uklighthousetour

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

Returning to Hoylake and off to the Skerries

Hoylake lighthouse

Hoylake lighthouse

Last weekend we were heading to Anglesey for a boat trip and decided to drop into Hoylake on the way. In one of my blog posts from last month, I mentioned that the good people at Bidston lighthouse had informed us that the building I had previously thought was the Hoylake lighthouse actually wasn’t. We were travelling with my sister as she was looking after our little boy while we went on the boat trip that afternoon. We found Valentia Road in Hoylake easily enough and my sister and I looked out each side of the car as it’s not always so easy to spot them when they’re among houses. My sister had the joy of spotting it first and we continued along the road to turn around. We decided to drive to the end of Stanley Road to show my sister the building I’d previously seen, which she was very impressed by. She recommended we do something similar with our little old house on the north coast of Scotland – if only I could! We drove back to Valentia Road and got some great pictures of the actual lighthouse, which is nicely framed by big trees when you see it from the road. It’s a stunning building. The light was last exhibited in 1886 and was one of two built in 1865. The lower lighthouse no longer remains, but actually was operational until later than the existing structure, finally being discontinued in 1908.

South Stack - it would have been rude not to visit

South Stack – it would have been rude not to visit

Finally satisfied that I’d seen the real lighthouse, we drove on to Anglesey. We had a brief stop at South Stack to see the lighthouse there, where my sister had a particularly amusing Marilyn Monroe-esque experience with the wind! We parked up at the marina in Holyhead and found a cafe for lunch before meeting the other island-baggers. I’d seen the Skerries before from Holyhead and been fascinated by its beautiful white lighthouse with the red stripe. Fortunately a friend of ours had managed to get hold of Rib Ride who run boat trips from Holyhead and they had agreed to take us out. The boat we went out in was actually formerly owner by Bear Grylls, who just keeps on popping up in my lighthouse endeavours (see my post from August). Bear is actually involved with the company and his boat is actually quite a comfortable set up with nice padded seats. Our pilot, Charles, was also a friendly chap and managed to quickly sort out an engine problem we experienced on the way out, so we made it there safely and Charles moored up alongside a ladder leading up to the island.

The Skerries lighthouse

The Skerries lighthouse

The Skerries is a stunning place, and I really believe that this is in large part due to the positioning of the lighthouse (though others may disagree). The way it has been built to sit on the highest point of the island is fascinating and every view you get of it from wandering around the main island is perfect. Right on time, the sun decided to come out as we arrived too, so we had great weather for exploring the island. We were also joined by the regular howling of the seals playing about in the natural cove, which offers respite to sailors on rougher days. Apparently, some refer to the Skerries as “the Scaries” due to challenges it presents when the sea is rough. The lighthouse on the Skerries has an interesting history and was originally built by the lease-holder of the island, with the light making its first appearance in 1717. Trinity House had previously objected to the lighthouse being built, but in 1834 they made clear the wishes to purchase the structure. For seven years they fought for ownership and, finally, in 1841 it was sold to them and became the last of the privately owned lighthouses to be bought by Trinity House. It was a wonderful place to visit and nice to be able to share it only with the seals (and some made island-baggers too)!

That trip marked the end of our lighthouse bagging trips (as far as I know) for now. Hopefully there will be more before the end of the year, but we’ll just have to wait and see. The more and more you visit the harder they become to get to. We have some great trips lined up for next year already though, which I’m very excited about 🙂

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And finally to Orfordness!

I’d attempted to visit Orfordness lighthouse twice before, the first time missing the last boat by about 15 minutes and the second time turning up on a Sunday or Monday when the boat doesn’t run (bad planning on my part there). So, it had to be third time lucky, surely!

The Bailey Bridge and the lighthouse beyond

The Bailey Bridge and the lighthouse beyond

With more forward planning this time, we arrived in time for the first boat of the day and happily received the tickets from the National Trust office at Orford. It’s not the cheapest boat trip I’ve ever been on, but you do get maps and a welcome from the National Trust staff on the (roughly) 10 mile long shingle spit that is Orford Ness. They informed us that, although it does say it on the map we’d received, it was very unlikely that we’d step on some unexploded ordnance. The spit was used by the Ministry of Defence during both the First and Second World War as well as the Cold War for secret testing and was also a test site for early developments in radar. There are a number of the old atomic testing buildings still standing on Orford Ness. Although the general outline of what went on there in the past is known, there is still a lot that remains secret. Visiting it on a quiet, calm day as we did, you can’t imagine all of this going on there.

It is also an important conservation area and there is a trail, as defined by the National Trust, that provides the best route if that is your priority. We had plans for the afternoon, so decided to head straight for the lighthouse. It’s possible to see the lighthouse from Orford itself, but it’s actually on the other side of the spit, so it’s a bit of a stroll – a nice one though.

A picture on display in the old Bomb Ballistics building showing testing near the lighthouse

A picture on display in the old Bomb Ballistics building showing testing near the lighthouse

It was back in 2013 that I first heard of the problems with Orfordness lighthouse. Early reports on this said that the lighthouse had been discontinued by Trinity House with the optic removed as the risk of it being washed away was imminent. Another story shortly afterwards revealed that it wouldn’t happen quite as suddenly as the original story suggested and that it had a few years remaining yet (it turns out that an earlier lower lighthouse on Orford Ness was actually washed away in 1730). So, it came as a bit of a surprise to see a vehicle drive past us with ‘Trinity House’ on the side. As we continued our walk, we noticed the vehicle stopped at the lighthouse. I’d received news earlier in the summer that the lighthouse was to be open to the public for three days, none of which I was able to make. So, the idea that someone would be at the lighthouse and might let us get inside was unexpected and a quite exciting. We stopped off at the old Bomb Ballistics building on the way to the lighthouse, which contained some information about what used to take place there. It showed some of the testing exercises they carried out with bombs being dropped into the sea just off of the coast there, scarily close to the lighthouse in my opinion.

