A somewhat delayed post from three months ago, concluding the Berwickshire-based bagging series.
After a few good days of lighthouse-related antics, it all went a bit pear-shaped with my knee-related incident. Any plans I’d had for walking to lighthouses from that point had to be cast aside. However, there was still some fun to be had after I got past the initial painful days.
In terms of lighthouses, there were a couple more days of discovery around St Abbs. I’d found a fantastic company based in Eyemouth who ran boat trips around St Abbs. Even better, the boat they used was ‘accessible’ so I could go along without having to worry about whether or not I would be able to get aboard.
In Our Nature is run by Liza Cole who used to be a Ranger for St Abbs so knows a considerable amount about the geology and wildlife all along the coastline. I learnt a lot more during the trip than I feel I have done during previous trips in any other area – or maybe it’s just Liza’s style of presentation. Learning that a collection of shags is called a ‘hangout’ was rather fun. Liza and I were actually equally delighted to learn that she owns a copy of my book and loves it. It goes without saying that she shares my passion for lighthouses!
As we sailed up the coast we passed multitudes of tiny coves and pebbly beaches, each of which had little sloping pathways leading down to them. Liza informed us that this was to enable local people to access the beaches, although I’ve managed to forget during the last three months exactly what the purpose of this was.
Reaching St Abbs in the boat, this was where the dramatic rocky coastal scenery really kicked in. I’d seen a lot of it from the landward side, but to see it from the sea and experiment the sheer scale of some of the jutting out headlands and sea stacks was marvellous. Although it was late in the season there still seemed to be a fair few seabirds about, both young and old. We were also able to spot my mum sitting just outside the wall of the lighthouse complex and happily waved away to each other as we passed.
Once we had rounded the headland we were edging closer to the little Pettico Wick harbour which we’d explored a bit a couple of days before. The large pinnacles of rock just to the north of the harbour had looked so impressive from the shore, but were now dwarfed in comparison to the big stacks and cliffs that surrounded them.
For days I’d also been admiring the wonderful rocks to the west of the cove and it was fantastic to see them from this different view. The amazing folding effect which Liza explained was a result of two different types of rock meeting, was just as prominent from the sea and, of course, there was a better view of the geology even further to the west.
After just the right amount of time to study the cliffs or birds, we set off back for Eyemouth. Liza uses local fishing boats for her trips and the seals are very used to receiving titbits when the boats return from trips so it was great to see them following us back into the harbour, even if they were slightly disappointed at the lack of food on this occasion.
Having spent a few days being able to do very little, it was great to be back out in the proper fresh air, enjoying a boat trip once again. There’s nothing quite like a sea breeze to bring you around after a difficult few days.
The following day we visited North Berwick again and this time visited the Coastal Communities Museum which I’d been wanting to get to for some time. The main reason for this was to see the old Bass Rock Lighthouse lens. As with so many of these lenses it was a real pleasure to see.
There I was then thinking the holiday was over and we’d be leaving St Abbs behind on that Friday morning, but little did I know that there was one last surprise in store! As we were packing up the car, a couple of people arrived, one of which was the Planning Engineer for the Northern Lighthouse Board, Craig, who was undertaking the annual inspection of St Abbs Lighthouse. Seizing the opportunity for a peek inside the lighthouse, he very willingly agreed to show us around and I hobbled on down the steps to the lantern. It was fortunate that we were at St Abbs really as the majority of lighthouses would have been inaccessible for me and my crutches.
Unsurprisingly, the lighthouse isn’t very big inside. You enter into a small hallway which leads straight into the lantern with the light mechanism. There is also a separate room off to the right. There is only then one set of ladder-type steps to get up inside the lantern. I decided to pass on this opportunity and stayed on the ground floor level, but I was happy enough with that. The others went up and I was still able to join in their conversations with them above the lattice flooring and me below.
While we were inside the lighthouse Craig managed to prise the old hatch open in the steps that would have allowed access to the weight mechanism when the lighthouse was operated by the clockwork system. Due to the lantern being near enough at ground level it was necessary for them to dig into the ground to accommodate the mechanism.
Craig has worked for the Northern Lighthouse Board for a number of years and has seen the majority of their lighthouses with very few left unvisited. For him lighthouses are his work, but I got a sense that he takes more enjoyment from being around them than most people do their workplace. 🙂
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to spend some quality time on the Northumberland coast and one target for this trip was to get a closer look at Coquet Island, a mile off the coast of Amble. I was aware that only wardens were allowed to land on the island so the boat trip with Puffin Cruises seemed the best way to get as close as I could.
The trip also gave a really interesting insight into the history of the island’s lighthouse and the ownership in general. The island has been owned by the Duke of Northumberland since 1753 after changing hands between the church, and various local earls and others with titles over the centuries. When the lighthouse was originally being proposed on the island the Duke at that time stipulated that he wished for it to resemble a castle, hence the castellated tops to the towers of the structure.
There is evidence to suggest that the foundations of the lighthouse and some lower sections predate the lighthouse and are actually the foundations of what was a Benedictine monastery, which was completed in 1841. The lighthouse contains a sector light facing to the south, warning of the hazards of rocks lying just under the water between the south of the island and the mainland.
Although the island is no longer occupied throughout the winter months, it has a long history of occupation and a strong religious connection. Henry of Coquet, a Dane, wished to escape an arranged marriage after experiencing some sort of vision that told him to do so. Arriving in Tynemouth, he gained permission to build himself a small “cell” on Coquet island and lived there until his death in 1127. This is just one example of strange uses and habitation on the island. The Amble and District Local History website features a far more in depth history for anyone interested.
The restrictions on people landing on the island I had originally assumed was due to it being a site for nesting birds. It turns out it is instead that the island’s owner does not wish anyone to land on the island, with the exception of the RSPB wardens and Trinity House staff (though it was suggested that he’s not keen on the latter landing either, but the maintenance of the lighthouse is essential). As with the nearby Farne Islands, I expect that if Coquet was set up to accept visitors it would currently be closed due to Avian flu as its bird population has been very badly affected.
It was a good boat trip with very knowledgeable crew. I was quite nicely surprised at how close it actually got us to the island. It’s certainly worth doing the trip to get a closer look at the island and lighthouse. It’s also a great way to get a better look at the little light on the end of the pier in Amble.
