uklighthousetour

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

A weekend in North East Scotland – part two

Having been to Peterhead on Saturday I had pointed out to Bob the lighthouse at the end of the South Breakwater. He asked if it was possible to get out onto the breakwater and I told him it wasn’t. I did, however, feel the need to do some research into access as these things can change. It seems that in recent years the owners of the breakwater closed it to fishermen and the locals who frequently fished there had been campaigning to have it opened again.

It felt worthy of being checked out so on Sunday morning we headed back north from Aberdeen to take a look. In Peterhead we easily found the entrance to the south breakwater and it was clear immediately that access would not be possible. The gates were closed and locked and a sign advised that the breakwater was currently closed due to Covid-19. It was still possible to see and take some distant pictures of it from the gate though.

Peterhead South Breakwater lighthouse

Just back a little way along the road there was a parking area, which also gave some good distant views of it.

The entrance to Peterhead’s Harbour of Refuge

While there isn’t a huge amount to say about the lighthouse itself which was introduced in 1906, the south breakwater as well as the north were a large part of Peterhead’s Harbour of Refuge. The harbour was built from the late 1800s through to the mid-1900s. Much of the manual labour carried out in the area was undertaken by convicts at the local HMP Peterhead. At that time this was the only prison in Scotland to include hard labour for prisoners. It has been suggested online that the prison was actually built here to provide labour for the new harbour. It’s an interesting history and has added to my appreciation of an area that I’d previously not thought much of.

The view from Peterhead towards Buchanness lighthouse

On the way to Peterhead that morning it was absolutely essential that I visit Boddam, home to Buchanness lighthouse. This lighthouse was one of my favourites on my original tour and I am still very fond of it. Although I’d been over to the island before and inside the gate I’d, rather foolishly, not taken the opportunity to walk around the outside of the wall where there is a well-trodden path. It’s a fascinating little island with lots of points of lighthouse history interest. These are always better shown in pictures, so here are a few.

It’s clear that the island receives quite a battering at times with nature trying to destroy anything man made that lies in its path, but to me that adds to the beauty. I’d love to spend more time there and I planted the seed of the idea after my visit by mentioning the keepers’ cottages are holiday accommodation and looking up the price. One day…

Buchanness lighthouse

The rest of the day was lighthouse-free – or at least that’s what I thought. Bob had suggested that Stonehaven had a nice beach for the kids to play at so we headed down that way. As soon as we arrived it became very apparent that it was busy and we drove around the car park looking for a space to no avail. However we did find something else of great interest, a model lighthouse. I jumped out of the car to take a closer look while Bob continued the search for a parking space. The statue was fantastic, made of steel with such great attention to detail. It features a foghorn, birds flying around the lantern and even a tiny padlock on the door.

I looked into the statue a little more later that day and discovered that it was actually one of a number of steel statues that had been installed by an anonymous individual along the town’s coast since 2006. The lighthouse, installed in 2016, apparently also features keepers inside reading the paper and watching TV. I didn’t notice them so will need to go back for a closer look sometime. Among the other statues are a seal, a trawler and – most recently – a bi-plane. Earlier this year the artist was revealed as a local retired fisherman who had been building and installing the statues in private. It’s a wonderful story and you can read more about it here.

Stonehaven’s little lighthouse

Later that evening I was delighted when Bob suggested visiting Girdle Ness lighthouse at sunset. After a takeaway dinner in the hotel room we flung the kids in the car and set off. It was great to see the lights starting to come on and the green light from the north pier lighthouse was flashing away as were the lights from the south pier. We also spotted the front of the Torry range lights in action – the road is currently closed so we couldn’t see the rear light.

Aberdeen North Pier lighthouse
Aberdeen South Breakwater lighthouse

Then we got to her majesty, Girdle Ness. She does look, in my opinion, a bit like the queen piece from Chess with her decorative features. Initially we drove around to the furthest point and hopped out to see the foghorn and I took some pictures of the tower.

Girdle Ness lighthouse
Girdle Ness foghorn

On the way back around (the road to the south of the lighthouse is currently closed due to the harbour extension) we stopped briefly near the gate to the lighthouse complex. The signs there were very clear – no one was allowed in and I had heard that this could be very strictly enforced. My luck was in though as a young couple wandered out and the man told me that I could go in and have a closer look. He explained that one of the residents there doesn’t like people going in, but I got this chap’s permission so in I popped. It’s probably not something I would recommend to the general passerby without permission though.

Girdle Ness lighthouse from the entrance to the courtyard

It was great to see the tower so close, take a picture of it’s plaque and see those lovely details a bit closer. It looked like there were a couple of lights on inside the tower, but I chose not to knock to see if anyone was in.

