uklighthousetour

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

Cape Wrath: a different view

Having only been to Cape Wrath just over a week ago (after 7 years without a single trip there) I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sail around it yesterday on a trip from Kylesku on the north west coast to Talmine on the north coast with North Coast Sea Tours. I am finding more and more, as I get the opportunity to enjoy lighthouses from the sea, the benefits of doing so. Very rarely do you realise the shape and size/height of the coastline that these wonderful towers sit on when you see them by land.

Cape Wrath lighthouse isn’t the tallest tower by any means, as it doesn’t need to be. The reason for this becomes very clear when you see the phenomenal cliffs on which it is located. One thing’s for sure, if there is one way to make a lighthouse look tiny it’s to stick it on top of cliffs like those at Cape Wrath.

Cruising around the coast at Cape Wrath also gave us the chance to see the old Northern Lighthouse Board landing. The tide was low while we were there and the water wasn’t even reaching the slipway. Our skipper, Derek, informed us that sometimes when the tide is in the water rushes right up the slipway. No wonder, as the Cape Wrath minibus driver was saying last weekend, the NLB decided that it was perhaps not the best location for a landing.

Below are pictures illustrating this, which I thought may be of interest to readers of my blog. A rare opportunity to see a unique place from a breathtaking angle. 🙂

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The foghorn and lighthouse from the west

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View from the north west

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Just one of the arches in the area

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Looking back from the north east

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The old Northern Lighthouse Board landing

 

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Visiting local lighthouses with friends

Sunday was the final day of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers trip on the north coast. Having organised the trip, I thought it would be the wind-down day where we just casually went to a couple of lighthouses we would not be able to get inside, but that didn’t really end up being the case.

The day began with a visit to Strathy Point, my “most local” lighthouse. We arrived and I think the group felt it would just be a short visit so I was thinking through ways we could fill the time before lunch. There was really no need though as we used the whole hour and a half. We were met by a friend who lives in one of the cottages there, which was great as she was able to give an idea of what it is like to live there and how it was when the light was still on – it was discontinued in 2012. I think she gathered that many of us are quite envious of her home! I always enjoy a visit to Strathy Point. Some of the group were quite uninspired by the lighthouse as it’s not a Stevenson design and it is square rather than the traditional round tower. I think this makes it different from the rest and I like to embrace those differences. Also, those who regularly read my blog will know I am fairly easily pleased when it comes to lighthouses. Strathy Point isn’t just about the lighthouse though. It’s a beautiful place with so many different areas to explore. It was a lovely visit and the sunshine helped too!

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Strathy Point lighthouse

The afternoon was dedicated to Scrabster. We had originally planned to spend some time around Holborn Head lighthouse, but we were running behind schedule so skipped straight to an organised tour of Thurso Lifeboat station as well as the Lifeboat itself. Bob and the kids joined us for the tour. Most people don’t think about the Lifeboats and their crews routinely, it’s only really those who have experienced, or may experience, the service they provide that realise what they do. It is all so organised and you can only imagine the conditions they go out in to save lives. The ropes attached to their waterproofs for them to clip onto various points on the boat so they don’t go overboard and get swept away hints at just how scary it can be at times. It’s certainly something I don’t think I could ever do and they have my full and total respect. Everyone seemed to enjoy the visit, but I suspect the person who enjoyed it most of all was our little boy who was in his element in the driving seat for a considerable amount of time.

After leaving the Lifeboat station, we spent an hour wandering around outside the walls at Holborn Head lighthouse. It’s such a beautiful tower. Really unique in its design. The tower and attached cottage is so well looked after, pristine really. It looks great from the road, but arguably the best views are from behind the lighthouse as you head uphill towards Holborn Head itself. Blue sky always helps of course. There were a few members of the group who had already been to Holborn Head and had either only seen it in bad weather or had not been up the public footpath behind it. I don’t think anyone begrudged a revisit to this wonderful place.

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Holborn Head lighthouse

We finished off the weekend with a final dinner together as a group. Even then I was still getting to know some of them better and I know I’ve made some great new lighthouse friends as a result of this event. A very enjoyable few days with some brilliant people who love lighthouses! 🙂

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Cape Wrath – 7 years on

Many of those who regularly read this post now won’t be aware of my first visit to Cape Wrath lighthouse, which became possibly the most life-changing day I have ever experienced – although I never realised it at the time. Well, today was the first time I had returned to “the Cape”, as the locals affectionately call it, since that day. Although this time was the same in terms of weather, that’s really where the similarities end. For a start, last time I was travelling alone while this time I was with 15 fellow Association of Lighthouse Keepers members, also known as my lighthouse friends.

I’d pre-planned everything for this trip with the man who runs the ferry across the Kyle of Durness, the guy who runs the minibuses up to Cape Wrath and the Northern Lighthouse Board with their member of staff who was coming to meet us and show us around. Last time, I just turned up on the day in the hope that I would get across.

The crossing today was just as calm and quick as I recalled it being back in 2012 (the sun was shining then too), but I was quite happily chatting away to the driver and one of my friends in the front of the van all of the way there. Last time I sat in a single seat at the back of the bus and I don’t recall speaking much to anyone else during the journey. The road is still bumpy, but not as bad as I had expected. The guys who run the minibuses have been patching up the potholes left over from the winter and have done a great job. I was nicely surprised at how comfortable it was, although I’m not sure those further back would agree with that. The gorse is looking beautiful at the moment and it was fantastic to see the road winding off into the hills ahead of us. There are some interesting little points of “interest” along the way. I won’t mention any of them in detail here as I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun for anyone reading this who has never been but plans to go.

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One of many great views on the road to Cape Wrath

There is evidence of military occupation at a number of points along the way, but the place that really interested us was the old stone bridge that was built by the Stevensons in order for the lighthouse to be accessible, and even built in the first place! The minibus driver told us that the plan was originally for the landing point to be built closer to the lighthouse, but they discovered that it’s a very difficult area to land at in the winter. They chose another spot a bit further around, but again that wasn’t ideal. It was only then that they opted for the current location of the jetty, opposite Keoldale. This clearly worked well and still does. We stopped just after the bridge and got out to take some pictures. It’s incredible to think that the other bridges along that road are either relatively new or have had to be replaced, but the Stevenson bridge is still going strong. There are great views from the bridge too.

