Back in October, at the start of what I called “the mad plan”, I alluded to the fact that I was preparing a list of lighthouses in the UK, Isle of Man and Channel Islands to be published. Well, since then progress has been made and, massively excitingly, Whittles Publishing are happy to publish it for me! I’m still not sure I believe it just yet, but it is going to happen and I have a deadline, which means that when I am not busy visiting lighthouses, writing blog posts, looking after two young children, working or sleeping, I am focussed only on getting the book done. I should add that we are currently looking at an early July 2019 release and I will, of course, post here any major developments. Aside from being excited in general about it actually being published, I am hoping to be able to help out people like the 2012 version of me who had the idea, to visit all of the UK mainland lighthouses, and could have done with a book like this to support the entire trip. Of course, the book covers islands too, as well as Northern Ireland.
So, on the topic of Northern Ireland, that is precisely where I am writing today’s blog post from. You see, the book needs pictures and while the larger lights in this wonderful part of the world were visited during our honeymoon back in 2013, I had since become aware of a number of smaller lights that will be covered in the book and, of which I had no pictures. So there was only one thing for it – an extension to “the mad plan”. Two days in Northern Ireland it was!
This morning started early – 4.45am is not a time I would ever really want to be up, but the lighthouses (and a ferry) beckoned so I had to go. The ferry crossing was great. I couldn’t convince Bob to watch Mamma Mia 2in the on-board cinema, so we settled for preparing for the two days ahead, while looking out for the lighthouses we were passing in the dark. Corsewall was the first, and what a wonderfully bright light it is. I don’t think it is ever possible to get bored of seeing the revolving glory of lights like that. Briefly turning away from Corsewall, I was greeted by the welcoming flash of one of my favourite Northern Irish lights: Black Head. I would recommend a stay at the lighthouse cottages at Black Head to anyone – lighthouse fan or not. I can guarantee you will love lighthouse by the time you leave! The final “flash” of the ferry crossing came from Mew Island – the only lighthouse I have visited by helicopter! It’s a brilliant lighthouse. Its lens was replaced a few years ago (you can see the old one in Belfast near the Titanic museum, which I am hoping we can do tomorrow – maybe) and the modern light isn’t the same, but it is just the way it goes.
Upon arriving at Belfast, we headed straight for Coleraine where one of the Aquaholics boats was awaiting our arrival. It being the middle of winter, it’s not quite so easy to find boat operators, but Richard the skipper had agreed to take us out to see a few of the smaller harbour and river lights. Can I just say before I go any further, the boat was amazing?! We’d joked about having our own private charter on the way back from Caldey Island (mainly because we were there for such a short time), but this time we did and the boat was huge with indoor seating, outdoor seating, room to wander about inside and out, and I even got to sit in one of the “bouncy chairs” (or at least that’s what I call them) next to Richard!
Anyway, off we set. Our first destination was the light on the end of the east pier at the entrance to the River Bann. It is possible to walk to it, but in the interests of time and while we were passing anyway, we went for a spin around it in the boat. Richard had said it would be choppy and it really was. It’s bizarre, just that small section of water at the entrance to the river you get some incredible waves – and today was a relatively calm day! The lighthouse isn’t one you would rave about (well, I wouldn’t anyway), but it was good to see it nonetheless.
We hadn’t really known how long we would be out on the boat for today. We’d guessed it wouldn’t be long, but obviously not anticipated the distance required to get from Coleraine to the bridge across the River Foyle – it’s quite a way. Anyway, it gave us a chance to chat to Richard. He informed us that for a few years he’d taken out groups of lighthouse enthusiasts to Rathlin Island on the trips organised by John Eagle, who very sadly passed away very recently. It was one of John Eagle’s books that Bob had given me at the start of our honeymoon and we were both aware of his lighthouse tours of Ireland. It is a real sad loss and, from a personal point of view, I wish I’d had the chance to meet him.
The next three lighthouses we spotted were in fact Southern Irish lights. Inishowen lighthouse was visible in the distance and then Warren Point a little closer. We then passed by the brilliant Moville light, which was actually my highlight of the day – even if I wasn’t there to visit Southern Irish lights. It was the first proper look I have had of a lighthouse in the Republic of Ireland and a very good first one it was too. Richard recalled seeing it when he was younger and thinking that on its skinny little iron legs it wouldn’t last long, but a number of years later it has proven him wrong. It’s got a lot of character and is something a bit different, which is always nice to see.
Onwards we went to our first light in the River Foyle, Culmore Point. You can pretty much drive to Culmore Point, but I’m glad we saw it from the boat as it wouldn’t have been half as nice to see from the land. The tide was in at the time so half of the lighthouse (the half with its name on would not have been accessible anyway from the land). Unfortunately, someone had decided to “decorate” the tower with a large drawing, the details of which I won’t go into (Richard suggested PhotoShop might be in order, let’s just leave it at that). It’s not the most fascinating of lights, but it marked the beginning of a sort of style of lights that litter the River Foyle between its entrance and the bridge.
