uklighthousetour

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

Fraserburgh: where the lights are kept alive

This afternoon a slight detour on the way home took us to Fraserburgh for another trip to the fantastic Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. I first visited the museum on my original tour in 2012 and then again in January 2014. Five years and countless new lighthouses later I knew it was time for a return and that I would appreciate it so much more than I ever had before. Hence why it is getting its own blog post this time.

For anyone into lighthouses it’s a gem of a place. Not only is it home to the old Kinnaird Head lighthouse (the first to be built and lit by the Commissioners of Northern Lights (now the Northern Lighthouse Board), but its modern replacement as well as the former towers from Suther Ness in Shetland and Hoxa Head in Orkney.

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The old Suther Ness lighthouse from Shetland

As soon as you step inside the door you know you’re in a very special place. The staff, for a start are so welcoming, and as soon as you enter the exhibition you are greeted by the most beautiful display of lighthouses lenses. The first room is home to 10 stunning pieces originally from the likes of Dunnet Head, Turnberry, Fair Isle South and Neist Point.

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The wonderful display of lighthouse lenses. Pictures here are those from Fair Isle South, Chanonry, Dunnet Head, Neist Point and Turnberry

We didn’t have time to catch the film this time, but we enjoyed the other exhibition rooms, including one I couldn’t recall seeing before, oddly. That’s the one featuring the old Hoxa Head lighthouse. You can walk inside and read the information on display – or just treat it like a fun little house to walk into and out of repeatedly as the kids did. There are far too many artefacts in the room, and all of the rooms for that matter, to even consider mentioning them all. Definitely worthy of mention though is the lantern and lens from the former Roseness lighthouse in Orkney as well as the lenses and light mechanisms from both Ailsa Craig and Langness. The award for most impressive lens and mechanism combination goes to Sanda though, which is so huge it needs two storeys to show off its full glory. The mechanism itself is visible at the entrance to the exhibition while the optic appears on the upper floor. Truly amazing.

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The old Sanda lens

It was approaching 3pm and we set off back down to the museum entrance for the guided tour. I’d been in contact with Michael Strachan, Collections Manager at the museum, prior to this visit in relation to a couple of questions I had for my book. Fortunately, it was Michael who was our tour guide today, which was a good opportunity to put a face to a name and thank him for his help.

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The modern and old lighthouses at Kinnaird Head

Due to the chilly breeze at Kinnaird Head, which Michael informed us is always windy, we went straight to the old foghorn engine room to start the tour. I imagine that even hundreds of years down the line, the smell of these rooms will not have changed. As if they were only used yesterday. Every time I am in one now I will remember watching Brian at Sumburgh Head starting the machines up with such meticulousness.

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The foghorn engine room at Kinnaird Head

From here we went to the old castle through which the lighthouse was built. There is nothing now to indicate how the building was used before the lighthouse was constructed. The tower is still as it was when the lighthouse was manned though. The wonderful paraffin smell is very much present and I always enjoy seeing an old television with buttons on it such as the one in the old occasional lighthouse keeper’s room. There is a distinct lack of buttons these days!

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At the top of the tower

The original lens still sits proudly in position at the top of the tower. Always a great room to spend some time and then we had a brief wander around on the balcony. After leaving the tower, we had a chance to quickly look around the Principle Keepers’ accommodation, which is full of information about the life of lighthouse keepers.

Back in the shop, the kids received their certificates for climbing the tower, although now I think of it, I don’t know that I have one myself yet!

Michael has very kindly provided me with information about the lenses the museum own as well as others he is aware of. I spoke to him about the old lens from Sule Skerry, which I’d attempted to visit yesterday at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. He’d had the same experience recently and had found out through social media just yesterday that it is indeed in storage there. Let’s hope it becomes more visible to the public soon. It’s a shame to let these things sit in storage with no one able to enjoy them. I’m obviously biased though and think that every museum should have at least one lighthouse exhibition!

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The old Hoxa Head lighthouse from Orkney

I thoroughly enjoyed returning to the museum again and will make more of an effort to ensure it’s not another 5 years before I am back there again. It sounds like there are exciting plans for introducing the old Fair Isle North lens, among others, to the collection. Something to look forward to seeing next time hopefully! 🙂

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Back to the Bass!

My last post mentioned that I was banned from lighthouse trips and probably wouldn’t do another for at least six weeks or something. Well, as usual, I was wrong…

Last month I joined a chartered boat to take a trip out to Bass Rock with the intention of landing. You can read about it here but, put simply, I didn’t land and as a result it remained on the “to do” list.

The ever-persistent Alan, who has organised a number of boat trips including the Bass Rock trips, maintained his regular contact with Dougie who operates Braveheart out of North Berwick. He’d said that this weekend was the next potential date but being in January, which is often the stormiest month in Scotland, I wasn’t hopeful. However, I was very glad to be proven wrong when Alan got in touch on Thursday to say the trip may go ahead and then confirmed that it would later on that evening. This time Bob wanted to come too, to make sure I landed this time. There was also another trip straight afterwards to Craigleith, so he would have the opportunity for a new island too. My ever-willing mother-in-law came across to look after the kids, and didn’t seem to mind the short notice!

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“The view” of Bass Rock

We took the scenic route into North Berwick today, which meant we got “the view” of Bass Rock. In my opinion the best view you can get of it from the mainland is near Tantallon Castle. Being fairly early it was still flashing away at us, although not quite as magnificently as it would have been before the new light was installed. I’d planned to pay a visit to the Coastal Communities museum in North Berwick after the trip as the old optic is now on display there, but shortly after finding out that the optic was there, I discovered the museum doesn’t open until Easter. A reason to go back to North Berwick, which is never a bad thing.

Off we went on the boat and the sea seemed to be similar to last time, so I was prepared to be scared all over again. It was actually a lot better than before, really nothing to worry about. I didn’t even need that much help! I was absolutely delighted as soon as I set foot on the island. The lovely Jane, who was “catching” us as we landed, celebrated briefly with me. She understood my fear, even if she was quite comfortable getting onto and off of the boat herself. There I was, on the Bass!

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The view from the landing area

As soon as you arrive you have a wonderful view looking up at the lighthouse. In fact, you have amazing views all around. A fascinating island, with so many steps! Everything is covered in guano, but that pales into insignificance with the enjoyment of being on the island. Just above the landing area is the helipad for the lighthouse and slightly further up you can walk along to the alternative landing point (the skipper chose the best place to land us, for sure). The concrete path and steps take you past all of the highlights of the island. My priority was obviously the lighthouse, which is where I, Bob and our friend Adrian went first. As I told Bob on the way back, it was best to go there first to get pictures without lots of people there, and also if the trip had been cut short for whatever reason, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the lighthouse.

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The approach to the lighthouse

It was a really good feeling to finally reach the lighthouse I’d seen so close before. The island really does add to the beauty of the lighthouse. The giant cliffs that sit behind the tower and its associated buildings, while being the source of some of the major landslips (or mudslides) in the area are the perfect backdrop. When I’d been on the trip in December, Dougie had told the group to take care near the lighthouse as there was deep mud from a recent landslip, which resulted in a lot of mud gathering near the lighthouse. It is clear that this has fairly recently been shifted as the area surrounding the lighthouse is now clear and actually very tidy. There are warning signs on the approach to the lighthouse about mud, but it certainly wasn’t an issue today.

