A fine ‘old lady’ in Happisburgh

I’ve often referred to lighthouses as ‘she’. It just seems right that they are female. I’ve also been known on more than one occasion to sing Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder during lighthouse visits. Well, I discovered that I am not alone in this during a visit to Happisburgh lighthouse on our way back home from the recent Isle of Wight trip. On my original lighthouse tour I’d obviously driven to Happisburgh and, as with a lot of the lighthouses on that trip, my timing was atrocious and I arrived about half an hour after it had closed. So, I’d not managed to get inside this frankly stunning structure. Well, last year, through the Association of Lighthouse Keepers, I met Joy and Patrick who are part of the team that have taken over the operation and maintenance of the lighthouse at Happisburgh (more on that in a minute). I knew we would be in Norfolk on our way home so got in touch with them and they very kindly agreed to show us around.

Happisburgh lighthouse

During this tour, which I will describe in a moment, I discovered that Joy too believes that lighthouses are female and very fondly refers to Happisburgh lighthouse as their ‘old lady’. The lighthouse certainly is old, dating back to 1790 when it was built as one of a pair of leading lights, with this one being the high light. Joy informed us that there is very little to see of the old low light now, but occasionally it is possible to spot some small sections of the old curved wall on the beach. Although the remains are now on the beach, the lighthouse itself was located on the cliff. This is evidence of the amount of coastal erosion in the area. It’s frightening when you see how the coastline has changed in recent years.

Happisburgh view
The view from the top towards where the low light would have been

The tower, which is now so distinctive with its red bands, used to be white, but when the Low Light was removed the red bands were added to distinguish it from the other nearby white lighthouses in Winterton to the south and Cromer to the north. Although the old low light was demolished, it is great to see a section of the lens from the old tower  in the ground floor exhibition area in the lighthouse – it even lights up! After the lens had been removed from the low light it was used in Southwold, which has since been converted to a different type of light. When the lens was no longer required in Southwold, Happisburgh Lighthouse Trust approached Trinity House and asked if it could be brought back to Happisburgh and they now have this on loan, so part of it did make it back home!

Happisburgh low lens
Part of the old lens from Happisburgh low light

The inside of the tower is actually quite open-plan. As Joy pointed out, it is not until you are almost at the top that you have space/a room to stop and catch your breath! It’s fantastic though, looking down on the main space on the ground floor, which is just full of amazing things to look at. I was so busy chatting I didn’t get a chance to fully take it all in so I’ll just need to go back again some time – and probably end up just chatting some more!

Happisburgh light
The view inside the lens

There is one room near the top (aside from the lantern room, of course) which contains information about the history of the lighthouse, as well as a really lovely display of lamps of all shapes and sizes from various lighthouses. There is also information here about the community takeover of the lighthouse. It really is a unique arrangement. In 1987 Trinity House announced that Happisburgh lighthouse was to be discontinued. The community, understandably, fought against this decision and two years later everything was in place for the newly formed Happisburgh Lighthouse Trust to begin leasing the lighthouse and running it themselves. Of course that is an abridged version of events and it was much more involved. It’s a really inspiring story and a perfect example of just how important lighthouses can be to communities.

The Friends of Happisburgh Lighthouse are doing a great job of fundraising to keep the lighthouse going. It looks brilliant both inside and out, especially after the tower was re-painted last year. You can’t really go wrong with red and white stripes on a lighthouse, I don’t think, and Happisburgh is a perfect example of that. It is a fine place to spend some time and even those who aren’t necessarily into lighthouses would find it hard not to enjoy a visit. Joy and Patrick were such wonderful hosts, so a big thank you to them.

When Bob finally managed to drag me away from the lighthouse we continued our journey home – and what a long journey it was this time! Fortunately, we were going up the east coast for a change where it is fairly easy to stop off and see a few lighthouses.

River Nene East End
The River Nene East End lighthouse

Now, back in 2012 I saw the two lighthouses on the banks of the River Nene to the east of Sutton Bridge. I had only walked (still not sure why I walked it from Sutton Bridge, but never mind) to the Guys Head light and seen the East End lighthouse from across the river, so it seemed like a good place to stop as the sun was shining.  There aren’t many lighthouses surrounded by trees, but these two are, which makes it difficult to get pictures of them, but we did our best and our best wasn’t too bad. It’s just about getting the right angle – and at the right time of day too as the sun can really be in the wrong position sometimes!

River Nene Guys Head
River Nene Guys Head lighthouse

It was dark by the time we arrived in Newcastle, not far from our hotel. I’d not seen the old light on the Tyne Swing Bridge before so it seemed like a good opportunity while we were in the area. I wandered along the river bank and up onto the bridge. With the light no longer being operational it’s not so easy to see (or photograph – unless you are capable of fancy camera work). It was nice to see it though and it was a calm evening. I’m not used to being in cities visiting lighthouses, so it made a nice change.

Tyne Swing Bridge
Tyne Swing Bridge and its lighthouse

On the final day of our journey home we happened to be in the North Queensferry area around lunch time so stopped off to see the little lighthouse there. It was a really pleasant day which made for a nice visit, although the tower is currently closed for maintenance (normally you can get inside and sometimes even light the lamp). They are due to open again very soon.

North Queensferry
North Queensferry lighthouse and the Forth Rail Bridge

It was nice to break up what was a really long journey with some lighthouse visits. Time to have a break from lighthouse trips for a month or so now to recharge my batteries ready for the next adventure! 🙂