Ballynagard was the next light, just a short distance away, that bore a resemblance to the Culmore light, although it didn’t bear its name – or the graffiti come to think of it. This one appears to be a bit harder to access from land, so we definitely went the right way about it.
The next one was a major target for me. I had seen pictures of Otter Bank online and, in order to qualify for my list of lighthouse the structure must be able to be accessed internally. From what I had seen it was difficult to tell whether it was possible to get inside this tower. So, the key priority for the day was to try and work this out. The only problem with this was that the side on which there is a small platform with what looked sort of like a door opening was surrounded by shallow water. Fortunately, Richard is a particularly skilled skipper and managed to slowly edge around the tower while Bob crept on to the front of the boat to get as close to the side we needed to see as possible. I, of course, stood back like the queen and watched. Actually I didn’t really. I did try to get a look myself, but it was Bob’s pictures that helped me to make the final decision that, yes, it is possible to get inside. It may not lead anywhere now, but you can definitely get inside. I referred to it as the equivalent of a lighthouse bus shelter!
Feeling very pleased and thinking that was us done in terms of what I needed to achieve in the Foyle, Richard suggested we go up river a little further as there were some more lights before the bridge. We passed the Brookhall light, which I knew had no internal access and this was reconfirmed. Onwards we went and as we got closer to the bridge we spotted a tower that looked fairly substantial. This tower, like Culmore, featured its name: Boom Hall. This one hadn’t even been on my radar and for the rest of the day we would call it the “unexpected lighthouse in the bagging area”. The tower had clearly not been operational for some time. It has what looks like a tree growing out of the top and the small walkway/jetty that used to link it to the river bank has long since gone leaving just the old iron legs that supported it. Interestingly, there is very little information available about this light, apart from an old picture here. The name “Boom” may well come from the fact that this part of the river was the location of the boom barrier put in place by King James II’s army during the Siege of Derry in the 17th century. Most likely though is that it was built around the same time as the nearby Boom Hall (presumably that took its name from the boom barrier). Boom Hall is also in a particularly bad state of repair. So, this was a new one for me and I was very glad that Richard had suggested going a little further.
On the way back to Coleraine, once we’d passed through the wild entrance to the River Bann again, we stopped for a little to look at the leading lights a short distance from the river mouth. I had been aware of them and we’d spotted them on the way out, but I wasn’t sure whether either of them would fulfil the criteria required for making my list. Although the views from the boat weren’t able to answer that it did give us an idea of the surrounding area and how it might be best to access them. Richard suggested walking around from the beach might be the quickest way.
Saying farewell and thanks to Richard who had been so accommodating of my requirements and requests (and hadn’t looked at me strangely once when I was talking about getting inside these small lighthouses – very grateful for that), we set off as fast as we could for Castlerock as we were losing light by the minute and wanted to get to the leading lights while we could still see our way there. We’d been out on the boat a lot longer than we’d thought we would be and so lunch had been skipped, there were more pressing matters to deal with. We found the beach and it was an easy walk across the sand and then the dunes to the front of the two lights, which I was delighted to find had a door! It looks a little like it might fall apart at some stage, but it would still be possible to get inside it, if you had the right equipment, of course. I was fairly certain that if this one had a door then the rear would.
The rear light wasn’t too far away and the route we took was nowhere near as foliage-filled as we had feared. It’s entirely different, structurally to the front light, and was easy enough to find. (Note to my friend John who will read this at some point: it’s very close to the 5th tee of Castlerock golf course when you get around to starting on the Irish lights!!) I was adamant that I should be the one to see if it had access inside first so the mountain goat (sorry, I mean Bob) waited patiently while I slid around to the back and peered in. It was one of those moments when you want to look, but you don’t just in case there is something out of a horror film waiting to jump out at you. So I looked far enough around to see that you could get inside (the remains of the door lay on the ground nearby) and then Bob took over and braved it. I did look in the end, once it was confirmed that the coast was indeed clear. There wasn’t really much to see at all, apart from a cable – you know you are scraping the barrel when all you can mention is a cable!
We didn’t hang around for too long as there was still one more light to be seen while we were in the area. It was getting darker by the time we got back to the car, but it would have annoyed me too much to have left one single light to visit in the area when we were so close. So, Portstewart it was. As I suspected it was easy enough to find. It’s a funny little thing. Like a little kiosk where you might get ice cream on a summer’s day, except it has a rather intriguing light on top. I can’t really explain it so well, so will include a picture to show you instead.
So, that was the end of a very busy, lighthouse-filled, lunch-free day! It’s great to be back in Northern Ireland and nice to spend some time in some new parts too. More tomorrow 🙂