The mad plan: Jersey – part two

In yesterday’s post I explained the plan for this week, and we built upon the success of the first day with another great day in Jersey today.

We started out the day with five more lighthouses to visit and one to view from the island, Demie de Pas, which is on the approach to St Helier.

La Corbiere lighthouse at high tide

Before we got started on those though we were keen to head back to both La Corbiere and Noirmont Point lighthouses to see them when the tide was in. Being tidal, it adds an extra element of enjoyment to these islands to see them when they aren’t accessible on foot. La Corbiere was our first stop and as it magically appeared at the end of the road (as mentioned in yesterday’s post) I simply had to greet it with a jolly “Morning!” If it wasn’t magical enough at low tide it is even more enchanting when it can’t be reached. They say that often people want what they can’t have and this can certainly be applied to visiting lighthouses too.

Noirmont Point at high tide – with fisherman!

Noirmont Point is equally wonderful at high tide. You would never know that it was possible to access it and keep your feet dry. This may be why the Wikipedia entry for the tower says that the lighthouse can be accessed by wading! I can confirm that wading is definitely not necessary. One thing that possibly shattered the illusion of the island being unreachable was the fact that there was a fisherman out on the rock. He was obviously set up for the morning and would head back over at lunch time. Good for him!

The old St Catherine’s lighthouse

We had planned to head straight to St Catherine’s to see the light on the end of the pier. As we passed back through St Helier we quickly stopped off so I could see the old St Catherine’s lighthouse, which is now located outside the entrance to Jersey Maritime Museum. It’s wonderful what they have done with it. One of the plates on the side of the lighthouse best explains its new purpose:

“Apart from the five years of German occupation this light, from St Catherine’s breakwater, shone brightly for over one hundred years to warn seamen of danger. Today, it stands as a monument to those islanders who died in concentration camps far from their island home. A symbol of remembrance and a beacon of hope for the future.”

The memorial was unveiled in November 1996. It really has been beautifully done. The shiny granite of the memorial panels reflect the lighthouse really nicely, which adds to the effect of the whole arrangement. Such a thoughtful idea.

La Greve d’Azette lighthouse

Having missed our turn-off for the elusive A6 towards St Catherine’s, we decided to carry on around the south coast to see the La Greve d’Azette and Mont Ube lights. My research had highlighted that this would be a fairly easy task and it was. La Greve d’Azette sits happily at the side of the main coastal road and we used the nearby M&S car park to visit it. The tower actually begins on the beach, which was a perfect excuse for a short stroll on the sand. The tower has a spiral staircase and a daymark panel too. It’s not the most astounding tower by any stretch of the imagination, but when it is so easy to visit you really can’t complain! A little further along the road we stopped at the car park to get a distant view of Demie De Pas lighthouse. It was too far to get a decent view really, but the best we could manage (or so I thought – more on that to come).


Mont Ube lighthouse

Mont Ube was a little more tricky, but mainly due to a road closure. I was surprised how long it took us at actually see this one as it’s at the side of a road. We were actually on the small road itself and almost at the light before I spotted it. It is very much the twin of La Greve d’Azette minus the spiral staircase and daymark panel. It turned out that if you approached this one from the north or east it would be very much visible from further away.

Our next stop was Gorey. My research told me that there was a light at the end of the pier and that is had a small “room” at the bottom within the lower framework section of the structure. As we approached Gorey and spotted the pier we both became sceptical of its status. We wandered along the pier and found that this small “room” has now been removed. This does mean that it no longer makes my list of lighthouses. You can see how it looked previously on the incredibly useful Lighthouse Directory website.

The modern lighthouse on St Catherine’s breakwater

What I thought would be our final lighthouse of the day was the modern light on the end of the breakwater at St Catherine’s. This one was very straightforward. It’s a fairly long breakwater and as we walked along we noticed how similar it looked to the Gorey structure. I braced myself for another disappointment, but this one was fine with the “room” very much still there. There are a few steps at the side of the lighthouse, which lead up to the point where the old lighthouse was located. The history of the lighthouse is celebrated locally with an interpretive panel at its entrance detailing its construction. It seemed like a quiet little village, but I imagine it could get quite busy in the summer months.

