Lighthouse bagging season 2018 begins!

It’s been a long old winter, I think most people would agree. There’s nothing like a young baby and a bit of cold, wild weather to scupper any plans for enjoyable trips to lighthouses. That’s not necessarily the case for Bob though who managed to land on Bass Rock earlier in the year, and Inchkeith this weekend. I’m not jealous at all, not one bit!

Happily, Easter has arrived and, for us, that marks a change in our calendar with the first few trips away to exciting and obscure places throughout the UK. We spent last Easter on Orkney (see a previous blog) and the weather was awful and, when Bob mentioned doing the same again this year and I agreed, it started to look like it might just be the same again. After booking we also realised that it clashed with the very exciting event taking place down in Fraserburgh at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, where the old Kinnaird Head lighthouse was turned on for one night only and manned by former lightkeepers to mark the 20th anniversary of Fair Isle South lighthouse being the last to be automated. From what I’ve seen it looked like a wonderful night and, if I could have been split into two for one weekend only, my other half would definitely have been there for that!

Hoy Low lighthouse with the hills of Hoy in the background, as seen from the boat to Graemsay

Back to Orkney, our key priority this year was to spend a day on Graemsay and visit the two lighthouses (Hoy High and Hoy Low) for me and the island high point for Bob. The main challenge was faced with this trip was that it is only a passenger ferry that serves the island and the current timetable meant we had to choose between a two-hour rush around the island or a six-hour visit, and with two young kids in tow it wasn’t an easy decision to make. Our solution was to go with the longer option and hire bikes from Orkney Cycle Hire in Stromness along with a buggy for the kids to sit in to trail behind Bob. On a day that was due to be sunny, but cold we needed to make sure the kids didn’t freeze and the buggy offered the perfect solution.

Hoy High lighthouse

So, along we went with our bikes and buggy. My last venture in riding a bike was on our honeymoon back in 2013 when we cycled between the three lighthouses on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland (see this post for the fun we had that day!) in the wind and rain. Fortunately we had more pleasant weather this time with some nice sunshine. We reached Hoy High lighthouse first, the tallest and most visible of the two. The 33 metre white tower was built, along with the Low lighthouse, in 1851 under the direction of Alan Stevenson. The two lighthouses operate together as leading lights, guiding ships safely through Hoy Sound. The tower is very in-keeping with the style of many of the other Scottish lighthouses. We didn’t get too close to this one as the former keepers’ buildings are now privately owned.

The road that joins the two lighthouses offer some stunning views (as do pretty much all of the island’s roads). One of the best has to be looking back to the lighthouse from the other end of the beautiful beach at Sandside. We chose this as the perfect spot for lunch a bit later on in the day, using one of the many picnic benches scattered across the island (there was a map at the pier on Graemsay showing where these picnic benches are located). The picnic benches were a nice touch and very welcoming for those of us visitors who do make the journey over (Graemsay doesn’t get the recognition, visitor numbers and attention it deserves in my opinion, but then maybe that’s what the residents of the island love about it).

Hoy Low lighthouse

We chose to leave the bikes and buggy at the top of the track down to the Hoy Low lighthouse and walk down. We were glad we did as it would have been a fairly bumpy ride for us all! I’d previously seen Hoy Low lighthouse from the Northlink ferry between Scrabster and Stromness and it was usually dwarfed by the hills on Hoy, which makes for a stunning picture. This lighthouse stands only 12 metres, but it’s a beautiful tower. Nearby there is an old World War II defence building. There are also remains of an old house next to the lighthouse compound, of which very little is still standing. The most obvious remains are of the fireplace, clearly very well built in its day! This lighthouse marked the first official lighthouse “bag” for our little girl at the age of 7 months (slightly later than our son who visited his first on the way home from hospital)! After reaching the bikes again we headed for the high point, which Bob bagged successfully. It’s good that our hobbies run in parallel on many occasions! We then stopped for lunch next to the beach and went for a bit of a walk. The very kind people at Orkney Cycle Hire had lent us some buckets and spades for the beach, but the chilly wind meant we didn’t get a chance to use them.

The wonderful waiting room at Graemsay Pier

We managed to complete our tour of the island and lunch within 4 hours and, being aware that the kids had been a bit cooped up, we decided to head back to the pier to see what the waiting room had to offer. I was concerned that it wouldn’t be open, but I needn’t have worried. Quite the opposite! Not only was it open, but the heating was on, which we were incredibly grateful for. Our son was particularly happy to have somewhere to play about and he adopted a small teddy bear from the honesty box – we knew we’d be buying it and taking it home when he started sweeping it across the floor!

All in all, we had a wonderful day on Graemsay. For those going to Orkney and interested in seeing an island that many others choose not to visit it is a must. I imagine the locals are quite fond of its quietness compared the neighbouring (and significantly bigger) island of Hoy. Living there would certainly involve some planning when it comes to such activities as the weekly shop, but I can imagine it’s easy enough once you get into the habit.

This trip involved a number of other activities on Orkney mainland, but no other lighthouses. Every time we leave Orkney we have always already started discussing how our next visit will pan out. We are planning, at some point in the not to distant future, a longer trip, taking in a number of the islands, including Sanday (for Start Point, which involves a bit of planning with the tide), North Ronaldsay and Westray. We also hope to organise trips to some of those that aren’t covered by the scheduled sailings.

Our next potential lighthouse-bagging trip will be next month when we head for the Western Isles again. This will be our latest attempt to reach the Monachs and the Flannans. We shall see what sea conditions await, so watch this space… 🙂

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