We followed the boat trip with a visit to the beach to the south of Amble where we had great views across to Coquet 🙂
On Sunday we decided to make the most of the good weather and set off from St Abbs for Seahouses. My dad was keen to go and see the puffins, the Farne islands being best place for them in the area. Sadly last weekend due to the ongoing devastation avian flu is causing, they announced that there would be no landing on either Inner Farne or Staple Island. This was a shame as I’ve been wanting to take a closer look at their respective lighthouses, but the bird-focussed boat trip took us around both as well as close to Brownsman Island and Longstone too.
The Farne islands are quite a special place if you are into lighthouses. There is plenty of history with 7 lighthouses in total gracing these small islands over time. The oldest was introduced on Staple Island in 1776, 100 years after permission was first granted for lights to be built on the Farne islands. Prior to this attempts at lighting the islands for navigation were limited to two fire baskets on Inner Farne. The Great Storm of 1784 unfortunately claimed the Staple Island tower, and it is believed that a second tower was then constructed to replace it. The remains of what could well be one of these towers can still be seen on the island, although I am unable to find confirmation that this is definitely the case.
Fast forward eleven years and the first tower on Brownsman Island had been constructed. The remains of this tower are still visible as the tallest structure on the island.
In 1809 Trinity House built the lighthouse on Inner Farne, which is still in operation today. Just two years later this became the High Light after a lower light was added to warn ships away from the nearby Megstone island. This low light was removed in 1911 when the high lighthouse was automated.
Meanwhile there was navigational development on Brownsman Island too with the introduction of a new lighthouse and attached building in 1810. This tower shared the same design as the Inner Farne light and contained a revolving reflector which burned paraffin oil.
By 1825 it had become clear that the lighthouse on Brownstone wasn’t preventing shipwrecks and the decision was taken to construct a lighthouse on Longstone.
Today Longstone and Inner Farne are the only two lighthouses still operating on the islands. The trip was a good opportunity to see these two again. Landing on Staple Island and Inner Farne will wait for another time 🙂
Taking a break from holidays on the west coast of Scotland, we decided to have a family holiday with my parents in the Scottish Borders this time. I gave my son the choice of whether we stayed in a house on a farm or in lighthouse cottages. Thankfully he gave the right answer and so St Abbs it was.
A few hours after arriving on Friday evening, there was a beautiful sunset, which surprised me as I’d not quite got my bearings and it appeared to me that the sun was setting in the north.
Of course I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see St Abbs Lighthouse flashing. The lens has now been covered by a big sheet here and the light source is now one of the LED “puddings”. So sadly no sweeping beam, but still a joy to see.
I took a closer look at the lighthouse and old foghorn yesterday in the glorious sunshine. The tiny tower was great to see close up and it’s always nice to see a foghorn still in situ. St Abbs has the benefit of being relatively close to Edinburgh, where the Northern Lighthouse Board has their head office, and this proximity without the need for a boat means the station has often been used in the past for testing new practices and technology.
What really makes St Abbs so special is the incredible coastline. I remembered it very fondly from my first visit back in 2012 when it was the first Scottish lighthouse I visited on my tour. That day was also particularly sunny and the tall cliffs were certainly a good introduction to Scotland’s coastal scenery.
I was also delighted to find yesterday morning that Barns Ness Lighthouse is visible from St Abbs too and out of the cottage window last night I spotted the flashing of the lighthouse on the Isle of May. The light from the wonderful tower on the Isle of May is very powerful and I enjoyed seeing just how bright it was from Arbroath in recent years. Seeing it from so far south though was excellent. Bass Rock is visible from here too, but the light is perhaps not strong enough to reach St Abbs.
This afternoon I’ve done plenty more exploring around the area. The aim was to check out the old jetty at Pettico Wick Harbour just down the road, which was reportedly built for landing supplies for the lighthouse. However, the coastal paths were a bit distracting. There’s only one way to describe the views and that is in pictures so here are a few.
Returning to the road, the view across Mire Loch, which I remembered so well from the first visit, was stunning. The loch is manmade, created around 1900 for leisure purposes.
There was a surprisingly good little path down to the old jetty. It quickly deteriorated though after rock falls in the area and you can clearly see that rocks underneath the jetty have been washed away. We passed a few warning signs on the way there. It’s a great little cove and the rock formations on the east side were very impressive.
Lured by the loch I decided we should take the loch side route back. This was an interesting little path, overgrown in some places and open in others, and even a small tree-lined stretch at one point.
At the end of the loch the path meets the main walking route to the lighthouse. Following this track, we took one last detour for a closer look at the old walled garden used by the lighthouse keepers and their families. It is all very overgrown now, but it’s a huge area in a sheltered spot.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the coming days bring here and whether it does actually ever rain at St Abbs! 🙂
With a day to get home from Preston, a bit of a detour en route felt necessary to clear up a few things lighthouse-related. I had yet to see a couple of the lights along the south coast of Cumbria, along the north bank of Morecambe Bay as well as the Walney Channel.
Living where I do in the far north of Scotland, and the vast amounts of time I have spent in areas with big, wave-battered cliffs, the relatively flat landscape and the resulting fast-moving tides of this area fascinates me. To me it somehow seems more dangerous than spending time on coastal routes in areas with more dramatic scenery, and this is all to do with those tides. To spend a second day in an area where lighthouse bagging is so impacted by the tide is a really interesting experience.
Before we get to that though, our first stop of the day was Ulverston. I’d stopped here briefly during my 2012 lighthouse tour and the reason any lighthouse bagger visits the town is surely for the Sir John Barrow Monument. Generally monuments aren’t lighthouses (although I can think of a few), but this one in Ulverston has a couple of interesting connections.
When it was built in 1850 its construction costs totalling £1,250 were mostly paid for by donations from the public. However, £100 was paid for by Trinity House (the lighthouse authority for England and Wales) and the reason for this was it would be used as a seamark. There are conflicting stories related to this with some sources stating that Trinity House contributed based on it it being a seamark alone – though the original plans included a room in the basement that would act as the ‘lighthouse keeper’s’ living quarters. Others suggest that the funds from Trinity House were given in case the tower ever needed to bear a light for navigation purposes, and another that the donation from Trinity House was to ensure that the tower would never bear a light. It is all rather confusing.