With the completion of the Jersey lighthouses, we considered what to do next. As ever Bob was looking to make things happen and was determined to find a boatman to take us closer to Demie de Pas lighthouse. We headed back to St Helier for lunch and managed to get hold of Dan from Jersey Seafaris who offer chartered RIB trips. Dan was massively helpful and we arranged to meet him later in the afternoon to head out for a quick trip.

Demie de Pas lighthouse

St Helier harbour is huge and we ended up walking the full length of it to get to their boat, a 12-seater RIB. The sea was nice and calm and within ten minutes we were at Demie de Pas! I’d seen some pictures of it online and I was concerned that the top section of the structure did not feature a door, which would mean it would not make my list. We circled around the light, which is much more significant than you would guess from the island. We finally spotted the door in amongst the solar panels and I am not ashamed to say that I was very pleased. Honestly, I am getting a bit ridiculous about doors on lighthouses now! It’s a really impressive tower and Dan informed us that it takes a real battering in its location.

Dan offered to take us for a quick spin over to Noirmont Point before we went back in. Of course we couldn’t resist. It was fantastic to see it from another angle where it looks even more imposing. Jersey really does have an impressive coastline and perfect settings for its lovely lighthouses. One thing that had been bothering me since yesterday was whether Noirmont Point met my lighthouse criteria as the tower itself was not built for the purpose of being a lighthouse. Having seen it from the sea though, we have now got a picture or two showing a door on the smaller white structure on top of the tower (I can only apologise for the door obsession!) I was, of course, delighted to find this. I was even considering adjusting my definition slightly so that Noirmont Point could be included!

On our way back from the boat we paid a quick visit to the Jersey Maritime Museum. It was only open for another hour so it was a bit of a whizz around, but it’s a brilliant museum. It’s really interactive. There are occasional lighthouse-related exhibits, including a model of La Corbiere next to a small Fresnel lens (the man at the museum didn’t know where it had come from). There were some paintings from a renowned local 19th century artist (Philip John Ouless) of both La Corbiere and the old St Catherine’s lighthouse in its position at the end of the breakwater. We learnt a lot at the museum, including the translation of “demie”, as in Demie de Pas. A demie is an offshore rock not visible until half tide!

So, that’s the Jersey lighthouses complete for me! A really successful two days and we’re back to Ayrshire tomorrow. We’re managing to arrange a trip along the Clyde on Wednesday with the kids and Bob’s mum. That will take in the four lighthouses on the Clyde (weather permitting). Then Friday it’s on to Shetland. Great fun! 🙂

The mad plan: Jersey – part one

Today marked the start of what I have recently being referring to as “the mad plan”. So, the mad plan came about as a result of my distinct lack of visited lighthouses in both the Channel Islands (outside of Guernsey, which I visited in 2013) and Shetland. I am working on a list of lighthouses in the UK, Isle of Man and Channel Islands to be published – a sort of travel companion, if you will, to help others who struggle (as I did in 2011/12) to pull together a physical list to help them on their bagging escapades. It’s been – and still is at times – a real challenge, but one I am thoroughly enjoying.

Anyway, this lack of pictures was a problem and the solution was to get some, of course. Which resulted in two trips within one week to the most southerly lighthouses on Jersey and the most northerly in Shetland.

Well, today we flew to Jersey (at this point I should thank Bob’s mum for very kindly enabling this trip to be child-free for us). We arrived, having spotted the 1874 La Corbiere lighthouse on the approach to the airport. It looked so incredibly tempting (and the causeway across to it also looked uncovered a few hours before low tide) that we decided to make it our first stop after picking up the hire car.

La Corbiere lighthouse

The first thing that is wonderful when you visit the lighthouse at Corbiere is your first view of it. It just suddenly appears at the end of the road in front of you, in a magical sort of way. That’s definitely not the only thing magical about it. The way it sits up high on its rock, the excitement of getting to it at low tide only, the wonderful brick-effect painted white, the almost fairytale steps that lead up to the tower… the list really is endless. The stroll to the lighthouse is easy thanks to the excellent causeway and there are countless places to stop on the way over to take pictures. We were already aware that the tours that operate at the lighthouse are currently not running due to maintenance, so we were unlucky in that way. It was absolutely worth visiting anyway though. As I write this I am sitting at Corbiere Phare drinking wine and watching the light flashing. There’s a French light in the distance too. Not my area of expertise so I wouldn’t know which one it is.