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Bass Rock lighthouse

What a place that must have been to serve as a keeper. So close to the mainland and yet so disconnected. It is a massive shame to see the state of the cottages, which have been long neglected since the light was automated. This became even more evident as we climbed higher and higher above the lighthouse on the main path. The light continued to flash away (or turn on and off as the modern LEDs do) as we continued on up the path. It’s not often you get higher than a lighthouse at such a close range.

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The view from above the buildings

 

There is evidence of mud sliding in other areas on the island. In some areas, the steps are buried, probably not helped by the number of birds that choose to reside there in the spring and summer. The presence of birds on the island cannot be forgotten when you visit. Every now and then, while on the path, you will spot the remains of a number of gannets in particular. There is a gannet who clearly met a very grisly end involving a metal stake in the old chapel. It is positioned almost halfway along, opposite the main entrance doorway and, as such, gives the impression of being almost a prized display. It was odd and obviously not a great way for the gannet to go (I don’t often sympathise with gannets).

Very handily, the path has a handrail all of the way long, and the path takes you to the north of the island where there is a little foghorn sitting, ironically, in perfect peace and quiet. The weather was by no means wild today, but the calmest place on the whole island seemed to be at exactly the point where the foghorn once operated. The old equipment, or at least some of it, is still inside the little building. The foghorn faces the Isle of May, which was visible today from the foghorn. The views, in general, are fantastic from Bass Rock. The further you move up the island, the more visible the coastline to the south becomes.

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Bass Rock foghorn

Bass Rock was an incredible place to visit. I am so glad I went back and finally got onto the island. For such a small space, there is something that would be of interest to anyone I should imagine. Our group consisted of those who wanted to get to the island high point, but also the lighthouse, the foghorn, to take pictures, or just generally to get to the island. It is one of those islands that seems so close and yet incredibly inaccessible. That certainly adds to its appeal.

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One of my favourite views on the island, of which there are plenty

Once back on dry land I began my journey to Edinburgh to meet the others while Bob continued his boat trip. My destination was the National Museum of Scotland. While being the place that I would meet up with the kids and Bob’s mum, it is also home to a small number of lighthouse-related exhibits. The key exhibit is definitely the old optic and mechanism from the Inchkeith lighthouse, which stands proudly in the Grand Gallery. Jane had described the old Bass Rock optic in the museum in North Berwick as almost a piece of art. Well, that’s what they are really. Absolutely beautiful, while also completely functional. Jane had said that the light from Bass Rock used to be visible for miles. I won’t say I got annoyed with people being in my pictures of the optic at the museum – although that would be a lie. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they were also appreciating it, but they just weren’t.

There was a small area in the museum dedicated to lighthouses, which featured a model of the Eddystone lighthouse, a modern LED light, a section of the old hyper-radiant lens from South Foreland lighthouse, a RACON (radar beacon), an electric arc lamp, an oil lamp and reflector, and an electric filament bulb as well as a Fresnel lens. Considering it is only small display it the museum, it’s quite a nice collection. The old Sule Skerry optic also now calls the museum its home, although I believe it is currently in storage. The old Eilean Glas optic, now on display in the Science Museum in London, is also officially owned by and on loan from the museum.

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The old optic and mechanism from Inchkeith

Overall, it’s been a great day. To have successfully landed and enjoyed Bass Rock was a big achievement for me. Maybe in summer it would have been easier to get onto the lighthouse, but there would have been birds to contend with. Today it felt like it was our place to enjoy and we just had to share it with each other. Luckily the others didn’t get in the way of my pictures! 🙂

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A short walk at beautiful Gairlochy

Continuing my gentle re-introduction to normality, having seen two lighthouses yesterday, I simply had to see one today. I’d had a distant view of the lighthouse at Gairlochy on the banks of the Caledonian Canal a few years ago, but time limitations meant I’d not been able to walk to it at that time. This morning was the perfect opportunity though while travelling between Fort William and Inverness.

It’s a great little walk and considering it was a Sunday morning it was surprisingly quiet. I passed one person just as I set off, but that was it. There was rain in the air and maybe that had put people off, but otherwise it was a nice morning. The water was as calm as it could possibly be. The banks of the canal are lined with trees of varying shapes and sizes, which looked fantastic today with the reflections in the water. With low cloud added into the mix, it was all very atmospheric. The positioning of the lighthouse in relation to the surrounding land meant I couldn’t see a reflection of the tower itself in the canal, but as I’ve said a lot recently, you can’t have everything.

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Gairlochy lighthouse and the Caledonian Canal

The tower is very similar in style to others dotted along the canal, namely Fort Augustus and Corpach. I think they’re a likeable sort of tower, very understated, they just get on and do their job, but in such beautiful locations. There are a couple of nice little touches on the Gairlochy light that make it stand out a little, such as the small porch area leading to the curved door (it’s not often you see a curved door). The lighthouse also features the year it was built, 1932, a tiny hint at a celebration of its own existence. Otherwise, it seems to happily sit there minding it’s own business

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Gairlochy lighthouse

You can always tell that a lighthouse is easy to get to and frequently visited when it has a bench next to it! A nice little spot to relax and clear your mind – if you can spare the time for such luxuries. Today was not a day for that as I had to get back to Bob and the kids, and continue the journey home. Back I went along the towpath, a walk I would be more than happy to do time and time again. One day I will sit on that bench and enjoy the beauty of it all. I may even have a little chat to the lighthouse too – or would that be taking things too far?! Probably.

I have a feeling that this will indeed be my last blog post for a little while – maybe six whole weeks in fact. In the meantime I shall be busily working away on the book whenever I possibly can 🙂

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Minor lights of major importance

After such a fantastic couple of lighthouse days – or do I mean weeks, or maybe even months?! – I needed to gently be brought back down to normality. Today has been the day for that with a short boat trip to see a couple of minor lighthouses at the north end of the Sound of Jura.

Craignish Cruises were the boat operator of choice for today’s trip from Ardfern. Originally it was just going to be me on the boat while Bob manhandled the kids. Having seen details of the boat (a heated cabin!) online last night we asked Lindsay, who owns the boat, if he would be happy for the kids to go too. He was fine with that, so off we set.

It’s not quite so easy bagging with young children and the constant demands, but it helps towards my plot to turn them into the next generation of lighthouse baggers. The bagging is definitely strong in the eldest. The younger one still needs some work!

The tide was against us on the way out, but it wasn’t too long until we arrived at the tiny island of Ruadh Sgeir. It was interesting hearing the opinions of both Lindsay and Don who was helping him out on the trip. Lindsay has always thought the light was quite sweet (he seems quite fond of lighthouses, even the small ones, from the point of view of someone who uses them for their intended purpose – aiding navigation). Don, on the other hand, said he thought it was just a light on a rock. I think it deserves more credit and, I’m sure, by the end of the trip he was beginning to see the beauty of lighthouses, even the small ones. It’s quite common for boatmen to say that they have travelled along a stretch of coastline frequently and never noticed the lighthouse. They just need to be enlightened (no pun intended), that’s all.

