Returning to Amlwch

Following on from our Bardsey trip, I had just one lighthouse left in North Wales left to bag. While there last week it seemed like the perfect opportunity to resolve this.

I had visited Amlwch on my original lighthouse tour back in 2012, but had failed to spot the lighthouse while there. I also recall from my first visit discovering how Amlwch is pronounced. I had called ahead to the campsite I was planning on stopping at that night. The lady asked what time I would be arriving and I said that I wasn’t sure. When she asked where I was coming from I decided the safest option was to spell out the place name rather than attempt to pronounce it (surely incorrectly). She then informed me it was pronounced “Am-look”, which makes sense when you realise that “w” tends to sound like “u” in Welsh pronunciation. Handy to know!

The view of the lighthouse building from the inner harbour

Anyway, having done some more research since my first visit I had discovered that the reason I’d probably not seen the lighthouse was because from a couple of angles it doesn’t have a very “lighthouse look” about it, just a square building at the end of one of the piers.

Equipped with this additional knowledge we decided to spend a day on Anglesey. Of course a trip to Anglesey would not be complete without a visit to South Stack. We’ve been a few times now, but my parents hadn’t and it was a chance for my dad and our son to get inside and climb to the top. I’ve covered South Stack in previous posts (first visit in 2012, later visit in 2012 and 2015). so won’t go into detail again here.

Finding the lighthouse in Amlwch was straightforward in the end. It sits happily at the end of a very accessible pier. The tower was constructed in 1853 with the lantern added later. This tower is believed to have replaced one dating back to 1817.

Amlwch lighthouse from the end of the pier

Amlwch was a busy harbour back in the day with large amounts of copper being exported from the nearby mines. Local “hobblers” (retired seafarers) were charged with looking out from the watchtower and towing in any ships coming into the harbour.  So there was an obvious need for an aid to navigation in Amlwch.

The lighthouse tower is now home to GeoMôn, a museum centred on the geological history of the area. Amlwch might not be the most exciting of places to visit, but it was good to finally see the lighthouse.

We also made the most of our visit to the area by stopping off to walk around the old copper mine. It’s a very impressive place and, although man-made, makes for some wonderful pictures. I certainly can’t complain too much about anything man-made. I couldn’t get away with having such an appreciation of lighthouses if I did! 🙂

When in Wales… head to Bardsey!

There aren’t too many Welsh islands with lighthouses left for us to visit. One of those that we’d never been in the right area for previously was Bardsey Island. We had booked a holiday in north Wales and we saw the opportunity to finally attempt to make it there.

A number of weeks ago I contacted Colin who operates the boat to Bardsey and enquired about booking. He was very quick to respond and seemed to understand that if we weren’t able to get out there on our first full day in Wales that we would like to attempt the following day and so on until we had got there. Colin’s boat departs from the end of the Llyn peninsula, which isn’t really an area you’d find yourself passing through!

Colin’s boat preparing to be pulled up the slipway

Colin said we were to call the evening before to check if the boat would be going so we called on the Friday evening a couple of weeks ago and, thanks to the amazing weather we have been having, conditions were 100% in our favour for the Saturday. We arrived in plenty of time and took the wander down to the small harbour. The harbour is very picturesque and after enjoying the views for a while we saw Colin’s yellow boat heading in. He has a great little set-up in place for pulling the boat onto a trailer and then dragging the trailer up the short slipway before passengers embark up a ladder onto the back of the boat. So we hopped on and then Colin reversed us back into the sea and off we went.

It was a fairly short crossing over to Bardsey. It’s a really interesting looking island from the sea, with the lighthouse sitting on the flat southern end of the island and the hill rising up from steep cliffs on the north east. The harbour was between the two so we could see exactly where we needed to go. Our son, who joined us on the trip along with my dad, decided we should head to the lighthouse first, so we followed the coast around to the distinctive red and white striped square building. On the way we were serenaded by the local seals who were in full voice!

