uklighthousetour

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

A brief lighthouse trip to Wales

The lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West

The lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West

A couple of weekends ago, Bob and I made a break for freedom, leaving our little man with his grandparents for the weekend. The purpose of this trip was to spend some time in Wales, particularly for a boat trip out to get a closer look at the lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West off of the west coast. A hill-bagging friend of ours had arranged the trip with the owner of St Tudwals Island East who had kindly agreed to take us to his island. Due to it being August, the owner of the West Island (Bear Grylls) was staying on the island and, understandably, very much likes some privacy with his family. That meant it wasn’t possible for us to land, but Carl did take us on a spin around the West Island so I could get a good view of it. Carl, who co-owns the East Island, was telling us that he suspects the St Tudwals lighthouse may be discontinued shortly, which would mean that Bear Grylls would inherit a lighthouse. Lucky him! It’s an attractive little structure. We spent a short time on the East Island, enough time to wander up to island high point for Bob and to take a stroll around some of the coast there – with some nice views across to the lighthouse too. What amazed me most though was the small house that sits on the east side of the island. From the outside it doesn’t look like there’s much going on, but as soon as you step inside there are tables, decorations aplenty and even an upper floor with a double mattress! It’s a great little island and the owner is full of some amusing stories. He described how he went about getting large stones airlifted onto the island for a stone circle he set up there about 10 years ago. It was a really enjoyable trip and the weather was absolutely perfect.

Llanddwyn Island lighthouse

Llanddwyn Island lighthouse

During my tour in 2012, I attempted to visit the lighthouse on Llanddywyn Island off of the south coast of Anglesey. Officially its not a tidal island, but many (and the name itself) would tell you otherwise and, when I visited before it was spring tide time so the tide was particularly high and access to the peninsula was not possible. This time we were able to time our visit perfectly so we arrived as the tide was retreating. From afar it didn’t look like there was much to it, but it’s actually a great place to explore, with paths leading out to the beacon at the very end. The old lighthouse there is really interesting in that the light was displayed from the base of the  structure, rather than the top. I think there is often confusion over which is the lighthouse out of the two as it would be easy to miss the old lamp room in the lighthouse if you’re looking for it at the top. There’s a lot of history surrounding the island (sorry, peninsula) and a great deal of information on display around the island relating to pilgrimages. After leaving the island, we noticed some wooden poles on display near the car park with various carvings on top and one of them was clearly a carving of the old lighthouse. As the weather was so good that weekend there were plenty of people around on the beach, but not so many taking the walk out to Llanddwyn Island, which made it much nicer.

Penmon Point at low tide

Penmon Point at low tide

We had a little time to spare that day before dinner, so Bob suggested going along to Penmon Point to see the black and white lighthouse there, which I’d visited on my tour in 2012. As we followed the coastal road north it was clear that the tide was quite far out, so we were hopeful that we would be able to walk out to the lighthouse for a proper “bag”. I was very amused when we arrived and Bob, excitedly, when dashing off towards the lighthouse. We managed to get right out to it and Bob, as usual, chose to climb up to the door using the very cleverly built footholds. It wasn’t too busy there either so we only had to share the lighthouse with a couple of other people. There’s nothing worse than crowds of people when you’re trying to get a good picture!

On the Sunday we headed home, but first we needed to get at least one lighthouse visit in, considering it was International Lighthouse-Lightship Weekend! I’d read online that both Leasowe and Bidston Hill lighthouses would be open to the public that day, so it was an opportunity not to be missed. We had a bit of time to kill before Bidston Hill opened, to we had a quick look at Leasowe and then drove along to Hoylake. When I’d been there in 2012, I’d seen the lighthouse (or what I thought was the lighthouse) so this was an opportunity for Bob to see it too. We had a quick stop there and then went on to Bidston Hill. It’s not one I had seen before, so it was an added bonus for me to actually be able to get inside it too.

The Bidston Hill lighthouse

The Bidston Hill lighthouse

We arrived just in time for the first tour of the day, which was run by Stephen Pickles who is an active member of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. I had, in fact, received an email from Stephen shortly before that weekend asking if I would be interested in preparing a piece on my favourite lighthouse for their journal, Lamp (more on that later in the year). It was a really interesting tour and you could tell that Stephen is not only the owner of the lighthouse, but has a real fondness for its history too. There are some fascinating stories about how they would go about informing the port authorities at Liverpool that a boat was on its way in. There was a group of amateur radio guys halfway up the lighthouse, chatting away to others around the world as part of the Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend. We were fortunate enough to get into the lamp room at the top of the lighthouse, which boasts panoramic views of the surrounding area and out to sea. Sadly, there is a lot of damage to the panes of glass in the lamp room. They suspect someone has been shooting at them from outside and they are currently looking to replace the panes, which isn’t going to be cheap for them. Why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me. We had a chance to speak to Stephen and his wife for a while after the tour and got a stamp for my lighthouse passport. It was during our chat with them that we found out that the building we’d seen at Hoylake is actually a lighthouse folly and not the actual lighthouse. So, we will need to head back there again at some point.