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Read Sgeir lighthouse

I really like the Ruadh Sgeir light. I’m a fan of this type, and I always think there is a lot more to them, in terms of design, than they get credit for. It’s not just a small white tower that’s been dropped on a rock.

Our second stop was Reisa an t-Sruith. Lindsay told me this translates as ‘island in the strong tidal current’. There is certainly a lot of movement in the area, in terms of tides. It looked a lot choppier than it felt. Like Ruadh Sgeir, Reisa an t-Sruith is just a small island, a slightly bigger small island than Ruadh Sgeir. The lighthouse is a standard Northern Lighthouse Board flat-pack. Not much more to say about it other than that. It replaced a light designed by David A and Charles Stevenson. The island itself is home to some goats who watched us from afar, probably wondering what on earth we were up to. I’m assuming they don’t think much of the lighthouse!

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Reisa an t-Sruith

As well as the goats, our wildlife tally increased again today with a brief appearance of a pod of 4 to 6 bottlenose dolphins.

A short, but important trip. It marks a first round completion of the wonderful lights of the Islay and Jura area. In such a short space of time, it’s been quite full-on, but not rushed. I definitely want a closer look at the Rinns of Islay at some point, but for now I’m satisfied – and of equal importance, I got those much-needed pictures for my book.

This afternoon we paid an enjoyable visit to Ian who served on Skerryvore lighthouse and who visited that very lighthouse with us last year (see this post for more on Ian). He and Doreen are wonderful hosts and it was lovely to catch up with them.

Now back to reality. I always put a smiley face at the end of these posts and I’m going to do the same for this one as it’s been a good day and I’m hopeful that it won’t be long until my next post. There certainly is plenty of lighthouse fun lined up for the year 🙂

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The incredible lights of Islay and Jura

What a day! In this lighthouse bagging game you experience some days where, at the end, all you can do is throw yourself onto the sofa and say “wow, did that really happen?”. Today was definitely one of those days.

It’s our final day on Islay and Bob had been in touch with Gus and Rebecca from Islay Sea Adventures in the lead up to our visit to Islay to sort out a trip taking in some of the lighthouses in the Sounds of Jura and Islay. Gus had said that Friday looked to be the best day for it, so this morning we arrived at Port Ellen and spent a while throwing on even more layers in preparation for a RIB trip in January (mental!). You can’t imagine my delight at seeing a beautiful covered RIB gliding into port. Covered RIBs are my favourite!

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Port Ellen/Carraig Fhada lighthouse

Before we’d even got on the boat, Gus offered us a cup of tea and we chatted to Gregor who was helping him out on the boat while Gus went for the hot drinks. A short time later, and with tea firmly in hand, we set off and Gus offered to sail around the Carraig Fhada/Port Ellen lighthouse on the way out. It was great to see a bit more detail from the sides you can’t see from the land. We asked Gus if the walkway is covered at high tide and he said that it can be, and that a man and his son were washed away trying to reach the lighthouse about 100 years ago. Regardless of that, it really is a lovely tower, and the sentiment behind its history is wonderful (more details of this can be found on the Canmore website). I would be quite happy to have a lighthouse built for me (preferably while I’m still alive). With the cost of the recent trips though, I don’t think Bob would be very willing to oblige!

Back on the waves, or lack of I should say, off we went again. A short time later we passed a few small islands and spotted a couple of sea eagles closer than I’ve ever seen them before. They are very impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be get too close!

Eilean a Chuirn was destination number 1. I really like this kind of lighthouse, although I’m not entirely sure why it needs so many doors – perhaps so they can access it in high winds and which door they use depends on the wind direction. That sounds like the only plausible reasoning and would be my guess anyway. It’s a lot like the Waternish light on Skye. Gus explained that the large concrete block next to the lighthouse was part of the pulley system used for moving supplies from the landing point to the lighthouse.

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Eilean a Chuirn lighthouse

After a quick wave to McArthur’s Head, more on that one to follow, we went onwards to Na Cuiltean, which I’d seen from a distance from the ferry on Wednesday. It’s basically a solid platform with one level of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s flat pack arrangement on top. The base of the structure clearly takes a bit of a battering at times. One side of the base is almost completely covered in a layer of green algae and birds are obviously very fond of the rock it sits on!

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Na Cuiltean lighthouse

I was very excited about the next one. Skervuile isn’t really that far from land, but the land it is close to is very remote and fairly inaccessible, which makes seeing this one a bit of a challenge. I’d seen it as a small white pencil of a thing in the distance from the ferry. As we approached it was getting bigger and bigger and yet there still seemed to be some distance to go. It reminded me of a term I’d heard from Christian Nock who walked around the coastline of mainland UK: “lighthouse syndrome”. Anyone who has ever walked any distance to a lighthouse will know the feeling. You see the lighthouse and think “Great, I’m nearly there” and an hour later you are still walking towards it. Well, the approach to Skervuile was a little like that, except it wasn’t an hour. We did eventually get there though and I was very surprised to see the rock below it exposed. All of the pictures I’d remembered of it were at high tide where the sea completely surrounds the base of the tower. With the tide fairly low, the small landing platforms were also exposed. As with all rock lighthouses, I stood staring at it thinking “wow, I have no idea how they built that, but I’m so glad they did”!

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Skervuile lighthouse

Eilean nan Gabhar was next on the agenda as we sailed back down the Sound of Jura. This one is a fairly standard flat pack, except it’s a flat pack with those Paps in the background from certain angles! I’ve become a little obsessed with getting pictures of lighthouses with the Paps of Jura in the background. The joy of it being that it is very easily done in the Islay/Jura area. I believe the term “commanding the landscape” is very apt as that is exactly what the Paps do – well, until you stick a lighthouse in front of them, of course!

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Eilean nan Gabhar lighthouse

Another wave to McArthur’s Head as we entered the Sound of Islay. The ferry had given us a very good view of Carraig Mhor, to the south of Port Askaig, on Wednesday, but this was an opportunity to get even closer. Not landing close (although that would have been possible, but was not a priority for today). With the reduced elevation compared to the ferry, and the calm sea conditions it was also a good chance to catch some nice reflection shots. Love a reflection! It still looked from our closer angle like it would be quite difficult to access by land.

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Carraig Mhor lighthouse

From the ferry on Wednesday, I’d quickly caught the little lighthouse, Carragh an t-Sruith on the west coast of Jura. Very similar in appearance to Eilean a Chuirn, this one looks to be a nice little walk from the landing point for the ferry across the short stretch from Islay. Must put that on my “to do” list.

