uklighthousetour

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

Welsh offshore rock lights

Last weekend we spent a day in South West Wales in the hope of bagging two very exciting lighthouses! A good friend of ours, Adrian, had organised a boat trip with Venture Jet out from St David’s and the forecast for the weekend was looking good. So, being the committed lighthouse-baggers that we are, we made the day-long trip each way from home to South Wales.

smalls and me

Smalls lighthouse and me – on the same piece of rock!

Due to the tide at the time, our first destination was to be a stunning piece of architecture that sits around 21 miles west of St David’s, Smalls lighthouse. On the journey out, the captain informed us that it may not be possible to land on the rock, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up. We were encouraged to sit on the tubes at each side of the boat and hold onto two handles (basically, clinging on for dear life!), which proved to make for a pretty bumpy ride. Very sensibly, everyone gradually realised that sitting in the centre of the boat was a much more pleasant experience.

As you would expect, we spotted the lighthouse from some way off and as we approached it was looking like a landing on the rock would be possible. In fact, it turned out to be a particularly dignified landing, just hopping off of the front of the boat onto some steps. The trouble came at the top where we encountered a wide area of flat rock covered in particularly slippery seal poo! Obviously that couldn’t dampen our spirits though for having got so close to such a majestic structure.

smalls old struts

The remains of two of the oak struts from the previous lighthouse at Smalls

The rock, in fact, turned out to be even more interesting as we discovered the remains of the bases on numerous oak struts, hidden within the rock. Having not done my research prior to our visit, I was informed while we were there by someone a little more forward thinking than me, that the tower that currently sits on the rock is actually the second lighthouse to have appeared on the rock. The previous being a timber lamp room and keeper’s house perched on top of these struts as well as some cast iron legs. This lighthouse was built in 1776, but didn’t last long until vital repairs were needed following storm damage. Between January and September 1778 the light was not in operation. After repairs had been made, it then guided mariners for over 80 years until it was replaced by the existing tower in 1861. There is more information about, and drawings of, the old lighthouse on the Trinity House blog and another blog from Heritage of Wales features a diagram showing the positions of all the old struts as well as an artist’s replica of the old lighthouse.

smalls from below

The door to the lighthouse with some damage below

The old lighthouse was the setting for the story of the two lighthouse keepers, one of whom died during their stay on the rock and the other, in the process of trying to deal with his colleague’s passing, was driven mad. It is said that this incident, which is believed to have occurred around 1800, was the reason behind the introduction of the rule that three keepers had always to be present at any one time.

Now, to the existing tower – and what a tower it is – all 141ft of it! It was originally based on the design of Eddystone lighthouse and originally featured red and white stripes, which were sandblasted off in 1997. It is still possible to climb up to the the lighthouse door, which Bob did and tried knocking, but apparently no one was in! I think we were all in awe at how such a building was constructed on such a challenging piece of rock.

smalls storage

One of the old storage rooms built into the rock at Smalls

The rock hid a number of other surprises too, like some old store rooms, which had been cut into the rock. I have also seen a picture that shows a separate building that was once located on the flat section of rock, which is no longer there. In short, the place is fascinating and I was pleased that all of the hill- and island-baggers that were on the trip seemed to enjoy the visit too.

Saying farewell to Smalls, we headed back towards the mainland. You may think that seeing Smalls was enough excitement for one day, but no, there was more! With the tide now at prime position, the landing on South Bishop was just as dignified as it had been on Smalls. We were greeted with a considerable number of steps, impressively crafted from the rock and pretty much all still in good working condition. The steps were worth the climb though when we reached the lighthouse at the top.

south bishop from sea

South Bishop lighthouse

The lighthouse looks impressive from every possible angle from the sea and when on land has a fairly large compound. The lighthouse was first lit in 1839 and, in 1971 a helipad was constructed to allow easier access. However, the helipad was prone to flooding in bad weather and high tides. Both the old helipad and the newer one can still be seen on the island. Bob went off to explore the area surrounding the old helipad and happened upon a piece of concrete with a name engraved into it, ‘Cyril M’, followed by what looks like a date ’24 10′ and then an indecipherable year. Intriguing! (Update: I have since been reliably informed that this would have been engraved by Cyril Matthews, a Trinity House carpenter based out of Swansea).Β It was a great place to explore and I could have happily spent all day there (particularly as the sun came out for us).

south bishop helipad

South Bishop lighthouse from the old, damaged helipad

On the way back to St David’s, our guides took us to see a small rock island called Daufraich, through which the tide bubbled up to the surface. He said he would quite like to dive there one day, but has concerns about being drowned by an influx of disturbed seals! We were also taken around the south end of Ramsey Island where there are cliffs up to 100 metres high. We also went through a sea cave where seals were chilling out before arriving back at St David’s.

Overall a fantastic bagging day, both for me with the lighthouses and for Bob who then went on to bag 5 Marilyns! A great day and well worth the journey! πŸ™‚

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A Lewis walk & a Harris surprise

Welcome to my 100th blog post!

