uklighthousetour

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

Islands and lighthouses – part 2

Eilean an Naoimh lighthouse

Eilean an Naoimh lighthouse

My crazy island and lighthouse-bagging week continued last week with a trip out to the Garvellachs. We were on a fishing boat that day, so it wasn’t so easy to land on many of the islands in this group. While Bob went off, I stayed on the boat. I did leave the boat on one of the islands though, Eileach an Naoimh, as it is home to a lighthouse. It may only be a “flat pack-style” structure, but it is actually in great surroundings. The walk to the lighthouse was a bit of a struggle for me with various terrains to cross and a few ups and downs. But we got there eventually. I wouldn’t say it was my favourite (I’m unlikely to say that about any “flat pack” lighthouse), but it was a good place to visit and there is a fair amount of history on the island too.

Fladda lighthouse

Fladda lighthouse

After the group had reached the high points on a few more islands, we stopped off at Fladda. We’d seen the lighthouse on the way out that morning and it was a welcome relief to visit an island, which didn’t involve leaping off or onto the boat at a very precise moment when the swell was just right! The island seemed very deserted, which meant we could wander freely around and get to the tower. By this point the rest of the group were very aware of my lighthouse fascination and a number of discussions took place about them. I think a few of these island and hill-baggers are developing their own fondness for lighthouses!

The Northern Lighthouse Board's vessel Pole Star

The Northern Lighthouse Board’s vessel Pole Star

I was delighted to discover that the following day one of the cancelled trips from the previous week would be going ahead. I’d been particularly excited about this one as it involved visiting a lighthouse that I thought I’d be unlikely ever to see in real life. I should have known better really as I probably would have said the same about North Rona, but Bob knew the right people to get us there! Dubh Artach is one of the iconic rock lighthouses of Britain and sits 18 miles south-west of Mull and the prospect of being able to see is close up was an opportunity I couldn’t miss (even if it did mean abandoning our little boy with his grandparents for another whole day). As the sea conditions had been very calm so far that week, we were all secretly hopeful that we’d be able to land on the rock and properly “bag” the lighthouse, but we were also aware that even when conditions were flat calm around Oban and some of the Inner Hebrides, it’s unlikely that it will be the same at Dubh Artach. As we left Oban that morning we spotted a boat that looked similar to the Northern Lighthouse Board’s Pharos ship, which we’d seen earlier in the week. I was able to get access to the web and discovered that it was another of their vessels, Pole Star. Apparently this one doesn’t spend as much time in Oban as Pharos, so we were fortunate to be able to see it.

Dubh Artach lighthouse

Dubh Artach lighthouse

On the way out Dubh Artach it was clear that the sea conditions were changing and the gentle, but increasing bumpiness was sending everyone else to sleep! When we got close, the crew from Coastal Connection prepared the dinghy and Bob and I got in with a couple of others. We spotted some steps leading up the lighthouse and there appeared to be a platform at the bottom, which looked like it could be a good spot to get off – except for the fact that it was covered in seaweed. While, at times, it seemed calm enough for us to approach, it was quickly changing and in no time the platform was submerged. We made a couple of attempts to get close enough and Bob managed to get a foot on the rock, but we had to pull back as the dinghy was at risk of tipping us out. I’d already made a decision not to attempt the landing and it seemed that the others were in agreement. We went back to the boat and others went for a closer look while we enjoyed the view from a safe distance. In the end we abandoned the attempt to land, but I was delighted that I’d been so close. Cameron, the skipper, took us for a spin around the lighthouse before we headed on to continue with the day’s agenda.

Our next island was Nave island, off of the north coast of Islay. While there were no lighthouses, it was a nice stroll up to the high point, with fantastic 360 degree views. We then landed on the beach on Oronsay. As Bob had already been to the high point and we’d both wandered along the Strand from Colonsay at low tide last year, we decided to have a walk along the white sandy beach instead. Our final island for the day was Colonsay. Again, we’d been here last year and had both successfully managed the high point and the lighthouse (which we saw again as we approached and left Scalasaig), so we spend the afternoon at the Colonsay Hotel in their beer garden! A great end to a great day!