The sculpture with La Corbiere lighthouse in the background

We eventually dragged ourselves away from Corbiere, partly because we needed lunch and partly because we saw the opportunity to get to the Noirmont Point light before the tide started to rise. I also took a moment to look at the sculpture next to the car park, which features two hands holding each other, as if one is saving the other. There is a really interesting story behind it. When the French boat Saint-Malo ended up in trouble not far off of Corbiere in 1995, the lifeboat crew was deployed and saved all of the catamaran’s crew. The sculpture was installed in 1997 as a thank you to those who were involved in the rescue mission.

Noirmont Point lighthouse

Onwards we went to Noirmont Point, which was windy! I feel the need to say that first because it really was! Like all of the lighthouses on Jersey there is a nearby car park, which is a massive help. We quickly found the route down to the lighthouse, which was pretty easy, but would be very different in wet conditions. I almost got blown away a few times, but not quite thankfully. It would have been much easier going without the wind, but we made it across and without getting our feet wet. The lighthouse was originally a Martello tower, which has had a light placed on top. Anyway, it was a beautiful view with the big tower on its rocks getting ever closer. Slightly less magical than Corbiere, but no less enjoyable to visit in terms of views. If it was windy on the approach it was even more so at the lighthouse. I had been warned by my lighthouse pal John to look out for the outside toilet, which just happened to be at the windiest part. The only way I can describe it is to say that it looks like a big stone throne with some sort of china bowl in the “opening”! The views all around the lighthouse were beautiful, but I was glad to have my handrail (sorry, I mean husband) there at some of the most exposed parts! The walk back up was much easier.

Grosnez Point lighthouse

On to our third lighthouse: Grosnez Point at the most north westerly point of Jersey. Again parking was no problem and we used my well-researched directions and headed through the old Grosnez Castle ruins. Beyond the ruins there are some steps and an actual handrail (not Bob this time) that takes you down to the lighthouse. It was windy here too, but having something sturdy to cling on to was nice. It’s a very small lighthouse surrounded by a metal fenced enclosure, so nothing as impressive as the previous two, but the surrounding area was impressive with great cliffs and a distant view across to Sorel Point, our final lighthouse destination for the day.

Sorel Point lighthouse

Sorel Point, in comparison to the other lights we’d seen that day, was quiet. We saw one other car while we were there. At the other lights there were a number of people about (getting in the way of our pictures), although mainly around the car parks. Here it was just us. Sorel Point is an interesting light. A little like Fife Ness, it doesn’t make a fuss about being there. It’s pretty well obscured until you are at it and you’d probably not think to go there unless you are a bit of a fan of lighthouses. It’s a squat tower, which makes viewing the lamp room considerably easier from outside. I liked this one. I liked how understated it was. It also has CCTV – I’m sure I’ve read something about damage being done to it in the past. It’s such a shame.

So that was our lighthouse adventures today. I have also found today particularly useful for testing my descriptions of how to reach the lights on Jersey, which will be included in my book. It’s been good and I’m feeling quite confident that my instructions are fine and I’m just making a few small adjustments where necessary.

We finished our bagging day with Bob reaching the highest point of Jersey. So success all round. As mentioned before, we had dinner at Corbiere Phares this evening. It’s almost a little Corbiere Lighthouse museum, with an array of pictures hung on the walls from various stages of the lighthouse’s history. It includes a picture of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, the assistant keeper who went to save someone who was going to be cut off by the tide in 1946 and lost his life. It’s fascinating to see it in the early years when the causeway was essentially a bridge.

Having only done half of the island there is, of course, more to come tomorrow! 🙂


Clearing things up in Ayr

This afternoon, after a bit of research into the lighthouses in Ayr, we took a quick spin over to the town while in the area. I had previously been to Ayr on my 2012 tour. On that trip I had walked out to the lighthouse on the pier and seen the two lights on the north of the river from the south bank. I had also taken a picture of the structure on the end of the breakwater, which appeared at that point to have a small enclosed section on top of the framework base.

The front and rear range lights in Ayr

Discussion about access to the two range lighthouses north of the river had brought about our visit. While I had said that the area in which the two lighthouses are located is private, Bob (though not disagreeing with me) felt that it was possible to get to them. I think this says a lot about our different approaches to “bagging”. Maybe it has something to do with my being from England where “private” means private, and Bob’s Scottish heritage – in Scotland the freedom to roam means you can go almost anywhere. Anyway, there was only one way to settle this particular debate!

