uklighthousetour

One crazy lady and a bizarre obsession = an ongoing tour of the best lighthouses the UK has to offer

West Coast Adventure: day three

I have got a little behind with these posts due to having too much fun on the West Coast Adventure. On Saturday, day three of the adventure, we had another lighthouse and island-filled time. Setting off from Kilchoan it was only a short journey to our first stop, Ardmore Point on the north coast of Mull. The sun was already shining bright and the sea was fairly calm, which made landing on the rocks below the lighthouse straightforward. The lighthouse sits a little way up from the sea so we needed to find an appropriate route up, which was a bit of a struggle for me – although Bob was leading the way so I really just needed to follow him. John joined us too and it was only after we’d spent a while clambering up onto the rough grass that we spotted the skipper hopping across the rocks and taking what looked like a much more direct route. I didn’t enjoy the walk to the lighthouse, but as usual the lighthouse managed to cheer me up. Although the tower itself is a standard flat-pack (with multitudes of solar panels), it differs from most others in that it is accompanied by an extra little building.

Ardmore Point

Ardmore Point lighthouse

Returning to the ‘mothership’ we set off again. We’d planned to head out to the Cairns of Coll, but a storm was forecast for the afternoon so we weren’t sure if it would be worthwhile. As it turned out the storm never reached us (or passed over the night before), so we decided to attempt it. Waving to Ardnamurchan on the way, we began the journey out to the north end of Coll. On our trip last year, we had been to the Cairns of Coll, but had not been able to land on the lighthouse island, Suil Ghorm, from the RIB we had been on due to the shallowness of the water. As we arrived at the island group it became fairly clear that we would be unsuccessful again. A couple of members of the group attempted a landing on a neighbouring island, which didn’t go particularly well so the decision was taken to abandon any attempt to land. Skipper Derek from North Coast Seatours did sail as far around the lighthouse as he was able to though so we could get some good pictures. It was nice to see it again even if it wasn’t as closely as we’d hoped.

Cairns of Coll

Cairns of Coll lighthouse

The Small Isles were our next destination. I was looking forward to this as it included a stop at Eilean Chathastail, home to Eigg lighthouse. I’d been here with Bob and a group of island baggers back in 2015 and absolutely loved it. It’s the type of lighthouse I am very fond of and the opportunity to revisit was one I jumped at the chance of. It was also one that John had been wanting to visit too as he’d previously only seen it from the sea. With the storm nowhere to be seen and  the sea calm, there was no problem at all with landing on the north west of the island. This was a little different to last time when we landed on the east coast of the island, closer to the lighthouse. This did mean we’d need to walk a bit further and I was glad that Bob had offered the use of his GPS device as it kept us on track for getting to the lighthouse. As it is set down a little from the highest ground on the island it is difficult to see from the north of the island until you are almost at it. The walk wasn’t too bad and we were rewarded with some fantastic views when we got to the lighthouse. We could see across to the pencil-looking Ardnamurchan lighthouse, this time to the south west, standing tall. I was reminded again of how calm the place feels and I enjoyed the visit as much, if not more, than the first one.

Eigg.JPG

Eigg lighthouse

After lunch at the cafe on Eigg, we continued our journey north. We were soon approaching Skye and we sailed close to the flat-pack lighthouse at the Point of Sleat. It’s quite a walk to the lighthouse, but an interesting one as explained in my post from 2016. Certainly much easier to visit/see from the sea!

Point of Sleat2

Point of Sleat lighthouse

 

I’d been looking forward to our next stop and I felt a little bit like a child in the back of a car as we sailed up the east coast of Skye. I had to stop myself a few times from asking “Are we nearly there yet?” On my original tour I’d seen Ornsay lighthouse from the village of Isleornsay when the tide had been in. On the second visit, Bob and I had walked out to it at low tide, and a last visit a few weeks ago was again just a quick stop looking across the water to the island of Ornsay and it’s tiny neighbour Eilean Sionnach, the island with the lighthouse. I wrote a fair amount about the beauty of the lighthouse in a recent post so I won’t go into too much detail in that respect this time. However, I was intrigued to see whether the lighthouse would lose any of its beauty for other angles. With the mountains as the backdrop from the general viewing area, I was concerned that it was just that view that made it so stunning. I am happy to confirm that there was no need for concern. I’m not sure what it is about the lighthouse, but it is amazing whichever side you see it from. Of course, with conditions being so calm, we had to land on the island for another opportunity to see it close up. While the sky at Ornsay lighthouse always seems to have been blue when I have visited, it was bluer than ever this time with a few clouds for added effect. I could have happily stayed there for hours and if the cottages ever come up for sale, well… I think the picture below says it all really.

