uklighthousetour

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

A single Hebridian lighthouse

Last week we went on a family holiday to the Outer Hebrides, staying in Leverburgh. A friend of ours had organised a series of boat trips during the week, which were due to include a visit to the Monach Islands and the Flannan Isles as well as a trip to Gaisgeir (or Gasker). Unfortunately we weren’t blessed with the perfect conditions of a few weeks ago, so the Monachs and Flannans trips didn’t go ahead. The lighthouse on Eilean Mòr in the Flannans, in particular, would be incredible to see. It has so much history with the disappearance of the keepers in 1900. We are hoping, at some point, to get back out to these two.

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On the approach to Gaisgeir island

We were fortunate enough though to get out to Gasker lighthouse – or should I say Gaisgeir island, as the island presents a real challenge for landing on. The skipper from Seatrek was fairly sure that no one would be landing on the island as he described it as being near impossible to land on and like a wall of ice, slippery with seal poo! There were certainly plenty of seals around and we heard about and read a couple of seal-related stories: apparently the introduction of the lighthouse to the island caused a lot of unrest among conservation groups due to the disruption to the seal colony by the helicopters used to deliver the materials and workers; and the former residents of the island of Scarp (just off of Huisinis), 5 miles/8 km to the north east of the island, would travel to the island to kill the seals for food.

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Gasker lighthouse

Due to the skipper’s initial thoughts on the possibility of landing, we (or Bob) made a point of getting lots of pictures from the sea as we felt a landing wouldn’t be possible. Fortunately the skipper was willing to have a look around for a possible landing place, so we nipped into Geodha Iar, a coastal inlet on the north side of the island, to see how it looked. It was surprisingly sheltered in the geo and a couple of the members of our group, including Bob, managed to land on the island and scrambled up to the top of the rocks. He then took a short stroll up to the “flat pack” lighthouse and got some good pictures for me. We had researched the island a bit the night before the trip and discovered that there was very little information, and even fewer pictures, available. It might not be an impressive lighthouse, but it was a great experience visiting the island, even if the journey out there was a bit wet! I could tell Bob was delighted with the success of the trip by the big smile on his face when he got back onto the boat!

So that was our single new “bag” of the week, but we did get a look at some of those we’d visited before including Butt of Lewis, Aird Lamishader and Arnish Point. It may not have been the most lighthouse-filled week, but it was great to see a new one. Hopefully we’ll have better luck with the others on our next visit 🙂

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More from Orkney

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Calf of Eday lighthouse

Our Easter trip to Orkney was introduced in my previous post which covered our first day. The second was spent on the island of Eday. In comparison to Hoy, Eday is physically smaller and has much less to offer visitors – fortunately it does have a lighthouse at the north end, which overlooks the Calf of Eday. This was obviously our reason for choosing this island (we would have loved to go to Sanday, but the tide times weren’t going to tie in for visiting the lighthouse there). Finding somewhere to park for walking to the lighthouse wasn’t so easy. The map showed a trail along the coast and we eventually found somewhere further back than we’d hoped to set off from. Luckily the sun was out though and it was a really pleasant walk through a few fields before we reached the lighthouse. It’s in a fantastic location and the only other living creatures that appeared to be around were sheep and birds, which isn’t such a bad thing sometimes. Due to the ferry times we were then left with a few hours to kill on Eday when there wasn’t much else we could do, particularly when we had to consider that our little boy would need a sleep at some point and that the few places there were to go were closed. We had a good time on the beach though before we headed back.

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Kirkwall west pier lighthouse

The remaining day and a half were spent on Orkney Mainland where we visited a few tourist attractions we’d not been to before. In addition to this, we had two lighthouses to visit. We were staying just on the outskirts of Kirkwall at Orkney Villas‘ The Courtyard, which was a perfect base to work from. The first of the lighthouses we visited was on the west pier in Kirkwall itself, so this was just a small stroll along the pier before we headed into the town to look around. It may not be the most impressive of lighthouses, but it has its own little charm. Having looked at older pictures of the lighthouse online it looks like it’s been spruced up a bit in recent years. This would probably be explained by the following inscription, which appears on a plaque on the lighthouse: “To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Kirkwall pier 1811-2011. Designed by Thomas Telford.”

