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! 🙂

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