The light structure on Ayr breakwater

So that is how we came to be in Ayr. With regards to the lights on the north bank, it wasn’t quite as easy to prove Bob wrong than I had anticipated. They currently have roadworks, meaning that there is no way of accessing the lighthouses anyway at the moment, regardless of what the usual arrangement is.

We then headed over to the south bank and I took a stroll out to the lighthouse on the end of the south pier. It quickly became apparent that there had been changes afoot on the breakwater as the light structure no longer features an enclosed area. It is now simply a framework tower with a light on a post on top.

The lighthouse on Ayr south pier

Since my 2012 visit, the light on the end of the south pier has had a bit of attention and is looking good. The tower contains two lights, one near the top as you would expect, and another half way up. When you stand in front of the lighthouse you can get a picture of it alongside the much-debated range lights. Goes very nicely with blue skies!

After I’d returned to the car near the south pier Bob had another try at accessing the range lights via an alternative route. This was where we finally managed to come to some sort of agreement about getting close to the lighthouses. A large sign further north at the other entrance to the port states clearly that there is no unauthorised access. So that settled that then – or so I thought. Not wanting to entirely admit I was right, Bob had to get the last word: “I’m sure you could arrange to get in there with the port authority.” The annoying thing is he may well be right! 🙂

The grand finale in South Wales

Yesterday’s post was all about the excitement of visiting Flatholm last Sunday morning. This post is a continuation of the day, and the conclusion of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM weekend.

Leaving Cardiff Barrage behind we had a few hours to spare before we needed to be at Nash Point, so we thought Porthcawl would be a suitable place for lunch and a visit to the lighthouse on the end of the breakwater. We’d been warned that there was an Elvis convention in Porthcawl that weekend, but we had no problems getting around and sadly didn’t see any Elvis impersonators during our time there.

Porthcawl lighthouse

Porthcawl lighthouse, like so many others, has taken a fair old battering in its time. The reason I mention this specifically for this lighthouse is that almost all of the pictures you see online of Porthcawl lighthouse have a big wave smashing against the breakwater. There are just some lighthouses that become well-known for being wave-washed. I suppose it’s harder to get pictures of Skerryvore, Bishop Rock or any of the other rock lighthouses in a storm!

The lighthouse is in a poor state, considering it is still operational. One of the glass pains in the lantern is half gone – probably due to those big waves – and local “artists” have been carving their artwork (well, their names mostly) into the black section towards the bottom. It has also, rather oddly, had white instructions telling people to take their rubbish home with them painted onto this lower black section. I suppose it makes the message noticeable if nothing else. It is a shame as it has a lot of history, including only being converted to electricity in 1997.

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Nash Point lighthouse

Our final lighthouse visit of the weekend was Nash Point. I have a rather amusing picture of myself at Nash Point from a previous visit when the lighthouse was closed and I am looking sad next to the ‘lighthouse closed’ sign. This time we knew we’d definitely be getting in though as tours had been organised for us as members of the ALK. Half of our group were a bit rebellious and went off ahead while a few of us waited for the tour to start, and I’m glad I did. We started at a map showing the local area and our tour guide, whose name I failed to catch, explained the hazards of the sand bar to the west of Nash Point. As we arrived the tide was dropping so we were able to see the sandbar clearly. He also explained how the shifting sands in the area from north to south meant that over time the warning effect of the two lighthouses as range lights (including the tower now without its lantern a short distance away) was no longer working. With the lights in line it was no longer giving the necessary warning in the right place, hence why the second light was discontinued.

We left the ground floor and started to make our way up the tower. We stopped at each level including the wedding room and overflow wedding room! The most fascinating room on our way up, though, was the room that now houses the old optic. It was great to see the inside of the optic without having to peer through it. There were three bulbs inside, including the back-up light and a smaller bulb used in the event of power failure so the light then required less electricity. One member of our party had actually been in the lighthouse when they had moved the optic down from the lantern. She said it was amazing to watch.

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The light inside Nash Point

Literally the high point was inside the lantern, although it was definitely less inspiring than that of Flatholm as obviously the optic had been removed. In its place was an octagonal mechanism with rectangular optic-esque panels on six of the eight sides, as well as an emergency light on top. The views out of the windows were great and on a clear day, or that morning, you could see quite clearly across to Somerset and North Devon, including Foreland Point lighthouse.

