uklighthousetour

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

One opportunity leads to another…

As mentioned in my previous post, we set off towards Montrose on Saturday pre-positioned for a visit to Scurdie Ness on Sunday. Not only was it going to be a visit to the lighthouse though, it was also an opportunity to get inside thanks to the combined efforts of the organisers behind Angus Coastal Festival and the Northern Lighthouse Board. Not an opportunity to be missed!

Leaving our accommodation just to the south of Aberdeen, we decided to pay a quick visit to Tod Head lighthouse while we were in the area. I really like Tod Head, it has a wonderful silhouette. We parked up and had a quick wander around – I say quick because we were keen to get to Ferryden and walk along to Scurdie Ness for the start of the event at 11am. I hadn’t really gone beyond the lighthouse before, so I thought I’d give it a try as the headland looked nice in itself and I expected the views back to the lighthouse to be wonderful. I wasn’t wrong. Why had it taken me so long to go for a walk down there?! There are the remains of an old concrete path with old pipes alongside leading towards the edge of the headland. We later discovered this was where the foghorn used to be, although nothing remains of the foghorn building itself now. When I received a message from Bob asking where I was I thought it was probably time to head back.

Tod Head from coast

Tod Head lighthouse

While we were keen to get there, Bob suggested he take a closer look at the light at Gourdon, which I’d seen up close on a previous visit, but he’d had to settle for a view from the car that time. It’s a difficult one to get a picture of unless you are content to photograph it from behind. Nice little tower though.

Gourdon

The little lighthouse in Gourdon

We arrived in Ferryden, parked up and began the walk along the beach and then up to the road. The sun was trying to break through the clouds, which is always a good sign. We spotted the lighthouse across the river, which we’d been to a few weeks ago and, of course, there are the various daymarks along the shoreline too. On the way to the lighthouse a lady passed us, obviously keen to get there too, and she arrived a little before we did at 10.35am. She wandered over and asked if we had been at Tod Head just before going down and I realised it was the lady who owns the lighthouse there. She was aware of my book and had a copy back at home so she was pleased to meet me and very kindly invited us back after we had finished at Scurdie Ness. I also said a brief hello to Fiona, the Communications lady at the Northern Lighthouse Board, who I’d met for the first time at their office last week.

Scurdie Ness approach

Scurdie Ness lighthouse

They obviously decided to get going with the trips as there were already a few of us lingering around, so off we went. There is not a lot to see at all going up the stairs, just an endless supply of spiral staircase – or at least that’s how it felt – and a few windows. The Northern Lighthouse Board’s website says there are 170 steps to the top, and that sounds about right. We reached the first floor where Tam Cairns (who showed me and the rest of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers group around Cape Wrath lighthouse in May) and the Retained Lighthouse Keeper for the area, Donald, gave us a bit of an introduction. We then continued up to the next level. There’s not a huge amount to see inside the lighthouse now, as is the case with most operational towers these days. So it was really just cabinets with bits of equipment or batteries inside.

Scurdie Ness stairs

The stairs inside Scurdie Ness lighthouse

We were greeted at the top by four of the modern lights that the Northern Lighthouse Board are introducing to an increasing number of their towers. A friend of mine calls them “puddings”. They contain an LED, which you can see if you look closely enough. Apparently these puddings are £17/18,000 each and are imported from Australia, but require hardly any maintenance unlike the old equipment which was becoming increasingly unreliable. I feel sad that the lights are being replaced by these puddings as it means the loss of a sweeping beam (these new lights just come on and go off). I mentioned this to Tam and he explained that what they have found with this type of light is that crews on board ships see the light flash, but because it doesn’t rotate they find it difficult to keep track of where the tower is between flashes. To resolve this they have been trialing a new set up at St Abbs where a very low level light, which is constantly on, is positioned inside the lamp room too and that light can always be seen. It appears to be working, so they are likely to employ the same set-up elsewhere too.

