interesting in that the light was displayed from the base of the  structure, rather than the top. I think there is often confusion over which is the lighthouse out of the two as it would be easy to miss the old lamp room in the lighthouse if you’re looking for it at the top. There’s a lot of history surrounding the island (sorry, peninsula) and a great deal of information on display around the island relating to pilgrimages. After leaving the island, we noticed some wooden poles on display near the car park with various carvings on top and one of them was clearly a carving of the old lighthouse. As the weather was so good that weekend there were plenty of people around on the beach, but not so many taking the walk out to Llanddwyn Island, which made it much nicer.

Penmon Point at low tide

Penmon Point at low tide

We had a little time to spare that day before dinner, so Bob suggested going along to Penmon Point to see the black and white lighthouse there, which I’d visited on my tour in 2012. As we followed the coastal road north it was clear that the tide was quite far out, so we were hopeful that we would be able to walk out to the lighthouse for a proper “bag”. I was very amused when we arrived and Bob, excitedly, when dashing off towards the lighthouse. We managed to get right out to it and Bob, as usual, chose to climb up to the door using the very cleverly built footholds. It wasn’t too busy there either so we only had to share the lighthouse with a couple of other people. There’s nothing worse than crowds of people when you’re trying to get a good picture!

On the Sunday we headed home, but first we needed to get at least one lighthouse visit in, considering it was International Lighthouse-Lightship Weekend! I’d read online that both Leasowe and Bidston Hill lighthouses would be open to the public that day, so it was an opportunity not to be missed. We had a bit of time to kill before Bidston Hill opened, to we had a quick look at Leasowe and then drove along to Hoylake. When I’d been there in 2012, I’d seen the lighthouse (or what I thought was the lighthouse) so this was an opportunity for Bob to see it too. We had a quick stop there and then went on to Bidston Hill. It’s not one I had seen before, so it was an added bonus for me to actually be able to get inside it too.

The Bidston Hill lighthouse

The Bidston Hill lighthouse

We arrived just in time for the first tour of the day, which was run by Stephen Pickles who is an active member of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. I had, in fact, received an email from Stephen shortly before that weekend asking if I would be interested in preparing a piece on my favourite lighthouse for their journal, Lamp (more on that later in the year). It was a really interesting tour and you could tell that Stephen is not only the owner of the lighthouse, but has a real fondness for its history too. There are some fascinating stories about how they would go about informing the port authorities at Liverpool that a boat was on its way in. There was a group of amateur radio guys halfway up the lighthouse, chatting away to others around the world as part of the Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend. We were fortunate enough to get into the lamp room at the top of the lighthouse, which boasts panoramic views of the surrounding area and out to sea. Sadly, there is a lot of damage to the panes of glass in the lamp room. They suspect someone has been shooting at them from outside and they are currently looking to replace the panes, which isn’t going to be cheap for them. Why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me. We had a chance to speak to Stephen and his wife for a while after the tour and got a stamp for my lighthouse passport. It was during our chat with them that we found out that the building we’d seen at Hoylake is actually a lighthouse folly and not the actual lighthouse. So, we will need to head back there again at some point.

When we left Bidston Hill, we did consider popping into Leasowe to have a look around, but we were running short on time for getting home that evening, so decided to give it a miss this time. We hope we will be back in the area when it’s open again some day soon. We’re nearing the end of our peak lighthouse-bagging season, but it’s not over yet. There will be at least one or two new ones in the next couple of weeks. More on this to follow soon! 🙂

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