A fond farewell to an old friend

At Spurn Point shortly before we nearly got stuck in the sand

For around eighteen months, from December 2010 until May 2012, the lighthouse tour became the main focus of my life. Planning for the tour itself presented very few challenges, but there was one obstacle that needed to be overcome before I could even leave home: learning to drive. I am still uncertain as to how I reached the age of 27 without a licence, but I did and in order to successfully implement the UK lighthouse tour plan it was essential that I learnt to drive and bought a car within this eighteen month period.

Not having a huge amount of money to spend on a vehicle and taking into consideration the cost of insurance (which was huge, by the way), I opted for an X-reg Suzuki Wagon R+. She appeared to provide exactly what I needed: a small car with seats that folded right down in the back allowing for a lot of storage space and, without wishing to sound too shallow here, a great colour too! So, Geko Waggers (her formal name based on her registration and the type of car – must also be said with a hint of a Westcountry accent) was introduced as the most expensive item I had ever taken ownership of.

I passed my driving test on 22 October 2011, one month after purchasing the car, giving me a little less than seven months to get used to her ways and ready for the road. I feel that it is important to add at this point that this was not a cheap car to maintain during those seven months. I could list all of the problems she had (wheel bearings, coil packs, replacement of the front suspension, among many other things), but it would only bore you.

So, after dragging her through her MOT just a month before the trip, we were finally ready to go.

To start with she was fine and when I say ‘to start with’ I mean for the first two days of the tour. On the second evening her emissions control light came on, which was obviously a little worrying considering I still had 28 days of driving ahead of me. Based on previous experience of the car (that I was really struggling to like at this point), it was likely to cost a fair amount to get the problem sorted, so I stopped off at an independent garage to get it checked out. Due to her age they couldn’t run the diagnostic test and suggested I take her to a Suzuki dealer, but they did point out that it was “probably nothing serious as the car was still running fine”. So, this is my reason for not then hunting down a Suzuki dealer until…well, I just didn’t bother and carried on driving until day 30, by which point she was still very much moving! However, it’s not pleasant worrying every morning that your car won’t start or that it’ll just stop in the middle of nowhere, but you’ve got to take these risks sometimes.

We had our issues along the way: I almost got her stuck in sand on Spurn Point, I reversed her into a pavement which caused her rear mud flap to come loose, she hit a wall whilst turning around near a cattle grid (I am wording that as if it wasn’t my fault, I realise this), and one of her rear tyres exploded on the motorway. Those 30 days were hard going for poor Little Car (as she came to be known during the trip – mainly as a result of me say ‘come on, Little Car, you can do it’ when trying to force her up steep hills or ‘sorry Little Car’ along really bumpy “roads”), but she made it through. She also soldiered on after both of the bird episodes.

Broken down on the M57

So, she may have returned home a little battered and bruised, but the most important point is that she did return home.

However, with the month-long section of the lighthouse tour over (the tour itself does, of course, continue) it was time for us to go our separate ways and she has gone on to a nice man at the garage (who himself has toured around the country a bit) who is going to fix her up and sell her on to someone who, I hope, will treat her better than I did (not particularly hard to do, I imagine, based on the aforementioned incidents).

I don’t want to get too sentimental about it as she was a complete drain on the old bank balance, but she did get me to some great places and I wouldn’t have met the brilliant people I encountered if she’d fallen at the first hurdle. I do, though, wish she would have saved me from the “unsafe men” at Peterhead and Wick, but that may have been asking too much!

So, thanks Little Car for getting me to where I wanted to be. May you have a happy and long(ish) future ahead of you! 🙂

Overlooking Horcum Dyke on the Yorkshire Moors

A very exciting (re)addition to the lighthouse tour

A true lighthouse-seeker (a self-penned term for want of a better one) can never truly let sleeping lighthouses lie (excuse the over-use of idioms here, but it’s for dramatic effect) and so, last weekend, I returned to what I do best. But first, I must start from the very beginning.