Bardsey lighthouse

There looks to be some work currently going on at the lighthouse, in particular on the chimneys on the buildings within the compound. We sat and had lunch overlooking the lighthouse. My husband often says, in his own sceptical little way, that every lighthouse seems to be able to claim to be the “first” something or other. Bardsey lighthouse holds the accolade of being the tallest square tower in the UK! It stands at 30 metres and was built in 1821. In 2014 the rotating optic inside the lamp room was replaced with an LED light as part of Trinity House’s efforts to move away from “continuous running diesel stations”. This effort has now also been adopted by the Northern Lighthouse Board with lighthouses across Scotland slowly switching over to the more modern technology. I find it a little sad, particularly as the science behind the rotating optic was so advanced in its day and, for me, is a large part of the make-up of a lighthouse. However, it’s always onwards and upwards in the technology stakes. When the optic was replaced, the LED installed also saw a change from white light to red.

There is some really interesting information on the website about the history of the lighthouse. A couple of points of particular note were that the lighthouse keepers were initially restricted from leaving the lighthouse buildings in the early years. Over time though they would gradually become part of the island community. Also, the island is renowned for its bird populations and before the optic was removed from the lighthouse a number of incidents were reported of birds being attracted to the light and colliding with the building. This has since been resolved, initially by an area near the lighthouse being floodlit to attract the birds there instead, and then with the red LED installed. Thirdly, the lighthouse supply boat was lost on its way across the Bardsey Sound in November 1822.  Finally, the website has also informed me that one of Colin’s roles is maintenance of the lighthouse – if I’d known at the time…

The view to the south from part way up the island’s highest point

After we left the lighthouse our next priority was getting to the island high point. To get there we wandered through the village, but didn’t spend a great deal of time exploring it. The route up to the high point was easy going and the views as we got higher and higher opened up and, by the time we reached the top, we had 360 degrees of beauty. Among the views, just before reaching the top, were of the lighthouse and we spotted a beautiful-looking beach to the west of the island as it narrowed on the way to the lighthouse. Due to the gradient of the land we hadn’t noticed it at all as we had walked past.

We followed a different route back down to the village, coming out at the little building full of locally-produced items and some very welcome refreshments with an honesty box. We sat and enjoyed our drinks in the company of a couple of dogs and a few friendly goats before heading back to the harbour.

What a wonderful island Bardsey is. You get a real sense of community while there and even on the boat crossing. We were the only people on the boat who didn’t speak Welsh, but everyone was very friendly and Colin was a big help in advance of the day and on the day itself. A lovely day out 🙂

Haskeir: the bonus bag

On the visit to the Monach Isles back in May we had a bonus lighthouse bag in the form of Haskeir lighthouse, which is located 13 kms west north west of North Uist. Although we knew we were visiting the island and that it was home to a lighthouse, we were both expecting a “flat-pack” affair. We were pleased, however, to discover that it was something more substantial. Not “Stevenson” substantial, but definitely worth visiting.

Haskeir lighthouse from the sea

As we arrived at the island and prepared to get into the tender a helicopter flew overhead and landed on the island. We wondered if we were going to get any trouble from a potential owner or anything, but the door opened, a couple of people got out, took pictures, hopped back in again and off they went. The helicopter was operated by PDG and was blue and orange in colour. These are the helicopters currently contracted by the Northern Lighthouse Board to transport their engineers around to service the lighthouses.

We weren’t sure whether we would manage to land on the island, but the conditions were in our favour once again. The landing wasn’t too bad and there was a bit of a clamber up some rocks and along a couple of narrow ledges before we reached the relatively flatter ground. The island reminded me very much of Eilean Chathastail on which the Eigg lighthouse (a very similar structure to this one) sits.

Haskeir lighthouse

Being careful not to disturb the birds we made our way up to the lighthouse. It’s what I have started referring to as a “halfway lighthouse”, a white, 9 metre, fibre glass structure with a white lantern. The lighthouse was constructed in 1997 and is one of only two buildings on the island, the other being an old bothy, which we didn’t see while we were there. As with those we’d visited the day before and that morning, it was a very peaceful place and definitely worth the effort of getting off of the boat.

The high point of the island was just next to the lighthouse, which is always pleasant and tends to keep everyone happy 🙂


The Monachs – at last!

