uklighthousetour

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

Islands, ports and an estuary in south east Scotland – part 2

Bob exploring the old South Queensferry lighthouse

Bob exploring the old South Queensferry lighthouse

On Sunday we had a slightly later start and reached South Queensferry a little early for the Forth Belle boat tour of the Forth. While we waited we enjoyed the views of the Forth Rail Bridge and spotted the lighthouse that sits alongside the base of one of the bridge pillars. We also paid a visit to the RNLI shop and enquired about a lighthouse-looking building just outside their door. We were informed that it was a former lighthouse and that there was a similar one of the north side of the Forth at North Queensferry, which was being better maintained. It was a shame that they weren’t making more of the old lighthouse, particularly as the pier is a popular area with those on boat tours visiting on a daily basis.

We also asked about the situation with the old Beamer Rock lighthouse. The lighthouse had previously sat on a rock in the middle of the Forth, but had been dismantled a couple of years ago to make way for one of the pillars of the new Forth Road Bridge being built. It was sad to learn that it had been removed, but I’d previously read an article about North and South Queensferry arguing over who should house the lighthouse as an exhibit in the future (or should I say house the bridge museum that will probably include the lighthouse). While we were waiting for the boat to arrive I received an email informing me that Orfordness lighthouse was likely to slip into the sea within the coming months. The land it sits on is now so unstable that it was switched off and is now being left to drift away. I found this particularly sad as it is a real sign of how little people seem to care for lighthouses these days, even when they have been in operation for over 200 years. In many cases it is actually local communities that campaign for lighthouses to be saved. I was informed of one example of this over the weekend – the old lighthouse at Scoraig in the west of Scotland was was saved by the community when it due to be lifted by helicopter and dropped into the sea. I am not sure if there are any intentions within Orford to save the lighthouse there. During my month-long tour I missed the last boat out to Orford Ness to see the lighthouse by about 20 minutes so I have yet to visit this one. I plan to do exactly that as soon as possible though to ensure I get to see it before it is not longer there.

Oxcars lighthouse

Oxcars lighthouse

Anyway, the boat arrived and we hopped on, poised to see some more lighthouses. The boat stopped at Inchcolm, a small island in the Forth with an old abbey which you could explore. We decided that we would jump off at the island, but before we even got there we sailed past Oxcars lighthouse, which sits in the middle of the Forth. We also spotted some seals laying around on buoys on the way to the island. All very exciting. When we first reached the island we considered attempting to reach the high point. We noticed the warning sign at the bottom of a set of steps informing us that it was nesting season and the birds may attack. We slowly made our way up the steps, but decided to turn around as the seagulls weren’t looking very happy with us. We plan to go back again outside of nesting season when we will be make it up there safely. We strolled over to the abbey and explored the rooms, tight spiral staircases and ruins before sitting down for lunch. It’s a great little island and I look forward to the revisit when we will be able to explore even more of it.

The white-topped lighthouse under the Forth Rail Bridge

The white-topped lighthouse under the Forth Rail Bridge

Back on the boat we got a good look at the lighthouse under the Forth Rail Bridge as we sailed past. We continued along until we reached the original location of Beamer Rock before heading back. Since we had left the mainland the tide had come in and the wind had picked up a little. This was going to make it difficult for the boat to dock at the pier as the side it would usually use was almost entirely covered in water and the section that was still exposed was being a little battered by waves. After an attempt to dock on that side anyway we made our way around to the other side of the pier. That attempt was also unsuccessful so we tried again on the original side, still without success. On our forth attempt to dock we finally made it back to dry land (sort of – I was splashed by a wave just after we got back).

The old lighthouse at North Queensferry

The old lighthouse at North Queensferry

Our next priority was the cross the bridge and visit the old lighthouse in North Queensferry, which we’d been able to locate from the ferry. It was easy enough to find and I was privileged to be able to light the lamp myself and receive a certificate for doing so! the lighthouse and a small hut next door to it have now been turned into exhibitions and it was great to chat to the man who runs the proceedings there. A lovely experience and great to hear of a community keeping the lighthouse spirit alive!