We went over to the Western Isles earlier this month for a week-long holiday, staying in a great four-bedroom house on Harris. I’d been to the Western Isles a few years ago and visited the easier to get to lighthouses, such as Butt of Lewis, Tiumpan Head, Arnish Point and Eilean Glas. So this time the plan was to reach another that involved a bit more of a stretch of the legs, Aird Lamishader.

aird lamishader

Aird Lamishader lighthouse

I knew before we set off for the walk from Borghastan/Borrowston that the lighthouse was one of the “flat pack” style. To get there we had to navigate our way down some nice steep slopes (we seemed to miss the sensible path down). Once we made it to the fields below we encountered some particularly friendly/scary sheep that, instead of running away as I would normally expect them to do, started to follow us. I was later informed that it was likely to be because they, and their lambs, were still bring fed by the farmer at that point, so they expected us to feed them. Once we’d passed over the fields we started the wander up a hill that Bob wanted to climb and said would be a more direct route to the lighthouse. So, up we went and spent some time checking out the view before we went down the other side. By this point it was feeling like quite a trek, but at least we could see the lighthouse.

butt of lewis

Butt of Lewis lighthouse on a sunny, but chilly, day

After crossing more fields and going up another (considerably smaller) hill we arrived at the lighthouse. As with most “flat pack” lighthouses, there’s not a lot to say about them, but they are often located in places with rather good views and this one was no exception. We were even fortunate enough to catch sight of the Flannan Isles out to sea. Fortunately we walked around the hill on the way back, but in the process met even more over-friendly sheep. I managed to calm down though when we spotted a man heading the same way as us. He was a local former Gaelic teacher who has been growing carrots in the area. He was a friendly man and took us the sensible route back to the car.

The following day we revisited the Butt of Lewis lighthouse briefly. I say briefly because it was a bit wild that day!

 

flannan isles shore station

The old Flannan Isles shore station in Breasclete

On the way back to our accommodation that day we drove through Breasclete on the west coast of Lewis in search of the old Flannan Isles lighthouse shore station. We spotted the big house from the main road, and as we got closer, noticed the old Northern Lighthouse Board emblem above the front door. I believe there are plans to create a memorial in Breascleit at some point in memory of the three lighthouse keepers that went missing from the Flannan Isles lighthouse in December 1900.

During our trip we stopped by Hebrides Arts, a beautifully located art gallery and cafe with some amazing work from local artists. While we were there we spotted a painting of a lighthouse with the title ‘Leverburgh lighthouse’, which surprised us as we weren’t aware of any lighthouses at Leverburgh, just beacons. The story associated with the picture was that the top section had blown off during a storm, leaving just the tower.

leverburgh

What remains of Leverburgh lighthouse

That evening we headed to Leverburgh pier and sure enough, just as the lady at Hebrides Arts mentioned, the tower was visible just across the water to the right. As we headed back up the road, we parked up at the side of the road and walked along to it across some, boggy in places, moorland. The tower turned out to be bigger than I’d imagined and Bob made a note of its coordinates as we hadn’t found it on any maps. Later in the week we spoke to Seumas Morrison, who runs Sea Harris and regularly goes out from Leverburgh pier. His take on it’s history was that the top section on the lighthouse was actually removed and not blown away.

Leverburgh lighthouse Sept 06

Bob’s picture of Leverburgh lighthouse in 2006

Bob had a look back at some of his pictures from the area and found one from 2006 showing the lighthouse intact. A picture he had from 2012 shows the tower alone. There is very little information about this lighthouse online. I was pleased to find out about it though and to visit it during our holiday.

We were due to take a trip out to the Monach islands and possibly Hasgeir, which would have involved two new lighthouses for me, but sea conditions weren’t in our favour on this occasion, so they will be for another time. We did manage to make it to Taransay and Scarp though, and although there were no lighthouses they are still fantastic places to visit if you are lucky enough to be able to get to them.

I have only one lighthouse left to visit on Lewis and Harris now, Rubh’ Uisinis, which involves a lot more planning. I’m not sure I fancy the 10 mile+ walk out to it over bog land (and then there’s the return journey), so will need to think a bit more creatively about that one!

Finally, once we arrived back in Ullapool and began our journey home we took a minor detour as we noticed the van in front of us belonged to the Northern Lighthouse Board. We’d never seen one before so had to get a quick picture πŸ™‚

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Seeing Strathy Point from the inside

Back in April I was given a particularly great opportunity to have a look inside our most “local” lighthouse, Strathy Point. Through a very kind work colleague of Bob’s, who lives in the lighthouse compound, we managed to have a really good nose around.

The tower itself, which only came into service in 1958, marked a previously “dark” area on the north coast. The first proposal for a lighthouse to be positioned here was submitted, and rejected, back in 1900 and a temporary light was displayed at Strathy Point during the Second World War. Joan, my new friend at the lighthouse, lent us a short film which followed one of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s visits to various lighthouses around the north of Scotland in 1958 (the film can be viewed online here). The film shows the opening of Strathy Point lighthouse.

strathy

Strathy Point lighthouse from inside the compound

After a review of local shipping and, apparently, local consultation, a decision was made by the General Lighthouse Authorities in 2010 that the light should be switched off. This happened in March 2012, a sad occasion for the residents of Strathy and the surrounding villages who had become so used to seeing the light sweeping across the nearby land.

The lighthouse tower was then sold in 2013 to a very friendly man named John, who is currently renovating the internals of the building. We enjoyed our tour around. My favourite part had to be the lamp room, which John has a couple of stools in for making the most of the impressive panoramic views. I had a vision while up there of how I would have done it up with a lovely window seat around the sides and Joan and I agreed that the wide staircase on the way up to the lamp room would be the perfect place for some nice, curved bookcases!

lamp room strathy

Recent damage to the lamp room

One of the glass panes up in the lamp room has sustained some damage fairly recently after the tower was struck by lightning. There was also damage done to the outside of the structure.

While we were there, John took us down a ladder leading to a platform and showed us a hidden room that is only accessible from the tower. He told us about his plans for the room, which will turn it from a disused water tank store to another viewing area for gazing out to sea.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit, including our little man, who seemed particularly keen on trying to climb the first steps of the ladder up to the lamp room. It was fantastic to be able to see inside and I am very grateful to Joan for showing us around and for then offering us a cup of tea in her former lighthouse keeper’s cottage – and allowing an 18-month-old into her home. Also, thanks to John for letting us be nosey! πŸ™‚

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