When we left Bidston Hill, we did consider popping into Leasowe to have a look around, but we were running short on time for getting home that evening, so decided to give it a miss this time. We hope we will be back in the area when it’s open again some day soon. We’re nearing the end of our peak lighthouse-bagging season, but it’s not over yet. There will be at least one or two new ones in the next couple of weeks. More on this to follow soon! 🙂

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Discovering Manx lighthouses – and beacons

In my previous post on the Calf of Man, I said I would share details of our visit to the Isle of Man mainland, and so I shall!

Heysham harbour lighthouse

Heysham harbour lighthouse

We set off for the Isle of Man on the ferry from Heysham. One benefit of going from here was that I could get a closer look at the lighthouse on the jetty in Heysham harbour. We’d previously seen it from a distance, so I managed to get a closer look. I was about to get some pictures of it once we were past the jetty, but I got waylaid by a man asking me about my camera. I still managed to get pictures from the closest view I had of it though, so I was happy.

As we arrived at Douglas harbour, we saw one of the nine lighthouses we were to visit on the Isle of Man, which sits just to the south of the ferry port. As the Isle of Man is covered by the Northern Lighthouse Board, many of its lighthouses are similar in style to those in Scotland (Stevenson-esque, some might say). In Douglas harbour they also have one of the many lighthouse-looking beacons that the island features.

Douglas Head lighthouse

Douglas Head lighthouse

After the Calf of Man, the Douglas harbour lighthouse was the first we visited. This lighthouse was built in 1892 by the Northern Lighthouse Board who had taken over control of the previous lighthouse, but had decided it was not fit for purpose in a visit report dated 1890. It’s another of the Stevenson’s majestic structures with a pretty scary drop on the south side. Apparently it attracted a large amount of tourists in the early years, with people popping in to visit while it was manned. So much so, in fact, that they had to restrict visiting hours. I imagine being a lighthouse-bagger back in those days would have been a lot more enjoyable as you could get inside them all – although travel wasn’t quite so easy. We can’t have it all!

We headed up to the high point of the island, which Seumas walked to from the mountain railway. We then drove north to Point of Ayre to see the two lighthouses on the most northerly point. The large Point of Ayre lighthouse is beautiful with its perfectly painted red and white tower.

The two lighthouses and foghorn at Point of Ayre

The two lighthouses and foghorn at Point of Ayre

We had some great blue skies, which helped too! The lighthouse was constructed in 1818, the same year as the oldest lights on the Calf of Man, but as it is still in operation it’s looking a lot better in comparison. Further towards the coast at the Point of Ayre is the lower lighthouse, also known as Winkie. After one shipwreck in the area in 1873, two in 1874 and another in 1888, the Northern Lighthouse Board set in motion plans for building a smaller lighthouse on the beach at the Point. This structure (and it’s matching foghorn) was built in 1890 and it turns out that it’s quite a nice little stroll along the path from the foghorn to the lighthouse for an 11-month old!

Maughold Head lighthouse

Maughold Head lighthouse

Our final lighthouse for that day was Maughold Head. This is a relatively new lighthouse in comparison to the others on the island, as it was built in 1914. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t have been one there earlier as a number of ships were wrecked in the area. Even after it was built it has seen its fair share of tragedy with a shipwreck just a year after it was built (although the crew managed to make it to land at Maughold Head and all survived) and, in 1947, an RAF Spitfire hit the lightkeepers cottages in dense fog and caused a great deal of damage. Although it was possible to get a nice view of the lighthouse from the top of the cliff above it, the grounds of the lighthouse and cottages are now private property.

Langness lighthouse

Langness lighthouse

Our final lighthouse of the trip was Langness, which we visited on our last day on the island. It sits on the end of a peninsula on the south east point. It was a fairly choppy day, so we were able to get a glimpse of how rough it can be off of the coast there. This lighthouse was built in 1880 and was the last on the Isle of Man to be automated in 1996. It’s a nice, out of the way location with a really attractive lighthouse and we were able to walk out to the foghorn too.

It was great to have visited all of the Manx lighthouses and see all of the interesting beacons that litter the piers of the main towns as well.

Isle of Walney lighthouse

Isle of Walney lighthouse

We decided to use the opportunity, once back on mainland UK, to visit a couple of lighthouses I had either missed or not got very close to on our way home. The first of the two stops was Walney Island, where the lighthouse sits on the edge of a nature reserve. It took us longer to reach the lighthouse here than we thought it would. We parked up and skirted around the reserve, only to find that the land surrounding the lighthouse was privately owned so we couldn’t get as close as we’d hoped.