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Brough of Birsay lighthouse

 

When Bob and I had last visited Orkney, we’d driven to Birsay and looked across to the tidal island, the Brough of Birsay, wondering if the tide was going in or out and whether we could make it across and back to bag the lighthouse at the top of the island. Me being more cautious than Bob when it comes to decision-making, we decided it would be too risky and that we’d have to visit again. So to be able to plan our visit around the tides this time was a bonus. We set off across the (sometimes slippery) path which becomes exposed at low tide to see the lighthouse. As I’ve found with every other tidal island I’ve ever been to, it was a great place. There are remains of ancient buildings just as you reach the island. We, of course, set straight off for the highest point where the lighthouse could be found. It is a stunning lighthouse with a really interesting design in an amazing location, so it was a joy to visit. Very few others who visit the Brough of Birsay seem to go that far (or at least they didn’t on that particular day), which makes it even more enjoyable. The views from the lighthouse of the neighbouring islands and the coastal landscape are very impressive. I would love to go back again some day.

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Hoy High lighthouse

So, that was it for our lighthouse bagging during our visit to Orkney. We did, however, get some good views of the two lighthouses on Graemsay, Hoy High and Hoy Low, from the ferry as we left though. We had tried to work out a way of getting a trip to Graemsay added to our itinerary for the weekend, but with the boat times it just wasn’t going to happen. Something for another time. Hoy High lighthouse stands tall and differs greatly in height from Hoy Low, which is a squat tower. Both designed by Alan Stevenson, there is no denying that they are beautiful structures. Hopefully one day we will get a much closer look at them.

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Hoy Low lighthouse

We were then treated to some wonderful views of the domineering cliffs of Hoy as well as the Old Man of Hoy as the ferry sailed past. That is the joy of taking that particular route on the ferry rather than the Gills Bay ferry.

We still have plenty left to see and do on the Orkney islands so expect more in the future at some point 🙂

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Orkney at Easter

We always like to make the most of a long weekend and we usually end up travelling a fair distance to do so. This Easter was a bit different though. For a change we decided to stay a bit closer to home and check out a bit more of Orkney, as I had only spent one day on Orkney mainland before. For many Orkney would be a pretty long-haul journey, but we were pleased to just go for a short drive before hopping on the ferry for once.

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Cava lighthouse

Our first full day was spent on Hoy, which is a pretty amazing island. A day is definitely not long enough, but we made the most of the time we had and – as well as lighthouse bagging – we went to Sandwick Bay, the Dwarfie Stane, the Scapa Flow Visitors Centre and Betty Corrigal’s grave (the story of Betty is incredible – you can find out more on the Hoy Orkney website). The boat journey across to Hoy enabled us to see the lighthouse on the Calf of Cava. Although it isn’t as majestic as the Stevenson lighthouses, I have become quite fond of this style of lighthouse. We were also able to get distant views of Barrel of Butter, which – unfortunately – doesn’t qualify for my lighthouse list based on my definition (as described in my last post). It’s a pretty good name though – I believe it has something to do with the cost of lighthouse dues in the past, something like that!

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Cantick Head lighthouse

Of course the main draw of visiting Hoy for me was Cantick Head lighthouse, which we went for first. We always love spotting a “For sale” sign on the gate of a lighthouse – not that we could afford to buy a lighthouse, or former keeper’s cottage – but there’s always the hope that one day we might! We have occasionally been known to take advantage of these sales for getting closer to certain lighthouses! The lighthouse at Cantick Head has been operational now for over 150 years and it is currently possible to rent the old keepers cottages for holidays. Next time, that’s what we’ll be doing!

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Tor Ness lighthouse

The second lighthouse we were hoping to visit while on Hoy was Tor Ness on the west coast. We were hopeful that we would make it there, although it involved a bit of a walk (and with a 2-year-old that’s not always easy, especially as we discovered later that day that the carrier we had for him had suddenly become too small!). As we approached and began to drive around it became apparent that it might not be as straightforward as we’d hoped. The nearest access route to the lighthouse is across croft land and, although the farmer was happy enough for us to proceed, we were fully aware that the first stage of the walk would involve walking through a field of cows, some with calves. We decided that it wasn’t worth the risk and that we’d review it a bit more for next time. Better to be safe and sensible about it. Besides, it’s another reason/excuse to go back!