Ornsay2

Ornsay lighthouse

I’ve got a bit carried away and not yet mentioned the Ornsay Beacon Lighthouse, which we actually visit in the small tender before landing at the big lighthouse. Although, from a distance, it doesn’t look like there is much to this one, when you see it close up it’s far more substantial. It is a solid round stone tower topped with one level of the flat-pack arrangement. Of particular note though is that, everywhere else, the flat-pack has a square footprint, but this one has rounded edges. It’s a good structure and really nice to get a chance to see it at close range. This is why I enjoy getting closer to this type as it is difficult to appreciate them from a distance when they all look pretty much the same. You also don’t get a true feel for the location unless you are on the island they sit on or very close to it. This one was great to see.

Ornsay Beacon

Ornsay Beacon lighthouse

Once the island baggers had bashed their way to the high points of a number of islands as we moved further north, we arrived at the Sandaig Islands. The Sandaig lighthouse is on Eilean Mor which, unlike most of the other islands within the group, is not accessible from the mainland at low tide. As the group were all looking to achieve different things on these islands, only a few of us were dropped off on Eilean Mor. With Bob joining us a little later, John took on the role of lead navigator, establishing whether attempting to walk along the rocks or across the island was the better route. Opting for the more foliage-filled option it wasn’t too long before John spotted a series of wooden posts sticking out of the ground that seemed to lead in the direction of the lighthouse. The path that these posts followed was quite good in places and a little rougher in others, but we were definitely glad to have found it. As we approached the lighthouse John joked that Bob was likely to just turn up around the corner at any moment and then, as if by magic, he appeared strolling across the rocks. I’ve taken to referring to Bob fondly as ‘Goat Legs’ on these trips due to his ability to make any walk across any terrain like like a stroll in the park. This is another brilliant island and so it was a pleasure to visit the flat-pack structure. I must admit though that it would have been nice to have seen the old lighthouse (now located at Glenelg pier – see my earlier post for more information on that one) in place, but still a great place to visit. Once we’d finished at the lighthouse we followed the posts across the island and to a little sheltered rocky bay. The three of us sat, chatting in the sunshine surrounded by beautiful views, while we waited to be collected.

Sandaig

Sandaig Island lighthouse

That was the end of our lighthouse adventures for the day. Glenelg was where we based ourselves that night. What a wonderful day we all had. While a large percentage of the UK was experiencing the wrath of Storm Hannah, we had avoided it entirely. What a lucky bunch we were 🙂

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West Coast Adventure: day two

If I had started this series of posts with more imaginative titles I would have probably called this one “a day of little lights” or something similar. I think that describes it quite well really.

We started the day slightly earlier than the rest of the group and took the tender out from Craighouse on Jura across to land on Eilean Nan Gabhar, which is home to one of the “flat-pack” lighthouses – the one we had seen flashing while we ate dinner the night before. While the crossing was a little rocky, landing was absolutely fine and it was really just a hop across the rocks (I never enjoy that sort of thing very much though, but will do it if there’s a lighthouse at the end) to reach the lighthouse. This one is a fairly standard flat-pack so there’s not a great deal to say about it. It is always nice to see these ones close up though and, I believe, this is the first one I visited with my friend John who also has a rather rare appreciation of these structures.

Eilean Nan Gabhar lighthouse in the Sound of Jura

Once we’re returned to the “mothership” as our North Coast Seatours skipper Derek so nicely refers to it, we joined the rest of the group and set off northbound again. It wasn’t too long until we reached the great lighthouse that is Skervuile. While we did see this one earlier in the year, the tide was out then and this time it was higher so we got to see Skervuile in its full rock lighthouse glory with the waves lapping at its base. It’s a very interesting tower and considerably smaller than any others sitting on rocks often submerged by the sea. This was our closest view that day of one of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s larger lights and those on the boat couldn’t fail to be impressed.

Skervuile lighthouse

Continuing north we landed briefly on Ruadh Sgeir for a visit to the lighthouse. This was another one we had seen in January, but not landed on then. I am very fond of this type and it’s always nice to have a chance to see one close up. They strike a nice balance between the modern and the traditional. Although they don’t have the majesty of the old stone towers they have more substance to them than the flat-packs.

Ruadh Sgeir lighthouse

We sailed past Reisa an t-Sruith, another one we’d seen earlier in the year. In the interests of time we passed on landing at this one as lunch beckoned! The sea conditions in the area reminded me of the boat trip we did in January where the skipper informed us of the translation of the islands name, which was something along the lines of “the island in the rushing currents”. How very true that is.

A short distance on we sailed past both Fladda and Dubh Sgeir, almost at the same time, which always make it difficult to know which side of the boat to stand on. Do I look at the more beautiful one that I’ve landed at previously or the smaller, less impressive one that I’ve not seen close up before? I like to think I managed to get a bit of both in.