Girdle Ness lighthouse from below

I felt the need for a different angle on the tower, to capture the colours over the sea. We stopped at a parking area nearby and I strolled up alongside a wall and high fence to try and get a good vantage point with the sun setting behind my back. The high fence is linked to the harbour redevelopment and is currently home to a visitor centre where you can learn all about the work going on. Could be interesting.

Looking over the harbour extension materials

I just wanted a quick view of the tower from the foghorn again as it was growing increasingly dark. When I’d initially looked at it from that angle it looked like the little emergency LED light was flashing instead of the main light source, but this time it was clear that the main light (or sealed beam lamp array) was rotating nicely. I was very excited and could have stayed for another half an hour at least, but was aware that I had a waiting husband and children in the car so we set off.

Girdle Ness lighthouse in action

I’m glad we did though as we found a road heading south from Aberdeen and I was able to get out of the car and see the lighthouse in fully fleshed action from afar. I am useless as taking pictures at night so the resulting images aren’t so good, but I will include one anyway. It was beautiful to see it flashing and the wonderful reflection of the light on the water. A beautiful way to finish a lovely day, which was full of nice surprises. 🙂

Girdle Ness lighthouse flashing from a distance
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A weekend in North East Scotland – part one

Many of the trips I go on are well planned out weeks in advance, but every now and then it’s good to embrace the joy that comes with a spontaneous decision. Since having kids my definition of “spontaneous” has changed a bit and now means we’ll do something tomorrow rather than immediately. Well, that was what occurred on Friday when deciding how we should spend our son’s birthday weekend, especially as there was no school early the following week either.

Our boy is a big fan of Premier Inns and thankfully Bob had been to a couple recently and felt confident that their Covid measures were good enough for us all to go and stay. The destination, Aberdeen, was decided on Friday morning and the hotel booked.

This wasn’t due to be a lighthouse trip at all, with the exception being Rattray Head so Joe the Drone could come along too. In fact, aside from that we had nothing planned, but I managed to do quite well out of it!

Leaving home on Saturday, we headed straight for Rattray Head (a 5+ hour drive) and hoped to time it right for getting there at low tide. We arrived about 50 minutes before low tide and it was very clear that the low tide was going to be nowhere near low enough, at 1.74 metres, for us to get anywhere near the lighthouse – something to do at a future during a low spring tide instead.

Not so low tide at Rattray Head

It was also windy and it was touch and go as to whether Joe the Drone would manage to get up and not get destroyed by filling with sand during take off and landing. The little portable helipad went down and off Joe went. Bob spent a little while establishing the wind conditions before capturing some aerials shots and footage.

Rattray Head from above

I was intrigued by the fact that the dome on top of the lighthouse looked white as I’d thought it was black. Looking at other images online it became clear, to me at least, that it was just reaching the end of nesting season for birds. I assume it will wash off with the winter weather. I shall leave it at that!

The “white” dome on Rattray Head lighthouse

Rattray Head is a popular lighthouse, frequently visited and photographed, and I’m always a champion of the more obscure and less popular lights so I’d not paid much attention to it before beyond visiting it and finding out some key facts. It is an interesting one though. I always thought the access issue was an interesting one as it’s not so far out, but really tricky to actually reach, most often requiring the Northern Lighthouse Board staff to take a boat or later a tractor.

Rattray Head lighthouse

What I hadn’t realised, and perhaps foolishly, was that it used to have a foghorn standing on the stone base, next to the upper section of the lighthouse tower. I imagine the keepers there weren’t keen on the fog with the horn being in such close proximity to the tower! There’s a great picture online (originally from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses) showing the foghorn in situ.

With our destination being Aberdeen and needing to pass through Peterhead anyway it would have been rude not to have stopped to see the twin harbour lights. I’d previously paid them a quick visit so they needed a little more time. The last time I was in the area I didn’t recall seeing the plaque on the side of the old North Harbour lighthouse, which contains some history. The plaque explains how the two lights were introduced by Thomas Stevenson in 1848 following a number of herring vessels being lost. It was believed that this was due to a lack of guiding lights in the area. Thomas Stevenson was also the founder of the Holophotal lens (prisms above and below the light source to reflect the light outwards) for use in lighthouses and these two towers became the first to have them installed.

Peterhead North Harbour lighthouse

The North light was removed from its original location, and then relocated and refurbished by CHAP Construction Aberdeen, Stonecraft of Elgin and Peterhead Port Authority. Although it was discontinued as an aid to navigation around 2004 it still features a light, but a much more modern type.

The Peterhead North lighthouse with the modern sector light inside

The South entrance light sits in a rather less frequented area (unless you work with the Port Authority or RNLI). This one isn’t quite as well kept as the North light, but you can still see the resemblance between the two. An image of the light while it was operational can be found here.

Peterhead Harbour South lighthouse

It was an interesting day, discovering a bit more about some of the lights in the area. There was plenty more to come the following day… 🙂

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