That is not the only link though between the monument and lighthouses. The tower design is based on that of John Smeaton’s Eddystone lighthouse, which can now be seen on Plymouth Hoe. So, in a way, when you visit it does feel a little like you are visiting a lighthouse. I should add at this point that you may well be wondering who Sir John Barrow was, which is exactly what I was asking too. Sir John Barrow was born and raised in Ulverston and went on to become an explorer, a writer and – perhaps most relevant – Second Secretary to the Admiralty for 41 years. He passed away two years before the monument was constructed.
It was a pretty hot morning actually and so the walk up Hoad Hill to the monument, especially given that Bob insisted on using the steepest paths, was a good way to work off the remnants of alcohol left in my system from the previous day. The views were great as you got higher though, with those looking out towards the sea being of most interest to me. Chapel Island stood out for me as this big rock in the middle of the sea. I have since discovered that it is possible to access it at low tides, but with real care and from the east bank of the River Leven.
The monument is really impressive and quite beautiful actually. It does have a lighthouse vibe about it, which probably has a lot to do with the original design inspiration. It is possible to climb the tower on certain days between Easter and October. A good sign that the tower is open is if the flag is flying, but it is well worth walking up even if it’s not.
Back down off the hill, it was time to head for some lighthouses with lights! The first of these was Rampside, a wonderful skinny little brick tower known locally as ‘The Needle’. This tower, built in 1875 to guide ships into Barrow-in-Furness, is the last remaining one of thirteen of this same type.
The lighthouse is really easy to spot, sitting just off the road at Rampside on the way to Roa Island. Though it is close to the road, it is another one to be careful near due to those tides. The tide was pretty low while we were there, but there were still little puddles of unknown depth around that you need to watch out for. The fact that it has a ladder up to the door also is a good indication that the sea can impact access to it.
It’s a sweet tower and with most of it being red brick I was imagining it wouldn’t really be a very useful daymark, but seeing it later on from a different angle, it really is quite noticeable. This is another one with great views across to Foulney, Roa, Piel and Walney islands.
Speaking of Foulney Island, this was the next destination. Thankfully the tide times worked in our favour that day as this one really is tidal. Foulney Island is a shingle spit (with some grass) that reaches out 2 miles into Morecambe Bay. It is a nature reserve and an important area for birds during nesting season so some areas of the spit are cordoned off at certain times of the year.
It wasn’t necessary to walk the full 2 miles to reach the lighthouse here and it is clearly visible from the parking area at the entrance to the island. The walk out here was initially a little wet with many (thankfully successful) attempt at avoiding get our feet wet in the muddy puddles presumably caused by the area being flooded at high tide. Then it was onto the shingle, which gets a bit tough going after a while. There are the remains of a 19th century stone causeway here, which was constructed to prevent the silting up of the Walney Channel. With the state of some sections of this causeway now though it would be more like boulder hopping to walk along it.
The lighthouse here is a funny thing, even I will admit that. It’s an oddly shaped white glass reinforced plastic tower, which is very much a different coloured version of the light at Cardiff Barrage. Probably understandably there’s not a lot of information out there about it.
This turned out to be an excellent area for Joe the Drone to stretch his blades and grab some great shots with the tidal sections of the islands all around exposed at that point. There are the remains of an old stone building just beyond the lighthouse. It’s not clear what purpose this would have served. Beyond that, although we didn’t venture that far, you can begin to see the first of many pile lights in the area just off the end of Foulney Island. It was one of these type of lights I was keen to see next.
In researching my book, one of the resources I’d used was the fantastic Online List of Lights website. The owner of this site aims to have a picture of every active aid to navigation listed in the Admiralty List of Lights. This is quite an undertaking as it is ever-changing and covers the whole world. I could, and have, spent hours scanning through this site taking a look at the lights of all shapes and sizes. It was on this site that I came across the Walney Channel West Pile light and you can see its entry here. It doesn’t look like much, but the little white hut on top of the pile structure was what caught my attention. It was time for me to take a look at it for myself.
Passing through Barrow-in-Furness we arrived on Walney Island and found somewhere relatively sensible to abandon the car in Biggar. The OS map showed a footpath running down to the east coast of the island from here and this was really straightforward to find, passing along a narrow grassy area between two fields. Initially the walk was easy enough once we got to the coast, heading north and then east. After a while it began to get a bit wetter underfoot and I was very grateful to have had my wellies available for this walk. Again, it’s another area that becomes flooded at high tide. We stuck to fence line though to try and avoid, as much as possible, the wettest areas. At one point we needed to cross a stream about a metre wide and Bob checked it out first to test how deep it was. Fortunately it wasn’t high enough to go over the top of our wellies so we carefully waded through it and then continued on our way.
Rounding the corner we spotted a whole range of pile lights ahead of us. Quickly recognising that, even at low tide, the land between us and any of these lights was pretty saturated in many places, we decided to send Joe in to investigate from the sky. It was unclear which light I was actually looking for here, which was the first sign that something had changed in terms of the light structure.
After inspecting both Joe’s photos and the grid reference against the map, I was a little sad to have to confess that this one was a lighthouse demotion. The light being investigated is now possibly the most unimpressive of all of them. Some have some very fancy coloured daymark triangles on them, but this one was just a pile structure with a light on a stick coming up out of the top.
It wasn’t the most exciting or joyful end to the day’s bagging, but to go to these places to check things out always feels worthwhile whatever the outcome is. It was also quite fun to wander around to which is really a big part of the adventure of lighthouse bagging.
This marked the final day of a week’s worth of lighthouse visits. It really was quite a week and one that saw me visit those lights I had left to see on the Isle of Man and in North West England, so I returned home with a nice sense of achievement having reached this goal and explored yet more of our amazing country’s (and the Manx) coastline. 🙂
Although the day I’m about to write about wasn’t all about the tidal island and not all about being tipsy either, I just couldn’t resist the title.
I arrived back on the ferry from the Isle of Man following the recent lighthouse bonanza over there, and was met by Bob at Heysham. I’d made some lighthouse plans for later that day and we had a little time to kill beforehand.