Fladda lighthouse

Not that it mattered too much as our lunch stop was on Luing from where Fladda lighthouse becomes the centrepiece of an incredible view. We were booked in for lunch at the Atlantic Centre, which I was particularly pleased about as it is now home to the old Fladda lens and I caught sight of it as soon as we walked in the door. It is very nicely displayed, surrounded by information about the lens itself as well as the lighthouse and details of what life was like for the keepers and their families on the island. That wasn’t it though as, very excitingly, the Centre has a really interesting lighthouse exhibition upstairs. There is information about the Stevenson’s and their lighthouses as well as some fantastic old pictures. The most interesting, in my opinion, due to its relevance to that particular day was a 1947 picture of the old Reisa an t-Sruith lighthouse. Also, a couple of historical pictures of the Garvellachs light with one from the 1950s showing a few people posing on the gallery. A really interesting exhibition.

The old Fladda lens on display in the Atlantic Centre on Luing

After lunch we were off again and sailed past the lighthouse on Sgeirean Dubha. This is an interesting one and a little different from your average flat-pack as you can see from the picture.

Sgeirean Dubha lighthouse

A little while later we passed Oban and obviously saw Dunollie and Lismore lighthouses. We also sailed close to Lady’s Rock, a rock completely submerged by water at high tide, where a husband allegedly abandoned his wife only to then see her wander into the pub later that day after she was rescued by a passing fisherman. An interesting story, that one. Lady’s Rock now features a lighthouse. It’s a different one as the base is solid concrete while the top section is like a layer of the flat-pack design (like Sgeirean Dubha or Na Cuiltean), but the flat-pack section is clad in red rather than white panels.

Lady’s Rock lighthouse

A sail past of Duart Point on Mull was next on the agenda. Although we’ve been to Mull we’d not quite made it there and it will be nice to visit from the land at some point.

Duart Point

Further up was Glas Eileanan. As a structure in itself it’s a fairly standard flat-pack. The only difference really with this one is that it has a little stone hut – probably not associated with the lighthouse at all – fairly close by on the same small island.

Glas Eileanan lighthouse

Ardtornish was our penultimate stop of the day. Bob, John and I managed to land here at the little steps, presumably used by the Northern Lighthouse Board to access the tower. Once off of the rocks it was a really easy walk along the grass to reach the lighthouse. Again, there’s not much to be said about it, and the visit there was possibly not quite as fun as it would have been if it hadn’t been raining.

Ardtornish lighthouse

The final scheduled viewing of the day was Eileanan Glasa (not to be mistaken for Glas Eileanan!). Another flat-pack (I did say it was a day for the little lights, didn’t I?!)

Eileanan Glasa lighthouse

Before heading for our final stopping place for the night, Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, we popped to Tobermory on Mull. There was a music festival taking place and we bought fish and chips to eat on the pier before spending an hour or so in a one of the pubs listening to some local music. On our way back across the water to Kilchoan that evening we could see the flashing lights of both Rubha nan Gall and Ardmore Point. More on Ardmore to come tomorrow.

A really good day and great to have seen so many of those lights that many would just shrug their shoulders at. I think John and I may be converting some of those on the trip towards liking these structures though 🙂

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West Coast Adventure: day one

As mentioned in my previous post, we had positioned ourselves in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland in preparation for a sail with North Coast Seatours up to Kylesku. Yesterday was the first day of the trip and what a day it was.

Heading out in considerably calmer conditions that we had expected, our first intended stop was to be possibly the highlight of the trip. Sanda, off of the Mull of Kintyre, has become a very difficult island to access for reasons I won’t go into. While it has never been easy to get to, it has become one of those places that those in both the lighthouse and island bagging communities alike dream of getting to. With the conditions as they were it was looking hopeful that our attempt would be a successful one.

On the approach to Sanda

I think we had all anticipated landing at the north of the island followed by a walk down to the lighthouse at the south end. As it turned out the conditions were perfect for landing right next to the lighthouse, which was fantastic as you immediately get the views before you even leave the boat. The jetty there was fine to land on and then the shortest of strolls took us to the base of the lowest tower. Sanda lighthouse is breathtaking. It really is unlike any other with the two brick towers containing the staircases that would take the keepers up to the third and final tower, one much more in-keeping with the standard Northern Lighthouse Board tower. When I saw the towers I was reminded of a friend of mine, a former keeper who served on Sanda, and how he said he never liked Sanda as you had to climb three towers to get to the top. I’d never thought of it like that and it makes sense, although I can certainly forgive Alan Stevenson for that as it is such an incredible structure.