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The Stevenson bridge

After around an hour we reached the lighthouse and headed straight to it to kick off the tours. We weren’t allowed to go right to the top of the tower today as it is still a construction site, but it was possible to see the light arrangement from the next level down. The light features a set of bullseyes on one side of a black frame. I am sure it has a technical name, but I’m not sure what that is. As with my previous two posts, it’s always easier to show these things in a picture rather than go to great lengths to describe them.

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The light apparatus at Cape Wrath

The control room is quite full in comparison to some of those we have seen recently. It has varnished wood-lined walls, which I am not used to seeing. The door to the balcony was open so I took a little wander around out there. The views from up there were fantastic today, particularly looking back along the coastline to the east with the headlands of varying heights, shapes and lengths jutting out one behind another. You know you are somewhere very special with a view like that.

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Cape Wrath lighthouse

Back down at the bottom of the tower it was lunchtime and the Ozone Cafe had a really impressive selection available. I ended up with quite a big lunch, which I struggled to finish in time for getting the bus back as I was talking too much and sorting out minibus arrangements. Again, very different from my first visit when I ate very little and didn’t really talk to anyone for any length of time.

The return journey this time was very similar to the outward journey except I talked to the driver even more. My return journey seven years ago, however, was where it all got a bit more interesting. I won’t go into great detail here (you can see the original explanation here), but a significantly abridged version is as follows: we stopped about two thirds of the way back to the ferry to let a man (we’ll call him Bob because that is his name) on and when we got to the ferry he chatted to a couple standing next to me. Once we were off of the ferry we spoke for a short time. I didn’t know much about him at all, but later managed to track him down online and sent an email. That was the start and now, seven years down the line, we are married with two children. As I said, it was a life-changing day. Today I actually met the man who drove the minibus 7 years ago and got the chance to tell him the story, which he was really pleased to hear.

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The view towards Kearvaig beach from the road

I could have spent far longer at the Cape today, but I am very confident that another return journey will take place in the coming years when Bob and I return to where it all began with a couple of little ones in tow. I just need to make sure it’s not another 7 years before I go back again.

Oh, I should also say that on the way to Durness today we drove around Loch Eriboll and stopped for a while to admire (well, in my case anyway) the flat-pack Loch Eriboll lighthouse. I appealed to my lighthouse friends to see the beauty of these towers and their wonderful locations, but I feel I certainly failed this time. Although they took pictures and looked a bit interested I don’t think they will be signing up to the flat-pack appreciation club anytime soon.

All in all, a really enjoyable day returning to a place that features in many happy memories, including some fun ones from this trip 🙂

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A very special day on the north coast

Wow! It’s been another fantastic day on the north coast. After the excitement of yesterday’s visit to Noss Head as part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers event, it was going to be a tough day to follow, but it’s done far more than that.

I have gazed at the light from Dunnet Head from the back of my house for years now and visited it numerous times. It’s one of my favourites, but until last year I never thought I would have the privilege of being able to get inside. Today was the day though. We had arranged access with the Northern Lighthouse Board and were met by their Retained Lighthouse Keeper again. He’d opened up the bothy too and the owner of some of the cottages had also opened the art gallery he has created in the old engine room. The weather, once again, was fantastic with blue skies and very little wind in comparison to the Dunnet Head I am used to. It was incredible really.

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Dunnet Head lighthouse

It’s not the tallest of towers so wasn’t too tough getting to the ladders. Once up the first ladder I was able to step out onto the balcony and see the wonderful views. Orkney, particularly Hoy, was so clear and the sunshine was casting a wonderful shadow of the tower on the ground below. The light setup they’ve got in there is nowhere near as inspiring as the old lens from Noss Head, which we saw yesterday, and not even really as likeable as the new “pudding” (as one of my lighthouse friends calls them) LEDs like those I had seen in Noss Head and Ardnamurchan recently. It’s difficult to explain so I will just include a picture below. The black panels rotate to give the sweeping beam effect. That is one of the benefits of this sort of arrangements, that the sweeping beam is still there whereas it wouldn’t be at Noss. I enjoy seeing the light coming and going from the back of the house.

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The lighting system in Dunnet Head

It was such a great experience to get inside Dunnet Head and I will always see its light flashing in a different way now.

We spent a while at John O’Groats for lunch before heading onwards to Duncansby Head.  We’d already seen how amazingly clear the view was across to the Pentland Skerries towers today while we were at John O’Groats, but it was even better from Duncansby. The best thing about visiting Duncansby Head lighthouse today though was being there with former Northern Lighthouse Board keeper Ian Duff who had served there and has some incredibly fond memories of the place. One of the other group members referred to me as being “star-struck” while we were there as I was following Ian around taking lots of pictures of him – sort of like I had on the Skerryvore trip last year. It was brilliant though as it’s like he suddenly became so excited and was reeling off so many stories.

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Duncansby Head lighthouse

I was very keen to get up the tower to the lantern to see the new light apparatus. It’s brilliant what they have done there. They have kept hold of the lens, but replaced the light in the middle with an LED, so you still get the sweeping beam and the look of the lovely lens, but the LED makes it more cost-efficient. There were also great views outside the lantern from the balcony, from all angles in fact. In one direction there was the Pentland Skerries, then the Duncansby stacks and then fantastic views to the west along the coast. After I’d made it back down the three steep ladders I followed Ian around a bit more, listening to all of his stories about what they got up to during their time there. It sounds like great fun, but I can imagine there were some challenges too. He certainly seems to recall the good times much more than the bad times so he must have enjoyed it there. It was a really lovely moment to experience, especially as Ian hadn’t been inside the building and tower there since he left.