Fingal's Cave on Staffa

Fingal’s Cave on Staffa

Just to complete the week, I went with my parents on a boat trip to Lunga – one of the Treshnish islands – and Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave. The puffins on Lunga were amazing. They are so used to people being around that they come very close. It would be easy to pass a few hours there. Fingal’s Cave was incredible and indescribable really. I don’t think any words can really describe it. Just go there and see for yourself! My dad also spotted a golden eagle on Staffa, following a sea eagle glimpse on the way to Lunga, so he was happy too!

We have more lighthouse visits to come this weekend, so another post is to follow! It’s definitely lighthouse-bagging season! 🙂

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Islands and lighthouses – part 1

Following our week in Tobermory, we moved on to Appin where we stayed at one of Appin Holiday Homes’ lodges. Our plans to be in this area at this time were based on the annual meeting of the Marilyn-baggers (those who climb hills with a drop of 150 metres or more on all sides) and a number of associated boat trips. Many of these hill-baggers are now becoming more interested in reaching island high points thanks to Hamish Haswell-Smith’s book on the ‘The Scottish Islands’ and Alan Holmes’ Significant Islands of Britain (SIBs). The interesting thing about Alan’s list is that he has an additional category for SIBlets, which are islands that don’t quite meet the SIB criteria, but are home to a point of interest, such as a lighthouse. Alan himself organised the numerous boat trips that took place around this annual meeting.

The beacon at Port Appin

The beacon at Port Appin

Due to the poor weather I’d not been able to go on two of the four trips I was booked on during our week on Mull, but conditions were due to improve considerably for our week in Appin. Fortunately Alan had managed to rearrange the trips for the second week, so I didn’t have to miss out on any of the new lighthouses we were hoping to see.

Before the first boat trip, Bob and I took my dad along to Port Appin for a walk out to the beacon on the tidal rocks there. This structure has a rather vibrant past as the ‘Mr Blobby lighthouse‘. As with all tidal islands, we didn’t have much time there at all, but it was a peaceful place to be, made even better by the good weather.

Lismore lighthouse on Eilean Musdile

Lismore lighthouse on Eilean Musdile

On the Monday we headed off on a trip with a very exciting first stop. We’d passed Eilean Musdile, a small island off of the south of Lismore a couple of times the previous week. We were planning a visit to Lismore itself and assumed that we’d be able to get across the small channel between the islands at low tide, but we’d been told that it’s not quite so easy. So it was fortunate that we’d signed up to join the trip that landed on Eilean Musdile. We were taken there by Coastal Connection who are based in Oban and regularly run the owners of the island out there and back. We landed on a small jetty and just a minute later reached the gate to the lighthouse complex. The owners are very kind and permit visitors into the grounds of the lighthouse, so we wandered in and strolled along the very pleasant winding walled pathway that leads to the lighthouse. While the lighthouse looks amazing from the sea, it looks even better close up and the island has a wonderful feel about it. If we’d had longer I would have happily spent more time there. We had a little while to explore though and walked across a bridge which allowed the lighthouse keepers more land during their stay there and was used for bringing in materials.

Hyskeir lighthouse

Hyskeir lighthouse

The following day was my favourite of the trips. Although I’d been aware of Hyskeir lighthouse on the island of Oigh Sgeir (the Scottish Gaelic version of the name), I’d never paid it more attention than any other, but it very much deserves it. It is 8 miles west of Rhum and is a fantastic little island. The lighthouse is stunning, as beautiful as so many of the Stevenson structures are. This one has the added benefit of feeling remote, but not too far out and with amazing views in any direction. On the way to the island we passed by Eileanan Glasa lighthouse (between Mull and the mainland), Eilean nan Gall which we’d seen the week before, as well as Ardnamurchan lighthouse. It’s only when you either drive it or take a boat alongside the Ardnamurchan peninsula that you really just how long it is. We also saw some dolphins leaping out of the water alongside us. After landing on the island we all inspected the lighthouse and I discovered that many there had a vague interest in lighthouses too – although not quite to the same level as mine! We then followed a broken path along to the island high point where we could see minke whales slowly passing through the sea. It was such a fantastic place to visit and I wouldn’t hesitate if there was an opportunity to go back again.