We were left in the lamp room to make our way down in our own time. Once we got back to the bottom we met up with our tour guide again who offered us an opportunity to go inside the old foghorn station. By this point our party had dwindled to just three. As the tour guide said, since the foghorn was taken out of service very few people go into the station and, as a result, it is not as well-maintained as the lighthouse. The equipment is very much still there though, aside from a few very minor items that actually play a major role – the foghorn cannot function without them. The removal of them was all part of the closure of the station.

The need to get to Scotland that night had obviously not been at the forefront of our minds as we were among the last to leave Nash Point. But leave we did, eventually, and what a weekend it had been! I met so many people who share my interest in lighthouses – most people think it is odd, although friends and family definitely notice them a lot more now than they used to. But to spend time with people who have the same level of appreciation was wonderful. Of course, I will be attending again in the future, mostly because I am now part of their events team, but also because it makes for a thoroughly good weekend. Chatting away to someone about lighthouses without them only half-listening or looking at you a bit strangely is brilliant. And if you have any interest at all in lighthouses, beacons, lights on sticks, flat pack lighthouses, etc. then you should absolutely join the ALK. You will not regret it! 🙂

Top speed to Flatholm!

Not wanting to spend the final day of our Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM weekend relaxing or preparing for a long drive back to Scotland, we threw ourselves head first into more lighthouse bagging last Sunday. The weekend had already been a success (see my previous posts for more details of that), but the highlight – perhaps nestled happily alongside Caldey Island in first place – was going to be a trip to Flatholm. The trip had been organised by the ALK and a lot of hard work had gone into planning it.

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The light on Cardiff Bay Barrage

We were to head out on Bay Island Voyages RIBs from Cardiff Bay Barrage. We arrived in plenty of time, which meant we were able to watch the barrage in action. The barrage was opened in 1999 and was developed as a measure to deal with the extreme tidal range. It’s been fantastic for the area. For me though, it was the green structure on the end of the pier to the north of the entrance to the barrage that grabbed my attention. There appears to be very little information available about it. It obviously pales in comparison with the lighthouse we were about to see, but I’m glad we spotted it and took a closer look after we returned to the barrage that day.

Anyway, back to Flatholm. Once we had all settled onto the boats we were off. Although I say that, it was actually a fairly slow process getting out of the bay with having to go through the barrage, but it was significantly quicker than it would have been if the barrage wasn’t there and we needed to wait for tides to change! Once we were out the other side though our skipper wasted no time in getting us over to the island.

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Flatholm lighthouse – and an old gun

Fortunately we were the first boatload to arrive so we were sent on our way to the lighthouse with our guide, Peter – the key holder! We immediately headed inside and had a wander about the old bedrooms and the battery room. Obviously having not been used for many years, since the lighthouse was automated in 1988, it has a disheveled look about it. Peter then led the way up the tower with us in tow. The lamp room is stunning, as they always are when fitted with a “proper” lens. What was equally stunning though were the views from the tower – particularly the landscape of the island. Aside from having a very beautiful lighthouse, Flatholm is filled with remnants and relics of times gone by. From the sea there looks to be very little there, but it hides a great deal. There is far too much history to cover here, more details can be found on the Cardiff Harbour Authority website. I found the old gun batteries, in particular, fascinating and the old guns can still be found laying about on the island.

After leaving the lighthouse (and bagging the island high point), we paid a short visit to the old foghorn building. We weren’t able to get inside as the roof on the main building is unsafe, but we were informed that there were plans to replace the roof and allow access in future. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that funding has been secured that will preserve and improve what’s there (including the foghorn station) while bringing more visitors across the short stretch of water from Cardiff. Great news for Flatholm, although I much prefer a tourist-free island personally!

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The foghorn station on Flatholm

We had hoped to get a bit closer to Monkstone lighthouse on the return journey back to Cardiff, but unfortunately we needed to make sure we were back in time for our barrage slot, so that’ll keep for another time. What will also keep for another time (the next day or so, hopefully) is the rest of our lighthouse bagging antics that day.