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The new light apparatus in Duncansby Head

We had planned at some point to head out to Dunnet Head to see the lights as the sun went down. Tonight was chosen as the best option so ten of us set off. Dunnet Head was the only one on when we arrived, but a short time later we spotted Tor Ness on Hoy, Orkney flashing away. The next one we saw was Noss Head and Duncansby Head a short time later. Pentland Skerries and Stroma were next, followed by the beacon on Swona. We’d waited a while to see Cantick Head come on, and we were wondering whether to call the Northern Lighthouse Board headquarters to let them know it wasn’t working when the flash began to appear around the same time as the flat-pack lighthouse at Hoxa Head. So that was nine lights in total that we were able to see from standing above Dunnet Head lighthouse. I’d been meaning to head out to Dunnet Head to see it flashing at close range at some point, but never made it out there. It was great to do that this evening and there was plenty of laughter and smiles which always adds to the memories of these visits.

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Dunnet Head lighthouse by night

It’s been a fantastic day and I have returned home keen to write this post while I am still excited about it all. A real treat of a day. That’s not the end though. Two more days to come 🙂

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Sunshine at Noss Head!

Today was the first of four lighthouse-filled days on the north coast of Scotland alongside friends from the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) and it’s been a fabulous day. As the relatively new Events Coordinator (along with two others) for the ALK this was the first trip that I’ve done the majority of the organisation for so there is that added element to this one that I’ve not really experienced before. If the first day is anything to go by though then we should have no problems for the rest of the trip.

We began the morning by heading to Noss Head. I’ve been to Noss Head a few times and unfortunately it has always been very overcast or raining and always with fairly strong wind. The presence of the sun and absence of strong wind when we arrived was fantastic. I had been in contact with the owners of the cottages and they had very kindly offered to open up one of the cottages for the group to have tea and coffee inside, which was a really nice touch. The priority though was getting inside the tower, which we had managed to arrange with the Northern Lighthouse Board and their Retained Lighthouse Keeper who was ready and waiting for us when we got there.

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Noss Head lighthouse

There’s not a huge amount to see inside the tower itself. It’s not particularly tall so most of it is staircase until you are at the “control room” (or whatever its technical name is). From here we were able to get out onto the balcony, which was fantastic. You’re not a lot higher up from there, but it certainly gives you a better idea of how the coastline in the area looks – and as long as you were around the side where you were sheltered from the slight breeze it felt like the height of summer up there. It certainly was a peaceful place to be today. Having a chat to one of my lighthouse friends and waving to the others below was nice. It’s not something I’ve experienced very often, for two reasons: firstly, because I’m not often able to get inside the towers, and secondly, there often aren’t so many others around to enjoy the experience with. Back inside the final ladder takes you up to the lantern room. This lantern room has seen more than its fair share of comings and goings of light apparatus. It started with a proper lens (more on that later) and has, in the past year, just been changed again. The set up in there now is a very similar to the arrangement that has just been installed at Ardnamurchan with the two lights. Although I had seen it in Ardnamurchan and not been that impressed, I appreciated it a little more this time – and I think we were all surprised by how interesting we found it to be.

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The new light arrangement inside Noss Head

After we had all been up the lighthouse there was still time to hang around and chat. The owners of the cottages had brought out some of the old pictures they had of some of the lighthouse families, obviously taken when the station was manned. They also have an array of lighthouse-related books on the shelves there. It was a really great morning. The weather helped, but the company was very good too.

We had lunch in Wick, pre-arranged with the staff at Mackay’s. I wouldn’t normally mention meals, but they had printed a sign for us at the entrance of the room we were in saying “Welcome to the Lighthouse Keepers Lunch”, which I thought was very sweet.

After lunch we took a stroll around Wick harbour and, in particular, up to the lighthouse at the end of the south pier. Everyone was getting in each others pictures, but we were all jokingly telling each other to move or not to move, which was amusing. We still had the blue sky on our side and the white lighthouse certainly looks much nicer in the sunshine, as most things do. We also saw the other light in the harbour. They are doing a lot of regeneration work at the harbour in the near future and I do worry that this “lantern with legs”, as I came to call it, will become a casualty of this work. Hopefully it won’t, we will just need to wait and see.

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The lighthouse on Wick south pier

Continuing to walk back around the harbour we arrived at Wick Heritage Centre, which houses the old lens from Noss Head lighthouse. Ian, who showed us around the Museum initially, was very aware of why we were all there so gave a brief introduction before taking us along to see the lens. It’s a beautiful piece of art – as well as performing a very important function back in the day of course. They have installed a bulb inside the lens so you can get the effect of the flashing as Ian spun it around for us. I had seen the lens here before on a previous visit (I recall being very pregnant at the time so probably had other things on my mind), but didn’t appreciate it as much then as I did today. Perhaps that comes from having seen more lenses since. I can’t really do it justice by describing it so I will just add a picture below.

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Inside the old Noss Head lens

Interestingly, the Museum have managed to secure the light apparatus that has just recently been removed from Noss Head, so they will now have two generations of light history from Noss Head at the museum. Although the latest addition to the museum will not be anywhere near as impressive as the old lens, it’s still great that they are making something of it and almost creating a timeline of the changes of light at the lighthouse. A really great idea and I’m so glad that they are doing it. The group seemed to really enjoy the rest of the museum too, which was great.

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The recently removed apparatus from Noss Head lighthouse, ready to be re-built

All in all, it’s been a really good day. Very enjoyable time spent with some lovely new friends. More fun to come tomorrow 🙂

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West Coast Adventure: day five

The final day of our West Coast Adventure with North Coast Seatours arrived on Monday. If we hadn’t have had such a fun-packed day lined up then it may have felt a little sad. There was no time to be sad though as some north west lighthouses awaited.