Eigg lighthouse

Eigg lighthouse

Our next island of the day was a small island off of Eigg, Eilean Chathastail, which is home to Eigg lighthouse. It was a bit of a climb (for me anyway) to get up from the rocks we were dropped off at, but it was well worth it. The lighthouse itself pales in comparison to the big Stevenson buildings, like Hyskeir, but it was great to stand at the lighthouse and gaze at the views while the hill-baggers went off to do what they do best. Again, the island felt remote, but had a very calming feel. After leaving Eilean Chathastail, we stopped at Eilean nan Each where we all enjoyed a stroll up to the high point. We finished off the day with a visit to Muck itself. Two of us remained on the boat while the rest set off from one side of the island to walk across the hills to the other side. We were delighted to be able to get off at the main harbour on Muck and find a small 24-hour craft shop and a fantastic tea room, which boasted an impressive menu considering its location.

Overall it was a wonderful day and definitely one I will remember fondly for many years to come. More islands and lighthouses to come in the next post! 🙂

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A week on Mull

Two weeks ago we spent some time on Mull, staying in Tobermory. As soon as we left Oban on the ferry the lighthouse viewings began, with a glimpse of Dunollie beacon, just north of Oban, and the stunning Lismore lighthouse (more on that one in the next post).

Rubha nan Gall lighthouse

Rubha nan Gall lighthouse

On our first full day we decided to risk getting a soaking by walking to Rubha nan Gall lighthouse to the north of Tobermory. Shortly after leaving the road and heading through the trees, we came across a sign telling us that the path ahead was closed. It was clear that no one had really taken much notice of the sign, so we pretended we hadn’t seen it and continued along the coastal route, which proved to be particularly muddy and narrow in places. It was quite a picturesque walk and we were fortunate not to be rained on. As we approached the lighthouse I remarked on how similar it looked to Eilean Ban lighthouse where we had stayed just a few weeks before. It’s not only the lighthouse that’s similar, but the access bridge as well. Unfortunately a high locked gate prevented us from reaching the tower, but we got some great views anyway from the pier leading to it. We spent a while sitting on the pier and enjoyed the emerging sun while we could, with views across to the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The walk back was equally enjoyable.

When we returned to Tobermory we stopped off at the town’s museum, where we found out about the story of Neptune II that set off on a 100 mile overnight journey from one port to another in Newfoundland in 1929. The ship was caught in a storm which caused them to endure a 48 day, 3,000 mile journey, during which they came across the lighthouses at Skerryvore, Dubh Artach and Ardnamurchan before setting foot on land again. We also found a little more information about the Rubha nan Gall lighthouse at the aquarium in Tobermory.

The observation tower on Erraid, with windows looking out towards Dubh Artach and Skerryvore

The observation tower on Erraid, with windows looking out towards Dubh Artach and Skerryvore

We spent an afternoon walking across to Erraid, a tidal island, and exploring the island. Erraid was used as a base for construction of the Dubh Artach lighthouse, including the quarrying of the granite for the tower. While the lighthouse was in operation, the keepers and their families lived on Erraid and the observation tower was also constructed. We visited the tower and were able to get a distance glance of Dubh Artach lighthouse (more on this one too in another post coming soon). Robert Louis Stevenson visited the island while his father was involved in constructing the lighthouse and set his novella ‘The Merry Men’ there as well as a chapter in ‘Kidnapped’. It’s a fantastic little island and even more enjoyable with the knowledge that you need to get back before the tide turns!

The beacon at Dunollie

The beacon at Dunollie

Our final day on Mull was spent visiting Iona. On our return journey to Oban we noticed the Northern Lighthouse Board’s maintenance vessel, Pharos (which we had previously seen at Bell Rock and on our way out to St Kilda), parked up a short distance from the Oban ferry terminal. We took a drive up and noticed that the Northern Lighthouse Board have a terminal there, which is a base for their vessels, but also where passengers for the Hebridean Princess alight. On our way north to Appin, our base for the following week, we stopped to look at the Dunollie beacon a bit closer up.