While in the area we decided to pay Hale Lighthouse a visit. I’d not been here since my 2012 tour and I felt I hadn’t really explored the area properly on that occasion. Hale Lighthouse was built in 1906, replacing an 1838 light in the same location. The light was introduced to help guide ships safely around Hale Head as they approached the Mersey. This area is renowned for its fast moving tides and the ever changing sandbanks that can sit just below the water level, a hidden danger to shipping.
When the original lighthouse here was built there was already a private bathing house in this location and with the introduction of the first lighthouse, this house was converted into the keepers cottage. This cottage was demolished shortly after the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1958 when the need for the light was no longer essential owing to the reduction in trade in the area and the use of that particular shipping channel.
The cottage has now been replaced with a new property and this, along with the lighthouse, is now in private ownership. There is plenty in the area to suggest that, although a public bridleway runs along here, visitors to the area aren’t necessarily welcome. However, you can see why this might be the case judging by the amount of graffiti on the wall to the seaward side of the lighthouse.
Getting around down here involved a little hop over a bit of fencing (we later found the actual way down), wandering around on some rocks, and then trying to avoid getting stuck in the mud just below the lighthouse. Our shoes didn’t thank us for that that bit!
With the big plans still ahead for the day it was time to get a shift on down towards the Wirral. Thankfully there was a little time to spare which allowed us to take a swing by Ellesmere Port. On my original 2012 lighthouse tour I’d not managed to get to this one and I recall reading that it was part of the National Waterways Museum, so I’d assumed that I could turn up there and get to see it. I am not sure to what extent it is a part of the museum, but the land it is on is now private with the building owned by a fire brigade union. Having done my research though I knew where we needed to go to get the best view of it and so it was a relatively straightforward visit.
This lighthouse, built in 1880, is also (rather confusingly to my mind) known as Whitby Lighthouse. The village of Whitby in the area has, in more recent years, merged with other neighbouring villages to form Ellesmere Port. There is a wonderfully detailed explanation around why the lighthouse was originally built and its relationship to the waterways in this area on the excellent Lighthouse Accommodation website.
There is a fantastic old picture on the Ships Nostalgia website showing the lighthouse when it marked the entrance to the Shropshire Union Docks and Canal. Sadly the introduction of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 meant the lighthouse became surplus to requirement after only 14 years.
It was time to head for the exciting afternoon we had planned. In my role as Events Coordinator for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers I’d come into contact with the owner of the lighthouse in Hoylake, which is now a private home. I’d made contact with him ahead of this trip and had also mentioned our intention of heading over to Hilbre Island while in the area. He very kindly offered to walk over to Hilbre with us and show us around the Hilbre Island Canoe Club’s base there, which seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
First though he (Charlie) had invited us to meet him at his home and, of course, I couldn’t resist the chance to take a look inside such a beautiful building and lighthouse. For a start the garden is just glorious and so well kept. To see the lighthouse towering out of the top of the very grand looking house makes for such a fantastic scene. Charlie explained to us which parts of the house would have been there when the lighthouse was operational and how the building was split into two with a shared access hall when it housed the keepers and their families.
Hoylake Lighthouse was originally the high light, working in partnership with a low light that has since been demolished. Charlie has a wonderful map on his wall showing the area and you can clearly see how these lights, which appear relatively inland, would have helped to guide ships. The navigation on the Wirral is particularly interesting as running through a series of lining up lights was necessary for safe passage.
The existing lighthouse was completed in 1866, replacing its predecessor which had been operating for just over 100 years by that point. The light was discontinued in 1886. When Charlie purchased the house he also inherited the old lighthouse log book which, as you can probably imagine, is a wonderful thick tome just full of history.
I won’t say too much about the house itself as it is a (beautifully decorated) private home, so I will skip ahead to the tower. It’s a really unique tower, very open and the type that those without a head for heights would really struggle with. There is no central column, just open space, and the spiral staircase is made up of fantastic lattice metal stairs which allow you to see right through them to the area both below and above. There is definitely nothing enclosed about this lighthouse tower.
Just below the lantern there is the usual small room where, these days, operational lighthouses would have a couple of boxes that keep the light going. Then it’s just a climb up a ladder to get to the lamp room. What a space that is! Again it’s very open and bright with 360 degree views. What amazed me most up the top though was the width of the gallery. The railings around the gallery are pretty low so you do need to be a bit careful, but it is such a wide space compared to those I have been to before that I was quite impressed. Again, it’s all about the space at Hoylake.
Charlie had very kindly carried his wonderful and heavy old binoculars up the stairs (no mean feat) and set them up so we could see a number of the other lighthouses in the area, including Talacre (Point of Ayr), Bidston and Leasowe, the latter of which could be seen quite clearly with the naked eye that day. We could also see across to Hilbre Island and this served as a reminder that we should probably start heading that way to ensure we caught the tides right.
Hilbre Island, or the Hilbre Islands (actually three tidal islands, with Hilbre being the biggest) sit just off the coast at Hoylake. Although it is recommended to go from West Kirby at low tide, Charlie said that walking from Hoylake was fine as long as you knew which way to go. The timing for Hilbre is key as there is plenty to see on the island and you definitely don’t want to be only just starting the walk back with the tide already coming in.
Considering it’s a small island it has a really interesting history. There’s a great piece on the Hilbre Island website that gives masses of information on various aspects of its past. My interest in visiting was largely a result of the light over there, but I got somewhat waylaid when Charlie showed us the Hilbre Island Canoe Club building. He is a member of the club and the building is full of a variety of pictures from past and present.
While Bob flew Joe the Drone around the island, Charlie showed me a photo album which gives a wonderful overview of the club’s past – oh, and the wine came out!
There was so much conversation about the Club and other topics that I almost forgot what I was there for, but we did eventually make it to the lighthouse. I’d had a couple of discussions before with my lighthouse pal John about whether or not the light on Hilbre met the criteria for inclusion in my book. As a result, my first priority was to check that it did and that it was actually big enough for a person to be able to get inside. As you will see from the picture, the door is considerably taller than me. There may not be room to swing a cat in there, but it could fit a person inside. I would give it a good go!