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Carragh an t-Sruith lighthouse

Ruvaal hadn’t been part of the original plan, but I asked Bob this morning if we would be going that far. I think he sensed from my tone that I wanted to go there. We asked Gus nicely and he was more than happy to add it on. On the way there he told us about the couple who own the lighthouse and how they manage being such a long way from a road. The majority of their journeys to Port Askaig are done by small boat. They do have a quad bike to drive across the difficult terrain, but Gus explained that the land they cross is mostly mud. He had once driven up there on the quad once with a passenger and saw a big puddle, which he thought he could get through. As it turned out, a pole had blown down in the wind and had been removed along with its base, leaving a gaping chasm (my words, not his). So, Gus ended up stuck in this gaping chasm with water almost up the seating level in the quad. Fortunately he was able to get them out and back on the track. The challenges they must face seem endless to me and it would take a certain type of person to be able to live (or enjoy life) there. As much as I love lighthouses, I would need to draw the line when it comes to choosing which one to live in, and Ruvaal falls below this line! Having said that, the lighthouse is beautiful. Incredibly slender! If I were a lighthouse, I would want to look like Ruvaal. It was lovely to sail around it and see the side with the windows too. Maybe I could live there – perhaps – just for a few days.

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Ruvaal lighthouse

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McArthur’s Head lighthouse

We had purposely saved McArthur’s Head for the way back. We’d rather cheekily asked Gus if he thought it might be possible for us to go ashore there and climb those glorious steps. He explained that it is not possible to land at low tide, he’d once been stranded in a nearby cave due to the tide going down. To maximise our chances of landing, he suggested saving it until the end of our trip when the tide would be in. He wasn’t wrong and I may have squealed a little (just a little) when he said that he’d get us in! We hopped ashore and made for the steps. I approached the steps thinking that there weren’t that many and it would be easy enough. About 10 or so steps from the top I changed my mind. It’s a long way up! But it was so worth it. The lighthouse, while not unlike a number of others in the area, was stunning and the extra effort you put into getting to it adds to the enjoyment. My favourite views though were from the end of the path beyond the lighthouse looking back at it with Jura in the background. Just beautiful. Gus told us that the lighthouse was painted last year and they flew in 2.5 tonnes of paint for the job. I imagine at least half of this paint was used on the wall rather than the tower itself. The wall is so long that I didn’t even realise we were inside it! McArthur’s Head now holds the record for the most number of hugs it has had from me (3). I even enjoyed walking back down the steps. I can’t decide though whether the lighthouse looks better from the land or from the sea. It is just an all-round wonderful lighthouse and I want to go back already!

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McArthur’s Head from the sea

Heading back to Port Ellen, the sea eagles were out in force again, being wound up by some gulls. Gus had told us about a group of stags he’d seen swimming between islands near Eilean a Chuirn the other day. By some wonderful chance, we spotted one in the water as we passed. Gus did a very quick and very sharp turn in the RIB to enable us to see the deer swimming at close range. After it arrived on the island it looked back at us briefly before wandering off onto the island.

A wonderful and very successful day. Certainly one never to be forgotten. 🙂

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Islay, where it’s all about the location

For a change, today has been a shorter day. In a recent post I mentioned the benefits of winter: being able to catch lighthouses at sunrise and the lights in action. The downside, though, is the later starts and earlier finishes. It’s still been a productive day though.

Two lighthouses beckoned this morning, and when they call one must go! The first was the Rinns (or Rhinns) of Islay, which resides majestically on the island of Orsay off of Port Wemyss. On the way there we passed what was to be our second stop of the day, Loch Indaal at Port Charlotte, and had a quick look at how we might be able to get access to it. While the field to the north of Loch Indaal House (which is available as a holiday let – the views of the lighthouse at night would be wonderful from there, I imagine) was home to a few young Highland cows, the field to the south looked a lot more inviting with just a few sheep roaming around. Back to that one shortly.

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Rinns of Islay lighthouse on Orsay

As we approached the small but very picturesque village of Port Wemyss the Rinns of Islay lighthouse just appeared out of nowhere, considerable bigger than I expected it to be. While I knew it wasn’t a huge stretch of water between Port Wemyss and Orsay, I hadn’t expected it to be so close. One of the first views we had of the lighthouse was fantastic. Heading straight for the coast with houses on either side of the road, the lighthouse was perfectly positioned at the end of the road, looking almost like you could drive right up to it. There are some wonderful spots to get views across to the island and lighthouse from the coastal road. A perfectly positioned picnic bench is just up the hill slightly from the slipway. A wonderful spot to spend some time “lighthouse gazing” and enjoying the moment. One day I hope to make it across to the island, but it’s not on the plan for this week. Something to look forward to another time.

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Loch Indaal lighthouse

Returning to Port Charlotte, we parked up in the village and wandered along the road until we reached Loch Indaal House. I asked my usual “are you sure we’re allowed to go through this field?” and Bob reassured me for the 500th time that it was absolutely fine – we are in Scotland and there is “right to roam”! Onwards we went. I’d already said that I wanted to get a picture of the lighthouse with the Paps of Jura in the background, so we walked slightly further south before heading to the lighthouse. The best place to get this picture is actually from the road where the Paps still manage to look about the same height as the lighthouse! Where yesterday the Paps made Na Cuiltean lighthouse appear so small and insignificant, Loch Indaal light won this time, but only once we’d made it to the bottom of the field! It did make for a lovely view. No blue skies today, but also no rain and very little wind. It’s a nice rocky area to wander around and we slowly made our way towards the lighthouse. The tower is a fairly straightforward affair and reminded me a lot of the tower at Corran. It’s no wonder really as they were both the brainchild of the wonderful Stevenson team that was David and Thomas, with Loch Indaal first lit just 9 years after its twin on the mainland at Corran. I mean, why reinvent the wheel?! Interestingly, the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) face plate next to the door says “Loch Indaall”, but most spellings appear to only have the one ‘l’ on the end – even in places on the NLB website. It’s not the most astounding of lighthouses, but it’s really easy to get to and in a lovely location.

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Port Ellen/Carraig Fhada lighthouse

After a lunch break, we hit the road again with Bob shuttling us all (the four of us and his mum) to Port Ellen in two runs. I was dropped off first which gave me the chance to go on ahead to the Port Ellen lighthouse, which in these parts is more commonly referred to as Carraig Fhada. It’s a nice little walk around the coast and the lighthouse is visible pretty much all of the way along. It doesn’t resemble a lighthouse in the traditional sense, but it looks wonderful and you just can’t help but take numerous pictures on the approach. Well, I would have done just that had a couple and their two dogs not entirely ruined my view by walking out to the lighthouse at completely the wrong time. I can’t complain about them too much though as the man pointed out a heron on the rocks on the way out, so I managed to get some decent pictures of a heron (not really my sort of thing, but good to have to share with my birdwatcher dad). The best pictures and views though, in my opinion, are to be had near the entrance to the narrow walkway that leads out to the lighthouse. When you see a little walkway like that there is nothing for it, you just need to walk it. It could be pretty hairy at times I imagine and completely unwise to walk out in rough sea conditions, maybe even verging on impossible without getting washed away. I was splashed a little once on the way out and today has been really quite calm. It’s a great little wander. There’s not a lot to see once you are at the lighthouse. It’s a relatively small rock that it sits on, so you can’t get any decent pictures of the tower. Crossing back over the walkway I made my way back towards the cemetery where I’d been dropped off and met the others on their way to the lighthouse. We all bagged the lighthouse and had a walk along to the Singing Sands, which didn’t appear to be singing today (apparently the wind was coming from the wrong direction). On the way back to the car, I managed to get those pictures I’d missed out on due to “that couple” with the dogs. All was well in the end.

