Appreciating those (lighthouses) closest to you

I was born and brought up on the Isle of Wight and lived there for the first 19 years of my life. However, it takes a weekend like the one just past to make you fully appreciate what you didn’t while it was on your doorstep.

The Isle of Wight is home to two very impressive lighthouses, neither of which I had gone to any effort to visit until about two years ago when I paid a short trip to St Catherine’s lighthouse on the southernmost point of the island with my Dad. The Needles lighthouse, at the end of a few rocks off of the most westerly point is a real landmark and makes Alum Bay a popular day out for tourists visiting the Isle of Wight.

Last weekend Bob and I had arranged a trip to the Isle of Wight so he could meet my parents and a few other family members. A very exciting thing happened while we were waiting for the ferry: Bob gave me a gift. This was not just any gift, however, it was the ‘Admiralty List of Lights and Fog Signals 2012/13’ covering the British Isles and North Coast of France. Now, you may think that most girls would be happy with some conventional gift (flowers, chocolates, a diamond, etc.), but I clearly do not fall into the “most girls” category as this was hugely exciting for me! It may not be the most readable book in existence (and it only contains one picture – on the cover of The Skerries lighthouse off of the north west point of Anglesey in Wales), but it is going to be a massive help for a project I am currently working on (with constant assistance from Bob). More details about that will follow in a separate blog post soon (intriguing, I know!).

The Needles lighthouse from the RIB

So, we arrived on the Isle of Wight and our first lighthouse venture took us to The Needles where we hitched a ride on the chair lift down to the beach. The beach and cliffs are impressive, particularly with all of the coloured sands and, of course, a good view of The Needles and the lighthouse. However, we knew we could get a better view. Now, we had 2 options: option 1 was a pleasant little boat that looked like it gently sailed out to The Needles and stopped there for a while before returning slowly to the beach; option 2, on the other hand, was a RIB (yes, a Rigid Inflatable Boat) that would obviously not be for the faint-hearted, hurtling its way out to the lighthouse, bouncing over the waves as it went. For those who know me (and are aware that swimming isn’t currently within my capabilities) option 1 seemed perfectly sufficient for taking lots of impressive pictures of the lighthouse close up. Bob, though, had other ideas and was keeping his options open. He decided to ask the man who appeared to be distributing the people onto the boats which ride would get us the best view of the lighthouse. Unfortunately, we were informed that the RIB would go all of the way around to the other side of the lighthouse (as Bob pointed out, the side where we would get the best pictures of the lighthouse as a result of the direction of the sun). So, the RIB it was. I’m not going to lie, I did squeal a couple of times and, at one point, shouted to Bob: ‘Take loads of pictures, I can’t let go’ whilst clutching the back of the seat in front of me. Aside from that though, it was a really enjoyable ride and seeing the lighthouse close up and getting some good photos (with the sun behind us) was great. I am pleased I did it. My only concern now is the future RIB rides that Bob has already mentioned a number of times. Eek!

St Catherine’s lighthouse on the south coast of the Isle of Wight

For the Saturday night I was, very happily, allocated the task of finding our accommodation and, as you might expect, I made sure it was within walking distance of a lighthouse – St Catherine’s, to be precise. We stayed at Verwood B&B in Niton, a great little place which had mugs with drawings of St Catherine’s lighthouse and St Catherine’s Oratory (an ancient structure and old lighthouse on high land above Niton) – we later found out that these drawings were done by the owner of the B&B who is an artist! We took a stroll down to St Catherine’s lighthouse on the Sunday morning. It’s an interesting structure with two towers, one topped by the light and the other by the fog signal equipment. It operates all day so it’s nice to see the optic in action, although I imagine this is (of course) most impressive in the dark. Bob also took the opportunity to climb a rock that was nearby (standard behaviour for him!). The lighthouse itself is open for tours three days a week, but due to time constraints we were not able to join the tour on Sunday. Definitely something to do in the future though.