Now, once upon a time there was a young (yes, you heard, young, most definitely young) lighthouse-seeker whose ambition it was to travel the coastal routes of mainland UK in order to fulfil a need that she had: to see as many lighthouses as she possibly could in one month. And so she did! As well as the lighthouses, she also encountered some truly stunning (and sometimes quite hideous) scenery as well as a variety of colourful, friendly and/or strange individuals. Now there was one particular lighthouse that this young “seeker” was unsure of visiting due to the amount of time required to reach it (she did only have a month after all) and so she did what any sensible, young “seeker” would do and called upon those who knew her best (and had a WordPress account) to decided whether or not she should attempt to visit the lighthouse at the most north-westerly point of mainland UK, Cape Wrath (see the relevant blog post). The answer was a resounding ‘Do it!’ and so, on Sunday 27th May, off she popped to catch the boat and the minibus that would take her to the lighthouse (see here for more details of the trip).

One thing we must bear in mind at this point, before we get too involved with the story, is that this young lighthouse-seeker had told friends at the beginning of the year that she was to have nothing to do with men or relationships in 2012 [thanks for reminding me of this the other night, Laura!]. Perhaps you see where this is going?!

At this point I am going to stop referring to myself in the third person (that lighthouse-seeker was me? Surely not!). As I mentioned in my blog post that day, the minibus stopped on the way back from the lighthouse and I had absolutely no idea what was going on as I was sitting at the back. Fortunately we had a spare seat going as the man who had stopped the minibus wanted a lift back to the boat. So in he got and we set off again. Now, and I’m sure my female readers will agree, it is sometimes necessary for a single lady to quite innocently check out “the situation” purely for research purposes and so I did (from behind, of course, I was sat at the back after all) and decided that there was a potential need for further assessment. The perfect opportunity arose as we were waiting for the boat and he approached and began speaking to a couple I was standing next to (they were a little odd, but let’s not lose focus), so I semi-joined in the conversation. I’m not great at group conversations, they tend not to be of much benefit to anyone and I often don’t talk a lot during them for this very reason. However, what did develop from this collective exchange was some form of determination within me to, at some point before the end of the trip, speak to this man without the odd couple (or anyone else for that matter) involved. This wasn’t just because I thought he was cute (of course not) it was also because I was fascinated by his decision to spend a weekend at Cape Wrath (no one in London does anything that’s anywhere near as exciting and spontaneous as that) as a fellow lone traveller. This much-needed conversation happened shortly after we got off of the boat and lasted for approximately 10 minutes, during which time I was able to find out only two pieces of information about him that would be helpful for the sequence of events that followed: where he lived and that he was involved in mountain rescue (who really needs to know names?!).

It wasn’t long at all before it began to play on my mind that I didn’t know more about him and hadn’t taken the opportunity to inform him about this very blog so we could stay in touch. If I had been travelling the other way around the country I would have been heading in the same direction as he had when we separated that day, but the west coast beckoned.

More than 20 days later when I wrote this post I still hadn’t managed to stop thinking about the encounter. As we all know, when there’s something on your mind it needs to be addressed and so I knew I had to do something about it. Now, a lot of people complain about the Internet and the “evils” of it and I won’t deny that there are bad things that happen online, but if it hadn’t have been for good old Google (and him being a self-proclaimed “media tart” mainly as a result of climbing mountains – yes, that’s right, he got even more fascinating!) I wouldn’t be writing this post now! I told a few friends that I had done a bit of a Google search and found Bob which prompted a few “stalker” comments. Now, Wikipedia (the hub of all online knowledge, as we know) defines the word “stalker” as ‘a term commonly used to refer to unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group toward another person.’ Aside from me not being at all obsessive, one word I would particularly like to highlight here is “unwanted”. I’m not going to go into detail about what was said via email after I first made contact with Bob as that’s just for us, but it turned out that it wasn’t, in fact, unwanted attention and he had felt exactly the same way as I had after our encounter.