The Monach Islands lighthouse seen from Ceann Iar

After the success of the trip to the Flannan Isles in late May (see previous post), there was only one thing that could have made it the best week for bagging those hard-to-get to lighthouses so far and that was a successful trip to the Monach Islands. Which is exactly what occurred the following day!

The Monachs, also known as Heisker, is a group of six islands to the west of North Uist. Three of the islands (Ceann Ear, Shivinish and Ceann Ear) are connected by beaches at low tide. The main attraction for me though was reaching Shillay, which boasts not one, but two lighthouses.

The Mission Hall on Ceann Ear, which now houses an exhibition

However, we first stopped off at the three adjoining islands to make the most of the low tide time. The shallow waters that surround the island and the points available to land make it a bit tricky in anything but calm weather. This was why we have not been able to reach these islands for the past few years. Ceann Ear is home to the Mission Hall Exhibition, which is in the building formerly used as the islands’ place of worship. The exhibition contains really interesting details of life on the Monachs and the people who lived there, including the first and last residents of each of the croft houses. The content is, in part, based on the experiences of the last two men to leave the island.

More than 100 people lived on the islands in the past, mainly working in agriculture. However, the effects of the weather and erosion with the constantly shifting sands made it a very difficult place to live. A number of residents were driven away and the last two families left in 1942 when the lighthouse was discontinued. From 1945-49 the Morrison family attempted to resettle on Ceann Ear, but had to leave when no other families joined them. The school closed in 1942, although since the 1950s (when it was purchased by three Cambridge scholars) it has been used for nature study and research as well as, more recently, training in vocational skills in the repair of the building.

The exhibition features information about and pictures of the boat formerly known as the Pacaid (now known as Morning Star), which serviced the lighthouse as well as having a contract with Royal Mail to deliver the post to the islands.

The information on display at the exhibition relating to the loss of the lighthouse keepers

Interestingly, the exhibition contains a news article about two of the lighthouse keepers who, while heading across the stretch between Shillay and Ceann Iar, went missing in their rowing boat. Their boat was later seen floating upside down. There are no details of the outcome of this at the exhibition, but the Northern Lighthouse Board website gives a bit more information. The men went missing on 15th November 1936 while sailing across from Shillay to collect the post from Ceann Iar. The weather deteriorated while they were gone and their boat was driven off course on the return journey. Their bodies were washed up on one of the main islands on 7th and 8th December that year. It is strange to visit an island one day (Eilean Mor in the Flannan Isles) from which three lighthouse keepers went missing which resulted in such a well-known story turned into films etc. Then the following day visiting islands from which two keepers disappeared (albeit under slightly less mysterious circumstances) and very little is known of it.

Once we had finished on the main islands we set off for Shillay. The old red brick lighthouse had been visible from a fair distance away due to the flat islands and elevation of the building. We obviously needed to get closer though. Landing on the island wasn’t too bad, although seaweed-covered rocks made it a little tricky. Once landed it was just a very short stroll to the old lighthouse and the modern lighthouse next to it.

The Stevenson and modern lighthouses on the island of Shillay

Now, the lighthouses here tell a very interesting story. On initial inspection you might think that the old lighthouse was replaced by the modern “flat-pack” lighthouse, and in a way you might be correct, but there’s more to it than that. The old lighthouse, which stands at 133ft, was first lit in February 1864 and operated until 1942 when it ceased to be used during the War. Once the war had ended a decision was taken that the light was no longer required and therefore it was not relit.

In 1997, alongside the lighthouses on nearby Haskeir (more to follow in the next post on that one) and Gasker off of North Harris, the new lighthouse was erected. However, in 2005, it was agreed that the new lighthouse did not offer the focal range required to safely guides ships in the area. As a result it was decided that the old light should be reinstated. The old lighthouse has been in use again since 2008.

It is fascinating to see the changing face of lighthouse structures in one location. Of course the old Stevenson structure is significantly more impressive and there is really no competition when it comes to the architecture. I, for one, am delighted that the old building is still being used and showing that those Stevensons really did know what they were talking about! 🙂