Around 1810, two wooden markers were installed at the north end of Hilbre to help guide ships into the Hilbre Swash at the entrance to the River Dee. In 1840 these were replaced by new markers on Little Eye (the middle of the three Hilbre Islands) and just offshore at Hoylake. After being replaced at some point they were eventually demolished during WWII to avoid the enemy using them as landmarks.
A navigation light, an acetylene gas-powered light on a lattice tower initially, was first introduced by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Authority in 1927 to mark the Hilbre Swash. It was later replaced by the existing steel structure and ownership of the light changed to Trinity House in 1973.
Close to the lighthouse is the old telegraph station, which was the second station on the island (the original was a wooden structure). This was one in a long chain of stations used to communicate messages from as far as Holyhead to Liverpool. A couple of other lighthouse locations were involved in this process, those being Great Orme and Bidston Hill. The telegraph station on Hilbre was completed in 1841 with the system continuing to be used until 1860.
We then had a great walk around the island.
Then it was back to the Canoe Club where I proceeded to gulp down another glass of wine. When you are on a tidal island you can’t be hanging around for too long sipping on a glass of wine! The walk back across to Hoylake was thankfully very refreshing. On arrival back at Charlie’s we discovered his lovely wife Ali was back so we popped in and I enjoyed even more wine.
I had arranged to stop off at Bidston Lighthouse that evening to collect something and poor Stephen and Mandy ended up waiting very patiently for our arrival only for me to turn up a little worse for wear. As far as I could tell they didn’t seem to mind too much though and very kindly gave me coffee. The visit to Bidston was actually very well timed as it is currently one of four lighthouses currently lit up with beautiful moving light designs by Hendrick’s Gin, which seems like a wonderful image to leave you with at the end of this long and crazy day 🙂
As mentioned in my last post, the Association of Lighthouse Keepers‘ Isle of Man event was over, but I still had one more task to do before I left the island. I’d arrived on the Isle of Man with five lighthouses left to get a close look at. With the lights in Ramsey and Laxey now visited, it just left the slightly trickier Derbyhaven light to reach. The only reason Derbyhaven Lighthouse can be difficult to reach is that it is on a tidal breakwater that was built to allow shelter for Derbyhaven Bay. More on that later though.
With low tide predicted to be around 4.30pm there were plenty of hours to play with before heading to Derbyhaven. I’d agreed to spend the day with John, Steve and Lianne as they continued their trig-bagging adventures. They had three in mind and it didn’t get off to a great start with the first trig surrounded by cows and calves. After satisfying ourselves with seeing it from a distance, not wanting to disturb the cows if they were going to get funny, we set off for the next one. Parking near the entrance to the beach at Sartfield near Jurby we set off heading south and it quickly became clear that a bit of a climb up the grassy bank was required to reach the trig here. I was quite happy at this point to sit on the empty beach and just enjoy the sights and sounds (while also dealing with emails relating to the second Isle of Man trip which was starting just a few days later), and let the others get on with it.
Cronk ny Arrey Laa was the final trig pillar on the list for the day and it was a great walk up to it from the nearest road. The views from the top of this hill were superb and it is clearly frequently visited as the large cairn at the top is surrounded by some clear little paths that allow you to enjoy the view from every single angle.
After lunch in Kirk Michael it was time to head for Derbyhaven. We stopped at a little grassy area and parked up and it seemed like the tide was low enough to walk across without getting wet feet. It’s always a bit of a worry with walking on tidal sections of a beach as you never know how soft the sand might be, but thankfully it was okay here and I didn’t at one point wish I had my wellies with me, which is always a good sign. We took a slight detour on the way out to avoid the worst of the puddles that remained, but it was all quite straightforward.
The breakwater is much bigger than it appears from the shore, but it does have a very handy slipway leading up to it. It’s actually a really impressive structure. I’ve done a little research about the light and the pier in the general. When it was constructed in 1842-3 it was built, at a cost of £3,524 on the solid foundations of the North Rock. This, presumably, would have helped no end in the construction process. Originally the plan had been to build a larger breakwater like the one in Plymouth which would only leave gaps for ships to pass through on either side, but the smaller design was chosen instead.
While we walked along the breakwater John said that it looked like the breakwater could do with a bit of pointing as there are gaps between each of the large stones. I’ve since found an IOMToday article from 2020 though that suggests that instead of pointing the breakwater, which is in need of repair, ‘there are now plans to drill some 4,000 holes into the blocks to anchor steel reinforcing mesh and then entomb the carefully-crafted stone blocks in a ’concrete overcoat’.’ This seems a real shame to me as it looks great close up.
Though the Manx Electric Railway Society website features an article stating that a light exhibited in Derbyhaven from 1650 was the first navigation light on the Isle of Man, the current breakwater light was not added until 1946, as confirmed by the date engraved above its door. It’s another very Manx-style harbour light, much the same as the Peel Castle Jetty light and the pair in Laxey.
I was quite sad to see that the lighthouse is now disused. I wasn’t aware that this was the case. I’ve done some research into when the lighthouse was replaced by the LED on a skinny tripod (not as catchy as ‘lantern on legs’, but you get the idea). It seems the new LED light was already in place in 2020 and I imagine it wasn’t long before that it was introduced. It’s a great shame. Of course the tower is still used as a daymark, but it would have been nice for the LED to at least been placed inside the lighthouse rather than separately.
Still, it was my final Manx lighthouse and I had reached it. Eventually bidding the Derbyhaven farewell, it was time to head back to Douglas and get ready to leave the island the following morning after what had been a brilliant five days doing one of my most favourite things. There is nothing like a good lighthouse bagging trip with likeminded people to really get you back into the swing! 🙂
The Calf of Man boat trip was always going to be the only ‘Will we? Won’t we?’ part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Isle of Man event. Almost as expected, the schedule for the trip needed to be changed just a couple of days before it started to allow the boat trip to take place on the calmest of the four days, which looked to be the Tuesday. It actually turned out rather well though and the saying ‘save the best ‘til last’ was very apt here.
Before we set off on the boat though there was a little time to pay Port Erin a visit. Every harbour village or town on the Isle of Man has its own charm and the pairings of lighthouses only adds to this. In Port Erin though it’s really extra special in my mind with two very unique lighthouses.