Scurdie Ness lamp room

The “puddings” in Scurdie Ness lamp room

I also asked about the new light arrangement in Duncansby Head lighthouse as they now have an LED inside a rotating optic, which is great and I hoped they would roll that out further, but alas it seems unlikely. Apparently the light at Duncansby Head needs to have a greater range than the puddings are capable of achieving. I found this quite fascinating as often we think of new technology being able to achieve more than older equipment, but clearly that is not the case here.

Scurdie Ness view from top

The view from the top of Scurdie Ness lighthouse

After we left the lamp room we took a spin out around the balcony. There are wonderful views from up there, particularly looking back along the river and, of course, I caught the obligatory lighthouse shadow on the ground below. The queue was well and truly forming below so we felt it was probably time to give someone else a turn. Down and down we went and then we spent a while eating the specially prepared Scurdie Ness lighthouse cake, drinking tea and chatting. The owner of Tod Head, Rohan, still seemed happy for us to visit and, once again it was an opportunity we couldn’t possibly have turned down.

Scurdie Ness owl

The owl at the top of Scurdie Ness lighthouse

We met Rohan back at the lighthouse a little while later. As we were standing outside I said to Bob that I was looking forward to seeing inside as I had a feeling it would be very different from any other lighthouse I’d been inside before. I wasn’t wrong. Rohan bought the lighthouse around the time I first visited it in May 2012 although she hadn’t moved in by that point. Since then she has been gradually doing it up while also maintaining what is a very old building. Rohan has had some incredible work done there. The living room area is fantastic with metal beams still visible and the old unit which used to house some of the main controls sitting in the corner, not to mention the amazing rounded tower that takes over a corner of the room. What I wouldn’t give to have a bit of lighthouse tower in my living room! She has tried to keep hold of a number of the old fixtures and fittings and the kitchen cupboards still feature “Wear eye protection” and “Hand protection must be worn in this area” as well as “Optic battery 12V Nominal”.

Tod Head looking up

Looking up Tod Head tower

Of course, the most amazing part was the tower. It’s not a tall one, but that really adds to its charm. There is a lower ground floor, which Rohan said they filled in as it used to just be full of mucky sludge. It’s currently being used for storage, but everyone needs that kind of space. We set off up the tower and came out on the first floor. Up here there was a little hatch in the wall that Rohan opened up. It was within the lower part of what used to be a door. She has tried to establish what the door there might have been used for in the past, but has not found any explanation so far. At this point, if you looked up you could see a square panel of glass through which a circular glass design, made up of 12 different sections, was visible. We got another look at both from the next floor up where it was fantastic to look down through the square pane and see the basement floor right at the bottom. The walls here were lined beautifully with wood and this little door leading out to the balcony looked perfect too. There was a small sign leant up against the wall saying that we should wear ‘hedgehogs’ upstairs if we planned on standing on the glass floor. I threw on a pair of pink ones and off I went.

Tod Head door

The little door leading out to the balcony

Now, I’m going into an increasing number of lamp rooms these days and it’s always nice to see a light still in them, but this one was amazing. The floor was incredible, the views were stunning and it was also rather hot too with all of the glass making for a lovely greenhouse feel! What a fantastic place to go on a stormy day and watch the waves crashing about below, or even on a nice day such as the day we were there when all is relatively calm and beautiful. There was a lot to love about it.

Tod Head lamp room

Inside the lamp room at Tod Head

The amazing tour continued back down on the next floor and then out onto the balcony. One of the many unique things about Tod Head lighthouse is that it has an extension to the balcony on the seaward east side. Whereas on most lighthouses you struggle to see the lantern properly from the balcony, this bit means you can step back and get a better view – and, of course, there were those brilliant views of the coast again to the north, east and south.

Tod Head lantern

The view of the lantern from the platform at Tod Head

We were up against time a bit as Rohan had some kids visiting for one of their birthdays, but we just had time to sit down at her dining table for a while and chat. I signed her copy of the book and she also offered us the privilege of being able to sign her table, which I was more than pleased to do. Evidence that I was in this beautiful lighthouse. I did tell Rohan that if she ever wants to give her home away then to just give me a call. I can certainly see the appeal of living there.