The three towers of Sanda lighthouse

The natural landscape around the lighthouse is equally impressive with the elephant-shaped rock next to it, it’s trunk reaching out towards the lighthouse. The views of Sanda lighthouse are impressive from every conceivable angle. I particularly liked looking up from the base of the bottom tower where you could see all three towers looming large above you. The best view though is from the top of the hill on the opposite side of the little bay we landed at. This spot offers the ultimate view of both the lighthouse and the elephant rock. The best way to describe it really is to include a picture.

The best view of Sanda lighthouse

The old keepers building and store rooms are looking a little worse for wear now, but still make up an important part of the scene. We eventually dragged ourselves away and back into the boat.

Our journey is, in general, taking us north so we needed to sail around the Mull of Kintyre, which for a lighthouse bagger like me is never a problem. We caught sight of the more modern foghorn first, which I’d never realised was there. A short while later the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse came into view. The height of the cliffs there dwarfs the lighthouse, but it was fantastic to see from the sea. It’s not something I ever thought I would see. It takes some effort to get there by land, but is worth it.

Mull of Kintyre

Onwards we went. After some short visits to islands for others we arrived at our next stop: McArthur’s Head. In our Islay trip in January we’d landed at McArthur’s Head and walked up the amazing steps to the tower and fortunately the conditions allowed us to do exactly the same this time. It wasn’t as calm, but once we were in the tender approaching the little landing area we were fine to step off. Last time we had stunning views from above the lighthouse and again we were rewarded with a very picturesque landscape, albeit very different from the one we had last time. I imagine it is one of those places from which the views are constantly changing. It is a really enjoyable place to be and a good opportunity to show other non-lighthouse people how great it can be. After Sanda and McArthur’s Head I’m pretty certain that they are converted now.

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

Our destination was Jura, so of course we couldn’t possibly have arrived at Craighouse without passing by both Na Cuiltean and Eilean Nan Gabhar lighthouses (more on the latter tomorrow). As the sun was going down by this point it was nice to see these two in the yellowish light, which made a difference to last time.

Na Cuiltean lighthouse

We ended the day in the Jura Hotel having dinner while routinely gazing out of the window while waiting for Eilean Nan Gabhar’s light to come on – and come on it did and a short while later we also spotted the light of Skervuile flashing away in the distance.

A truly fantastic day and one I can guarantee I will never forget 🙂

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Return to Rathlin

Rathlin Island off of the north coast of Northern Ireland is a place that I have mixed memories of from our honeymoon back in 2013. There is no doubt I found it to be a beautiful island, but cycling across it in wind and rain with little time to fit everything in was possibly not giving it the time and credit it deserved. Hence the need for a return visit. Well, that and I hadn’t managed to get to see the West Lighthouse the first time due to it being out of season.

At the end of last year we made contact with Derek from North Coast Seatours, based in Kylesku, about another trip (hopefully to come next month). During our discussions he happened to mention that he would be bringing his boat up from Northern Ireland to Kylesku and asked if we would be interested in joining him and developing an itinerary for getting some lighthouses and islands we were keen to visit on the way. We jumped at the chance of course.

So, that is how we came to be in Northern Ireland this week. With an intentional day to spare we set off for Rathlin Island yesterday morning. As Easter has passed the West Lighthouse is now open with the RSPB centre making it a popular attraction. This has the added benefit of being the main destination for the Puffin Bus, which we happily hopped on. It’s a great journey out to the lighthouse with some fairly steep sections and tight bends. It’s only 4 miles, but the nature of the roads makes it feel significantly longer.

West lighthouse

When we arrived at the lighthouse we bypassed pretty much everything in order to make it to the lighthouse before anyone else. Now, the West Lighthouse is really quite unique. I don’t know of any other lighthouse (and certainly not in the UK) where you enter the tower at the top and have to walk all the way down to the bottom to be able to see the lighthouse. This explains why it is known as the “upside down” lighthouse. It also the reason why it’s quite difficult to get a picture of. The platform at the bottom of the tower is just big enough to be able to get a picture of the full height if you rest the camera on the ground and angle it upwards. The tower features a number of rooms, one of which is still laid out as it would have been as a keeper’s bedroom. Further rooms give more information about the lighthouse as well as the birds and wildlife that can be seen in the area. As well as being upside down the light is also quite unique in that it flashes only red. In a number of larger lighthouses there is a red sector, but rarely just a red light.

The coastal scenery around the West Lighthouse is fantastic, particularly looking to the north. It is almost unreal and I could have stayed there all day, but there was more to be done!

An hour after our arrival we hopped back onto the Puffin Bus. I asked the driver if he would be heading anywhere towards Rue Point where the most southerly lighthouse sits. He dropped us off at the end of the road and we set off on foot along the track. It was a shorter walk than I remembered from our list visit. While the structure at Rue Point is not a traditional lighthouse it’s in a great location. It has a wonderful little walkway leading to it. It was considerably calmer this time so we took a wander about on the rocks around the lighthouse. A really lovely place and frequented by seals so it was not surprising that we spotted a few lounging around in the little bay.