There are also a range of beacons in the Solent and the surrounding waters that are visible from the island, including St Helen’s Fort and the Nab Tower, both of which we were able to view from a distance from the beach at Bembridge.It was a great weekend and really nice to spend a bit more time discovering the place where I grew up. Although I no longer live there, this trip has helped to show me the importance of making the most of your local environment…particularly if it includes a lighthouse or two! 🙂

Tracking down inland lighthouses and some Welsh revisits

I was informed a few weeks ago by the wonderful and infamous Bob that a number of lighthouses exist on the edges of lochs in Scotland. Armed with this new information and his map software, we took advantage of the journey from Inverness to Fort William this weekend in preparation for the start of the Three Peaks Challange. We were joined on the trip by Darryl Campling who, I was pleased to find, was quite active in searching for the lighthouses. I do like welcoming new recruits!

The “pepper-pot” lighthouse at Fort Augustus

Our first stop was Fort Augustus where there is a lighthouse on the edge of Loch Ness. This lighthouse, often referred to as a “pepper-pot”, is in fact said to be the smallest lighthouse in the UK. In its beautiful setting it marks the entrance to the Caledonian Canal. Further along the canal at Corpach is a similar structure and a third can be found at Gairlochy. It was great to visit a new type of lighthouse that I had never even considered might exist before and I imagine that there may be more waiting to be found in Scotland. I look forward to “bagging” them too!

The Three Peaks Challenge went well and I was astounded by how Bob and Darryl managed to keep motivated enough to complete all three in such a short space of time. I had a chance to explore some great places while they were on the mountains, including Glencoe in Scotland with Bob’s parent and Llanberis in Wales.

South Stack lighthouse on the west coast of Anglesey

I was already aware that Bob had a day of surprises lined up for the Sunday and as I drove us away from Snowdonia National Park following his directions, it took me a little while to realise where we were headed. Once I had narrowed the destination down to Anglesey I got very excited about potentially visiting one of, in my opinion, the most beautiful lighthouses in the UK. During the month-long tour I had visited South Stack lighthouse on the west coast of Anglesey twice. The first time was in the evening after setting up camp at a site nearby. However, as I arrived a horrible sea mist had just set in and, contrary to what the crazy man running up and down the 412 steps down to the bridge to South Stack Island had said, the mist only got worse with no sign of it clearing. I revisited again the following morning, this time in the pouring rain. The lighthouse still managed to maintain its beauty in this atrocious weather, but I was too early to take the tour and the idea of hanging around in the horrible weather just didn’t appeal to me. So, returning when the weather was really pleasant and the lighthouse was open to visitors was fantastic. The tour was really interesting and I secretly found the man in the lamp room very funny with his booming Welsh voice. We also had a glimpse from the top of the lighthouse of porpoises playing around in the waves. The tour is a great experience, although the views from the top of the lighthouse and the island can’t quite beat the views of the island itself from the mainland – particularly on a nice day!

From South Stack we were also able to catch a long-distance view of The Skerries with its red and white striped lighthouse. One day we will have to visit the Skerries as well as Bardsey island and a few other island or rock lighthouses off the coast of Wales.

The lighthouse at the end of Holyhead Breakwater

After leaving South Stack we headed for Holyhead, which is home to two more lighthouses. The black and white striped structure on the end of the breakwater at Holyhead – the longest in the UK – proved a bit of a challenge to find, but we got there eventually and it was well worth the effort. The breakwater is particularly popular with fishermen so we had to watch out for them and their rods as we drove along! Within the Breakwater Country Park there is a small area with information about how the breakwater was developed, which is really interesting and definitely worth checking out. The second lighthouse at Holyhead is contained within a restricted access area so we were only able to get some distance shots using a zoom lens. Better than nothing though and definitely better than my first visit (shortly after South Stack) when the mist had begun to creep in there as well.

It was a great weekend and really good to discover a new style of lighthouse and get closer to some of those I had visited previously. Big thanks (again) to Bob for organising everything and continuing to increase his own, and my, commitment to the lighthouse-bagging cause! 🙂