Before we left I had a quick picture with Rohan taken outside the lighthouse. It was so lovely to meet her and I felt very privileged to have been invited into her home. It was a very special day and a perfect example of why you should never (where possible) turn down an opportunity as you never know where it might take you. 🙂

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Lights in the (increasing) darkness

On Saturday we began our journey down towards Montrose for the opening of Scurdie Ness lighthouse as part of the Angus Coastal Festival (more on that in my next blog post). On the way down Bob asked me which of the lighthouses I felt I needed to visit again to get a closer view. My response was that near enough all of them could do with a re-visit! I’d not been to a number of those harbour lights along the Moray coast since my original tour back in 2012, so my second visit was long overdue.

We realised that we had a bit of a race against the sunset in order to see them well. We failed that miserably so it turned into a ‘seeing the lights as daylight fades and the lights come on’. Our first stop was Buckie where there are two lights to see. The first one we went to (as it was on the way to the harbour anyway) was the one on Cliff Terrace. It’s an odd building, but there were certain details that I’d not noticed on my previous visits, such as engraving on the door and little designs up near the light. The sun was already going down by this point and the light on the tower was great. The only problem was that there were a couple with their dog sitting on the base of the tower in exactly the spot that would have been a perfect angle to get a good picture. Nonetheless I got some pictures anyway and we continued on our way to the harbour.

Buckie Cliff Terrace

Buckie Cliff Terrace lighthouse

I’d only seen the Buckie pier light from a bit of a distance in the past. For some reason I’d not walked right up to it. It’s a really big tower considering it’s only a harbour light – or at least it was when it was operational. It has suffered some damage to the seaward side of the tower and birds appear to have taken up residence near the lantern. It’s a real shame as it would be a lovely lighthouse to have a look around. Judging by the exterior I’m assuming the interior would probably no longer be safe for anyone to enter. It’s sad, but it’s still there and I’m glad I took a closer look this time.

Buckie Pier

The lighthouse on Buckie pier

On the way back to the main road we stopped off again at the Cliff Terrace light to get pictures without people in. The light wasn’t as good at that point, but it’s always worth going back to these places once the people have gone. The sunset seemed to occur quite quickly while we were in Buckie and I discovered afterwards that it was the equinox, and the sun always sets faster at this time of year. In fact, on Saturday it set quicker than on any other day this year.

As we were in the area we stopped at Cullen. I am very fond of the Cullen lighthouse, although I don’t really know why. It’s no longer active and was adopted by the community who did it up after it was falling into disrepair. It’s looking great, if a little strange, now.

Cullen

Cullen lighthouse

Whitehills was our next stop. Rather an odd one again, but the light was well and truly on by this point. It’s a little LED that sits on top of the short tower. The tower looks taller from a distance, but it’s only when you get closer you realise the bottom is the end of the harbour wall painted white and it’s just the little bit on top that is the actual lighthouse.

Whitehills

Whitehills lighthouse

Macduff was a great one. The light in this one is still active, although it was quite difficult to get a good picture of from close range in twilight, mainly because it has a really bright light attached to the side of the tower. That and there was a fishing boat on its way in with an even brighter light. Bob found a fantastic angle for taking a picture from and it helps that he manages to get really good images in low light too. The picture below was taken from a gap in the pier wall and you can see the final little bit of daylight disappearing over the horizon as well as Jupiter sparkling in the sky.

Macduff

Macduff lighthouse at sunset with Jupiter

The final little light of the night, because it was dark by this point, was at Rosehearty. By this point it was cold. It was also difficult to see where you were stepping as we walked along the pier to the tower. Once we got to the end it wasn’t exactly the most inspiring of lighthouses, so I quickly had a wander up the steps to see the door before heading back to the car, while Bob stayed for a minute longer to get some pictures.