I should add that, as we arrived in Port Ellen this afternoon, I spotted a few flashes straight ahead. Considering it was still daylight at this point, I was quite amazed, and intrigued. Looking at the map, I wondered if it might be one of the lights on Rathlin Island off of the north coast of Northern Ireland, most likely Altacarry Head. Bob wasn’t sure. Having looked into it a little more though, I am very pleased to have been proven right. Altacarry Head, or Rathlin East, lighthouse does indeed flash 4 times every 20 seconds as we had seen and, very interestingly, does so 24 hours a day! This has been the case since November 1995 and was introduced to “improve the daytime conspicuity of the station”, as stated on the Commissioners of Irish Lights website. That explained everything.

That’s all for today. More to come tomorrow (she says, with crossed fingers)! 🙂

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Getting serious with some January bagging

Happy New Year to you! I’m not sure I’ve managed to say that in a blog post before with the key reason being that bagging season for me doesn’t usually start until at least March. Winter isn’t always conducive to enjoyable lighthouse visits, although last weekend’s trip to Northern Ireland is evidence that it’s not necessarily the case.

Feeling the need to continue the brilliance of last year, and fill some gaps in pictures required for my book (see this earlier post for details of this), a little time in the Islay and Jura area was required. It’s very much been uncharted territory for me so far.  It’s also not the easiest area for visiting lighthouses as some of the lights aren’t so easy to access, being either on rocks in the middle of the water or involving a long distance walk on very rough or boggy terrain.

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Ardrishaig lighthouse

There is a plan to address this later in the week – more on that in a couple of days, all being well. Before that though, today has been a day of “glimpsing” the lights, almost in preparation.

Travelling from Ayrshire to Kennacraig to catch the ferry, we stopped on the west bank of Loch Fyne at Minard. From here the black and white Sgeir an Eirionnaich (or Paddy Rock) light can be spotted. From such a distance there’s not a lot to say about it, except that one day I hope to get a little closer! Continuing the journey south, we gave the lighthouse in Ardrishaig a quick wave as we passed.

McArthur's Head

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

We weren’t sure what it would be possible to see from the ferry between Kennacraig and Port Askaig, more specifically the section to the south of the Sound of Jura. I braved the elements and stepped outside with the zoom lens in tow. At first I spotted a white tower in the distance and, checking the map, established that it must have been Skervuile. I was actually on the look out for the Na Cuiltean light at the time, not expecting to see Skervuile, so that was a bonus. I’m really looking forward to seeing Skervuile close up (fingers crossed it will happen this week). Scanning the coast, I finally caught sight of the Na Cuiltean lighthouse, another one to get closer to. It’s not a huge tower anyway, but even if it had been it would have been dwarfed by the incredible Paps of Jura in the background. What an island Jura looks to be from the sea!

I’d had my eye on McArthur’s Head between views of the two lighthouses to the north. I had a few minutes to go back inside and warm up a bit, before it was time to head out again on the approach to the Sound of Islay. Although I’d never seen it in person before, the lighthouse and its surrounding wall at McArthur’s Head are very recognisable. It was wonderful to pass it and see it from a number of different angles with more detail of the landscape emerging with every moment.

Carraig Mhor

Carraig Mhor lighthouse

The final lighthouse of the journey was Carraig Mhor just to the south of Port Asking. There was no need for a zoom lens for this one. The small, but perfectly formed tower would not even be worth attempting to visit from the island itself, but the very surroundings that make it so inaccessible from land is exactly what makes it such a picturesque view from the sea. The lighthouse is nestled there quite happily with its own jetty.

I’d just started to make my way back inside again when I remembered there was one left to see – Carragh an t-Sruith on Jura. We weren’t particularly close to it, but it was visible and yet another one for later in the week – hopefully. As I said, it’s been a glimpsing day with hopefully better views and clearer pictures to come. 🙂

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Paddling and revisiting in Northern Ireland

While yesterday was all about visiting new lights in the north of Northern Ireland, today the objective was to improve upon those we’d seen a few years ago along the south and east coasts.

In the lead up to this trip we had been in contact with a local boat operator who had an unconfirmed booking with another group, but had said he would be happy to take us along Carlingford Lough for closer views of Haulbowline as well as the two smaller lights, Vidal Bank and Green Island. Unfortunately, we were informed that the other group’s trip was going ahead so it wasn’t possible for us. Although Bob tried to make contact with an alternative operator, we had no success. The back-up plan was paddling!

We’d been lucky with the tides yesterday for seeing the lights on the banks of the River Foyle and, in particular, managing to get close to the Otter Bank light. Today, we decided to make sure the tide was in our favour again. It obviously meant an early start, as is often the case with these lighthouse days, although thankfully not as early as yesterday.

Vidal Bank

Vidal Bank

Arriving in Greencastle, we decided to have a drive around to see the nearest place to see the lights from, focussing first on Vidal Bank and Green Island. As usual, Bob chose to park somewhere that I couldn’t possibly recommend people park when they actually visit themselves, but fortunately we checked out the access suggestion I will include in my book and that was fine. We walked onto the beach, wellies on, and I headed straight towards the Vidal Bank light, walking in as far as I could without getting my feet wet. It would not have been possible to get to the light, or its neighbour Green Island, anyway so it wasn’t worth even trying. We had the zoom lens so that helped with getting better pictures anyway.

Green Island

Green Island

There were a number of oyster beds nearby and we strolled alongside them to reach the closest point to Green Island. Again, in I went to get some pictures, while Bob hung back on the beach using the zoom lens! There’s not a lot of difference between the two lights, but we did spot that the green section of the legs on the Green Island light came further up than on Vidal Bank. Also the orange triangular daymarks on them were in different orientations and at different heights. This may sound like unnecessary information, but will prove to be very useful for working out which is which in pictures. Having seen the pictures included here so close together it is obvious that they are a bit different.

Haulbowline

Haulbowline lighthouse

While we’d been hanging around the smaller lights, we were very aware that the beautiful Haulbowline rock lighthouse was a short distance away. It was even less likely that we would reach this one at low tide, but I felt that need to paddle again. This time I had the zoom lens, which helped. The sun was still low and I always think this is one of the benefits of visiting lighthouses at this time of year, as you can catch the colours of sunrise and sunset on the towers without having to get up at some ridiculous hour or stay up too late. Haulbowline has all the magnificence and elegance of a rock lighthouse, but without the need to spend hours on a boat to reach it (well, technically we had to get the ferry to Northern Ireland, but you hopefully see my point). There were some beautiful houses along the north bank of Carlingford Lough and I can see why. If I had a potential view of Haulbowline from my house I’d want massive windows too!