More on Orkney to follow tomorrow! 🙂

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Beauty and solitude on Lady Isle

I alluded to a search exercise Bob and I carried out over the winter (and have been working towards for the last few years) a couple of posts ago. This exercise had two parts:

  1. To establish my own definition of what constitutes a “lighthouse”
  2. To do a scoping exercise, based on the above definition, into which structures I need to add to my “to bag” list

The first point above sounds easier than it is in practice, because there are in fact many factors to take into consideration. Obviously there are the majestic structures (those designed by the Stevensons in Scotland, for example) that we all know and love, but what about the smaller lights on piers or tucked away off of the beaten track? While some might say they don’t deserve to be viewed in the same regard, does it mean they aren’t a lighthouse? And if they are still lighthouses, how do you know? What type of structure do they need to be? What range does their light need to have to warrant such a title, rather than “beacon”, for example?

It would be easy to place a blanket definition from the comfort of your own home, but when you start to look at the lighthouses that exist out there and how there are areas of change (the reduction of light ranges, the discontinuation of lights, etc.) it suddenly becomes more tricky an exercise.

It was only over the winter just gone that I decided on my own definition, which is: A fixed structure that was built to exhibit a light for the purpose of aiding maritime navigation and allows access for at least one person inside any part of it.

This definition is similar to that described by Ken Trethewey in his really interesting article “What Is A Lighthouse? A Modern Definition”, which was published in World Lighthouse Society Magazine (1st Quarter 2013, Volume 11, Issue 1, p5-14). This is available at www.worldlighthouses.org. I would say that the main difference between our definitions is that mine is more inclusive of redundant lighthouses. Of course, this is my personal definition and, while my key interest is in the structures themselves, I recognise that some lighthouse baggers may prioritise other aspects, for example, the light’s range, which would require a different definition.

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Lady Isle lighthouse

The reason I have chosen this particular blog post to explain my definition is because the unusual lighthouse on Lady Isle, 2 miles off of the Ayrshire coast, could easily have slipped through the net of my definition! It is such lighthouses as these, which are substantial structures but contain very little in the way of a tower, that is the reason I chose to specify that a person needed to be able to fit into any part of it. You will see from the picture that the lighthouse actually has an external staircase leading up to an enclosed lamp room – the lamp room being the part that qualifies it as a lighthouse within my definition.

A good friend of ours had managed to secure us a boatman to take a group of us out to Lady Isle on a particularly lovely day in April (yes, I am delayed with my posts as usual). While I mentioned above the Lady Isle is only 2 miles off of the coast, our departure point of Largs made for a slightly longer journey (not that we minded as it gave us a view of Little Cumbrae, which we visited last year, and we had an excuse to get an ice cream from Nardini’s once we’d got back).

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The remaining old beacon on Lady Isle

Fortunately the sea was fairly calm that day, which made for a (mostly) smooth RIB ride and an easy landing on Lady Isle. You cannot help but admire the unique design of the lighthouse with it’s red and white cross-sectional pillar, spiral staircase and lamp room. It certainly dominates the island. Looking back at the history of the island, there were actually two beacons (one of which still remains and the other in the position of the lighthouse) to guide vessels to safety. In 1903 the current lighthouse was introduced.

Although it is so close to civilisation (if you compare it to a number of more remote island lighthouses), you still get a sense of isolation out there and that’s one thing that I particularly like about these places.

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Lappock Rock Beacon

On our return journey back to Largs the boatman kindly sailed us fairly close to Lappock Rock Beacon, which is just a mile from the coast. Bob was particularly keen to see this close up and, being brought up in Troon, he had seen it from the mainland for many years. It’s another unique structure and, although it doesn’t qualify as a lighthouse under my definition (there is no internal access) it was still good to see.