Rue Point lighthouse

From Rue Point we set off to walk to the East Lighthouse at Altacarry Head, or should I say the East Lighthouses as there are two towers, the low and high lights. I was keen to get back here as we had seen the larger tower, of course, but had failed to notice the smaller one as it is nestled in front of the high light on the seaward side.

The weather was fantastic yesterday and I was finding with the uphills and downhills that Rathlin’s roads feature that it was a bit too warm at times. It certainly seemed like a long walk between the two, but enjoyable nonetheless. It was great to see the East Lighthouse again, we’d seen it flashing (it flashes 24 hours a day) at us a few times and I’d also caught sight of the light from Islay in January. It’s a fairly powerful light. As we knew about the small lighthouse this time it was obvious once we’d looked at it. The lights are within a locked compound, which makes it difficult to get a good view of the little one, but if you walked along the coast a bit further you could see it as well as the height of the cliffs that it sits on. Really impressive and unexpected, although it shouldn’t be unexpected really given its location.

The two towers of the East lighthouse

We wandered on back to the main village and had a look around a little gallery selling location-produced gifts before stopping at the cafe for a cup of tea and cake. It was a great opportunity to reflect on the day spent on a really beautiful and very interesting island. While the population of the island has decreased in recent decades, it certainly still attracts a great number of visitors and you can see why. So much is known about the island’s history – who built which house and who lived where. A real community island and generally a fantastic place.
It certainly won’t be my last visit to Rathlin, I am sure of that 🙂

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A cup of tea in Glenelg!

If you were based on the north coast and travelling home from Fort William which way would you go? Probably the A82 and then the A9 I would imagine. We’ve done that route many times and there’s nothing wrong with it at all, it’s quite beautiful in places, although it can get quite busy in the summer months. There may be other slightly more convoluted routes available, but one you’d possibly not choose to take would be via Skye.

Anyone who knows Bob will know that he rarely takes the path of least resistance, and today was a perfect example of that. But it was all fine because the reason for going that way was to pay a visit to the old Sandaig lighthouse, which is now located near the Glenelg-Kylerhea ferry. The lighthouse is really quite easy to access, you can either drive right up to it or take the ferry across from Kylerhea to see it. I had done neither and had just seen it from the other side of the water at Kylerhea a couple of times.

Setting off from Fort William, the first leg of the trip involved getting across to Mallaig for the ferry to Armadale. I booked it on the way there to avoid getting all of the way there to find it was fully booked. The joy of technology! We managed to get on an earlier ferry and in just over half an hour we were on Skye.

I think Skye is a wonderful place, but it is vast. While many might think that it’s just an island it can’t take that long to visit everything, I have found that no matter how many times I’ve been, there is still something left to see ‘next time’. It really is a massive island. Today though, we were just spending a short time on it, but fortunately that short time involved passing by the village of Isleornsay. Anyone who has spent any length of time visiting Scottish lighthouses will know the lighthouse on (and this is where it gets complicated) the islet of Eilean Sionnach, a tidal island off of the island of Ornsay which itself is a tidal island off of Isleornsay. Now, whoever decided to put a lighthouse in that particular location – I’m going for David and/or Thomas Stevenson – must have known that they were about to create what is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful views in Scotland. Some might say they wouldn’t have thought of that, but I think they must have done. Or even if they hadn’t they would have stood back at the end and said to each other “Well that was definitely worth the effort”!

Ornsay

Ornsay lighthouse

Continuing back up the main road we spotted the Ornsay East Rock light, which I hope to get a closer view of later this month – a very exciting trip coming up so look out for reports of that in a few weeks’ time!

A while later we arrived at the ferry at Kylerhea. From here it is possible to see the Kylerhea light to the north and the object of my attention today, the old Sandaig light, just across the water. The Glenelg ferry, a turntable ferry, is fascinating to watch, such a clever invention and not one I’d seen in action before. The ferry only started running for the season yesterday so that was lucky!

Glenelg ferry

The turntable Glenelg-Kylerhea ferry

As we approached Glenelg on the ferry I got particularly excited as the lighthouse doors were open. I’d heard that it was possible to go inside and I’d had my fingers crossed that it was still the case, which it certainly is.