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St John’s Point lighthouse

From here we headed north. I was very keen to get back to St John’s Point to improve upon the pictures we got last time. The problem with them was that it was a pretty overcast day and as there was blue sky this morning it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. In addition, the lighthouse has yellow and black stripes, which is very unique and is one of things I like most about it. Driving past it would have felt very wrong. I was really pleased in the end to go back there. The joy of lighthouse revisits is that you so often notice smaller details that you didn’t see before. There is a narrow slipway leading up to the lighthouse from the coast, and there are a couple of signs clearly warning people that they use it at their own risk. On one of the walls around the compound were a number of stones with names and messages written on them. Many had the dates that people had visited. Just below these stones was a small area with a few items and a large stone explaining that it was in memory of a little boy, Noah, who only lived for 9 months. It was very sad and these things always touch you more when you have children of your own. I did think it was a wonderful thing for his family to have done. He may not have reached an age at which he could enjoy a lighthouse, but it will now always be an important place to his family.

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Ardglass

Another interesting observation from this visit was a banner on a gate near the entrance to the lighthouse. The tower’s optic is clearly under threat at the moment and the local community are, of course, wanting to challenge it. The campaign is being run by Lecale Lightkeepers, a cross-community group, and their banner calls for help to save their “iconic sweeping beam” with “Leave St John’s light alone” along the bottom. I am a huge fan of sweeping beams, you just can’t beat them and I’m always sad to see them go. The banner urges supporters of the campaign to email the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

We followed our visit to St John’s Point with a quick stop at Ardglass Pier, another revisit. There’s not a lot to say about this one, but we got blue sky pictures again – once again an improvement upon last time.

 

Angus Rock

Angus Rock

It was time for a little distance bagging on the stretch between Ardglass and Donaghadee. I very helpfully noticed (if I do say so myself) that a ferry ran across Strangford Narrows, which certainly made the journey a lot quicker. It also meant that we had the opportunity to see Angus Rock lighthouse from both sides of the entrance to Strangford Lough. Out came the zoom lens again and the best views of it were certainly from Kilclief on the west bank. We’d spotted Angus Rock on our first trip to Northern Ireland, but hadn’t made an effort to get as close to it as possible, so this was another chance to do just that.

South Rock

A distant view of South Rock lighthouse

Our next distance viewing was of South Rock, also known as Kilwarlin lighthouse. While it isn’t looking too special now, it has an interesting history since it was first lit in 1797 and it was the first rock, or wave-washed, lighthouse in Ireland as a whole. From the coast of mainland Northern Ireland you can’t really see its true magnitude, but hopefully one day we will make it out there for a closer look.

 

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Donaghadee lighthouse

Passing Donaghadee without stopping to walk to the lighthouse should, quite frankly, be made illegal! Not wanting to break this new law I have just introduced, we spent a while on the pier there. By this time sunset was well and truly on its way, casting that wonderful warm glow over everything once again. The only problem with Donaghadee is that too many people seem to recognise the enjoyment to be had from walking to the lighthouse. While I love to advocate lighthouse bagging, I do like people to keep out of my pictures most of the time, unless I choose to have them there! Once again a great place and clearly somewhere that all ages enjoy judging by today’s visitors.

On the coastal road north towards Belfast we spotted the black and white stripes of the Mew Island lighthouses off of the coast, precisely at the point my notes had suggested viewing it from.

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The old Mew Island optic, now in Belfast

There was one final place to be visited before we could go to the ferry terminal. I alluded to the old Mew Island optic in my post yesterday, and how it has now been relocated to the Maritime Mile as part of the Titanic Belfast museum. During our first visit to Northern Ireland we had flown out to Mew Island in a helicopter (I had great fun, Bob was petrified when I took control though!) and we had seen the optic rotating in the lighthouse. Since then the optic has been replaced by a modern light. The optic is now being very well cared for and is beautifully presented and lit in its new home (which apparently is at the location of a former harbour lighthouse). There is a great deal of information on the boards surrounding it too about the history of the optic, the type of lens (it is one of only 30 Hyper-Radial lenses in the world for those interested) and the movement of it from the lighthouse to the Titanic Causeway. I was pleased to be visiting as it was getting dark to fully appreciate the display. I was also pleased that it is outside as it is accessible 24 hours a day and free of charge! There’s a lot of information about the lens at https://greatlighttq.org if you’d like to find out more.

So that’s the very brief visit to Northern Ireland complete. I think I can quite safely say at this point that it is definitely my last lighthouse bagging trip of the year. The end of a very successful and incredibly enjoyable year. Thank you for taking the time to read and/or follow my blog. Bring on next year and plenty more lighthouses – and my book!!! Happy New Year to you! 🙂

 

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A return to Northern Ireland

Back in October, at the start of what I called “the mad plan”, I alluded to the fact that I was preparing a list of lighthouses in the UK, Isle of Man and Channel Islands to be published. Well, since then progress has been made and, massively excitingly, Whittles Publishing are happy to publish it for me! I’m still not sure I believe it just yet, but it is going to happen and I have a deadline, which means that when I am not busy visiting lighthouses, writing blog posts, looking after two young children, working or sleeping, I am focussed only on getting the book done. I should add that we are currently looking at an early July 2019 release and I will, of course, post here any major developments. Aside from being excited in general about it actually being published, I am hoping to be able to help out people like the 2012 version of me who had the idea, to visit all of the UK mainland lighthouses, and could have done with a book like this to support the entire trip. Of course, the book covers islands too, as well as Northern Ireland.

So, on the topic of Northern Ireland, that is precisely where I am writing today’s blog post from. You see, the book needs pictures and while the larger lights in this wonderful part of the world were visited during our honeymoon back in 2013, I had since become aware of a number of smaller lights that will be covered in the book and, of which I had no pictures. So there was only one thing for it – an extension to “the mad plan”.  Two days in Northern Ireland it was!

This morning started early – 4.45am is not a time I would ever really want to be up, but the lighthouses (and a ferry) beckoned so I had to go. The ferry crossing was great. I couldn’t convince Bob to watch Mamma Mia 2in the on-board cinema, so we settled for preparing for the two days ahead, while looking out for the lighthouses we were passing in the dark. Corsewall was the first, and what a wonderfully bright light it is. I don’t think it is ever possible to get bored of seeing the revolving glory of lights like that. Briefly turning away from Corsewall, I was greeted by the welcoming flash of one of my favourite Northern Irish lights: Black Head. I would recommend a stay at the lighthouse cottages at Black Head to anyone – lighthouse fan or not. I can guarantee you will love lighthouse by the time you leave! The final “flash” of the ferry crossing came from Mew Island – the only lighthouse I have visited by helicopter! It’s a brilliant lighthouse. Its lens was replaced a few years ago (you can see the old one in Belfast near the Titanic museum, which I am hoping we can do tomorrow – maybe) and the modern light isn’t the same, but it is just the way it goes.

Upon arriving at Belfast, we headed straight for Coleraine where one of the Aquaholics boats was awaiting our arrival. It being the middle of winter, it’s not quite so easy to find boat operators, but Richard the skipper had agreed to take us out to see a few of the smaller harbour and river lights. Can I just say before I go any further, the boat was amazing?! We’d joked about having our own private charter on the way back from Caldey Island (mainly because we were there for such a short time), but this time we did and the boat was huge with indoor seating, outdoor seating, room to wander about inside and out, and I even got to sit in one of the “bouncy chairs” (or at least that’s what I call them) next to Richard!