That marked the end of the lighthouse bagging for the weekend. We will be back in the area again soon and hope to try again for another attempt on Bell Rock lighthouse. Watch this space! 🙂

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Islands, ports and an estuary in south east Scotland – part 1

Last weekend I headed to Edinburgh to meet Bob for another weekend of lighthouse bagging and visiting some of those I missed during my original tour. The problem with lighthouses in Scotland is that there is currently no full list of lighthouses that I have been able to find. Some mapping software that Bob uses is now available to me and not only shows me where the lighthouses are, but also makes it clear which are actual lighthouses and which are classified as beacons.

The beautiful cliffs of the Isle of May

The beautiful cliffs of the Isle of May

Our original priority for the weekend though was to attempt to reach Bell Rock lighthouse, a fantastic structure that has acted as template for many other since it was completed in 1811. However, the weather wasn’t ideal for the trip and the RIB didn’t run, but Bob managed to make another booking at short notice for another RIB that was heading out to the Isle of May. So, on Saturday morning we headed along to Anstruther to catch the boat and while we were kitted out with lifejackets and the boat was wiped down ready for us I was a little concerned. Not being able to swim does make me worry a little about being on the water, but I was mainly worried about whether we would be bouncing over waves and thrown about all over the place. Fortunately, the journey out to the island was smooth and as we got closer we saw our first puffins of the day. I was starting to believe that they didn’t exist because I was told they would be in certain places, but they were never there. So, it was lovely to see them finally. We also saw some seals before we travelled around the fantastic coast with its sea stacks and bird-covered cliffs. We arrived at the small harbour and had to make our way (with our hoods up) through a large number of nesting terns.

Isle of May lighthouse

Isle of May lighthouse

At the top of the island is the Isle of May lighthouse, which is a beautiful building with castle-esque elements. We sat at a bench behind the lighthouse for lunch with some wonderful views back towards the mainland and Bass Rock (which has a lighthouse and fascinates me). We then wandered to the north of the island to see the (very lighthouse-looking) beacon. It is now a holiday cottage that sits a short distance from a beautiful stretch of coastline where you can see the puffins going into and coming out of their burrows. We got some amazing pictures of the puffins from here. After this was headed up to the foghorn at the south of the island and again enjoyed the views and more puffin encounters. The journey back from the Isle of May wasn’t quite as calm as the ride out, but I enjoyed it (Bob had offered to sit on the side that was most likely to get wet). It was great to head out to the island and see the nature and, of course, the beautiful lighthouse.

The lighthouse (or is it?) at Anstruther

The lighthouse (or is it?) at Anstruther

After enjoying an ice cream in Anstruther whilst walking out along the pier to the lighthouse (although it doesn’t appear to exist on the mapping software) we drove north through St Andrews and to Tayport to visit some more lighthouses. The two lights at Tayport aren’t quite as enjoyable to visit as others as they are now on private land, so it was more a matter of jumping out of the car, taking a couple of quick photos and getting back into the car. It took a little while to find the road to the lighthouses, but we were also able to the see the pile lighthouse (that’s actually a beacon) in the sea just off of the coast.

We were both craving fish and chips and couldn’t seem to find anywhere decent in the area, so we hurried back down to Anstruther where we had seen plenty of shops serving exactly that. On the way back to Edinburgh we stopped off briefly in Elie so I could show Bob the Elie Ness lighthouse, which is just past the lovely little Ruby Bay. I like this lighthouse in particular as it looks like a tiny castle and has its own bridge leading to it. We walked around on the rocks near the lighthouse and Bob taught me a bit about the geological processes that had happened there.

The derelict lighthouse in Leith docks

The derelict lighthouse in Leith docks

Before we finished for the day we stopped off in Leith, just north of Edinburgh, to see the lighthouses there. On the way to the end of the west pier we spotted Newhaven harbour lighthouse, which I had seen from a distance during my month-long tour. We wandered out to the lighthouse for a brief visit and then continued on our way. After a short walk we made it to the west pier lighthouse and could see across to the east breakwater head lighthouse as well as the flashing of the light on Inchkeith out in the Firth of Forth. The west pier lighthouse is possible one of the most neglected I have seen with no windows and grafitti. We attempted to reach the east breakwater lighthouse, but were unable to get a closer look due to closed gates in the docks. We had seen its red flashing light from the other side though, which was good enough for me.

