Carrying on regardless in Wales

To begin with I have two factual pieces of information for you: 1. As I am sure you will know there is currently flooding in a number of parts of the country and 2. Wikipedia currently states that Wales is “one of the wettest countries in Europe”. So, on a rather damp Thursday evening last week Bob and I happened to be travelling to no less than South Wales. Gluttons for punishment you may be thinking, but we were in fact rather surprised to find that, after crossing the bridge on the M4 and entering Wales (£6 it costs these days to enter Wales via this route – that was, to my mind, essentially paying to be rained on and seemed deeply unfair) the very wet weather we had encountered in “Englandshire” (as Bob fondly – or not so fondly – refers to it) had almost vanished. Amazing! This surprised continued well into Friday, which was dry from beginning to end with blue skies.

The lighthouse at Barry docks

Unfortunately, our luck on Friday morning was clearly reserved for the weather as Barry Docks, the first lighthouse location, wasn’t particularly successful. Without a fair amount of clambering over rocks on the breakwater or knowing someone who can gain access to the local yacht club then it is almost impossible to truly “bag” this lighthouse. This may be have been the location of the first of many where the immortal “We need a boat” was used – it is becoming more frequently used it seems. We had a little stroll along the small beach nearby though and I almost got swept away by a wave (n.b. this is a major exaggeration, but a wave did almost reach my feet).

Next up was Nash Point with its old and new lighthouses. This was more successful, although the lighthouse was not open to look around until the following day. Before we reached the lighthouse though, Bob had a field day with the muddy road/wrong turning we took and made it his aim to get as much mud as possible splattered all over the hire car, a powder blue Fiat 500. We had a bit of chuckle about the state of it when we arrived at Nash Point. Between the two lighthouses, one of which no longer has its lantern, is a building with the foghorn mounted on top. This and the very tall new lighthouse create a rather picturesque scene. After leaving Nash Point we stopped off for some soup in a nearby pub (there may have been blue skies, but it was rather chilly).

The Mumbles was our next stop. I realised before we headed for Wales that it wouldn’t be possible to visit this one as it sits on top of a very small island a short distance off of the coast and that day’s low tides don’t even provide access. We could see it and the scaffolding is currently has draped over it very clearly from the mainland though.

We questioned whether or not to attempt to see Whiteford Point lighthouse from the north side of the Gower Peninsula. I am fascinated by this lighthouse as it’s probably the most derelict in the whole of the UK – as far as I have seen anyway. It is essentially just the metal frame of the structure and has been on sale for very small amounts in the past without success. Viewing the lighthouse though was potentially very tricky with sand dunes and potential marshland to deal with. We decided instead to see if we could catch a glimpse of it from the north, near Llanelli where we were heading to see the lighthouse at Burry Port.

Us with Burry Port lighthouse

Burry Port is a strange place with a bit of an old-world feel about it, but it has a really lovely lighthouse on the end of the west pier. It was getting later in the day and the light was beginning to fade so we were able to enjoy her in action. I must admit here to being a bit of a child at times and, as we walked towards the lighthouse after catching some distance shots of Whiteford Point lighthouse, I may have said ‘flashy’ every time it flashed. My only excuse is that I really liked the lighthouse and how it’s a little unconventional!

We headed to Fishguard on Friday evening to prepare for an early start on Sunday, ensuring we made the most of the rain-free hours leading up to the downpours that had been forecast from midday. We stayed the night in a small B&B called Keating’s B&B in the Goodwick area, just west of Fishguard town. The following morning we headed off for Fishguard breakwater to see if we could access the lighthouse at the end. We were without luck on this occasion as, for a change, Bob had a bad feeling about trespassing in the area. I didn’t realise that was possible!

We headed next to Strumble Head, just west of Fishguard. On the way there I got (jokingly) grumpy as Bob spotted the lighthouse before I did – he’s getting too good at this, I think. It wasn’t surprising though as it has possible the brightest light I have ever seen on a lighthouse. It would flash four times in quick succession and trying to get a photo of this sequence each time it flashed would leave your eyes feeling a little funny. It’s a really beautiful lighthouse though, although access to the island it sits on is restricted. I would definitely recommend a visit to this one for those who find themselves in the area.

She’s a bright one, it’s Strumble Head

On our way to our next stop for the day, St Anne’s Head, the rain began and was relentless. We ploughed on through though, with Bob getting increasingly pleased with the growth in the size of the puddles in the roads. Apparently aquaplaning is exciting! There are two lighthouses at St Anne’s Head, although one has had the lantern removed and replaced with an observation room. We dashed about in the rain and got the very important pictures before returning to the dry and warmth of the girly Fiat (which Bob could pull off because of his manly physique)!