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River Bann East Pier light

Anyway, off we set. Our first destination was the light on the end of the east pier at the entrance to the River Bann. It is possible to walk to it, but in the interests of time and while we were passing anyway, we went for a spin around it in the boat. Richard had said it would be choppy and it really was. It’s bizarre, just that small section of water at the entrance to the river you get some incredible waves – and today was a relatively calm day! The lighthouse isn’t one you would rave about (well, I wouldn’t anyway), but it was good to see it nonetheless.

We hadn’t really known how long we would be out on the boat for today. We’d guessed it wouldn’t be long, but obviously not anticipated the distance required to get from Coleraine to the bridge across the River Foyle – it’s quite a way. Anyway, it gave us a chance to chat to Richard. He informed us that for a few years he’d taken out groups of lighthouse enthusiasts to Rathlin Island on the trips organised by John Eagle, who very sadly passed away very recently. It was one of John Eagle’s books that Bob had given me at the start of our honeymoon and we were both aware of his lighthouse tours of Ireland. It is a real sad loss and, from a personal point of view, I wish I’d had the chance to meet him.

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Moville lighthouse

The next three lighthouses we spotted were in fact Southern Irish lights. Inishowen lighthouse was visible in the distance and then Warren Point a little closer. We then passed by the brilliant Moville light, which was actually my highlight of the day – even if I wasn’t there to visit Southern Irish lights. It was the first proper look I have had of a lighthouse in the Republic of Ireland and a very good first one it was too. Richard recalled seeing it when he was younger and thinking that on its skinny little iron legs it wouldn’t last long, but a number of years later it has proven him wrong. It’s got a lot of character and is something a bit different, which is always nice to see.

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The light at Culmore Point

Onwards we went to our first light in the River Foyle, Culmore Point. You can pretty much drive to Culmore Point, but I’m glad we saw it from the boat as it wouldn’t have been half as nice to see from the land. The tide was in at the time so half of the lighthouse (the half with its name on would not have been accessible anyway from the land). Unfortunately, someone had decided to “decorate” the tower with a large drawing, the details of which I won’t go into (Richard suggested PhotoShop might be in order, let’s just leave it at that). It’s not the most fascinating of lights, but it marked the beginning of a sort of style of lights that litter the River Foyle between its entrance and the bridge.

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Ballynagard

Ballynagard was the next light, just a short distance away, that bore a resemblance to the Culmore light, although it didn’t bear its name – or the graffiti come to think of it. This one appears to be a bit harder to access from land, so we definitely went the right way about it.

 

 

 

 

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The Otter Bank light

The next one was a major target for me. I had seen pictures of Otter Bank online and, in order to qualify for my list of lighthouse the structure must be able to be accessed internally. From what I had seen it was difficult to tell whether it was possible to get inside this tower. So, the key priority for the day was to try and work this out. The only problem with this was that the side on which there is a small platform with what looked sort of like a door opening was surrounded by shallow water. Fortunately, Richard is a particularly skilled skipper and managed to slowly edge around the tower while Bob crept on to the front of the boat to get as close to the side we needed to see as possible. I, of course, stood back like the queen and watched. Actually I didn’t really. I did try to get a look myself, but it was Bob’s pictures that helped me to make the final decision that, yes, it is possible to get inside. It may not lead anywhere now, but you can definitely get inside. I referred to it as the equivalent of a lighthouse bus shelter!

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Boom Hall

Feeling very pleased and thinking that was us done in terms of what I needed to achieve in the Foyle, Richard suggested we go up river a little further as there were some more lights before the bridge. We passed the Brookhall light, which I knew had no internal access and this was reconfirmed. Onwards we went and as we got closer to the bridge we spotted a tower that looked fairly substantial. This tower, like Culmore, featured its name: Boom Hall. This one hadn’t even been on my radar and for the rest of the day we would call it the “unexpected lighthouse in the bagging area”. The tower had clearly not been operational for some time. It has what looks like a tree growing out of the top and the small walkway/jetty that used to link it to the river bank has long since gone leaving just the old iron legs that supported it. Interestingly, there is very little information available about this light, apart from an old picture here. The name “Boom” may well come from the fact that this part of the river was the location of the boom barrier put in place by King James II’s army during the Siege of Derry in the 17th century. Most likely though is that it was built around the same time as the nearby Boom Hall (presumably that took its name from the boom barrier). Boom Hall is also in a particularly bad state of repair. So, this was a new one for me and I was very glad that Richard had suggested going a little further.

On the way back to Coleraine, once we’d passed through the wild entrance to the River Bann again, we stopped for a little to look at the leading lights a short distance from the river mouth. I had been aware of them and we’d spotted them on the way out, but I wasn’t sure whether either of them would fulfil the criteria required for making my list. Although the views from the boat weren’t able to answer that it did give us an idea of the surrounding area and how it might be best to access them. Richard suggested walking around from the beach might be the quickest way.

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River Bann Leading Lights Front

Saying farewell and thanks to Richard who had been so accommodating of my requirements and requests (and hadn’t looked at me strangely once when I was talking about getting inside these small lighthouses – very grateful for that), we set off as fast as we could for Castlerock as we were losing light by the minute and wanted to get to the leading lights while we could still see our way there. We’d been out on the boat a lot longer than we’d thought we would be and so lunch had been skipped, there were more pressing matters to deal with. We found the beach and it was an easy walk across the sand and then the dunes to the front of the two lights, which I was delighted to find had a door! It looks a little like it might fall apart at some stage, but it would still be possible to get inside it, if you had the right equipment, of course. I was fairly certain that if this one had a door then the rear would.

 

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River Bann Leading Lights Rear

The rear light wasn’t too far away and the route we took was nowhere near as foliage-filled as we had feared. It’s entirely different, structurally to the front light, and was easy enough to find. (Note to my friend John who will read this at some point: it’s very close to the 5th tee of Castlerock golf course when you get around to starting on the Irish lights!!) I was adamant that I should be the one to see if it had access inside first so the mountain goat (sorry, I mean Bob) waited patiently while I slid around to the back and peered in. It was one of those moments when you want to look, but you don’t just in case there is something out of a horror film waiting to jump out at you. So I looked far enough around to see that you could get inside (the remains of the door lay on the ground nearby) and then Bob took over and braved it. I did look in the end, once it was confirmed that the coast was indeed clear. There wasn’t really much to see at all, apart from a cable – you know you are scraping the barrel when all you can mention is a cable!

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The Portstewart light

We didn’t hang around for too long as there was still one more light to be seen while we were in the area. It was getting darker by the time we got back to the car, but it would have annoyed me too much to have left one single light to visit in the area when we were so close. So, Portstewart it was. As I suspected it was easy enough to find. It’s a funny little thing. Like a little kiosk where you might get ice cream on a summer’s day, except it has a rather intriguing light on top. I can’t really explain it so well, so will include a picture to show you instead.

So, that was the end of a very busy, lighthouse-filled, lunch-free day! It’s great to be back in Northern Ireland and nice to spend some time in some new parts too. More tomorrow 🙂

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A closer look at Bass Rock

So, eagle-eyed followers of my blog will recall that my last post claimed to be the final one for the year. It turns out that wasn’t quite right, which I suspected at the time might be the case, such is the way when opportunities seem to arise out of the undergrowth, even at this time of year.

