A paddle to Hestan Island

This post feels like it’s been such a long time coming. After months of no new lighthouses, no travelling and cancelled trips today was the day I’d been waiting for.

We had originally booked 10 days in Shetland over this period, but with the ferry journeys cancelled for us we decided to chance it and book a week’s stay at a cottage near Lockerbie with a good cancellation policy. Thankfully restrictions were lifted enough to enable the trip to happen.

One of the key lighthouses I wanted to get to while in Dumfries and Galloway was on Hestan Island. Hestan Island is accessible at low tide from Almorness Point and so, in preparation for the trip, I looked at the days with the lowest tide during our stay in the area, which happened to be the first morning when it would be 0.93 metres at 10.18am. This meant an early start, meeting at 8.15am to allow us to begin our walk, returning from the island at the lowest tide.

The forecast was looking grim to say the least with heavy rain on the agenda, but we must always continue when the opportunity is there. The opportunity was even more appealing as we were to be joined by my wonderful lighthouse partner in crime, John, and a couple of lighthouse friends who share our enjoyment of islands and lighthouse, Steve and Lianne. There was no way this could be missed.

As we approached Palnackie, just to the north of Almorness Point the rain stopped and the cloud began to look like it was clearing. We parked up, met the others and all set off (with my dad along too) in our waterproofs. It turned out the waterproofs weren’t needed as the grey clouds continued to clear and the sun and blue sky even came out at a few points.

Part of the first section of the track

The walk to the sea was great. A clear track all the way and interesting enough to make it feel like it wasn’t onerous. It became muddier towards the end, evidence of the recent heavy rainfall.

Our first view of the lighthouse, which can just about be seen in the far distance

We arrived at the coast, a nice beach, and caught our first glimpse of the lighthouse in the distance. Changing into our wellies, applying Skin So Soft to put the flies off and removing a layer of clothing, we then set off from the beach across the, sometimes sticky, sand to reach the “wet” section. I say the wet section as it is never fully clear of water.

Enjoying time with friends

Thankfully Bob had visited last year and knew the best place to cross the water. After giving us instructions to walk sideways, facing the current, if we felt it was getting too strong we set off. Never before have I paddled in water that deep to see a lighthouse, but it was great fun. The water level was higher than we had expected, although we crossed around 45 minutes before low tide. We put this down to the amount of rain we’d had overnight and that morning. The pebble section beyond it was harder to walk on, but we were rewarded with some fantastic views of the island ahead of us.

Paddling to the island

There is a holiday home on the island and the owners were clearly there as their dog jumped around barking in welcome at us. Once on the island we set off to the right of the house and up toward the high point. I’m not really a fan of walking uphill and John echoed my thoughts when he said “Is he [Bob] taking us to the high point?” He was, but it turned out that was the most direct route to the lighthouse. I must also give him extra credit as the views from the top were stunning, especially down towards the lighthouse and then back across the way we had come.

Looking back from the island

Of course, after we’d reached the highest point we then had to go back down the other side and, throwing our hoods up to avoid the circling gulls doing their business on our hair, we set off straight for the lighthouse.

The rather grubby lighthouse

The lighthouse is a flat-pack (or IKEA) style, but what is worthy of note is that it is a three tier flat-pack and these are fairly rare – the only others that we could remember between us being on Hoo Stack and Shillay in the Monach Isles. This one is not pretty-looking and is quite dirty. As we approached we spotted the lack of a door. It would have been rude not to have stepped inside and so we did. The hatch up to the next level of the tower was sadly padlocked so we had to settle for viewing the ground floor level only, but we had made it and all thoroughly enjoyed the walk there. I think the lack of lighthouse visits in recent months added to this enjoyment and we were all relieved that we could be back out there and doing something we love.

Hestan Island lighthouse

I still strongly feel, and I said this today, that I often enjoy the journey getting to these flat-pack lighthouses more than I do the bigger lights. Their remote and challenging locations often make for some much more memorable moments, especially compared to driving to a car park next to a lighthouse wall and wandering around for a while.

Being up against the tide meant we couldn’t stay long so we began our return journey. We were all expecting the tide to have dropped further on the way back, but there appeared to be little change apart from the final section where we now had to move fast to avoid getting stuck in the sand.

Celebrating with Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers for a moment we enjoyed the views back to the island before continuing our walk back.

Looking back towards the island

These few hours going to and from Hestan Island were fantastic and sharing it with some brilliant friends and family made for a very special occasion. I will remember it for a long time to come and it was a perfect way to start a rather late bagging season this year. 🙂

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