We had seen a leaflet back in Fishguard about the Pentre Ifan Cromlech burial ground which has some fascinating standing stones – one 16 tonne stone is balanced on top of three equally huge stones. So, we headed north again, stopping briefly at a café for some much-needed lunch. The stones were just as amazing in real life as in the pictures. They are located on the side of a hill as well, which allows for some great views too. The location is a little out of the way, but well worth a visit.

Bob had mentioned an Italian restaurant he had been to a few times in a town called Blackwood, so we headed there for the night. The food was great and it’s definitely understandable why he felt it was important for us to pay them a visit. Finding accommodation though wasn’t particularly easy, but we opted for a place on the main street, which looked like a pub with a few rooms upstairs. However, it turned out to double up as a club with the rooms only separated from the club area by a few walls. We went with it though and threw a film on to drown out the music. We were only woken once during the night by a screaming girl and, it turns out, the screaming Welsh female voice is not really one that is comprehensible to me – fortunately. We made it through though and set off for our final day on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning we stopped off at Caerphilly Castle, which amazed me as the moat was actually filled with water. As far as I’m aware, that’s rather rare these days. It was absolutely stunning and we got some great photos before the rain started and we made a mad (or not so mad) dash back to the car.

Luckily the rain had stopped by the time we reached our penultimate lighthouse location on the west side of the Usk. This one was a struggle and I’m not sure that either of us found it worth the effort in the end. To reach the lighthouse we parked up in an area with lots of places with ‘lighthouse’ in the name, so it was probably not going to be far. After probably around 40 minutes of making our way across some very marshy land it turned out it wasn’t quite as close as expected. It wasn’t really an enjoyable journey, but we did find a more suitable route back, which halved the journey time at least.

East Usk lighthouse

Our final stop before heading back to England was the east side of the Usk. This lighthouse was located in a RSPB reserve and actually involved a shorter walk than we thought it would. To reach the lighthouse we could walk across a path that stretched over the top of a river. The path itself was made of some form of rubber material on top of floating buoys, which Bob really enjoyed jumping around on (we were basically children all weekend)! Seeing the final Welsh mainland lighthouse, which is rather cute and reminiscent of the recently-visited Roseness lighthouse on Orkney mainland – gave me a small sense of achievement. I even got the opportunity to slide down from the top of a lighthouse in the children’s play area before we left.

All in all, a very successful weekend and a really enjoyable one too! So that’s it for mainland Wales. We are edging ever closer to completion of the mainland lights! 🙂


Skipping ahead to the islands!

As highlighted on the About the tour page, the original intention of uklighthourtour2012 was to visit those lighthouses on mainland UK. Based on my current estimates I have now completed around 4/5s of these (only about 34 to go!). So, what comes after the mainland, you may be asking. I think the answer is quite obvious (it is in the title after all): it’s all about the islands!

Now, there are plenty of islands about, Great Britain is part of the British Isles archipelago after all. So, it’s a mammoth task, particularly as it takes a lot longer to reach some of these islands than it does to drive along a few country roads. The only way to deal with this was to get started and so we (Bob and I) did at the weekend while I was visiting the north coast. Saturday saw us on a major lighthouse hunt, but before that I was pleased to have the opportunity to see both Dunnet Head and Strathy Point lighthouses from a distance again (always on the look-out) on the Friday. Dunnet Head’s light can be seen at night from the house, which I adore and we paid a visit to Strathy Beach (which is just fascinating) where Strathy Point lighthouse can be glimpsed from afar. I know they are a little “out of the way”, but the north coast has some amazing beaches with great areas to explore – definitely not the basic kind of beaches most of us are used to. I was also pleased to meet many of the locals on Friday evening at the pub quiz. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but we did come second, so it’s not all bad and the raffle that followed was so brimming with prizes that (I think) almost everyone in attendance won something!

The “flat-pack” Hoxa Head lighthouse

On Saturday we headed off to catch the ferry from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay in Orkney. The journey there, although a bit on the chilly side, provided some distance views of the lighthouses at Swilkie Point on Stroma, Muckle Skerry in the Pentland Skerries and Cantick Head on South Walls island. We were also able to get a good view of what was to come as we passed Hoxa Head lighthouse. Once we had arrived on dry land we headed for Hoxa Head and, as usual, Bob decided to climb over the padlocked gate and have a look around inside as well as “bagging” (touching) the lighthouse. It is a strange lighthouse and similar in design to White Head on Loch Eriboll on the north coast. They almost look like flat-pack structures that could be pulled down and stashed away within seconds. Nowhere near the vision many of us have of a typical lighthouse. The Northern Lighthouse Board appear to have a number of these structures littered around.