For a few years now we’ve had our names on a list to go on a winter trip to Bass Rock at the entrance to the Firth of Forth. Every winter the organiser, Alan, would be very helpfully communicating with the boatman and sending emails every couple of weeks with new potential dates and each time it would come back with the instruction “Stand down”. However, last year Bob got lucky and managed to be around for the trip out on the Braveheart from North Berwick. With a four-month-old baby at the time, I was the one who stayed at home, but with the promise that I would still get there, one day.

Fast forward a year and, again the emails were coming and then the disappointing messages would follow. A couple of weeks ago we were about to pack our bags when a second email confirmed that, contrary to the first message, the trip was in fact cancelled. When you do these things frequently you accept that sometimes conditions change. That’s just the way of it. You can’t control it, so you just go with it as and when you can.

Well, the email came through at the weekend to say that while Tuesday was not an option, Thursday might be. We had an “amber light” on Monday and then again on Tuesday. Final confirmation was to come at 6pm on Wednesday. Of course, living as far from North Berwick as we do, I needed time to get there. So, after work on Wednesday I continued down the road to Inverness and waited for news to come at 6pm, which it did and it was a green light! So, I hopped onto a train bound for Edinburgh.

It was an early start in Edinburgh for me this morning to make sure I arrived in time for the boat. I am not at my best in the mornings, but I ended up quite pleased to have arrived in North Berwick while it was still dark. Not only could I see the light on Bass Rock flashing away, but the light on Fidra too. Most impressive of all was the Isle of May though. While both the Bass Rock and Fidra lights have been replaced with LEDs, the Isle of May light is still something that slightly resembles a rotating optic and was fabulous to see flashing brightly in the dark. As soon as the first sign of daylight emerged though the flash was significantly less visible. I strolled out to the end of the harbour which is a particularly good vantage point for seeing the three lights already mentioned. I also spotted one across the Firth of Forth, which (based on its location) was most likely to be that lovely little Elie Ness light.

IMG_7159I met up with the rest of the group and we set off. I must admit I was fairly confident that we would get landed as the sea conditions were calmer than the day we went out to Fidra earlier in the year. Bass Rock is an amazing island, very imposing and you can sense that even from a distance away. I had seen “the Bass” a number of times from North Berwick in various conditions, from perfect sunny afternoons to gloomy days when it was shrouded in mist or low cloud. It’s got a similar feel to Ailsa Craig. The approach to the island is awe-inspiring. Seeing that recognisable shape close up is pretty special. We slowed and sat back for a while as the crew had a look at the landing area. There was more swell that we’d be expecting, with the occasional wave from the east skirting around the base of the island. As soon as the skipper, Dougie, started giving advice on exactly when we should go and that he would do two at a time before pulling back and going in again, I began to wonder if landing might not be as straightforward as I had hoped.

I got in the queue and watched as the others flung a leg over the handrail , got a foot on the island when the boat has momentarily stopped lurching up and down, and were then – in some cases – partially dragged onto the island by the crew member on the steps. Having seen the height of the handrail and the speed the others had needed to move I decided not to risk it. I went back down to the skipper and then saw the last guy get off in a slightly more controlled manner and thought “maybe I can do this”. Once I got back to the front of the boat again I changed my mind though. It just was not going to happen. Had it not been for having to climb over the handrail and if it’d had a gap in the middle that I could have walked through then I would have absolutely gone for it. I’ve since spoken to Bob about the landing conditions today and he informed me that “It would have been fine, you just need the confidence and experience”. I have neither, and I’m certain I made the right decision. The skipper himself said it was marginal for landing today, which made me feel a bit better about my choice!

IMG_7169Anyway, not having to endure the stress of landing and getting back on the boat, I chatted away to Dougie while watching the lighthouse and the changing colours as the sun continued to rise. He sailed around to the east of the island to show me the alternative landing “for a laugh”. It was a very uninviting landing today! After that we took a spin around to the west of the island where he pointed out the cave (see picture below) that goes through the entire length of the island and, at low tide, it is possible to wade through. Interestingly, the water to the west of the island is very shallow, at only about 7 metres, while the depth at the east is more like 40. The geology is truly incredible and this is further enhanced on the south by the remains of the various buildings that have called Bass Rock their home, including the castle, which once operated as a prison.

IMG_7192Dougie clearly knows the rock and its history particularly well. He recalls there once being sheep and grass there, which is difficult to imagine now, but the gannets who insist on making it their home each year have destroyed that, as well as seeing away the puffins who used to nest there. Aside from the boat operators at the Seabird Centre in North Berwick, Dougie in the only boatman who has permission to land on Bass Rock, which he has obviously done a number of times. He described the state of the old lighthouse buildings on a recent visit with the roof now threatening to fall in as a result of damp. There has also recently been a mudslide near the lighthouse, which has left a layer of deep mud across some of the path.

He has also dealt with Northern Lighthouse Board engineers a lot in the past. He recalled one time he took them out to the island in the morning to work on the light and returned at dusk to pick them up, but which time conditions had deteriorated considerably. Luckily they managed to get them off safely, but it sounded a bit hairy! He had also taken the engineers out to Inchkeith in 1986 when they were automating the lighthouse there and he spoke very fondly of his memories of looking around the keepers’ accommodation during those visits.

IMG_7241The topic of the yellow-ish paint that the Northern Lighthouse Board use on their lighthouses (I’ve heard recently that it is called “bamboo”) came up. He had a funny story about a local resident who was looking to paint the top of their wall, but didn’t have any paint for it. They had asked if anyone had any and a few massive cans of this bamboo paint appeared and shortly afterwards the wall may have every so slightly resembled a Northern Lighthouse Board shore station, or even lighthouse, wall. I imagine that happens fairly routinely where there is a lighthouse nearby.

By the time the others started heading back down to the landing point the blue sky had appeared and I was able to get some pictures of the lighthouse bathing in the golden sun with blue skies in the background. Sometimes these things happen and you think that maybe there is some force looking down on you thinking “Oh, let’s just send in some beautiful conditions, just for her, just for a few minutes.” It often happens when you don’t expect it, as was very much the case at Barra Head earlier this year.

IMG_7251You could tell Dougie wasn’t entirely looking forward to everyone getting back on the boat when he turned to me and said “This should be fun” as they were coming down the steps. Their return was thankfully straightforward with no men injured or overboard, and we set off back to North Berwick. I think we all appreciated the final close-up views of Bass Rock as we sailed away. It really is a magnificent island, even if the others were keen to clean their boots in puddles once we got back to the harbour! One of the guys told me he’d spotted some kind of liquid of various colours and he had no idea what it was. The island was also described as “aromatic” by another!

I may not have landed this time, but I’m not too disappointed. I had a fun morning and got to see the lighthouse much closer than I ever had before. Maybe I will need to join one of the tourist trips during the summer and just accept that I’m going to be surrounded by birds, as much as I dislike the thought. A good day today though, and definitely worth the effort, even if it was just to get a closer view.

I won’t say that this will be my last post for the year this time as it won’t be. Exciting plans lie ahead for one final bagging trip before 2018 is over. More to come on that in just over a week! 🙂

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