The Raglan Pier light is what I often refer to as ‘a lantern on legs’ but this one has plenty more character than your average one of this type.
Funnily enough my ‘group hug a lighthouse’ really seemed to have taken off by this point and Stephen from Bidston instigated this one, which worked really rather well with the legs and being able to see people on the other side too.
If this little one wasn’t quirky enough, someone noticed a couple of drawings on the lighthouse. Now, I’m not a supporter of graffiti in general but with Mr Bump on one of the River Avon lights the other day I do sometimes quite like a little drawing. This one had a little smiley face on it with the word ‘smile’ underneath. What was even better though was the snail, which was rather nicely drawn just underneath some text which read ‘Follow the snail too happiness’. I’ll ignore the rogue ‘o’ on ‘to’ here because it was a sweet little thing.
I should say though that drawing on lighthouses isn’t advisable. They do belong to someone, whether it’s the Northern Lighthouse Board or Trinity House, or a port authority, council or even a private home, so they are best left alone.
We had a little while then to walk to the front light on the beach (the rear of this pair is a light on a stick). I chose the beach walk option rather than walking along the promenade.
I really like all of the little Manx lighthouses, but this one is definitely my favourite. I worry about it though as it’s on a west-facing beach so the crazy storms will cause some big old waves in the area.
This one had to have a group hug too, of course. It was actually getting to the point now where I didn’t even need to encourage people, someone else would quite often mention it.
We had a little spare time before we needed to be in Port St Mary for the boat trip so we headed along through Cregneash – spotting the old radio signal station which was used, in part, for signalling with Chicken Rock Lighthouse and later housed some of its keepers.
At the end of this road is what they call The Parade where you look across the Sound to the Calf of Man. We’d been blessed with amazing weather and great visibility so the views from there were fabulous. There were lots of seals around and birds which the others loved seeing. There’s a great cafe here too, which I recalled having great soup served in a crusty roll at when we’d been to the island a few years ago.
It was time for the excitement to begin. We met Steve and Rob in Port St Mary and set off on their boat (Port St Mary Calf of Man Boat). Their boat is the tender for the island and has been for many years, previously being run by Steve’s father Juan.
It was a beautiful ride along the coast to reach the Calf with an incredible stack and caves. The bird watchers among the group were amazed by the number of razorbills both on the rocks and in the air. In fact, we all were.
Passing around Thousla Rock with its beacon, we arrived at Cow Harbour on the Calf of Man. This is when it became very obvious that the boat fits perfectly in the harbour here and we were soon on the slipway and heading up to meet the wardens.
The Calf of Man is looked after during the Spring, Summer and Autumn by a number of wardens and we were guided across the island with them. The weather was still fantastic and the views across the island and around the coast were idyllic.
There is almost a little community at the island’s bird observatory with a few buildings that the wardens stay in during their time on the island.
Not too far after the Bird Observatory we began seeing the top of one of the old lighthouses and then suddenly there was the view that makes the Calf of Man such a special place for those of us with an interest in lighthouses.
With three lighthouses so close together plus a rock lighthouse visible not far offshore, the question as to why there are so many of them is a valid one. Well, it all came about due to the hazard Chicken Rock presented to shipping. The two oldest towers on the island first shone in 1819 and aimed, by working as leading lights flashing in unison, to guide vessels clear of the rock. They are stunning buildings and clearly incredibly well-built, it’s just a great shame they are no longer being maintained.
As is so often the case though, with older towers at higher elevations, they are routinely obscured by fog and in bad weather. This is the case in a number of other locations, St Catherine’s Oratory on the Isle of Wight and the original tower on Little Cumbrae immediately come to mind as two other examples. The solution to this, as decided by the Northern Lighthouse Board, was to build a tower on Chicken Rock itself. By that point they would have had both Bell Rock and Skerryvore lighthouses under their belts so the prospect may not have been quite so terrifying to them.
Chicken Rock Lighthouse was completed in 1875 and operated successfully until 1960 when it was damaged by fire. At this point the decision was taken to automate Chicken Rock Lighthouse and also to build a more powerful lighthouse on the Calf of Man – hence the third tower.
This light was first exhibited in 1968 as the very last of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s manned stations to be built. A 2005 review of aids to navigation concluded that this modern light should be discontinued and Chicken Rock Lighthouse upgraded. The lighthouse was decommissioned two years later.
It was this 1960s lighthouse that I had managed to arrange access to for this trip. Sadly, for health and safety reasons, we weren’t able to go up into the light tower, but we could still have a wander around the hallways, peering into the old bedrooms, kitchen and the engine room. The accommodation here is still used at times. When we visited a team of people fixing the dry stone walls on the island were staying there.
Some of the old foghorn equipment can still be seen close to the old low lighthouse as well and the views from this area were just stunning. We – or the boatman, in fact – couldn’t have chosen a better day.
The buildings attached to the old high lighthouse is sadly not looking as well as its low counterpart, but the tower itself is still just as wonderful nonetheless.
Then there was THE view!
There wasn’t much time to hang around as there was the highlight of the day (or so we hoped) still to visit and another group were waiting back in Port St Mary for their turn. The walk back to The Cow landing was just amazing and the view of Calf Sound as you head down the final stretch towards the landing is just beautiful. I could easily look at that view for hours.
With a quick swap over, we were off again with all our fingers crossed that we would make it out to see the wonderful Chicken Rock Lighthouse close up. One of the boatman had said they’d been out in that area that morning and it had been pretty choppy so it was definitely a case of being on tenterhooks. As we rounded the corner below the lighthouses on the Calf though, we spotted Chicken Rock Lighthouse in a lovely gap between the island and a stack.
From that point we only got closer and closer and closer. I’m fact, I was very very pleasantly surprised to find just how close Steve was able to take the boat to the tower.
It must have been a lower tide as the rock was visible and the landing steps were just there, begging to be landed on. Though this visit was never going to be for landing, but we got as close as we could have done without landing.
We did two laps of the lighthouse, both close in and further out, with the latter round giving some incredible views of the four lighthouses in the reverse view of what I had been taking a picture of less than an hour before.