It was a great morning on Flatholm. The landscape is very different from Caldey, which is one of things I most enjoy about bagging lighthouses. The variety of places it takes you to, and often in short spaces of time, is wondrous. If you’ve not already taken up the hobby then it comes highly recommended! 🙂


Dashing about on calming Caldey

Those who have been following my blog over the last few days will know that we spent the weekend in South Wales at the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM in Cardiff. During the planning for the weekend I was aware that Saturday morning was free and, feeling ambitious, I proposed heading over to Caldey Island for the morning, and Bob agreed – not entirely knowing at the time just how long it takes to get from Cardiff to the boat at Tenby. I looked at the timings and then considered them again numerous times. Would we really have enough time?! The difficulty was that it didn’t seem possible to find out what time the first boat left Tenby in advance. A couple of days before I called the number I found online and the recorded message said that the boats would run from 10am. We would be fine, I thought.

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Saundersfoot lighthouse

We got up super early on Saturday morning to allow plenty of time to get across to Tenby. Our journey was going well so we stopped off in Saundersfoot briefly to visit the lighthouse on the end of the pier. It’s not the most inspiring, and I actually preferred the “pretend” lighthouse inside the harbour, but we’ve been there now and you never really know what to expect until you’ve been there.

Arriving in Tenby there appeared to be little in the way of activity. It was then that we were informed that the boat wouldn’t be leaving until 10.30am (I probably could have found that out if I’d phoned the number again that morning), eating even further into the precious time we had to bag the lighthouse (and the island high point for Bob).

However, the coastline at Tenby is actually quite interesting to wander around, with the tidal St Catherine’s island just off of the beach, the old Tenby Castle and the very modern Lifeboat Station. While we waited for the boat a couple of ladies waiting behind us informed us that the boats had been cancelled the day before and it became very clear as time went by that a number of people must have been waiting to get over to the island, as they just kept on coming!

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The old Priory on Caldey Island

We were the first passengers on the boat and it was a very pleasant ride across to the island. The sun and blue skies were out in preparation for some wonderful picture opportunities. Once we were on the island we hurtled off ahead, stopping occasionally to take pictures. The island is stunning, not in the rugged way that most of the islands we visit are (partly because they are in Scotland), but in the same way as the Isles of Scilly (Tresco to be more precise). The island seemed very quiet and peaceful as we walked up the main road that took us to the lighthouse. Aside from a man in a van giving a lady a lift into the village we saw nobody else on the way there. The village is perfectly picturesque with the monastery sitting above it. A little further on there is the old Priory, possibly the most beautiful view on the island (excluding the coastline and the lighthouse, of course). There is a large pond bordered by trees in front of the Priory, and it would be easy to forget at this point that you are in Carmarthen Bay just off of the Bristol Channel. If someone passed you there and greeted you in Italian or Spanish it wouldn’t seem at all odd. There’s something quite Mediterranean about the island.

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Caldey Island lighthouse

Not long after passing the Priory I spotted the top of the lighthouse appearing. As the lamp room came into view the optic sparkled as the sunlight shone through it. It is one of those towers that looks amazing from every angle – or at least it does when the sun is shining! The lighthouse is still in operation, and has been under the control of Trinity House since it was built in 1829. It was rather late to the old electricity game, being the last of Trinity House’s lighthouses to begin using mains electricity when it was converted in 1997. It’s a great tower, made even better by its location. If we hadn’t been so short on time then I would have happily wandered around the area enjoying the isolation and tranquility. But the need to get back to the boat was there in the back of our minds, so Bob ran off to the island high point (contrary to what it reported online, the actual high point is not where the lighthouse is located) while I started the journey back down the road.

Upon returning to the village it seemed like an entirely different place to the one I had passed through only a short time before. Everything was open, people were milling around and it suddenly felt more like the tourist destination that it is during Summer days (excluding Sundays when the boats don’t run). There were too many people about in my opinion (again, I’m used to smaller Scottish islands on my lighthouse bagging trips) and I had a deadline. Arriving back at the pier just as the boat was leaving I waited around in the sunshine and a short time later Bob turned up. We were privileged to have the boat to ourselves on the way back – although there were still plenty of people heading in the other direction.