This ended a busy, but very enjoyable, day. But there was more to follow…

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Some struggles in the West Country and the most relaxing lighthouse visit to date

It’s been a while since I’ve done any light-seeking as Bob was away on the Big Hill (with the exception of a great birthday weekend away with my flatmate), but as soon as he returned back at Heathrow we hired a car and headed to the coast. Our first destination was Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast on 31st May. Staying the night in Ilfracombe positioned us well for a boat trip over to Lundy Island the following day. We enjoyed a lovely Italian meal after our arrival and spent a while looking at the beautiful coastal scenery before heading back to our B&B for the night.

We set off for Lundy on the MS Oldenburg and while we were waiting to board I spotted the old chapel on top of a nearby hill with the old lighthouse lantern sitting on top. We explored this further once we had returned to Ilfracombe that evening – realising that the best view is actually from a distance! On the journey to Lundy, as I expected we spotted Bull Point lighthouse, which I will come back to shortly. It was good to be back to lighthouse-spotting again.

Bob enjoying the Lundy old lighthouse desk chairs

Bob enjoying the Lundy old lighthouse desk chairs

As we approached Lundy we could see both the South lighthouse which sits above the harbour area as well as the old lighthouse, which isn’t far from the highest point on the island. Lundy Island is 3 miles (5km) from north to south and as we only had four hours to explore we headed straight for the lighthouse at the most northern point. When I say ‘straight’ it wasn’t quite as straight as expected. It turned out we took the long way around on the way to the lighthouse, but fortunately this took us past the old lighthouse. While I was busy taking photos of the lighthouse Bob was exploring and discovered that it was actually possible (and legal) to climb to the top of the lighthouse. So, up we went! There were some fairly narrow steps in places, but we reached the top without incident and were delighted to see that the old light had been removed and replaced by two deck chairs sitting on the platform in the middle of the lantern. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting down at the top of the lighthouse, taking in the views and generally relaxing. Definitely the most relaxing lighthouse visit so far!

The view from part way down the steps to Lundy north lighthouse

The view from part way down the steps to Lundy north lighthouse

We then found the island high point and both successfully ‘scaled’ it, returning back down the small hill safely! The majority of the climb had been immediately after we arrived on the island, the high point had very little prominence in comparison to the surrounding area. We then following the west coast northwards, checking out the old earthquake remnants in the land and the wildlife as we went. There are some fantastic views from the west coast.

When we reached the north of the island we looked down at the lighthouse – yes, down! There were a number of steps leading down to it and I dreaded the climb back up. Fortunately we were well-equipped with Cadbury Buttons, which kept me going on the way back up to the main path. We had a wander around the lighthouse and enjoyed the views. There is something incredibly beautiful about lighthouses that you have to go to some effort to get to (or should I say ‘back from’), such as Mull of Kintyre and the struggle that was to come later that weekend!

Lundy south lighthouse

Lundy south lighthouse

We managed to find the right road/path back easily (the one that runs across the middle of the island) and made our way back towards the boat and, more importantly, the south lighthouse. Once we got there, rather than using the standard semi-path route, Bob thought it was best to force me up a steep slope covered in foliage. Anyway, we made it up to the lighthouse (yes, up to this one – you can also climb up a further level to be in line with the lantern) and relaxed for a while overlooking the stunning rocks around the area. We had a wander around these rocks before leaving as the tide was out.

We spent another evening in Ilfracombe and visited a Chinese/Indian/Nepalese restaurant so I could sample some of the British version of the Nepalese food that Bob had been eating while he was on the Big Hill. Unfortunately there wasn’t a great deal of Nepalese food on offer, but it was nice enough nonetheless.