While the majority of our trip had taken us further and further north, our first lighthouse stop after setting off from Gairloch was the island of Eilean Trodday off of the northern tip of Skye. This was perhaps a bit of a detour, but an important one as it was on the “to do” list for a number of members of the group. Again we were greeted with sunshine and calm seas –  we really were so lucky with the weather. Briefly pausing to look at a sea stack off of the coast of Eilean Trodday we then made our way around the coast looking for a section that would not involve a climb up sheer cliffs. I’d not expected the cliffs to be so high on the island. Luckily there was a more accessible landing area and we all made it safely onto the island. Once again we were faced with the joys of vegetation and not knowing where to put your feet. Being so slow with my short legs, I was in a fortunate position to take pictures of the two group members who fell over, which amused me no end. Reaching the lighthouse was tough going at times, but we got there even though I complained a couple of times, asking “why does everyone else seem to find it so easy?”, referring to the difficult terrain. The Northern Lighthouse Board have certainly stocked up at Eilean Trodday. There are solar panels galore (14 to be precise) and even separate white cabinets outside the tower as there is no room for them inside. Maybe it’s an island they don’t want to have to visit too often! The views from the lighthouse, which I should say is a standard size flat-pack, are fantastic. It was a clear day and we could see the Western Isles and Shiant Islands to the north west. A lovely spot and the return journey wasn’t quite so bad with Bob leading me around the most difficult bits.

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Eilean Trodday lighthouse

Onwards we went, this time to the north east, passing Rubha Reidh lighthouse. I’d not been to Rubha Reidh since my original tour and I know that there are now some access issues, which makes it a bit more challenging. It’s always fascinating to see these lights from the sea. Straightforward access to almost all of the mainland lighthouses means that, unless you are on a ferry heading somewhere and happen to pass the lighthouse, you don’t really get to see them from that perspective. Rubha Reidh is a fairly low-lying lighthouse with no high cliffs. It looks beautiful though, even if the scenery lacks the drama of some west coast locations.

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Rubha Reidh lighthouse

You may have noticed that I mentioned in the last paragraph that almost all of the lighthouses on mainland UK are straightforward to reach. Well, this can certainly not be said for the next two lights on the trip. I’d been desperate to get to the very remote village of Scoraig for some time. This was, of course, mainly due to its lighthouses, but also because there is something very intriguing about a village that has no mains electricity and no connections to the rest of the country’s road network. The only ways of getting to Scoraig (unless you have a boat in the area like we did) is by walking along a 5-mile path or by trying to organise hopping on a local boat across Little Loch Broom from Badluachrach. There is a great quote from a local man Hugh Piggott on the We The Uncivilised website: ‘Scoraig is not an “intentional community” but a collection of individuals who feel connected by our common location with its peculiarities.’ When you visit the village it is clear that it is not a standard community. The houses aren’t all huddled together in one area, they stretch across quite a large area. There are bikes near the entrance to a lot of the properties and you can see the appeal of getting about on wheels rather than on foot.

From the jetty we set off towards the school to see the old lighthouse that formerly sat at the end of the Scoraig peninsula at Cailleach Head. In the same way that the community in Glenelg rescued the old Sandaig Island lighthouse, the community here campaigned to keep their lighthouse – and it still has its lens too! It’s amazing what they have done with it. It now features in bold black letters ‘The Lighthouse’ above the door and it houses a range of information about what life is like for those who live in Scoraig. The lighthouse is always open for visitors. It’s a very calm location for it and close to the tower is a low, C-shaped stone wall featuring lighthouse drawings from local children and a series of carved messages and quotes. One example read: “On and on the lights will flash and those lost ships will crash on the craggy rocks of Scoraig”. Such a lovely thing to do and with that sort of personal touch it says so much more about the community than most other redundant lighthouses ever could. A really interesting place, and somewhere I would certainly not mind visiting again in the future.

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The old Cailleach Head lighthouse, now in Scoraig village

Time was not on our side with Scoraig as we still had one more lighthouse to see: the flat-pack light that had replaced the tower in the village. This wasn’t going to be the easiest to visit, but I was hopeful that it would be worth it. Initially I thought we would need to head all the way back down through the village and then up again onto the headland. Fortunately, Bob had thought it through and decided that the best approach to take would be to continue gaining more height by heading north east and then cutting across once we were at the highest point on the path or before we started going too far to the east. This worked well and, due to the lack of rain in the area in recent weeks, the ground was very dry, meaning there was little in the way of tough vegetation. The views as we gained height really opened up and were pretty spectacular, especially towards the south east with the hill straight ahead, Loch Broom to the left and Little Loch Broom to the right. Blue skies always help with that sort of view too. It wasn’t a quick walk by any stretch of the imagination and in order to save time we had arranged for the skipper, Derek, to pick us up from the rocks to the east of the lighthouse two hours after we arrived at the jetty. Bob, John and I made fairly good time on our walk to the end of the headland, meeting up with a couple of the other group members on the way to the lighthouse. The headland felt like it went on forever until eventually the lighthouse appeared. I was delighted when the other four formed an arch made up of three walking poles and one rucksack for me to walk through. The reason for this was that Cailleach Head marked my final lighthouse in the Northern Scotland region. It was a fantastic place to celebrate. A really lovely, isolated place alongside friends, what could be better? With only 20 minutes to spare before the boat was due to pick us up we followed a clearer path down to the rocks. There was a little more swell by this point, but we all made it into the tender and then back to the boat safely.

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The modern lighthouse at Cailleach Head

Basking in the wonderful feeling that comes with visiting a unique place we had one more point of interest before we arrived at Kylesku, our final destination. Passing Stoer Head was wonderful. While Rubha Reidh from the sea lacks drama, Stoer Head certainly doesn’t. Having visited it by land and remembering the uphill section that takes you the last little distance to the lighthouse, I’d never considered what the shape of the coastline would be there. It is only when you see it from the north that you realise the lighthouse sits on a raised section of rock that is surrounded by relatively lower land. It’s a stunning angle on the lighthouse and I’m so glad I’ve been able to see it from the sea in order to appreciate it fully. Once beyond the lighthouse the land rises up again as you head further north where The Old Man of Stoer is on display. The Old Man is impressive, there is no denying that. While some members of the group were talking about climbing it sometime – and one already has – I was more than happy to just enjoy the view, safe in the knowledge that I will never even attempt to do such a thing.