I am pleased to report that we did indeed make it back in time for the start of the ALK AGM and even managed to fit in a cup of tea and chats with a number of people before the meeting started. We had about 1 hour on the island in total. A very enjoyable day, and Caldey is certainly somewhere I would like to re-visit at some point to explore a bit more. I made it to the lighthouse though and that was the aim this time so all is well 🙂

Back to the Usks and Barry

As covered in my last post, I was at the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM in south Wales this weekend. The AGM is not just a meeting, it is actually a three or four day event with a number of associated lighthouse visits. For us, the event began on Friday with our first stop being East Usk. We’d visited this lighthouse, as well as West Usk, a few years ago. This time would be different though. Not only were we going to visit with a number of other lighthouse baggers, but we were also to be given a tour.

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East Usk lighthouse

Our tour of East Usk began with a presentation by a very knowledgeable man called Jeremy who works/volunteers for the RSPB Newport Wetlands. Jeremy is the kind of person I plan on being when I am older and have more time on my hands – researching topics in great detail. Fortunately his chosen subject recently has been East Usk lighthouse so he was perfectly placed to deliver a presentation to us! His presentation began with the reason the lighthouse had been built, which was the first of many mentions of the huge tidal range along that part of the coastline over the weekend.

The lighthouse was first lit in 1893 following ongoing demand over a number of years to reduce the number of shipwrecks in the area. Interestingly the lighthouse was attended by a local man who would keep an eye on the light and make sure it came on, restarting it when required. Perhaps the most fascinating “factoid”, as Jeremy referred to it, was that the lower section of the lighthouse is now buried so it is actually taller than it looks. The ash from the power station was disposed of in the area, increasing the ground level around the lighthouse. You can see it as you walk through the Wetlands. That’s the sort of information you would be unlikely to know without actually going there. Another rather interesting, and rather amusing (to me anyway) fact was that the area surrounding the Wetlands features the widest variety of pylons in the country, which makes it particularly appealing to pylon baggers – yes, pylon baggers really do exist – we even met one on Saturday! Brilliant!

During Jeremy’s presentation he showed pictures of the lights in the surrounding area, including a small structure in Goldcliff. I had previously heard about it and the name rang a bell, so our priority after finishing at East Usk was to quickly swing by Goldcliff to check it out. We were a little short on time so had to run a bit, but it was easy enough to find by parking up and dashing along a private road. The lighthouse is in a pretty sorry state, but it’s a nice place and (if you have more time than we did) there’s always a cup of tea at the nearby cafe!

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West Usk lighthouse

The reason we were in a hurry was because a visit to West Usk beckoned! We were pleased to learn that this time we would have a much more dignified approach and actually be able to park outside rather than walk across the boggy land to the west to reach it which we did last time (I am reliably informed that the Ramblers have now put a path in across the bog land). West Usk lighthouse is no longer operational and is privately owned and run as a B&B. What can I say about the lighthouse, apart from it is absolutely stunning! From the picturesque views of it as you approach to the fascinating decor inside, it was astounding. I’ve already decided that I absolutely must stay there one day. The bedrooms are beautiful and the work they have done on the lamp room has turned it into the kind of room that you would be happy to spend hour after hour in. Everywhere you look inside and outside there are tiny little touches that make you feel like you are on some sort of adventure while there. All of this topped off with a very friendly and welcoming owner who seemed happy to chat to us all, considering he was hosting a wedding the following day. Just need to book my stay now!

We had been informed by another ALK member that the best place to view Monkstone lighthouse, a few miles off of the south Wales coast, from was Penarth so that was our stop for lunch. We saw Monkstone a few times over the weekend, but never managed to get particularly close to it. We will need to organise a boat to get us out there sometime.

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Barry breakwater lighthouse

Our final lighthouse re-visit of the day was to the light on the end of Barry breakwater. We’d previously seen it from just above the beach, but the ALK had arranged for the gate to the breakwater to be opened for us. It’s a good walk along the breakwater and the lighthouse is much more substantial close up than it looks from the beach. There are old railway sleepers running to the end of the breakwater and we wondered what their purpose had been. Since returning home I found this interesting post with more information on the history of the railway.

So, that was the first day of the ALK AGM weekend. Plenty more still to come though with a couple of very exciting islands – regular readers will know how much I love an island! 🙂

My first ALK event

At the weekend I finally made use of my Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) membership, which I have had for 5 years, and attended their AGM and associated lighthouse visits in South Wales.

