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! 🙂

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