Rosehearty

Rosehearty lighthouse

I thought that would be it for the day, but I was busily working away on my laptop in the car and looked up and there was the light on the modern tower at Kinnaird Head flashing away. It looked like it was the back-up light outside the tower that was in use, which was a bit of shame, but it was still nice to be there in the dark. One day I hope they will host another event where they turn the big light back on again. That would be wonderful to see.

Kinnaird Head

The two towers at Kinnaird Head

Again, thinking that was us done for the day and we should head to the hotel, we were just driving out of Peterhead when Bob asked where Buchan Ness was. Of course, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity of seeing a big lighthouse flashing at night, so I directed us there. I was a little disappointed to find that it is now the LED lights in there, so the light just comes on and goes off rather than there being any sweeping beam anymore. It was still lovely to see though, even if we had no idea where the tower was when the light was off!

It was a wonderful evening and really nice for a change to see the lights coming on, doing what they do best. 🙂

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Wonderful Fife and the Isle of May

Last weekend we spent a few days in Edinburgh in the lead up to a talk about my book at the National Library of Scotland. Of course, we can never miss an opportunity to take in some lighthouses and, following the disappointment of not being able to get out to the Isle of May recently, we decided a day trip there should be a priority. We had the kids with us this time, which brings its own challenges, but also adds to the enjoyment.

On the way from Edinburgh to Anstruther we decided to stop off in Tayport for a re-visit to the lights there. Although we had pictures of them, I couldn’t recall the previous visit so well. After parking up on the approach road to the lighthouses, I jumped out of the car with my son and we set off. It’s very rare that we take the kids on our true “bagging days” when we visit multiple lighthouses in one day. They only usually join us for the odd bigger tower.

Both land based Tayport lighthouses are, unfortunately, within private gardens (although I imagine the owners don’t see this as unfortunate). The first tower we reached was the discontinued low lighthouse. It’s seen slightly better days but is definitely still standing. It’s really quite old, in fact both towers are, dating back to 1823 so almost 200 years ago. Above the door of the cottage there is a plaque saying ‘1823 Erected by the Corporation of the Trinity House Dundee William Nicoll Esquire Master’.

Tayport Low

Tayport Low lighthouse

Further on, we went and spotted the operational high light. A much more slender tower this one. As it’s still active the tower is looking a little better maintained than the low light. The cottage that’s next to it is rather lovely and, combined with the lighthouse, makes for a rather pleasant view.

Tayport High.JPG

Tayport High lighthouse

After we had returned to the car, we went for a drive around the harbour to see if we could get a closer view of the pile light just off of the coast. The pier seemed to be the perfect place, although an even closer view some time wouldn’t go amiss. The tower is not looking well these days. This tower replaced the Tayport Low light in 1848, but itself was turned off in the 1960s. I imagine it’s unlikely anyone will adopt it, but it would definitely need more than a little TLC.

Tayport Pile

Tayport Pile lighthouse

Onwards we travelled to Anstruther and, of course, there is the harbour lighthouse there. Another one that is no longer active. This one has been replaced by lights on a stick. We got some good views of both the tower and the stick with the lights on as we departed on board the May Princess, bound for the Isle of May.

Anstruther

Anstruther lighthouse and lights on stick

We’d been warned that it was a bit choppy out on the sea that day and to keep hold of the kids. It wasn’s so bad though, although we anticipated it would be worse on the way back as we sailed into the wind. It was all rather pleasant really to have the slower approach this time. The last time we went over we took the RIB, which is much faster, but you can’t get a cup of tea on board! Approaching the island from the direction we did was fantastic as we had some wonderful views of all three lighthouses as well as one of the old foghorns. To make it even better, there were signs the sun was trying to come out too!

Isle of May lights

All three lighthouses on the Isle of May

We landed safely on the island and were given the briefing by the warden who lives there from March to November. The most important aspect of this talk though was that he said to gather at the big lighthouse at 4pm and he would open it up for us! Super exciting, but it did mean that we needed to get a move on to be there in time.