Hodbarrow Point old lighthouse

Hodbarrow Point old lighthouse

Our second stop on the way home was at Hodbarrow Point. I’d previously visited one of the lighthouses here, but had not seen the old one. The old tower has a very “old” look about it, with no roof and a round opening on the seaward side where the light would have been exhibited. We also spotted another similar ruin nearby, which I have since discovered was an old windmill in its day.

As mentioned two blog posts ago when I was a bit hasty in my next blog prediction, the next lighthouse visit will happen this weekend when we head off to St Tudwal’s East island, which will give us a fairly good view of the lighthouse on the West island, which we expect to sail close to. 🙂

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Where can you see four lighthouses at the same time?

The four lighthouses

The four lighthouses

There aren’t a lot of places where you can see multiple lighthouses in one view. It’s possible to see a number of lighthouses in quite a short space of time, but not often you can get a picture of more than one or two at a time. This is what, for me, makes the Calf of Man a little bit more special.

In my last post, I said that my next lighthouse trip would be in Wales, but we made a fairly last minute decision to spend a few days on the Isle of Man. So, last week we spent some time on this island (more on the main island to follow in a separate post) and were fortunate enough to get over to the Calf of Man with Isle of Man Diving Charters on our first day there. We were lucky as high winds were predicted for the following two days and the boatman wasn’t even entertaining the thought of going out then. It was an early start for the three of us, but we arrived a little early and waiting around for quite some time before anyone else arrived. We were told the boat would be leaving at 8.30am so to be there at 8.15. We arrived at about 8.10 and saw no one for at least 20 minutes when others turned up and the boatman eventually arrived. This was our first experience of the Isle of Man’s laid-back attitude. If we hadn’t been so worried that it had been cancelled and we would miss the chance to go, we may have appreciated this apparent cultural phenomenon a little more.

The lower of the 1818 lighthouses

The lower of the 1818 lighthouses

The journey over to the Calf went well and once we’d set foot on dry land at Cow Harbour we set off towards the lighthouses, which happen to be in fairly close proximity to the island’s high point, so we were both happy. It was a nice walk along and we passed the house which contains accommodation for visitors and the wardens.

Not only does the island have three lighthouses, none of which are operational, but Chicken Rock lighthouse also sits a mile off of the island. This was the first of the lighthouses we spotted. There’s something very special about a rock lighthouse, they never disappoint. It wasn’t long after seeing Chicken Rock that the other three came into view.

The 1986 lighthouse

The 1986 lighthouse

The two similar-looking lighthouses on the island were build in 1818 by Robert Stevenson & Co. to work as a pair, guiding ships away from the dangerous Chicken Rock. In 1875, however, a lighthouse was built on Chicken Rock itself and the two lighthouses were decommissioned. The fourth lighthouse was built on the island in 1968 by the Northern Lighthouse Board and the lightkeepers lived in the lighthouse building until automation took place in 1995. This lighthouse was finally discontinued in 2007 when the Chicken Rock lighthouse was upgraded. The buildings of the original 1818 towers are still fairly intact (particularly the lower), although the glass of the lamp rooms has cracked in various places. The buildings within the 1968 lighthouse compound is, as Bob said, “very 1960s” and has quite a unique look about it, with the short octagonal tower perched on top of the building. It was quite interesting to see the old fog horn station near the lower lighthouse with, what looked like, an orchestra of trumpets sticking out of it.

The higher 1818 lighthouse

The higher 1818 lighthouse

After seeing all of the lighthouses as close as I could, my main aim then was to get a picture of the four lighthouses all at the same time and, fortunately, this meant heading to the island high point. We wandered on up and had lunch at the top, while Seumas had fun “walking” around the high point and finding what we thought was a wildlife camera, which clicked while he was standing in front of it. So, somewhere out there it’s likely that there is a picture of a small boy walking towards the camera on the high point of the Calf of Man! I imagine they’re not used to seeing that!

When we left the high point we headed back towards the lighthouses via a different route, which allowed us to get the ideal picture (see top of post).

Chicken Rock lighthouse

Chicken Rock lighthouse

In the lead-up to the boat trip and on the day itself we spoke to the boatman about possibly sailing around the Calf of Man and getting a bit closer to Chicken Rock lighthouse (if you don’t ask, you don’t get). When he came to pick us up from the Calf, he still didn’t sound entirely sure, but said we’d give it a go. I’m pleased we did as we managed to get nice and close, while also getting some views of the coastline around the Calf of Man and views of the three lighthouses from the sea. We were really grateful to him for getting us around there. I think the others on the boat enjoyed it too, even if it wasn’t what they’d expected to be doing. An added bonus all round!

It was a great half-day and once we’d arrived back on the mainland we went to a tea room with views across Calf Sound to the Calf of Man. More on the mainland of the Isle of Man coming soon 🙂

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