Bull Point lighthouse

Bull Point lighthouse

The following day we set off for Bull Point. It was a nice stroll to the lighthouse along some quiet and picturesque pathways. Bull Point lighthouse is really quite interesting and completely unlike many other Trinity House lighthouses. It’s foghorn is built into the tower itself underneath the lantern. It’s a beautiful structure.

We then headed east through Lynmouth where we stopped for an ice cream before continuing on to reach “the struggle” as I will now name it. Foreland Point lighthouse has a lovely single-track road leading down to the lighthouse. Unfortunately, it also has a sign at the car park at the top saying there is no vehicular access after the car park. It was  nice day so we decided to stroll on down. I didn’t realise that it was actually going to rival Mull of Kintyre in its windy, steep road leading down to the lighthouse! There were some lovely views, mainly though of the road as a wove down the hill! As usual though the lighthouse was beautiful and had the tranquil feel about it. We had a look about and enjoyed the views back across to the east of the rugged coastline before heading back up the hill. I whinged less on the way up the hill as I had on the way down and we made it to the top in fairly good time. This effort was shortly rewarded with a very easy summit of Selworthy Beacon, a Marilyn that you could drive almost to the summit of – with a bit of off-roading thrown in! We then followed this up with another summit – involving a little bit more walking – of Dunkery Beacon from the top of which we had some wonderful views across Exmoor National Park. That evening we made our way to Bideford for the night and enjoyed some good old fish and chips for dinner.

Hartland Point lighthouse

Hartland Point lighthouse

On the Monday we drove westwards towards Hartland Point with its lighthouse. Unfortunately we weren’t able to reach the lighthouse as it sits on the end of a rock with access via a private gated road. Bob obviously managed to find a way over the gate, but I very sensibly informed him that I didn’t feel comfortable about trespassing there. We were able to spot the lighthouse for the other side of the rock and we had some lovely views out to sea. Visiting Hartland Point meant that we took a brief break from Devon and spent a few hours in Cornwall. We then stopped in Newquay for lunch and promptly left Cornwall with its winding roads!

The rest of the day was planned out in my mind and I just needed to make sure Bob went along with my plans, which were to be kept secret from him. I had arranged with the team at the Society for Radiological Protection (SRP) that we would visit their offices that afternoon an Bob would be officially presented with the Founders Award that he had not been able to recieve at their conference due to his Big Hill expedition. He knew that we might visit them at some point, it was just a matter of making sure we got there then. They had made some lovely arrangements for the presentation and it was great to meet the team that I had been in contact with while Bob had been away. That evening Bob was invited to speak at a local primary school assembly the following morning about the Big Hill, which he was happy to accept. We were then provided with dinner and the most amazing hotel room thanks to SRP and I had a lot of fun having my picture taken in every room and enjoying the surrounding area of Dartington Hall and it’s lovely gardens.

Bob next to the Burnham-on-Sea beacon - much more interesting than the lighthouse!

Bob next to the Burnham-on-Sea beacon – much more interesting than the lighthouse!

On Tuesday morning we attended the assembly and Bob had plenty of questions thrown at him by the children. Apparently he’s not quite as famous as Rodney the local butcher – who had been in to show them how sausages were made – just yet! After we left the school we headed on to Torquay for the very important task of buying our wedding rings. I am pleased to report that they have now been found and are on order. Yay!

On the way back up towards London that afternoon we stopped off in Burham-on-Sea to see the lighthouse there. The high lighthouse, although very visible as you enter the east side of the town, isn’t particularly easy to get pictures of. From the land side it looks like a tall white tower with no light, but it does indeed have a lantern and a big red vertical stripe down the front. It was a little odd. We much preferred the beacon on the beach, a nine-legged structure that stands in the middle of the beach! A few hours later we arrived back in London after a very packed but enjoyable weekend.

Since this trip I have been back up to the north coast of Scotland again and seen both Tarbet Ness and Strathy Point lighthouse from a distance, as well as Dunnet Head flashing at night. Lighthouse bliss! We have another weekend of lighthouse-bagging lined up for the south east of Scotland shortly so look out for the report on that! 🙂

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