The lighthouse and its buildings

The lighthouse and its buildings

As we set off for the final stretch towards the lighthouse we noticed that the door to the main tower was open and, as we approached we could hear voices coming from inside. It turned out that Nicholas Gold, the owner of the lighthouse, was there that day showing people around and, even better, he was happy for us to have a walk up the tower. Apparently, he’d heard about the risk to the lighthouse and contacted Trinity House to ask if they could come to some sort of deal over ownership of the buildings and tower. Fortunately they could (I assume Trinity House were pleased to get rid of it, as it no longer served a purpose for them) and he set up  the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust to allow the local community to have a say over how the lighthouse was maintained in the future. The Trust aims to preserve the tower for as long as possible and some stabilisation work has already been carried out to protect the lighthouse.

The view down from the lamp room

The view down from the lamp room

So, in we went and met the owner on our way up. We made it all the way to the lamp room, which offered some great views of the surrounding area and we could look down and see from above the distance between the sea and the lighthouse. It’s an interesting lighthouse with some unusual platforms on the way up unlike any I’ve seen before. Just inside the entrance there is some information about the lighthouse and the work that has already been done to try to preserve it. We left a donation and made our way back outside where the owner allowed us to look inside the interestingly-shaped building that had previously been used to store the oil for the lighthouse. Such a great smell inside that building! There was also the other building, which would have provided living quarters for the keepers. All in all, a fantastic visit and perfect timing as, on our way back, the owner drove past us and offered us a ride back to the boat on the back of the vehicle. We said “no, thank you” at the time, but realised with hindsight that it could have been quite fun – the three of us bouncing about on the back! So, he’d obviously not stayed there much longer after we’d left. Perfect timing!

A beautiful location for a beautiful tower

A beautiful location for a beautiful tower

It was a great few hours spent in a unique place. Whether or not the lighthouse is open, it’s definitely worth a visit, particularly to see the beautiful lighthouse tower with it’s perfect stripes before it ceases to be a part of the skyline there. I just hope the Trust are able to preserve it for many years to come.

We have one more trip lined up this coming weekend, which I will report on soon. There’s nothing, as yet, following that, but these things can change in the space of a week if we suddenly decide we want to do something! 🙂

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Cramming in some lighthouse visits

The middle pier light at Granton

The middle pier light at Granton

At the weekend, we travelled down from the north coast to the Isle of Wight to see my family for our son’s first birthday. Of course, it wasn’t possible to do the journey without at least one lighthouse stop! In my attempt to finalise a list of lighthouses in the UK, I have discovered more and so we took a detour along the coast north of Edinburgh after our stopover in Perth. I’d been to Granton during my lighthouse tour in 2012 to see, what I have recently discovered, is actually a former Northern Lighthouse Board training facility. There is a Stevenson-style lamp room sitting on top of a building and, rather than being used for navigation, it was only ever used for trainee light keepers. I had found out about the additional two lighthouses here though just last week, one on the end of the east pier and the other on the middle pier. I won’t say a huge amount about either as there’s not a lot to say. We weren’t able to get very close to the middle pier light, which is essentially a small lamp on the top of a pole. The other was a white square structure on the end of the pier. It was a nice wander out to it, but it’s looking a little derelict now with graffiti all over it. We’re not sure if it is still in operation as it doesn’t look like it, but there is a solar panel on top. We didn’t spend long in the area as we had to get down the road.

Off we go to St Mary's lighthouse!

Off we go to St Mary’s lighthouse!

This didn’t stop us from calling in on St Mary’s island lighthouse nearly Whitley Bay as we passed by though. When I’d originally been in 2012 the tidal island had been cut off and when Bob and I had made a quick stop there more recently we didn’t have time to enjoy a walk across the causeway to the island. This time around we chose to make time for it. It’s a stunning tower and it’s tidal access adds an extra appeal to it. It turns out they have a real good set-up there, although the funding hasn’t come easily to keep it going.

We had a quick walk around the outside of the tower before heading in to the shop and buying tickets to go to the top of the lighthouse. What I often find in many lighthouses that you can reach the top of is that you need to go on a guided tour with someone who works there. St Mary’s is different though and you can wander up at your own leisure. This time we had our son with us and he is very keen to walk up steps at the moment, so he was more than happy to wander on up (holding his daddy’s fingers). He got about two thirds of the way up before Bob decided it was too much for his back, so he was carried the rest of the way up. It was a bit of a challenge to get Bob and our son through the small opening up to the lamp room, but they got to the top and, for our little man, it was the first time he’s been to the top of a lighthouse.

The old Withernsea optic in St Mary's lamp room

The old Withernsea optic in St Mary’s lamp room

There were some great views from the top and, although the optic in there is not the original (it came from Withernsea), it is still nice to see an optic in there. After having a good look around we started our descent. At the bottom of the tower we noticed live footage of the nearby rocks so people could look out for seals. However, I noticed that the camera could be spun around to see the lamp room. So, I then headed back up to the top, leaving Bob with the instructions to take pictures of me at the top once I got there. I’m not really sure why I decided to go back up – it’s much more exhausting the second time around, but we got the pictures and I then returned to the bottom of the tower. While we were there, we got a certificate for our little man to mark his climbing of the lighthouse.

By the time we left the lighthouse the sun had come out and so we took a slow wander back along the causeway before grabbing an ice cream and hitting the road again.

The following day was particularly exciting as I managed to bag another lighthouse on my third attempt at it. That’s all I’ll leave you with! More to follow soon 🙂

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