It was such a pleasure to see Chicken Rock Lighthouse so close and on a really nice day too when the sun was shining on the tower. I always find with these unpainted granite towers, like Skerryvore and Ardnamurchan, you really need to see them with the sun on them to really appreciate just how beautiful they are. It’s silhouette wasn’t too shabby either!
Once we were all satisfied that we’d got exactly what we wanted from the visit – and then some – we started our journey back to Port St Mary. There was even more glorious rock formations to be seen on the coast of the Calf of Man as we sailed by.
Disembarking at Port St Mary, I had a chance to properly visit the Isle of Man’s newest little lighthouse. The small tower at the end of Alfred Pier, or the Outer Breakwater, was installed in 2018. Its predecessor was washed away and it had temporarily been replaced by a light on a stick. Interestingly, although the tower is built to the shape of a traditional lighthouse, it appears that the light itself is just a modern LED with solar panels mounted on top of what would be the lantern.
The second light at Port St Mary also needed a revisit so I headed to that one too before retiring to the pub for a much-needed drink. This one had, rather unfortunately, been branded ‘the silo’ by one of the other group members.
Finishing up the day a couple of hours later, waiting on the shoreline for the second group to arrive back was a really great end to the official Association of Lighthouse Keepers event, which saw us visit (or at least see) every Manx lighthouse. It was an excellent adventure with a really great bunch of people whose company I enjoyed immensely.
The event may have been over, but I still had one more objective before I could even think about leaving Manx soil! More on that coming very soon… 🙂
Monday was a busy day on the Isle of Man for day three of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers event. We started off at Langness Lighthouse with visits inside the tower, courtesy of the Northern Lighthouse Board and their Retained Lighthouse Keeper for the island. I’ve always liked Langness and it’s really been the landscape that surrounds it tied in with the lighthouse that makes it so special. Seeing these places when the sea is relatively calm and there’s no strong wind really gives you the feeling that it must be wonderful there all the time, and of course that’s not the case. Storms at Langness, which is a relatively narrow peninsula, must make it a particularly unpleasant place to be. The access road to the lighthouse sustained some damage over the winter and it’s easy to see why as the sea isn’t so far away on either side of the road.
The lighthouse though looks fantastic and its location enabled us to see Chicken Rock Lighthouse in the distance sticking out of the sea to the west. There is a lot of sea around Langness and there are some beautiful geos in the area with clear evidence of the sea’s wild ways. It would be a great place to wander around and the former lighthouse cottages are now available as holiday lets so would make an excellent base for doing some exploring of the area.
The lighthouse was quite surprising, with a lot more ladders to the top than I’d expected. It was particularly interesting looking around with Stephen from Bidston Lighthouse as this lighthouse was built just seven years after his own lighthouse. There were some great discussions at the top of the tower about many aspects of the building, including the acoustics in the lantern room which are really noticeable in some towers. I always remember spending quite a bit of time at the top of Bressay Lighthouse in Shetland being fascinated by how the acoustics changed if you took a small step back or forwards.
The views from the top of the tower were, as expected, stunning. Sea for miles, but also the view back inland was wonderful with plenty of green fields, the golf course and the Herring Tower. The sun was thinking about coming out at that point too which always helps.
Before leaving Langness I took a wander over to the old foghorn. It looks like a new bridge to the foghorn has been installed since I was last there in 2015. It’s always great to see foghorns still in situ even if they are now silent.
From here I stopped briefly at the Herring Tower before returning to the minibus. The Herring Tower is great. The entrance is still there and an internal spiral staircase leading up the inside of the walls is still visible.
Before heading to Castletown we paid a brief visit to Derbyhaven to get some long-distance views of the little lighthouse on the end of Derbyhaven breakwater, which can only be accessed at low tide. That is my one remaining Isle of Man light left to get close to. Watch this space!
Castletown was our lunch stop for the day and, of course, we had to walk to the two harbour lighthouses here. The New Pier lighthouse, the most southerly of the two, was much bigger than I remembered it being, but it’s actually quite a unique shape compared to many of the others on the island.
The smaller Irish Quay light is much more like we’d been getting used to and as I was approaching the pier I passed my lighthouse pal John who said, ‘Now that is definitely a Sarah-sized lighthouse’.
I sat in the town square to eat lunch with another ALK member, Ed, who has cycled around the coastline of England and Wales, including some islands, visiting lighthouses to raise funds for a MS charity. His website The Beacon Bike is well worth checking out. We chatted in the sunshine before it was time to go back to the minibus. We then had a quick visit to the large item store belonging to the Manx Museum. We were met by Nicola who was so welcoming and showed us into the store. The main reason for this visit was to see the former Chicken Rock lens which we very quickly spotted when we went in. It was quite a bit smaller than many of us had expected, being what a few in the group felt was a fourth order lens.
There was also a lot of the lighting mechanism and the lens from Douglas Head Lighthouse too! In fact there was a lot there. Nicola explained they have been trying only to take ownership of items or photos from only the Isle of Man and that space really prohibits them from displaying more in the museum itself. However, they are keen for the store to be available for the public to see and so they are happy to show people around upon request, just as they did for us. There is a real variety in there, from chairs and grandfather clocks, to old motorbikes, musical instruments, old fire engines and even an old night soil cart, which actually I never even knew existed until yesterday.
We could easily have spent hours at the large item store, but our final lighthouse of the day was calling, Douglas Head. We were dropped off at the top of Douglas Head and made our way down to the lighthouse. Unlike all of the other major lighthouses on the main island, there is no road access to Douglas Head, but although both options for walking to the lighthouse involve going down (and, more importantly, coming back up a series of steps it is not a long walk.
When you reach Douglas Head you can tell this would have been a station that keepers and their families probably enjoyed living at. There’s this wonderfully sheltered courtyard with all the buildings contained within it. They probably had a fantastic little community here and with its close proximity to Douglas itself and the wonderful rocks and tiny stoney beaches nearby it would have been a real hit for everyone I should imagine. Our coach driver showed me an old picture in which you could see a swimming pool area and I imagine this was heaven for the kids based at the lighthouse as it was for him.