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Stoer Head lighthouse

As we arrived in Kylesku I expected to feel sad, but instead I was elated. We’d had the most wonderful week. With the exception of the Cairns of Coll everything had gone perfectly. The group had really bonded, everyone felt that they had achieved something and I felt so lucky to have been on the trip. We made a lot of memories over those five days (as well as Rathlin for four of us) and I was certain that everyone would leave Kylesku the following day feeling like they’d made new friends and been part of a unique experience. I mentioned above that we all felt that we had achieved something. Well, the boat was full of “baggers” or, as the skipper so eloquently put it, “collectors of all things”. Here are some statistics that give an idea of what we achieved. We travelled 349.7Nm taking in 37 lighthouses (for me this was 18 new and 19 revisits), 36 Mervlets (islands on a list devised by our good friend Mervyn), 18 Significant Islands of Britain (SIBs), 16 TuMPs (hills with 30 metres of prominence), 1HuMP (hills with 100 metres of prominence), 3 Ordnance Survey trig points, 1 Ordnance Survey bolt, 55 bird species and 4 marine mammal species. All in all very impressive.

Not wanting the trip to be over, the following we day we stopped off at Rhue for a wander down to Rubha Cadail lighthouse. Yet again it’s a tower in an awe-inspiring location and for one final time the sun was shining down on us. It was a perfect day for reflections and I was glad to see a couple of little pools of water close to the lighthouse to get some nice pictures of these reflections. A really great end to a trip that will never be forgotten.

Rubha Cadail

Rubha Cadail lighthouse

These adventures sure do make you glad to be a lighthouse bagger 🙂

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West Coast Adventure: day four

Our West Coast Adventure continued on Sunday, starting out from Glenelg. Having only been to Glenelg twice, with both times being in the last couple of months, I’ve only just discovered what a beautiful place it is. Near enough all sections of the West Coast are impressive, but that area has a different kind of beauty about it. There are trees, for a start, which I’m not used to! The sea was flat calm with perfect reflections – always a good sign when you’ve got some lighthouses coming up.

Our first lighthouse viewing of the day was the old Sandaig tower, which is near the ferry crossing to Kylerhea. Having seen the modern tower that replaced it the day before, it gives a better idea of how it must have looked in its former location. What a wonderful scene that would have been. Then again, it was wonderful to see the modern light there too, and on our last visit to Glenelg, to get inside the old tower, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if the light had not been replaced.

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The former Sandaig Island lighthouse, now at Glenelg ferry

Of course, the Kylerhea light was only a little further north on the opposite side of the Kyle. As mentioned above, conditions were perfect for reflections and Kylerhea was a great place to witness this. As one of the other group members said “We get two lighthouses for the price of one”. Surrounded by trees and green brown foliage the bright white lighthouse stands out perfectly. It’s not a big tower, but it’s definitely well-located both for navigation purposes and aesthetic value.

Kylerhea

Kylerhea lighthouse

On the approach to Kyle of Lochalsh we sailed close to Eilean Dubha East with its flat-pack lighthouse. I’d seen this one before, but only from Kyle of Lochalsh or Kyleakin. From a distance these structures are really just a white rectangle, so it is always well worth seeing them closer in my opinion – not only to appreciate the lighthouse, but also the islands that they sit on.  This one had a couple of wind-swept trees next to the lighthouse, which actually made it a more interesting view (I realise that sounds strange, but it’s true). On the neighbouring island was another, more unique structure bearing a light, apparently called Eight Metre Rock lighthouse. It’s a little too small to interest me much, but it looked a bit like a little robot with two solar panel eyes.

Eilean Dubha

The lighthouse on Eilean Dubha East

Of course Kyleakin was next up, after a brief stop to pick up some lunch at Kyle of Lochalsh. I’m not sure why, but I always struggle to get a good picture of this one. It’s quite nice to get pictures of it with the bridge, but it never seems to impress as much as others do. Perhaps it is the presence of the bridge, dwarfing it, that takes away the lovely views. I’m not sure. It’s still a great place though and I recall fondly when we stayed in the cottage there a few years ago and had a tour of the lighthouse. There’s a lot of history associated with the lighthouse and the island, Eilean Ban. Gavin Maxwell appears to be the one to thank for the appeal of it and it was nice to see another area he became known for when we were on one of the Sandaig Islands the day before. I can see why he was so attached to this area.

Kyleakin

Kyleakin lighthouse on Eilean Ban with the bridge to Skye

Up until this point, our lighthouse adventure for the day had been limited to just sailing past them. However, that changed in the afternoon. Our next lighthouse was the Crowlin Islands flat-pack. The Crowlin Islands are made up of three islands and the lighthouse is located on the smallest of the three. As we were there with a few island-baggers, in the interests of time we separated into a few different groups. My group was, of course, the lighthouse-baggers. Well, it wasn’t so much a group as it was just John and I. While landing on the island was fine, the walk across to the lighthouse was tougher than the others we’d done. In most places you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet and every step you just hoped for the best and that you wouldn’t fall into a massive hole. Thankfully there hasn’t been any significant amount of rain recently so the island was very dry, which helped. On the other hand, it was a warm day which contributed a little to the effort of getting there. We reached the lighthouse eventually though and enjoyed the blue sky views. On the previous day, at Ornsay if I recall correctly, it had been rather jokingly suggested that we should try to work out how many people it takes to hug a lighthouse. Well, I suggested that we should attempt to find out how many people it takes to hug a flat-pack lighthouse and Crowlin lighthouse seemed like the perfect one to try it out on. It turns out that a standard sized flat-pack takes 3 Sarah’s and 2.25 John’s to fully embrace it – so 6 people is the answer. Just a fun little exercise.

Crowlin

Crowlin Islands lighthouse

We returned back to the landing point just as the boat was heading across from the last island. I think John was quite proud that he’d successfully managed to guide us to and from the lighthouse – even if it did mean having to stop every now and then to allow me to catch up. Well done John!