Glenelg

The old Sandaig lighthouse, now at Glenelg ferry

Now for the history bit and how the lighthouse came to be in it’s new home. The cast iron tower, designed by David A Stevenson, was constructed on one of the islands off of Sandaig around 5 miles to the south west of Glenelg in 1909. As is often the way, as technology progresses organisations are always looking at ways to reduce costs and replacing these structures was one of the ways the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) did this. The tower was replaced in 2004 and this is where the local community stepped in and said they wanted to keep the lighthouse and move it to is current location. The NLB were very helpful, firstly giving some money towards the project along with a number of other funders, and then supporting the relocation itself. After the light had been dismantled it was taken by the NLB to it’s Oban depot to be renovated before being delivered to Glenelg.

Inside Glenelg

Inside the lighthouse

The lighthouse now contains the details of this process as well as information about the local area, including the turntable ferry. Various items are for sale there too, but of equal importance is the fact that you can get a cup of tea or coffee! It all works on an honesty box system. What a great place and a wonderful community effort.

Above Glenelg

The old Sandaig lighthouse with the turntable ferry in action

It is another picturesque location and the place has a good feel about it. Unfortunately not quite accessible enough to stop by for a cup of tea in passing regularly, but definitely somewhere I’d like to return to. Needless to say, I was very glad of our detour today 🙂

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The long road to Ardnamurchan

The Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) Oban-based event continued today (see yesterday’s post for adventures on Lismore and the in Northern Lighthouse Board’s Oban Depot). While yesterday involved very little travel time, today was a different matter – as it always the way when you attempt to get all the way to the most westerly point of the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Corran across the loch

Corran Point lighthouse seen from the other side of Loch Linnhe

I met the rest of the group at the Corran ferry and had a little while to wander around taking in the views of the Corran Point lighthouse on the other side of the narrow stretch of Loch Linnhe. It was a dull morning with drizzly rain and overcast skies. I knew this would be the case as I have a theory that there are never blue skies at Ardnamurchan lighthouse, which is a shame as the beautiful Alan Stevenson granite tower would look much more wondrous with a bit of sunshine on it. Anyway, the group arrived on the minibus and I joined them before crossing over on the ferry. The plan had originally been to stop for a look around Corran lighthouse before heading along the peninsula, but with the weather as it was and the conditions looking better for the afternoon we decided to stop at that one on the way back.

You forget just how long a road it is out to the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan. There is no doubt it is picturesque, but there are some pretty scary moments when you are on a small coach, passing other vehicles on single-track roads or on particularly narrow stretches with a fairly sheer drop on one side. We stopped briefly at the distillery for a break before continuing the journey. We finally got there and the group showed their true commitment to lighthouse bagging by heading straight to the cafe!

After a cup of tea we set off to the lighthouse. I can’t recall a lighthouse with a more beautiful welcoming design inside the door. I could describe it, but instead I shall just include a picture as it really does speak for itself (see below). Ardnamurchan lighthouse has some very subtle design features which take some time to notice. The walk (or should I call it a hike) to the top of the tower is fairly exhausting and there is very little to see on the way up – in fact there is nothing except the stairs, blue walls and the occasional window.

Ardnamurchan entrance

Welcome to Ardnamurchan lighthouse

Near the top of the tower we met Stevie. He had a tough job today with all of us turning up in groups of 2 or 3 at a time and often overlapping. We did chat to him for a while though and he explained the concerns they have over the new LED arrangement they have very recently had installed in the tower. He, quite understandably, misses the rotating beam and is hopeful that at some point they may bring it back in some way. He used to enjoy seeing the sweeping beam across the beach near his home.

Ardnamurchan light

The current lights at the top of Ardnamurchan lighthouse

I went for a somewhat bracing stroll around outside at the top of the tower, looking down on the old fog horn and as far as I could see in all other directions. Neil Wright from the Northern Lighthouse Board, who also joined us on the trip, said that on a clear day you could see all the way out to the incredible Hyskeir from the top of Ardnamurchan lighthouse. It certainly wasn’t that clear today.

At the top of the tower Neil had turned the new LED light on. We were warned not to look directly at it due to the power of the light. As I mentioned before, the detail at the lighthouse is subtle. There are small lion heads within the metal frames around the windows which would very easily escape your attention. As I have tended to do at the top of all of these towers over the past couple of days, I was chatting to Neil about all things Northern Lighthouse Board. He said that when they do any work at Ardnamurchan they most often travel by road, which takes around 2.5 hours from Oban, but they sometimes arrive by boat, which knocks about half an hour off of the journey time. It really is quite remote. Stevie explained to us what life is still like out there and how you are fairly self-sufficient due to not being able to just pop to the shop! It’s refreshing to hear when so many people’s lives these days are all about convenience and spending money.

Adnamurchan decoration

An example of the decoration inside the tower at Ardnamurchan

 

I had a wander around the buildings there before we left. They have the original lens from the tower on display in the exhibition room and you can also see the old compressors for the fog horn. I had a quick look down towards where Neil said the NLB boat arrives when they do travel there by sea. There are even picnic benches down that way. I was surprised to learn that the lighthouse still attracts visitors in the winter months, which often causes problems for the NLB guys when they are trying to work.