Bob at Ardrossan lighthouse

So this is how I found myself, just over two weeks after sending an email to someone I barely knew, spending a weekend with a truly amazing man. Obviously aware of my lighthouse-seeker status, he had lined up a brilliant weekend of lighthouses and coastal perfection on the Isle of Arran in Scotland with a day trip to the Holy Isle. The trip also involved roadside camping, which afforded some beautiful views (I would have liked to have done this on my month-long venture, but for a lone female traveller it’s always “safety first”). Our trip began at Ardrossan where I had stopped off during the tour to see the lighthouse near the ferry terminal. Very excitingly, though, this time I actually managed to climb the steps up to it (I don’t know how, but the possibility of doing so on my previous visit had escaped my attention – apparently it was ‘tucked away behind railings’). The lighthouse is, as I mentioned in my earlier post, a bit battered, but still standing, which is the most important thing. From there we took the ferry to Arran, a really beautiful island where we went on to visit the King’s Cave (Robert the Bruce allegedly spoke to a spider here) and some fascinating stone circles (I do enjoy a circle of stones and these are really impressive)! We also got some great views of Ailsa Craig (or “the big lump” as I so fondly refer to it), Pladda with its lighthouse, some stunning sea stacks (I like those as well) and had many “stop the car and take a few pictures” opportunities.

Holy Island outer lighthouse

Now the Holy Isle (and I focus specifically on this part of the trip as it boasts two lighthouses and this is a lighthouse-themed blog after all – if you want to know more about the rest of the trip just let me know and I will chat away to you for hours) is simply lovely with a hermit’s cave, huge rock crevices and some very intricate buddhist paintings as you follow the path along the west of the island. Getting to the first lighthouse involved a hint of trespassing on land owned by nuns. After walking across a fair amount of massive rocks we reached it and were very quickly approached by a couple of men who told us that we shouldn’t be there (we told them that we “didn’t see” the sign). I found these guys strange for a number of reasons, which I won’t go into, but the more talkative of the two said at one point, after finding out about my love of lighthouses, something along the lines of ‘I’m bored of this one now, I see it every day. The other one is more interesting though, isn’t it? It’s square’. For those of you who know me you will be aware of my opinion of this guy after he had made such an atrocious statement. I recognised that he didn’t deserve my time, but as he let us walk back from the lighthouse the sensible way I thought I’d better play nice. Apparently these guys are there for four years (yes, four whole years!!!) as caretakers in the nun’s buildings (there is so much about them and their lives that I just cannot comprehend). Now, once we’d said our goodbyes to them and a poor little goat that was hanging around with some people near the nun’s gate, we made our way to the second lighthouse (the square one). The views from the second lighthouse are magnificent and, being so square, the lighthouse is really impressive. This is one of my favourite lighthouse visits so far. I did get annoyed that some kayakers were scaring off the birds, but they soon disappeared and there was no one else around.

I was sad to be leaving Arran as it meant going home, but we had time to fit in a quick visit to the two lighthouses at Port Glasgow on the way back. It was quieter than my first visit there so we could approach the thinner lighthouse without getting mixed up with local businesses and other people. We also got my first “drive and snap” (although I wasn’t driving, of course) lighthouse experience, which involved a bit of guess-work as to which of the green buoys or pillars was actually the lighthouse we were looking for (fun times!). On an entirely different note, but I feel it’s important for you to know, if you find yourself in Largs at any time you must go to Nardini’s and try the Dime bar ice cream. It is basically heaven in foodstuff form!

Most importantly though, if you ever have the opportunity to go to Arran and the Holy Isle then you simply must do it. It is fantastic and, it turns out, a perfect location for a very memorable and extremely enjoyable “first date”, as it has come to be known. As for my meeting Bob, what can I say except that sometimes fate takes over (and I wasn’t a believer before). However, it doesn’t always do all of the work for you, and you should meet it halfway sometimes (even if it does mean you become labelled a stalker) because you never know, that “unwanted” attention might just become wanted for you too. 🙂