Back in 2010 I went on my first ever trip organised specifically to see lighthouses. The trip had been organised by a friend and my sister, and took in the lighthouses at Anvil Point and Portland. It also included a visit over to Hurst Point, taking the boat from Keyhaven. I’d not been back to Hurst Point since and so what better time than a Friday in mid-December when everything is closed to the public?!
Thankfully I was armed with my super lighthouse friend John (previously referred to on occasion as my flat pack partner in crime) who, being a volunteer there, knew the right people and where the keys were!
On the way to Keyhaven on Friday morning, we took the coastal route giving us some wonderful views across to the Needles. I often forget that the Isle of Wight isn’t so far away from mainland UK, mainly because I spend most of the time travelling there on a boat in Southampton waters! It was great to be able to see the island from this angle.
Thanks to John’s excellent pre-planning, we were able to hop on board the boat as the Hurst Marine team set off to undertake some ongoing maintenance work out there. It was a nice ride out and with the low winter sun there were plenty of beautifully lit views all around.
In lighthouse terms it doesn’t get much more exciting than approaching four lighthouses. Yes, four! The only one of these I’d seen really close up before was the white tower – the most noticeable of the four and the only one still in operation. The priority this time though was to get at those inside the grounds of Hurst Castle. So in we went.
I must admit that there was one I was particularly excited about and that is the old lantern from the tower that used to sit on top of the Nab Tower. I think John knew this as, aside from a brief stop at the office for those who volunteer at the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Museum at Hurst, it was our first stop. First a bit of background: the Nab Tower is located to the east of the Isle of Wight and was introduced to protect again German submarines. Originally it didn’t feature a lighthouse, but this was added after the Nab Tower itself was no longer required. The decision was made to replace the nearby Nab light vessel with a lighthouse on top of the Nab Tower. The structure now at Hurst Castle is that very lighthouse lantern. It was removed in 2012 during a big renovation and had to be dismantled to get it inside the castle at Hurst before being reconstructed (without instructions).
It’s fantastic to see how much love and attention it has had to get to the point it is at now, which is near enough ready to be open to the public as a child-friendly exhibit. Complete with rotating light and child-size steps, I can tell it’s going to be a very popular addition. It was a real pleasure to see this one.
Next we moved on to the Association of Lighthouse Keepers rooms. This was wonderful to see. Just like the Association itself, the rooms are a real celebration of lighthouse keepers in particular. The displays include some wonderful pictures and also what has proven to be a very popular exhibit, a map pointing out where the lighthouses are so visitors can see where their nearest one is. Alongside the Trinity House rooms, there is a lot of lighthouse information there. I even got to wind up the rotating mechanism on an old lens – I would have been a useless lighthouse keeper! The old Egypt Point lantern was on display too, which was brilliant to see. Also the old Holm of Skaw lantern from Shetland. Amazing! A treasure trove of all things lighthouse.
While we were in the area, I was allowed to venture up onto the roof of the castle, which is normally out of bounds to the public (another benefit of going when the castle is closed). John has informed me that this was a great angle for getting a picture of all three of the Hurst towers. We weren’t able to get along to the prime viewing point as there has been some fairly significant damage to the castle in that area in recent months with the shingle underneath the walls being washed away. Work is very much ongoing to try and reduce any further damage, but nature is a real force to be reckoned with. The roof was definitely a great point for a picture of the three towers.
Next on the priority list was the old grey low light. The grey tower is open to the public on the odd occasion and I was very pleased to have my own private tour. With the lower half being just a metal framework section it was all external staircases initially. Once inside there were some really interesting features. The round windows with their large handles intrigued me and when looking through the windows to the east there were some nice views of the other two towers.
John showed me the replica lamp changer, a great little contraption. I saw a larger version at the top of the tower where the lamp changer is still in position and the old lens is still in situ too. John showed me exactly where to stand to be able to get a view through the lens of the Needles upside down! A rather unique view on those iconic rocks and the lighthouse.
We got even better views from the balcony, including a fairly close view of the other low light, the stone tower. Another lovely looking building. Again John was on hand to show me the two positions to stand in to see the different colours of the sector lights on the active lighthouse. With the wind picking up, the sea was getting much more choppy and you could see where different currents were meeting and causing quite a stir. Another excellent vantage point.
On the way back down I took a look at a map showing the various lighthouses that have existed on Hurst Point in the past. Once back on ground level we poked our heads into a store room beneath the old stone tower and could see the curved wall of the tower. In another room there was a little doorway leading to the base of the tower where there was a beautiful curved ceiling. There was, sadly, no access to the rest of the tower from here.
It would have been rude not to have taken a stroll over to the white lighthouse so that was where we went next. It’s a really distinctive tower, with the oversized “ball” on top of the lantern. At least that’s what we called it, for want of a better (or more accurate) term. The tower looked perfect against the bright blue sky, as it had when I had last visited. It must always be sunny at Hurst! The diggers being used to help save the castle walls towards the east could be seen in this area, as could the big waves splashing up over the shingle.
We took a look around the east wing of the castle, which at times feels like being in a maze with so many different doorways and sets of stairs. One area on this side gave some more great views of the old stone tower from a different angle with the shingle spit that links Hurst Point to Keyhaven visible in the distance.
Hurst is a really fascinating place and I have much more of an appreciation for it now that I have spent more time there and seen how much hard work goes into the improvements and the essential ongoing maintenance. There is so much more to it than I ever imagined.
I am, of course, massively grateful to John for taking the time to show me around, making arrangements to get out there, and for such a fun time. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and definitely won’t be leaving it another 9 years before going back this time. 🙂