While yesterday was all about visiting new lights in the north of Northern Ireland, today the objective was to improve upon those we’d seen a few years ago along the south and east coasts.
In the lead up to this trip we had been in contact with a local boat operator who had an unconfirmed booking with another group, but had said he would be happy to take us along Carlingford Lough for closer views of Haulbowline as well as the two smaller lights, Vidal Bank and Green Island. Unfortunately, we were informed that the other group’s trip was going ahead so it wasn’t possible for us. Although Bob tried to make contact with an alternative operator, we had no success. The back-up plan was paddling!
We’d been lucky with the tides yesterday for seeing the lights on the banks of the River Foyle and, in particular, managing to get close to the Otter Bank light. Today, we decided to make sure the tide was in our favour again. It obviously meant an early start, as is often the case with these lighthouse days, although thankfully not as early as yesterday.
Arriving in Greencastle, we decided to have a drive around to see the nearest place to see the lights from, focussing first on Vidal Bank and Green Island. As usual, Bob chose to park somewhere that I couldn’t possibly recommend people park when they actually visit themselves, but fortunately we checked out the access suggestion I will include in my book and that was fine. We walked onto the beach, wellies on, and I headed straight towards the Vidal Bank light, walking in as far as I could without getting my feet wet. It would not have been possible to get to the light, or its neighbour Green Island, anyway so it wasn’t worth even trying. We had the zoom lens so that helped with getting better pictures anyway.
There were a number of oyster beds nearby and we strolled alongside them to reach the closest point to Green Island. Again, in I went to get some pictures, while Bob hung back on the beach using the zoom lens! There’s not a lot of difference between the two lights, but we did spot that the green section of the legs on the Green Island light came further up than on Vidal Bank. Also the orange triangular daymarks on them were in different orientations and at different heights. This may sound like unnecessary information, but will prove to be very useful for working out which is which in pictures. Having seen the pictures included here so close together it is obvious that they are a bit different.
While we’d been hanging around the smaller lights, we were very aware that the beautiful Haulbowline rock lighthouse was a short distance away. It was even less likely that we would reach this one at low tide, but I felt that need to paddle again. This time I had the zoom lens, which helped. The sun was still low and I always think this is one of the benefits of visiting lighthouses at this time of year, as you can catch the colours of sunrise and sunset on the towers without having to get up at some ridiculous hour or stay up too late. Haulbowline has all the magnificence and elegance of a rock lighthouse, but without the need to spend hours on a boat to reach it (well, technically we had to get the ferry to Northern Ireland, but you hopefully see my point). There were some beautiful houses along the north bank of Carlingford Lough and I can see why. If I had a potential view of Haulbowline from my house I’d want massive windows too!
From here we headed north. I was very keen to get back to St John’s Point to improve upon the pictures we got last time. The problem with them was that it was a pretty overcast day and as there was blue sky this morning it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. In addition, the lighthouse has yellow and black stripes, which is very unique and is one of things I like most about it. Driving past it would have felt very wrong. I was really pleased in the end to go back there. The joy of lighthouse revisits is that you so often notice smaller details that you didn’t see before. There is a narrow slipway leading up to the lighthouse from the coast, and there are a couple of signs clearly warning people that they use it at their own risk. On one of the walls around the compound were a number of stones with names and messages written on them. Many had the dates that people had visited. Just below these stones was a small area with a few items and a large stone explaining that it was in memory of a little boy, Noah, who only lived for 9 months. It was very sad and these things always touch you more when you have children of your own. I did think it was a wonderful thing for his family to have done. He may not have reached an age at which he could enjoy a lighthouse, but it will now always be an important place to his family.
Another interesting observation from this visit was a banner on a gate near the entrance to the lighthouse. The tower’s optic is clearly under threat at the moment and the local community are, of course, wanting to challenge it. The campaign is being run by Lecale Lightkeepers, a cross-community group, and their banner calls for help to save their “iconic sweeping beam” with “Leave St John’s light alone” along the bottom. I am a huge fan of sweeping beams, you just can’t beat them and I’m always sad to see them go. The banner urges supporters of the campaign to email the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
We followed our visit to St John’s Point with a quick stop at Ardglass Pier, another revisit. There’s not a lot to say about this one, but we got blue sky pictures again – once again an improvement upon last time.
It was time for a little distance bagging on the stretch between Ardglass and Donaghadee. I very helpfully noticed (if I do say so myself) that a ferry ran across Strangford Narrows, which certainly made the journey a lot quicker. It also meant that we had the opportunity to see Angus Rock lighthouse from both sides of the entrance to Strangford Lough. Out came the zoom lens again and the best views of it were certainly from Kilclief on the west bank. We’d spotted Angus Rock on our first trip to Northern Ireland, but hadn’t made an effort to get as close to it as possible, so this was another chance to do just that.
Our next distance viewing was of South Rock, also known as Kilwarlin lighthouse. While it isn’t looking too special now, it has an interesting history since it was first lit in 1797 and it was the first rock, or wave-washed, lighthouse in Ireland as a whole. From the coast of mainland Northern Ireland you can’t really see its true magnitude, but hopefully one day we will make it out there for a closer look.
Passing Donaghadee without stopping to walk to the lighthouse should, quite frankly, be made illegal! Not wanting to break this new law I have just introduced, we spent a while on the pier there. By this time sunset was well and truly on its way, casting that wonderful warm glow over everything once again. The only problem with Donaghadee is that too many people seem to recognise the enjoyment to be had from walking to the lighthouse. While I love to advocate lighthouse bagging, I do like people to keep out of my pictures most of the time, unless I choose to have them there! Once again a great place and clearly somewhere that all ages enjoy judging by today’s visitors.
On the coastal road north towards Belfast we spotted the black and white stripes of the Mew Island lighthouses off of the coast, precisely at the point my notes had suggested viewing it from.
There was one final place to be visited before we could go to the ferry terminal. I alluded to the old Mew Island optic in my post yesterday, and how it has now been relocated to the Maritime Mile as part of the Titanic Belfast museum. During our first visit to Northern Ireland we had flown out to Mew Island in a helicopter (I had great fun, Bob was petrified when I took control though!) and we had seen the optic rotating in the lighthouse. Since then the optic has been replaced by a modern light. The optic is now being very well cared for and is beautifully presented and lit in its new home (which apparently is at the location of a former harbour lighthouse). There is a great deal of information on the boards surrounding it too about the history of the optic, the type of lens (it is one of only 30 Hyper-Radial lenses in the world for those interested) and the movement of it from the lighthouse to the Titanic Causeway. I was pleased to be visiting as it was getting dark to fully appreciate the display. I was also pleased that it is outside as it is accessible 24 hours a day and free of charge! There’s a lot of information about the lens at https://greatlighttq.org if you’d like to find out more.
So that’s the very brief visit to Northern Ireland complete. I think I can quite safely say at this point that it is definitely my last lighthouse bagging trip of the year. The end of a very successful and incredibly enjoyable year. Thank you for taking the time to read and/or follow my blog. Bring on next year and plenty more lighthouses – and my book!!! Happy New Year to you! 🙂