Earlier in the year I received an email to say that the ALK required a new team to organise their events and I had expressed an interest in joining the team. After meeting their Secretary/Events Coordinator, I was still keen to be involved so I spoke to their Chair, Neil Hargreaves (a former lighthouse keeper for Trinity House), and Trustee Lin Sunderland, who is also joining the events team and is on the committee for the St Mary’s Lighthouse Group and a volunteer at Spurn lighthouse.

Of course, to organise any events for the ALK I needed to attend at least one of them, and the AGM in Cardiff seemed like the perfect one – particularly as the members would be approving the new events team at the meeting. Going along to the AGM would also mean I’d get to see Ian Duff again (see my earlier post on Skerryvore for more information about Ian), as well as Stephen Pickles from Bidston lighthouse who I’d met a few years ago on our visit there. Prior to the event I had also been in contact with another ALK Trustee, John Best, who shares my enjoyment of lighthouses of all shapes and sizes (including the Northern Lighthouse Board’s “flat-pack/IKEA” type). John has been a massive help recently in my attempt to pull together some form of a list of lighthouses. So the AGM would also be an opportunity to meet him.

So Bob and I went along and were immediately welcomed by the record number of ALK members attending the AGM. I shall prepare separate posts about our lighthouse visits over the weekend, which included East and West Usk, Caldey Island, Flatholm and Nash Point. We met a number of them during the day on Friday and had some good first in-person chats with Lin, John and Neil.

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The particularly impressive ramparts at St Donat’s Castle

On the Saturday afternoon we arrived at the amazing AGM venue, Atlantic College at St Donat’s Castle. It really is a hidden gem with some incredible buildings and a fantastic little beach and slipway where the early lifeboats/RIBs used to be launched. The room we had dinner in reminded me of a smaller-scale version of the hall in Harry Potter, and I don’t even know where to begin with describing the toilets…

The AGM went well and the new events team proposal was approved, so I am now officially involved with the ALK. As well as Lin, I also met Laura who is the third member of the team and has embarked on her own lighthouse tour this year. She had come across this blog while preparing for her tour, and it was nice to hear that it was useful to her. The three of us had some good laughs over the weekend, so I am sure we will get on well as a team. The AGM was concluded with a fascinating presentation on foghorns delivered by a lady who is doing a PhD on the human aspects of the topic!

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The view from the slipway at Atlantic College, St Donat’s Castle, where the first RIBs were launched

As well as meeting Neil Hargreaves, I was also privileged to meet another former keeper, Gerry Douglas-Sherwood. Gerry was one of the three founding members of the ALK alongside Neil and the recently departed Graham Fearn. Gerry served at the Needles lighthouse and wrote the first issues of the ALK journal, Lamp, on a typewriter during his time in the lighthouse. Getting a chance to speak with both Gerry and Neil, as well as Ian again, was a real honour for me. To date I have found no other profession that people are more proud of than lighthouse keeping. It is incredibly refreshing in a time when work is so frequently seen as a chore. The former keepers also seem very grateful to the rest of the ALK membership for their appreciation of the structures they lived and worked in. They all seem so modest and humble. Such a wonderful experience to speak to them.

Among the others I met at the AGM and dinner were Chris Nicholson whose book Rock Lighthouse of Britain was one of my first ever books on the topic. Also, Roy Thompson who appears to know boatmen all over the country and will, I’m sure, be a huge help in putting us in touch with the right people. There were a number of very well-connected people there who were happy to help anyone looking to visit a particular lighthouse. There were also a number of people wishing me “good luck” with taking on the events! I’m not sure if I should be scared by this or not. I guess only time will tell!

While this hasn’t been my standard sort of blog post, I felt it was important to share and to give some more details on the ALK. As stated on their website:

“The Association of Lighthouse Keepers provides a forum for everyone interested
in lighthouses, lightships and aids to navigation. We have a number of serving and former keepers amongst our members, although being a lighthouse keeper is not a requirement for joining the Association.

Membership is open to everyone!”

There may be some regular visitors to my blog who aren’t aware of the ALK, but if you are interested in lighthouses anywhere in the world (they have members from a number of countries) then do check our their website. Annual membership is only £18 per year, £24 for joint membership or £35 for family membership. I would highly recommend it already and I’ve only just become an active member. Why I left it so long, I don’t know!

More to follow soon on the lighthouses we visited over the weekend 🙂