We had one final lighthouse stop for the day (there were non-lighthouse islands in between) and that was Rona – or South Rona as we call it in order to differentiate from North Rona, which also has a lighthouse. The skipper, Derek from North Coast Seatours, had phoned ahead to check with the military (who operate on the island) that it was ok for us to land there and walk up to the lighthouse. Due to technology problems he’d not been able to get a clear response, but we were all pleased to hear that the guys there were expecting us. We walked through a number of military buildings before the road became quite steep. It was quite a walk up to the lighthouse, but it’s always rewarding when you get there and are blessed with wonderful views of a great lighthouse and the surrounding scenery. By this point I knew that the rest of the group were hooked on lighthouses. There was really no denying it. One very obvious piece of evidence to support this was that I decided we should continue the “how many people does it take to hug a lighthouse” game, and all 9 people there got involved, which was lucky as it turned out that it takes exactly 9 people of varying sizes to hug Rona lighthouse! The views were brilliant and the lone tower next to the old cottages surprised me as it so often does when you see these towers from afar and they look like they are attached to other buildings. We all hung around for a while at the lighthouse and then on the helipad before, rather unwillingly, heading back to the boat.

Rona 2

Rona lighthouse

Getting back to the boat was important though as we had to reach our final destination for the night, which was Gairloch. On this occasion we weren’t able to visit the new Gairloch Heritage Museum, partly because it’s not yet open, but also because of our late arrival and early start. I look forward to going sometime after June though as it looks like the old Rubha Reidh lens is to be more of a centre-piece in the Museum. It was really nicely located before in the circular conservatory-type building, so it will be interesting to see what they have done with it.

That was the end of yet another amazing day. By that point I was already feeling a little sad that there was only one day left of the trip, but what a day it was to be – more on that soon! 🙂

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West Coast Adventure: day three

I have got a little behind with these posts due to having too much fun on the West Coast Adventure. On Saturday, day three of the adventure, we had another lighthouse and island-filled time. Setting off from Kilchoan it was only a short journey to our first stop, Ardmore Point on the north coast of Mull. The sun was already shining bright and the sea was fairly calm, which made landing on the rocks below the lighthouse straightforward. The lighthouse sits a little way up from the sea so we needed to find an appropriate route up, which was a bit of a struggle for me – although Bob was leading the way so I really just needed to follow him. John joined us too and it was only after we’d spent a while clambering up onto the rough grass that we spotted the skipper hopping across the rocks and taking what looked like a much more direct route. I didn’t enjoy the walk to the lighthouse, but as usual the lighthouse managed to cheer me up. Although the tower itself is a standard flat-pack (with multitudes of solar panels), it differs from most others in that it is accompanied by an extra little building.

Ardmore Point

Ardmore Point lighthouse

Returning to the ‘mothership’ we set off again. We’d planned to head out to the Cairns of Coll, but a storm was forecast for the afternoon so we weren’t sure if it would be worthwhile. As it turned out the storm never reached us (or passed over the night before), so we decided to attempt it. Waving to Ardnamurchan on the way, we began the journey out to the north end of Coll. On our trip last year, we had been to the Cairns of Coll, but had not been able to land on the lighthouse island, Suil Ghorm, from the RIB we had been on due to the shallowness of the water. As we arrived at the island group it became fairly clear that we would be unsuccessful again. A couple of members of the group attempted a landing on a neighbouring island, which didn’t go particularly well so the decision was taken to abandon any attempt to land. Skipper Derek from North Coast Seatours did sail as far around the lighthouse as he was able to though so we could get some good pictures. It was nice to see it again even if it wasn’t as closely as we’d hoped.

Cairns of Coll

Cairns of Coll lighthouse

The Small Isles were our next destination. I was looking forward to this as it included a stop at Eilean Chathastail, home to Eigg lighthouse. I’d been here with Bob and a group of island baggers back in 2015 and absolutely loved it. It’s the type of lighthouse I am very fond of and the opportunity to revisit was one I jumped at the chance of. It was also one that John had been wanting to visit too as he’d previously only seen it from the sea. With the storm nowhere to be seen and  the sea calm, there was no problem at all with landing on the north west of the island. This was a little different to last time when we landed on the east coast of the island, closer to the lighthouse. This did mean we’d need to walk a bit further and I was glad that Bob had offered the use of his GPS device as it kept us on track for getting to the lighthouse. As it is set down a little from the highest ground on the island it is difficult to see from the north of the island until you are almost at it. The walk wasn’t too bad and we were rewarded with some fantastic views when we got to the lighthouse. We could see across to the pencil-looking Ardnamurchan lighthouse, this time to the south west, standing tall. I was reminded again of how calm the place feels and I enjoyed the visit as much, if not more, than the first one.

Eigg.JPG

Eigg lighthouse

After lunch at the cafe on Eigg, we continued our journey north. We were soon approaching Skye and we sailed close to the flat-pack lighthouse at the Point of Sleat. It’s quite a walk to the lighthouse, but an interesting one as explained in my post from 2016. Certainly much easier to visit/see from the sea!

Point of Sleat2

Point of Sleat lighthouse

 

I’d been looking forward to our next stop and I felt a little bit like a child in the back of a car as we sailed up the east coast of Skye. I had to stop myself a few times from asking “Are we nearly there yet?” On my original tour I’d seen Ornsay lighthouse from the village of Isleornsay when the tide had been in. On the second visit, Bob and I had walked out to it at low tide, and a last visit a few weeks ago was again just a quick stop looking across the water to the island of Ornsay and it’s tiny neighbour Eilean Sionnach, the island with the lighthouse. I wrote a fair amount about the beauty of the lighthouse in a recent post so I won’t go into too much detail in that respect this time. However, I was intrigued to see whether the lighthouse would lose any of its beauty for other angles. With the mountains as the backdrop from the general viewing area, I was concerned that it was just that view that made it so stunning. I am happy to confirm that there was no need for concern. I’m not sure what it is about the lighthouse, but it is amazing whichever side you see it from. Of course, with conditions being so calm, we had to land on the island for another opportunity to see it close up. While the sky at Ornsay lighthouse always seems to have been blue when I have visited, it was bluer than ever this time with a few clouds for added effect. I could have happily stayed there for hours and if the cottages ever come up for sale, well… I think the picture below says it all really.

