North and South England: the old and the new

On a recent trip to the Isle of Wight to see my family we made the most of the fact that we were driving almost the full length of the UK by stopping off to bag one new lighthouse for me and re-visit another. Comparing these two gives some idea of the variety of places and structures that I have often encountered when visiting lighthouses. That’s part of the joy of it, that some lighthouses are fairly reserved and serve their purpose with minimal fuss, while others are shouted about and bellow “look at me”!

Beaulieu River Millennium Beacon

I’d been aware for a while that there was a lighthouse near Lepe Beach at Beaulieu, not far from Southampton, and we had a bit of time to spare before our ferry so decided to head over that way. The lighthouse here is one of the newest in the UK, having only been erected in 2000 (it’s official name is the Beaulieu River Millennium Beacon). A local committee was formed to address the concerns over navigating from the Solent into the river and they finally made the decision to build the lighthouse to resolve this, as well as marking the start of the new millennium. There is a detailed history of the lighthouse and why/how it was installed in an article originally published in the Leading Lights journal. The article can be viewed online here. It may not be the most majestic and inspiring of buildings, but it is much closer in appearance to a traditional lighthouse than many of those that have been installed in more recent years (particularly the “flat pack” lighthouses that can be seen in parts of Scotland now). The land that the lighthouse sits on is within the grounds of Lepe House, which is privately owned, meaning that access to the tower is restricted. So I had to settle for a view from the roadside and small pebble beach just in front of it. It’s close enough though.

Souter lighthouse

Our second lighthouse was not only in an entirely different part of England, but also completely different in appearance. I had first visited Souter lighthouse, to the south of South Shields, on my original tour in 2012 and then again while in the area a few years ago. Both times I’d managed to miss it while it was open though. This time, while heading back north, we made sure to pay a visit when we could get inside. It is a distinctive lighthouse from the outside and very well maintained. The fog horn, alongside the lighthouse, makes for a particularly dramatic picture.

Souter lighthouse was the first in the world to be purpose built to run on electricity. You can access the light room in Souter lighthouse at your own leisure, which was great for us as it meant our three-year-old could climb to the top, counting the steps, at his own speed. This was the first time he’d climbed up the final ladder to reach the light room and also the first time our daughter had been into the light room of a lighthouse.

Souter foghorn

It’s a great building to wander around. After the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1988, it was bought the The National Trust. They have clearly done a lot of work on it, including maintaining the rooms (and keepers cottage) as they would have been when it was a manned lighthouse.

The Leas is also a wonderful area for strolling around. As well as the stunning scenery, there are interpretive panels along the coastline describing how the area has changed over the years, with Whitburn Colliery and the associated creation and demise of the Marsden community. It really is an interesting place, which satisfies a number of interests. So, if you enjoy lighthouses, geology, history, nature, coastal walks, or just a fun day out for the family then it’s a perfect choice if you’re in the area 🙂

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