Ardnamurchan fog horn

The lighthouse and fog horn at Ardnamurchan

Once we had all gathered back on the coach we set off on the long return journey. The sky had cleared a little by that point, although there was still some low cloud hanging around the hills, which was very atmospheric.

We made it back to Corran lighthouse and spent a while in the chilly breeze on the beach in front of the tower. From here it was possible to see across to the Corran Narrows light on the opposite site of the loch. I recalled from our visit to Islay in January that the Loch Indaal lighthouse seemed to very closely resemble the Corran lighthouse, and this was confirmed by Neil. Not only are they similar towers, but they both benefit from having a mountainous backdrop. They also, apparently, feature the same type of LED light, although the Loch Indaal light still holds a lens rather than the two lights we saw inside Corran today.

Corran Point

Corran Point lighthouse

It’s a tiny tower in comparison to Ardnamurchan and features three sets of very steep ladders. There’s not a lot to it, but the sector light panels at the top make for a very colourful picture. The light had been turned on again so we could get the full experience. Although there is no longer a lens filling the lantern it was a wonderful place to be and we did need to be kicked out in the end as we’d been up there too long! I could happily have stayed there for longer.

Corran light

Inside the lantern at Corran

Once we’d left the lighthouse we returned on the ferry and that was where I left the group. What a fantastic couple of days it has been, meeting new people, getting to know others I’d met before a bit better and seeing some great places I would never have otherwise been able to see. The highlights for me: Lismore, the tour of Pharos (the Northern Lighthouse Board’s vessel) and probably getting inside the tower at Corran. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to more adventures with my new-found lighthouse friends 🙂

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Day one of some Oban escapades

As mentioned in previous posts, about six months ago I took on the role of Events Coordinator alongside two others for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK). Although I had attended their AGM in South Wales last year, it was only a matter of time before a trip coordinated by the new team would take place. Today the time finally arrived in the form of a two-day event based in Oban.

The blue sky made an early appearance today, just in time for our journey over to Lismore lighthouse on the small island of Eilean Musdile, not (as the name suggests) on the island of Lismore itself. I’d previously landed on Eilean Musdile and seen the lighthouse at close range in 2015, but this time we were going to get inside the tower as well as meeting the couple who now own the cottages. Lismore is one of those lighthouses that you can’t go past on a ferry without noticing. The lady who now owns the cottages on the island said that you can almost see the ferry tilting over as people rush to take pictures of the lighthouse before it then starts to tip the other way as they get closer to Mull and Duart Castle.

Lismore from below

The boat ride over to the lighthouse with Coastal Connections, who also took us over last time, was good and it was nice to catch up with Struan, today’s skipper, and chat to my ALK friends. Landing on the island is a fairly dignified affair and as soon as you are there you are captivated by just how beautiful the place is. The owners of the cottages clearly do a fantastic job of keeping the island from getting overgrown and too wild, while also maintaining its natural beauty. When the owners first arrived, they knew there must have been a path there somewhere that joined the top end of the island (where the stone for the lighthouse arrived), across the beautifully constructed bridge, past the slipway and to the tower. The owner described how he spent a good few years (they are usually on the island for around 10 weeks every year) finding the path again and one of his jobs each year is to maintain the path. Another reason for doing this was so that nesting birds on the island could remain undisturbed in the longer undergrowth. They have also installed a small wind turbine to provide electricity to the cottages as well as pumping the fresh water from the well on the island to their houses.

Lismore entrance

The path that takes you to the lighthouse is a perfect match for the stunning white tower at the end of it. Before we got carried away with wandering up the tower we decided to walk down beyond the tower to get some pictures of it standing tall. There really is no angle that Lismore lighthouse doesn’t look awe-inspiring from. An incredible piece of architecture from Alan Stevenson and his attention to detail is evident at the top of the tower. With perfectly carved features inside the lantern room as well as even more impressive additions when you step outside the door at the top, you realise the thought that must have gone into so many elements of this amazing structure. I got chatting to Neil Wright, one of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s technicians who has recently been to and worked at the Flannans, Sanda, Skervuile and the Bell Rock. Neil posts some fantastic pictures on Twitter of parts of these lights that the general public would never be able to see. Needless to say we chatted for a while about his work with the NLB, where it has taken him and he also showed us how the remote monitoring of the lighthouses works. It is incredible to see just what they can find out about a lighthouse from just a laptop.