We were also treated to close-up views of Horse Isle and the large stone tower at its south end. Since the trip I’ve done some research into this tower to see if it was ever used as a lighthouse or beacon. Some sources suggest it was built as an aid to navigation, but mapping just describes it as a “landmark” or “tower”. If it was used as a lighthouse, and was ever lit in the past, then it would certainly qualify for inclusion on my list. Perhaps one to look into a bit more 🙂

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The tower on Horse Isle

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In and around Aberdeenshire

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The Torry rear lighthouse

Following on from my previous post, we continued our visit to new lighthouses in Aberdeenshire. On my tour, and on more recent visits, I’d seen a variety of the lights in Aberdeen itself. Of course there’s Girdle Ness, as well as the interesting little white structure on the end of the south breakwater. In addition we’d spotted one of the Torry leading lights at the side of the road too, but had managed to miss the other. So, one aim was to spot the other of the Torry lights, which incidentally is on the other side of the same road a little further back! It looks exactly the same as its partner down the road, but features a small blue plaque stating that is was built in 1842 by the Harbour Trustees.  These two lighthouses were built to lead vessels safely into the harbour after the south breakwater and north pier were constructed – which led to the harbour entrance becoming narrower.

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Aberdeen north pier lighthouse

 

 

The second of the lighthouses we hadn’t seen in Aberdeen was that at the end of the north pier. Having looked at the map, we already had a feeling that accessing this one might be tricky. Using a long lens on the camera while we were there confirmed this as there is an impassable gate a short way along the pier. We estimated that the views across to the lighthouse from Greyhope Road (the road leading out to Girdle Ness) was the closest we could get. And so that’s where we went. We did also drive around to Esplanade later on that day, but there were no better views from there. Sometimes you just need to admit defeat and settle for the best you can do!

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Gourdon lighthouse

Our next, and final, lighthouse of the day was at the fishing village of Gourdon, south of Aberdeen. The rear range lighthouse that sits at the side of Brae Road isn’t too dissimilar to that at the side of the Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus. Although you can walk right up to this one, it’s not so easy to get a good picture of it as it’s fairly surrounded by houses and trees. The picture shown here is probably the best I could do on the day.

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Covesea Skerries lighthouse

So that was it for day two of our trip. Day three, however, was even more exciting as Bob had managed to arrange a visit to Covesea Skerries lighthouse on our way back home. When I visited Covesea back in 2012 it had sadly just been switched off. Over the past 5 years there has been a lot of work done by the local community to get the lighthouse open as a tourist attraction. They have a great website, http://covesealighthouse.co.uk, where you can find the contact details for arranging a visit. It’s run by volunteers so it’s not possible to just turn up, unless you arrive at 10am or 11am on a Saturday during the summer. After a bit of planning via text message with Sheila (one of the volunteer team), we managed to organise a visit for the Sunday, thanks to the very accommodating team – particularly Lynne and Graham who showed us around and allowed our little boy up to the top – he was very proud to have climbed to the top!

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Some of the old lighthouse equipment in Covesea Skerries lighthouse

They have obviously put a lot of time and energy into opening the lighthouse up. They’ve even had local students there painting it. Of course, opening any building up to the public brings a lot of safety regulations along with it and they seem to have managed this really well without making any areas off limits. There were fantastic 360 degree views from the top of the lighthouse across the sea to the north and then Lossiemouth to the east. It was a great place to see across to RAF Lossiemouth too and they’d had a variety of planes landing and taking off from there just the day before our visit. The lamp itself has now been removed, unfortunately, but we were informed that it has now found a home at Lossiemouth Fisheries and & Community Museum (although this was closed on the day we were in the area, so we’ll need to pop back some time).

It was a fantastic opportunity and we are so grateful to Sheila, Lynne and Graham for making it possible. I would highly recommend it. I see it only getting better and better as more and more people become aware of it. Fingers crossed they keep getting the support they need 🙂

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Just one of the views from Covesea Skerries lighthouse (including its own shadow)

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2017 bagging season begins!

Those who have seen some of my earlier posts (or even looked at the list of months that I have added posts on here) will know that , for me, there is such a thing as “lighthouse-bagging season”. Of course it’s possible to enjoy them just as much in winter, but the dark mornings and evenings aren’t conducive to a good bagging day.

Whenever the clocks change I’m glad of the lighter evenings and how much more of a day you get to enjoy the outdoors. So it’s no surprise that a few weekends ago we set off to visit a total of 10 new lighthouses and a revisit to a few others too. Due to a review of lighthouses we conducted over the winter, we were able to find some more to keep us going (more on this and the definition of ‘lighthouse’ in a future post).