Ornsay2

Ornsay lighthouse

I’ve got a bit carried away and not yet mentioned the Ornsay Beacon Lighthouse, which we actually visit in the small tender before landing at the big lighthouse. Although, from a distance, it doesn’t look like there is much to this one, when you see it close up it’s far more substantial. It is a solid round stone tower topped with one level of the flat-pack arrangement. Of particular note though is that, everywhere else, the flat-pack has a square footprint, but this one has rounded edges. It’s a good structure and really nice to get a chance to see it at close range. This is why I enjoy getting closer to this type as it is difficult to appreciate them from a distance when they all look pretty much the same. You also don’t get a true feel for the location unless you are on the island they sit on or very close to it. This one was great to see.

Ornsay Beacon

Ornsay Beacon lighthouse

Once the island baggers had bashed their way to the high points of a number of islands as we moved further north, we arrived at the Sandaig Islands. The Sandaig lighthouse is on Eilean Mor which, unlike most of the other islands within the group, is not accessible from the mainland at low tide. As the group were all looking to achieve different things on these islands, only a few of us were dropped off on Eilean Mor. With Bob joining us a little later, John took on the role of lead navigator, establishing whether attempting to walk along the rocks or across the island was the better route. Opting for the more foliage-filled option it wasn’t too long before John spotted a series of wooden posts sticking out of the ground that seemed to lead in the direction of the lighthouse. The path that these posts followed was quite good in places and a little rougher in others, but we were definitely glad to have found it. As we approached the lighthouse John joked that Bob was likely to just turn up around the corner at any moment and then, as if by magic, he appeared strolling across the rocks. I’ve taken to referring to Bob fondly as ‘Goat Legs’ on these trips due to his ability to make any walk across any terrain like like a stroll in the park. This is another brilliant island and so it was a pleasure to visit the flat-pack structure. I must admit though that it would have been nice to have seen the old lighthouse (now located at Glenelg pier – see my earlier post for more information on that one) in place, but still a great place to visit. Once we’d finished at the lighthouse we followed the posts across the island and to a little sheltered rocky bay. The three of us sat, chatting in the sunshine surrounded by beautiful views, while we waited to be collected.

Sandaig

Sandaig Island lighthouse

That was the end of our lighthouse adventures for the day. Glenelg was where we based ourselves that night. What a wonderful day we all had. While a large percentage of the UK was experiencing the wrath of Storm Hannah, we had avoided it entirely. What a lucky bunch we were 🙂

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West Coast Adventure: day two

If I had started this series of posts with more imaginative titles I would have probably called this one “a day of little lights” or something similar. I think that describes it quite well really.

We started the day slightly earlier than the rest of the group and took the tender out from Craighouse on Jura across to land on Eilean Nan Gabhar, which is home to one of the “flat-pack” lighthouses – the one we had seen flashing while we ate dinner the night before. While the crossing was a little rocky, landing was absolutely fine and it was really just a hop across the rocks (I never enjoy that sort of thing very much though, but will do it if there’s a lighthouse at the end) to reach the lighthouse. This one is a fairly standard flat-pack so there’s not a great deal to say about it. It is always nice to see these ones close up though and, I believe, this is the first one I visited with my friend John who also has a rather rare appreciation of these structures.

Eilean Nan Gabhar lighthouse in the Sound of Jura

Once we’re returned to the “mothership” as our North Coast Seatours skipper Derek so nicely refers to it, we joined the rest of the group and set off northbound again. It wasn’t too long until we reached the great lighthouse that is Skervuile. While we did see this one earlier in the year, the tide was out then and this time it was higher so we got to see Skervuile in its full rock lighthouse glory with the waves lapping at its base. It’s a very interesting tower and considerably smaller than any others sitting on rocks often submerged by the sea. This was our closest view that day of one of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s larger lights and those on the boat couldn’t fail to be impressed.

Skervuile lighthouse

Continuing north we landed briefly on Ruadh Sgeir for a visit to the lighthouse. This was another one we had seen in January, but not landed on then. I am very fond of this type and it’s always nice to have a chance to see one close up. They strike a nice balance between the modern and the traditional. Although they don’t have the majesty of the old stone towers they have more substance to them than the flat-packs.

Ruadh Sgeir lighthouse

We sailed past Reisa an t-Sruith, another one we’d seen earlier in the year. In the interests of time we passed on landing at this one as lunch beckoned! The sea conditions in the area reminded me of the boat trip we did in January where the skipper informed us of the translation of the islands name, which was something along the lines of “the island in the rushing currents”. How very true that is.

A short distance on we sailed past both Fladda and Dubh Sgeir, almost at the same time, which always make it difficult to know which side of the boat to stand on. Do I look at the more beautiful one that I’ve landed at previously or the smaller, less impressive one that I’ve not seen close up before? I like to think I managed to get a bit of both in.

Fladda lighthouse

Not that it mattered too much as our lunch stop was on Luing from where Fladda lighthouse becomes the centrepiece of an incredible view. We were booked in for lunch at the Atlantic Centre, which I was particularly pleased about as it is now home to the old Fladda lens and I caught sight of it as soon as we walked in the door. It is very nicely displayed, surrounded by information about the lens itself as well as the lighthouse and details of what life was like for the keepers and their families on the island. That wasn’t it though as, very excitingly, the Centre has a really interesting lighthouse exhibition upstairs. There is information about the Stevenson’s and their lighthouses as well as some fantastic old pictures. The most interesting, in my opinion, due to its relevance to that particular day was a 1947 picture of the old Reisa an t-Sruith lighthouse. Also, a couple of historical pictures of the Garvellachs light with one from the 1950s showing a few people posing on the gallery. A really interesting exhibition.