We gave our son the option of where to go first and he chose the south foghorn so we went straight for it, making our well-rehearsed foghorn noises all of the way. The sun really had come out by this point and in every direction we were treated to wonderful views. Our son loved the foghorn and decided it was his home, but fortunately he was happy to carry on along the coastal path. I am discovering more and more how your enjoyment of places increases when you go there for a second time and the Isle of May is a perfect example of that. As we wove our way around the coast on the well-trodden path, we were getting ever closer to the island’s piece de resistance, the operational tower which watches over the whole island.

Isle of May foghorn

The foghorn at the south of the Isle of May

Before we got there though I stopped with my son at the helipad so we could spin around pretending to be helicopters. Beyond here, I wanted to take some time to get a closer look at the oldest lighthouse. The little white box of a tower was believed to have been the first lighthouse in Scotland. Since it was introduced it has been reduced in height by around two thirds. When I’d been to the island previously I’d obviously not given it my full attention so it was good to finally see it close-up.

Isle of May old

The old lighthouse on the Isle of May

The active lighthouse on the island was just across the path from here. It’s a fantastic building, very majestic with its castellated walls.

Isle of May

Isle of May’s active lighthouse

I had about 10 minutes before the tour of the lighthouse was due to start and I was keen to go down and see the old low lighthouse. I didn’t want to have to rush once inside the main lighthouse tower and we had to be back to get on the boat at 5pm. I dashed down to the lighthouse and took some photographs. It’s a much more typical Northern Lighthouse Board tower, although it is now discontinued. I find it interesting that the tower here has the small windows in the lantern. The buildings are cordoned off due to the wardens living there at this time of year. It must be a great place to stay and being able to see the active light flashing every night would be incredible.

Isle of May low

The low lighthouse on the Isle of May

I arrived back up at the main lighthouse a few minutes before the wardens turned up to open the door. Our two-year-old daughter has clearly caught the lighthouse bug early as she was the first in and even climbed to the top (well, until we got to the steep ladder) – with a little help from Bob. Our son followed on just behind – the bug is strong in him too! As the light mechanism in the tower was moving, we weren’t able to get right up to the top, but we could go out on the balcony. This is really the best angle to see the island from, stretched out below you on all sides with, of course, even more views of the other towers.

isle-of-may-internal.jpg

The staircase in the Isle of May lighthouse

It’s an absolutely fascinating island and the only issue I have with it is that you don’t get to spend long enough there. Like Stroma, the two times I have been there I have obviously prioritised the lighthouses and then not had time to fit in a stroll along any of the other paths. But then I find I can’t go there without going to the lighthouses! Not a bad predicament really.

It was time to head back down to the boat and we waved goodbye to the lighthouses as we sailed back towards Anstruther. Fortunately, the sea had calmed down, although there were still some rocky bits every now and then which our daughter loved.

Once back at Anstruther, we decided that while we were in the area we should head up the coast a short distance to see Fife Ness lighthouse. I hadn’t been there since my original tour in 2012 and Bob had never been. It is one that I’ve looked at a lot in recent months as it’s an unusual structure, essentially just half a lamp room with a flat roof and a single storey building on the back. I took our little boy with me again to walk around the coastal path that takes you around it. As much as it bothered me when considering certain aspects of my book, I really like it. It’s quite a substantial lamp room and it contains a proper lens too, which is becoming more and more rare.

Fife Ness

Fife Ness lighthouse

Stopping off in Anstruther again for dinner, I strolled along to a car park just beyond the Lifeboat Station to see if I could spot the Isle of May light flashing. I was confident that I would as I could clearly see it from North Berwick as the sun was starting to rise last December. Sure enough, there it was flashing away. On the way back we spotted the small light at Elie Ness flashing too, another one that I was able to see from North Berwick last year. There’s something about seeing lighthouses (or should I say their lights) by night. It’s when they are supposed to be seen. All in all, a really good day and we returned to Edinburgh ready for a good night’s sleep 🙂

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