The cottages here are now available as holiday lets and we were fortunate that the cottages weren’t occupied at that point so we had a good wander around outside the buildings. Between monitoring the groups going up the lighthouse in small numbers, I took a quick walk down to the old boat landing area. It may seem surprising that a lighthouse so close to a major town has a boat landing area, but the lack of road access would have meant that any large deliveries of items needed to be brought in by boat. This may in fact still be the case as there is no helipad here either. The landing area certainly doesn’t look in such a bad state compared to many of the others I have encountered, although there was a particularly dodgy-looking ladder there.
Finally it was my turn to explore inside the tower. The only problem with being the responsible adult on these trips is that you need to make sure everyone else gets a chance to go up and no random member of the public just turns up and climbs the tower. Then again, being in the last group to go up there are usually only a few left at that point so it’s easier to avoid getting people in your pictures when you don’t want them to be there.
The tower is so well kept, both inside and outside. In fact the inside of all four of the main Manx lighthouses we’d visited were really well looked after by Fred, who I saw when I got to the top of the tower. The light here has been modernised with four of the “pudding” LED lights now installed. I also pointed out the dark filter used across the panes of glass on the landward side of the lantern. Fred wasn’t entirely sure, but suspected that when the character of the light had changed at some point, which meant it flashed more often, someone complained about the light shining across to Douglas more than it previously had, so this measure was to address that.
I always have, and probably always will, harp on about the views from the top of lighthouses, and Douglas Head Lighthouse is another one I will happily harp on about. Normally it’s the sea, the rocks or the coastline that I enjoy seeing and I did again. However, in this instance, the views back across towards Douglas were also very impressive and made a nice change.
It was time to say goodbye to Fred and thank him for bearing with us, our questions and our general desire to hang about at the top of a lighthouse. From here we wandered back towards Douglas, hoping to get a closer look at the Battery Pier Lighthouse for some members of the group. Sadly the pier was closed off because a fuel boat was in refilling. It was still a nice walk back though as it got into early evening 🙂
Day two of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers event on the Isle of Man was all about the island’s little lights, and most importantly two new ones for me. These were to be found in Laxey. I’d visited on a previous occasion, but hadn’t been down to the harbour. It turns out I’d missed a real treat last time as the harbour here is wonderful. Before arriving at the piers though we were delighted to see replicas of the lighthouses in Laxey on the village’s new bridge. This bridge was built following the collapse of its predecessor in December 2015 followed a period of torrential rain and flooding. The collapse resulted in a double-decker bus ending up in the river. This new bridge was built to withstand the extra strain caused by flooding in the future. It’s a really lovely spot, with very picturesque views looking both out towards the harbour entrance and back inland too.
Further on we arrived at the first of the two lighthouses, the pier light. In its own wonderful little way it has great character about it, and I am really rather fond of these little dumpy lights that are unique to the Isle of Man – or certainly I’ve not seen any exactly like them before elsewhere.
As at Point of Ayre yesterday, I had to get a picture of the others in the group hugging the lighthouse. However, this time I had the opposite problem to yesterday when I didn’t have enough people. Today I had a lot around so there was no need for the spreading out of arms. It was, as always, just a bit of fun.
Though the little lighthouse on the breakwater in Laxey looks fairly close, just like those in Ramsey, it involves quite a walk to get to it and today’s was far more of a challenging walk than we’d had the day before getting between the two Ramsey lights. Firstly we needed to head back to the new bridge and from here cross the river and this was where it got a bit tiring. There are a series of steps, of very varying heights, contouring up the side of the hill. Some of these steps were almost too high for my little legs to manage and by the time I got to the top I think we were all glad of the break.
A short walk from here though rewarded us with some glorious views looking down on the harbour entrance, Laxey beach and the coastline beyond. It was such a wonderful spot and you can see why they have put a bench up there as it would be an excellent place to spend some time just enjoying the view and taking it all in, all along this short grassy section.
What goes up must come down they say, and so it was to get onto Laxey breakwater. A track leading down, again contouring, with a handrail on one side was ready and waiting for our descent to the bottom where the entrance to the breakwater. We were immediately greeted by a duck and we let him wander past before proceeding to the light.
They really are such sweet towers. At one point I stood in the doorway, which had a rather ginormous step up to it. The door, however, was less than ginormous with John referring to it as a ‘Sarah-sized lighthouse’. I’m not sure I could live in it for any length of time, but I’d give it a go. Although it was a fairly windy day, it was still quite calm, but I imagine it’s entirely different during wild weather from the west with waves breaking over the breakwater and pier. Today though it was fantastic. Just milling around at a lighthouse with friends is a great feeling. We are all there for the same reason and just enjoying taking in the scenery.
A member of the group pointed out Snaefell, the highest hill on the Isle of Man, in the distance which gives a good idea of just how clear it was.
It was time to head back up the hill to the coach as Peel was beckoning for the afternoon. We had plenty of time in Peel so very few of the group were in a hurry to see the lighthouses immediately here and lunch took priority. With full bellies – as the portions were huge, but excellent – we eventually set off in the direction of Peel Castle and the lighthouses. These two are significantly easier to get to simply by walking along the short pier and the large breakwater opposite the castle.
The Castle Jetty Lighthouse is very similar to those in Laxey and, in fact, really interesting colours with very pale beige to match some of the other harbour buildings and then there are the green bands. It’s also the only lighthouse I’m aware of that has, what look like, traffic lights on it. The fellow ALK member I was with suggested that it is likely to be related to the tides and whether or not it is possible to gain access to the harbour. I’d noticed one or two others of these smaller harbour lights are showing signs of damage to the glass around the light which this one also has.
The lighthouse on the end of the breakwater had been in view the whole time and it was time to head to it. Breakwater walks generally are longer, but in a way they are also better as you get so many different vantage points on the harbour, village or town as you walk along them. Peel breakwater was no exception.
Strangely this lighthouse, unlike in Ramsey and Laxey, was not a twin of the Castle Jetty light. It actually has a Cornish feel about it – a little like St Ives’ most modern harbour light without the gallery. It was a wonderful point for some gorgeous views across Peel, to the castle with the hills beyond, and far out to sea.
I was keen to visit a locally-based ALK member and she suggested taking a look at the nearby cathedral after I left. Although it’s not lighthouse-related, I felt it worth including a few nice pictures here of the gardens surrounding the cathedral in Peel.