The old Fladda lens on display in the Atlantic Centre on Luing

After lunch we were off again and sailed past the lighthouse on Sgeirean Dubha. This is an interesting one and a little different from your average flat-pack as you can see from the picture.

Sgeirean Dubha lighthouse

A little while later we passed Oban and obviously saw Dunollie and Lismore lighthouses. We also sailed close to Lady’s Rock, a rock completely submerged by water at high tide, where a husband allegedly abandoned his wife only to then see her wander into the pub later that day after she was rescued by a passing fisherman. An interesting story, that one. Lady’s Rock now features a lighthouse. It’s a different one as the base is solid concrete while the top section is like a layer of the flat-pack design (like Sgeirean Dubha or Na Cuiltean), but the flat-pack section is clad in red rather than white panels.

Lady’s Rock lighthouse

A sail past of Duart Point on Mull was next on the agenda. Although we’ve been to Mull we’d not quite made it there and it will be nice to visit from the land at some point.

Duart Point

Further up was Glas Eileanan. As a structure in itself it’s a fairly standard flat-pack. The only difference really with this one is that it has a little stone hut – probably not associated with the lighthouse at all – fairly close by on the same small island.

Glas Eileanan lighthouse

Ardtornish was our penultimate stop of the day. Bob, John and I managed to land here at the little steps, presumably used by the Northern Lighthouse Board to access the tower. Once off of the rocks it was a really easy walk along the grass to reach the lighthouse. Again, there’s not much to be said about it, and the visit there was possibly not quite as fun as it would have been if it hadn’t been raining.

Ardtornish lighthouse

The final scheduled viewing of the day was Eileanan Glasa (not to be mistaken for Glas Eileanan!). Another flat-pack (I did say it was a day for the little lights, didn’t I?!)

Eileanan Glasa lighthouse

Before heading for our final stopping place for the night, Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, we popped to Tobermory on Mull. There was a music festival taking place and we bought fish and chips to eat on the pier before spending an hour or so in a one of the pubs listening to some local music. On our way back across the water to Kilchoan that evening we could see the flashing lights of both Rubha nan Gall and Ardmore Point. More on Ardmore to come tomorrow.

A really good day and great to have seen so many of those lights that many would just shrug their shoulders at. I think John and I may be converting some of those on the trip towards liking these structures though 🙂

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West Coast Adventure: day one

As mentioned in my previous post, we had positioned ourselves in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland in preparation for a sail with North Coast Seatours up to Kylesku. Yesterday was the first day of the trip and what a day it was.

Heading out in considerably calmer conditions that we had expected, our first intended stop was to be possibly the highlight of the trip. Sanda, off of the Mull of Kintyre, has become a very difficult island to access for reasons I won’t go into. While it has never been easy to get to, it has become one of those places that those in both the lighthouse and island bagging communities alike dream of getting to. With the conditions as they were it was looking hopeful that our attempt would be a successful one.

On the approach to Sanda

I think we had all anticipated landing at the north of the island followed by a walk down to the lighthouse at the south end. As it turned out the conditions were perfect for landing right next to the lighthouse, which was fantastic as you immediately get the views before you even leave the boat. The jetty there was fine to land on and then the shortest of strolls took us to the base of the lowest tower. Sanda lighthouse is breathtaking. It really is unlike any other with the two brick towers containing the staircases that would take the keepers up to the third and final tower, one much more in-keeping with the standard Northern Lighthouse Board tower. When I saw the towers I was reminded of a friend of mine, a former keeper who served on Sanda, and how he said he never liked Sanda as you had to climb three towers to get to the top. I’d never thought of it like that and it makes sense, although I can certainly forgive Alan Stevenson for that as it is such an incredible structure.

The three towers of Sanda lighthouse

The natural landscape around the lighthouse is equally impressive with the elephant-shaped rock next to it, it’s trunk reaching out towards the lighthouse. The views of Sanda lighthouse are impressive from every conceivable angle. I particularly liked looking up from the base of the bottom tower where you could see all three towers looming large above you. The best view though is from the top of the hill on the opposite side of the little bay we landed at. This spot offers the ultimate view of both the lighthouse and the elephant rock. The best way to describe it really is to include a picture.

The best view of Sanda lighthouse

The old keepers building and store rooms are looking a little worse for wear now, but still make up an important part of the scene. We eventually dragged ourselves away and back into the boat.

Our journey is, in general, taking us north so we needed to sail around the Mull of Kintyre, which for a lighthouse bagger like me is never a problem. We caught sight of the more modern foghorn first, which I’d never realised was there. A short while later the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse came into view. The height of the cliffs there dwarfs the lighthouse, but it was fantastic to see from the sea. It’s not something I ever thought I would see. It takes some effort to get there by land, but is worth it.

Mull of Kintyre

Onwards we went. After some short visits to islands for others we arrived at our next stop: McArthur’s Head. In our Islay trip in January we’d landed at McArthur’s Head and walked up the amazing steps to the tower and fortunately the conditions allowed us to do exactly the same this time. It wasn’t as calm, but once we were in the tender approaching the little landing area we were fine to step off. Last time we had stunning views from above the lighthouse and again we were rewarded with a very picturesque landscape, albeit very different from the one we had last time. I imagine it is one of those places from which the views are constantly changing. It is a really enjoyable place to be and a good opportunity to show other non-lighthouse people how great it can be. After Sanda and McArthur’s Head I’m pretty certain that they are converted now.

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

Our destination was Jura, so of course we couldn’t possibly have arrived at Craighouse without passing by both Na Cuiltean and Eilean Nan Gabhar lighthouses (more on the latter tomorrow). As the sun was going down by this point it was nice to see these two in the yellowish light, which made a difference to last time.

Na Cuiltean lighthouse

We ended the day in the Jura Hotel having dinner while routinely gazing out of the window while waiting for Eilean Nan Gabhar’s light to come on – and come on it did and a short while later we also spotted the light of Skervuile flashing away in the distance.

A truly fantastic day and one I can guarantee I will never forget 🙂

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