The following week was a blur of boat trips, remote lighthouses and sunshine. More on this to follow soon! 🙂

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Some birthday lighthouse bags

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Eilean Ban lighthouse

My birthday present this year from Bob was a few days staying in the lighthouse cottage on Eilean Ban, a small island underneath the bridge across to Skye. We’d previously only spent a couple of days on Skye (together, anyway), so the cottage was a good base for exploring the island a bit more – and for seeing a bit more of the lighthouse on the island itself, of course.

We arrived the day before my birthday and had a walk around the island, visiting the lighthouse and meeting Lesley, the warden on duty for the Eilean Ban Trust. She told us about the significance of the island in the life of Gavin Maxwell who wrote the book Ring of Bright Water about his experience with otters on Scottish islands. Neither of us had heard about Gavin Maxwell before, so it was interesting to find out that there was more background to the island than the lighthouse (although a lighthouse is always enough of a draw for me!)

On my birthday we stopped off at the Eilean Ban Trust’s Bright Water Visitor Centre in Kyleakin. A lot of the information there centres on Gavin Maxwell, but there was also some details on the history of the lighthouse. There were some old pictures of the lighthouse before the Skye Bridge was built and it looked considerably bigger (at 70 foot tall) than it does now, being dwarfed by the bridge these days. The lighthouse was built in 1857 and was discontinued in 1993, but it continues to be used as a day mark, so fortunately it is important that its condition is maintained. Lesley told us that she would be running a tour that evening, which would involve going into the lighthouse, so we immediately signed up to join that.

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Eilean a’ Chait lighthouse

That afternoon we headed to Plockton. We’d noticed on the OS map that there was a lighthouse on Eilean a’ Chait, a small island north of Plockton, that we’d not been able to see from the mainland. Bob had done some research and thought that a trip with Calum’s Seal Trips might help us to see it. He wasn’t wrong as, when Calum heard that we were interested in the lighthouse, he managed to get us as close as he could to it.

We arrived back in time to meet Lesley and she showed us around the island, including inside the Bothy where they have a lot of information about the lighthouse and our little man and I were able to get the first stamp in our lighthouse passports! Apparently it was the first time their stamp had been used! It was great to get to the top of the lighthouse and see the importance of the structure without it being overshadowed by the bridge. I’d definitely recommend a tour to anyone in the area. That evening we went for dinner at Seumas’ Bar at the Sligachan Hotel.

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Eyre Point lighthouse on Raasay

The following day we decided to make the most of the (relatively) nice weather so we headed across to Raasay, an island off of the east coast of Skye. As soon as we arrived our first priority was to reach the lighthouse at Eyre Point at the south of the island. Although the lighthouse was nothing out of the ordinary (one of the modern “Ikea flat pack” style models, as we call them), there were some fantastic views towards the mountains on Skye. We then drove north to experience Calum’s Road. Calum’s Road, one and three quarter miles in length, was built by Calum MacLeod and his brother between 1949 and 1952 after unsuccessfully campaigning for years for a road to allow easier access to and from the north of the island. Calum was also a Local Assistant Keeper at Rona lighthouse. Calum was awarded the British Empire Medal for making sure supplies regularly reached Rona lighthouse – due to his building of the road.

The steep drop at the summit of Dun Caan

The steep drop at the summit of Dun Caan

We then parked up next to the main road for a walk up to the highest point on Raasay, Dun Caan. It’s a really interesting hill that stands out alongside the others from Skye due to the flat appearance of its summit. There were some great views on the way up and a rather scary drop on one side of the summit where the land drops away just next to the trig point. We stopped off at Raasay House for tea and cake before catching the ferry back to Skye. We had a quick run over to see the Cuillins from Elgol before heading back to our accommodation.

We returned to Elgol the following day where we managed to take the last three places on the Bella Jane, which sails out into Loch Coruisk towards the Cuillins. The weather wasn’t great and the tops of some of the hills were in the clouds, but there were still some pretty impressive sights. Such a beautiful place and some amazing views on the drive there too. We had a lovely lunch at Elgol Shop. After leaving Skye, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle and had a look around. It was nice to finally go in as it is an iconic building and the subject of many people’s holiday pictures during a visit to Scotland.

We had a great few days and look forward to some more visits to Skye in the future, particularly as there are still a couple of lighthouses to be visited there, including Waternish Point, which is fairly remote.

More lighthouse visit news to follow soon 🙂

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