Lismore lens

Neil also pointed out how the lighthouse differs from many others as it has rectangular window panes rather than triangular, which is related to the characteristic of the light. The little lens in there is small but perfectly formed allowing for plenty of space to wander around. The lighthouse has not been upgraded to an LED light…which means it still has a number of buttons and panels inside. Neil told us that he was, sadly, responsible for the change of the light at Noss Head from a rotating lens to an on/off LED. They have recently upgraded Duncansby Head, but fortunately have decided to retain the rotating lens and just replace the lamp with an LED. We were informed that this will also be the case at Dunnet Head in the coming months. I am pleased to learn that the light will still work with a rotating lens, but I will miss the warm colour of the light as it is at the moment.

Back down at the bottom of the tower we stopped off to have a cup of tea with the couple who own the lighthouse. The cottage is very spacious with large rooms, a wide corridor and windows that allow plenty of natural light in. You can tell that they have maintained some of the original style of the cottages while also adding their own personal touches here and there. They are a really lovely couple and were incredibly welcoming considering they had 20 lighthouse enthusiasts wandering about.

Lismore bridge

Before heading back to the slipway, we took a short walk to the top of the island where you can look across the short stretch of water to Lismore itself and the snow-capped hills beyond. It felt a little bit like heaven, and I found that the longer you stayed there the more you wanted to stay. But leave we had to unfortunately. It was a very enjoyable and memorable morning at a wonderful place which I would return to in a heartbeat.

Back in Oban we had lunch before the second instalment of the day: a tour of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s Oban Depot and Buoy Yard. I always get excited when I see the Northern Lighthouse Board logo and it can be seen everywhere here! We were shown around by the Depot Manager initially who gave us a tour of the storage facility. When you first walk in all you see is large shelves filled with wooden boxes that appear at first glance to be of little interest. It’s only when you take a closer look that you notice that each box has the name of a lighthouse on it and, in some cases, the boxes contain the old lenses from the towers. Among the names written on the boxes were Calf of Man, Strathy Point, Sule Skerry, Barra Head, Stoer Head, Chicken Rock, Ruvaal and Rona. It was clear that there is a big plan for upgrading Eilean Glas lighthouse as we saw its new kitchen, tins of paint and various other items all destined for that beautiful place.

Storage Sule Skerry

The Buoy Yard gives you some idea of the scale and amount of work that takes place there. Every eight years the buoys are brought in and cleaned and then go through various other stages before being re-painted ready to go back out. It was really interesting to see the range in types of buoy and how big they actually are. In comparison to most things you see at sea buoys always look so small, but they aren’t small at all. I was particularly interested to see an example of the buoys used to mark wrecks.

Buoy yard

The next part of the tour involved Neil showing us the variety of LED lights that the Northern Lighthouse Board currently use. From his talk it became very clear just how quickly technology is progressing and as Neil said himself it will be interesting to see the types of lights they have lined up there in 5 years’ time. They also have some of the old lamps in storage in this area, including those from Cailleach Head and Lady Isle. It is clear that the shelves here are already becoming full and, over time, there will only be more and more coming in. Eventually another long-term solution for their storage/use will need to be found and I really hope there is something that can be done with them. While they aren’t as impressive as the Fresnel lens, for example, they are a big part of lighthouse heritage.

Lights

It was very obvious before we even arrived at the Depot that the Northern Lighthouse Board’s maintenance vessel, Pharos, was there. I recall the first time I saw Pharos and that was at the Bell Rock. Every time I’ve seen it since it’s been from a distance and you don’t realise just how big it is until you are standing right next to it! We were on our way towards the exit when we were delighted to hear that the captain of Pharos was happy to give us a tour. I’m not going to lie, I dashed back down the gangway before they changed their mind! Getting on board Pharos was a real treat for me. It was certainly not somewhere I ever thought I would get a chance to look around and here we were being offered the chance to do just that. First we set off for the helideck – what a place that must be when the helicopter comes into land. I’ve obviously stood on a number of helipads at some of the more remote lighthouses on Scottish islands, but this was somehow different.

Pharos

We were also shown the deck above where the crew communicate with the helicopter crew as they are coming in to land. We then looked down over the winch area at the back of the boat. The winch is huge, but then it would need to be with so much weight to be lifted in those buoys. Last, but by no means least, we were shown around the bridge where the magic happens. And when I say “magic” it really is magic. Thanks to advances in GPS, weather and sea monitoring the boat can near enough sail itself these days. The paper maps and amount of buttons and levers in the bridge though are a reminder that, if things do go wrong, the manual back up of a person is still very much a requirement. We finished off our incredible tour of this vessel with a group picture alongside the Northern Lighthouse Board’s longest-serving captain. What a special opportunity that was and, as much as I enjoyed seeing the maintenance vessels before, I appreciate them on a whole new level now.

Pharos bridge

More adventures to come tomorrow! 🙂

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