After leaving the lighthouse and with a tight schedule ahead of us we hurried on across the Churchill barriers, which were built during the 1940s to protect the Navy’s ships anchored at Scapa Flow (where wrecked ships can still be seen) during World War II. These causeways also, very helpfully, provide a link between a number of Orkney’s islands. Our next stop was the Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners of war as a place of worship during the war. Apparently it’s rare to be the only visitors there, but we managed it – although I suspect Orkney isn’t particularly populated with tourists in November! It’s a beautiful little building that’s been really well preserved and with a great story behind it too.

Roseness lighthouse on Mainland Orkney

Our second lighthouse “bag” was beckoning. After finding a suitable place to park for getting to Roseness lighthouse on the southern tip of mainland Orkney. The coastal walk to the lighthouse was really interesting and there is some great coastline heading south towards the lighthouse. I would have spent longer looking at it if I hadn’t been quite so worried about falling into a bog. In places it was quite “damp” (boggy) and, although Bob told me to follow him and I would be ok I still wasn’t entirely sure about it – probably something to do with the fact the he had only fallen into a bog himself earlier this year! Fortunately, we made it there and back safely enough and without incident. We also had some views across to Copinsay lighthouse on the way and passed a beacon that looked slightly more like a monument than anything that would give off light. We reached the lighthouse and, as I was happily taking photos from the ground, Bob decided he was going to climb the ladder up to the balcony and promptly encouraged me to do the same. I’m not going to lie, I did whinge and moan as I was climbing (though there weren’t many steps), but once I was up there I was fine and quite enjoyed the views!

After returning to the car (Bob had encouraged me on the walk back by feeding me Revels), we headed to the north west of the mainland to visit the Brough of Birsay lighthouse. However, when we arrived we realised that the lighthouse was located on an island that was only accessible when the tide was out. Not sure of what the tide was up to at that point and (on my part, anyway) not keen on getting wet feet with the risk of being stranded on the island overnight, we decided against attempting to reach it. So, we got a long-distance view of it and will certainly be going back (probably with a little more tide information to hand). Having failed at this final lighthouse we made the most of the couple of hours we had left before we were due to catch the ferry back and went to Skara Brae. This ancient village, which is believed to date back to pre-Egyptian pyramids time, was uncovered in the 1850s. It’s a fascinating place and Bob was the perfect Skara Brae tour guide! We followed this up with a stop off at some standing stones: the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. The sun was starting to go down at this point, which gave us some great photo opportunities. Simply stunning.

One of the Graemsay lighthouses

We chose to travel back on the boat from Stromness to Scrabster to give a little variation. Lighthouse-wise, this gave us a chance to see both of the lighthouses on Graemsay as we left Orkney. The ferry’s route took us around the north coast of Hoy and alongside the west coast of the island. As the light was going down we were able to see the stunning cliffs, including St John’s Head, and the Old Man of Hoy. As we sailed past the Old Man, I think we were both wondering how on earth Bob had managed to climb it back in 2000! It’s hugely impressive (both the stack and the fact that Bob was able to climb it)! By the time we left Hoy behind it was almost dark and, although we could see a number of lights “on the go” it was difficult to put a name to them (Swilkie Point? Duncansby Head? Dunnet Head?). However, when we arrived back at Scrabster we were able to see the very sad-looking (in my opinion anyway) Holborn Head lighthouse sitting there in the dark, no longer in use. The building is still well-kept, but it seems such a shame that it has ceased operation. I feel similarly about Strathy Point and many of the others that have been discontinued.

A slightly snowy Ben Klibreck

Although Sunday involved no lighthouses and we broke with tradition by heading inland on the way to Inverness, Bob gave me a tour of the journey through Tongue and heading south from there with views of numerous mountains, including Ben HopeBen Loyal, Beinn Stumanadh and Ben Klibreck (not that I’m getting into mountains or anything!). We finished our journey off with a slight detour to Aviemore where we had both been, just days apart, a couple of years ago.

What a wonderful weekend. Now, back to the main topic of this blog! In total, I believe we saw at least 11 lighthouses over the weekend. Not bad going at all, but understandably we are not satisfied at seeing so many of them from a distance rather than up close. I see future blog posts heading your way! 🙂