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Nairn lighthouse

So, that weekend the stretch we covered was on the north east coast between Nairn and Gourdon, just to the south of Inverbervie. Our first stop was Nairn East Pier where I got my feet wet. The design of the pier (which is narrower at the end) means that every now and then a larger wave washes over the top, which is exactly what happened as I approached. It would have happened on the way back too had I not been more prepared for it by then. The lighthouse itself has your typical lighthouse base, but is now topped with a “light on a stick” as I refer to them. I’ve not been able to find out any of the history of the lighthouse itself. The pier that it sits on offers some great views across one of the town’s sandy beaches to the east and towards the Black Isle to the north west.

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The two lighthouse at Burghead

Our next stop was the small town of Burghead where the sturdy-based lighthouse sits on the North Pier. The small lamp looks tiny in comparison to the big, white base. I was nicely surprised to see a squat little structure that also meets my requirements right at the end of the pier. It’s essentially just a cupboard with a light in it. It’s a great short stroll along the pier and a sample of the fantastic rock that adorns this coastline can be seen at the entrance.

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Lossiemouth south pier lighthouse

There isn’t a huge amount to be said about the lighthouse on Lossiemouth south pier, except that it gets less and less interesting the further up it you look. It sits on a concrete base with a metal base to the main structure. Out of this metal comes an arrangement not dissimilar to an electricity pylon with a balcony on top. On top of that are a few contraptions on a post including the light. There are some lighthouses that just don’t inspire you (even I will admit that) and this is certainly one of them!

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Findochty lighthouse

The little gold lighthouse on the end of the breakwater at Findochty had a bit more character to it – partly because of it’s colour. There’s not a lot to it, just a lamp room with a door that sits at the top of a spiral staircase. Having done some research into this, now disused, structure I discovered that it is usually painted gold for the summer months and white for the winter. The minutes of the local Community Council meetings towards the end of last year suggest that the intention   was that it would be painted white, as per this schedule, at some point, but clearly that hadn’t happened, so I suspect it will remain gold for now. I quite like it that colour – it makes it more memorable. We also spotted a dolphin out to sea just before we left, which is always nice.

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Portsoy lighthouse

Portsoy is a very pretty little village which sits between the neighbouring villages of Cullen and Whitehills (both of which I visited on day 13 of my original lighthouse tour). While it shares some similarities with the two, Portsoy seems to have its own little charm. The small, white lamp room of the lighthouse sits on top of a private building. It’s possible to get views of the structure from a range of angles though thanks to the cosy little harbour. A beautiful, artistic metal dolphin sits across the other side of the harbour, which adds to the picturesque scene.

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Peterhead harbour north lighthouse

 

I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to our final stop for the day, Peterhead. My main memory of it last time was my stay at the campsite and the creepy old men who were also staying there when they only lived a few miles along the road. This time though we were searching the more built-up harbour area for a couple of, what I thought would be, less obvious lighthouses. We were just about to enter the pier that reaches out to the north of the harbour, heading towards the lighthouse near its end when we spotted a lighthouse just at the side of the road. Unlike many of the others we’d seen that day, this looked like a “proper” lighthouse with the stone base and lamp room integrated. After stopping for pictures we continued along the pier and through the various fishing-related buildings to where we were expecting a lighthouse to be. There was, it turned out, nothing to be seen there (apart from a view across to the second lighthouse) and further research has explained the relocation of the north harbour lighthouse. In April 2015 an application was submitted to Aberdeenshire Council to make alterations to the harbour at Peterhead, including the dismantling and re-erection of the lighthouse to its new location. The application states that: “It was proposed the lighthouse would have the masonry moved on a block by block basis after each block had been marked and recorded for position and then erected in the new location.” The application then goes on to say that the lighthouse had already been removed by the point the application was submitted without authorisation. It is noted in the document that the new/proposed location of the lighthouse would make it more accessible for the public, which it certainly is. I would have been quite happy to not have had to go searching around the numerous fishy buildings there and seen fish guts being dumped!

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Peterhead harbour south lighthouse

The second lighthouse in Peterhead harbour was much easier to find, being located just in front of the Peterhead Port Authority building. It’s basically the twin of the relocated structure, but isn’t looking quite as rejuvenated as it’s partner (presumably they gave the north harbour lighthouse a bit of a clean when the moved it!)

Our weekend of bagging new lighthouse continued, but more on that in the next post. 🙂

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