Going Forth at the crack of dawn

I’m not really a morning person, but when there is something worth getting up at 2.45am for then I will do what needs to be done to make the most of an opportunity. Bob had managed to arrange a boat charter for us today from Burntisland for a bit more of an explore on the Firth of Forth. To ensure we could make the most of high tide it meant getting on board Calypso Marine’s RIB Alert at 5.30am (allowing a two-hour drive over from Ayrshire), before the sun had even risen. We had a bit of a laugh about how early it was with Stewart and Leanne who were taking us out and then climbed on board and off we went.

Setting off from Burntisland gave us a good opportunity to see how the west pier head light is looking after being struck by a ship and the lantern knocked off in January this year. Sadly it’s still not been repaired yet. However, at this point it was still quite dark so at least I got to see it in action.

Leaving Burntisland with the damaged lighthouse flashing away

It was great to be out on the water, heading west along the Forth, seeing lights flashing all around. Although mainly buoys it was good to see Oxcars Lighthouse operating and also see its red sector light too as we sailed away from it. Seeing the bridges too was also fantastic, with the incredible rail bridge, the road bridge (home to little Inch Garvie Lighthouse) and the new bridge, also known as Beamer Memorial Bridge (because the lighthouse on Beamer Rock was removed to make way for the bridge – I should add it’s not officially called that at all).

With the big chimney at Longannet edging closer I knew it wouldn’t be long until we arrived at Grangemouth, our first stop for the day. At the west of the entrance to the River Carron there is what looks like a very large cairn with a modern light and solar panel on top. This was significantly bigger than I expected it to be, but it wasn’t what I’d come for.

The light (or lit oversized cairn) at the entrance to the River Carron

The main point of interest for me was the old lighthouse opposite, which is just outside to boundary of the Ineos complex. I’d known not to expect much here. There are a small number of pictures about of it from the past thirty or so years, including this one, and also a couple (here and an artist’s impression here)showing how it looked when it was operational. I had partly been expecting just a big piles of rocks so was nicely surprised to see that there was something that still vaguely resembled a lighthouse, though a derelict one.

The remains of Grangemouth Lighthouse

It’s really sad to see the state it’s in now with parts of the walls fallen away and it just generally looking like a very unsafe structure. It’s devastating really how it’s been left to just gradually be destroyed now it no longer serves its purpose.

The former entrances to Grangemouth Lighthouse
A piece of rock dangling from the old handrail on Grangemouth Lighthouse

Very aware of our close proximity to the Ineos complex, Bob put Joe the Drone up and got some shots keeping clear of their boundaries.

The ruined Grangemouth Lighthouse from above

After I’d been manhandled back on to the boat with a push from behind by Bob and a pull up from Leanne we were ready to continue our journey. I left Grangemouth Lighthouse behind, feeling very glad that I’d made it there and put in the effort. I wonder how many more generations of lighthouse baggers will be able to do so.

With the rising sun in our eyes we began our return journey. Stewart and Leanne very kindly offered to sail us close to Inchgarvie Lighthouse on the way. It’s always seemed so small before, dwarfed by the infamous rail bridge, but when you get a closer look it is actually a good sized structure. It’s clearly had a bit of weathering over time but is still a perfect example of what I like to call a ‘lantern on legs’.

Inch Garvie Lighthouse
Inch Garvie Lighthouse under the Forth Rail Bridge

There was just time on the way back for Joe the Drone to take a quick flight around the very understated Oxcars Lighthouse.

A Joe the Drone’s eye view of Oxcars Lighthouse

I see Oxcars as the east coast’s equivalent of Skervuile near Jura on the west coast. Fairly little known, particularly outside of lighthouse circles, but still as much of a rock structure as the big ones like Skerryvore and Bell Rock – just not quite so far out to sea.

Oxcars Lighthouse at sunrise

I’ve found in recent years that revisiting places does increase your appreciation of them. Yes, it’s nice to pick off all lighthouses in an area in one trip, but it’s only by going somewhere a few times you notice some of the smaller details and start to familiarise yourself with a place. Today was my fifth time out on the Forth, but the first time I’ve truly appreciated how unique it is. To be going underneath those three bridges with an array of variously shaped islands ahead of you, from the ship-shaped Inchmickery, to the relatively vast Inchkeith, to the very recognisable lump that is Bass Rock in the distance, the Forth is unique in possessing so many islands, particularly as it’s on the east coast. It’s also got plenty of interest for those into history (particularly military) and scientific study. With it’s close proximity to Edinburgh, it’s been used as a playground for many inventors throughout the years, from testing the strength of lighthouse lens, foghorn trials and even paint sampling to establish the best exterior paint to use in marine environments, there’s been a lot going on in the Forth for many years.

The islands of (left to right) Inchkeith, Inchmickery (built up to resemble a warship) and Bass Rock in the distance

As we returned to Burntisland we had a clearer view of the damaged lighthouse.

Burntisland West Pier Head Lighthouse minus its lantern

After a coffee, freshly baked pain au chocolat and chat on board Stewart’s bigger boat, Pathfinder, we set off for Methil where I had some improvement work to do. Back in 2012 I was a lazy lighthouse bagger and if I couldn’t see a lighthouse very well I wouldn’t put in much effort. Methil was one of these. It isn’t actually very easy to see at all with so much of the harbour inaccessible to the general public. Last time I’d seen it from quite a distance so it was time to rectify that while in the area.

Parking up in an industrial area we set off on foot for the longest pier in the world (no, sorry, in Methil). We still hadn’t seen the light at this point and didn’t for some time to come. We wandered along a grassy mound and then down onto the pier which may have technically been closed to the public. This rule is clearly not abided by very often, although you can see why the rule has been made as one section of the pier in particular has been partially washed away.

The most damaged section of the pier in Methil

Onwards we continued, and by this point I was wondering whether or not the lighthouse was still there at all as it still hadn’t come into view. Thankfully I spotted the top of the lantern over the sea wall a short while later and then there it was.

Finally approaching Methil Lighthouse

The tower is no longer operational as a lighthouse. It’s only function now seems to be to hold the solar panels for powering the replacement light on a stick which is just in front of the old structure.

Methil Lighthouse with the new ‘light on a stick’

After a few quick pictures and a short flight by Joe the Drone we set off back along the heavily weathered pier.

Methil harbour from above

While doing some research into Grangemouth Lighthouse I’d come across some pictures of what seemed like an interesting structure worth closer inspection at Burnmouth. It meant a detour but, being the Lighthouse Detective I am, I just had to look into it. On the way there we happened to stop for lunch not far from Barns Ness so a bit of time there was required.

Barns Ness Lighthouse

I never give Barns Ness the credit it deserves. I visited it on my 2012 tour and, although it was nice to see, the low lying land it’s on didn’t wow me in the same way many of the others did. As I mentioned above though, the more you visited a place the more you enjoy it (with a few exceptions, of course) and I did really enjoy seeing Barns Ness and wandering around a bit more this time.

Barns Ness Lighthouse and cottages
Barns Ness Lighthouse tower

There’s a flying exclusion zone in the area due to Torness Power Station so Bob wandered off along to beach to where he could legally fly Joe the Drone and get some nice distance shots of the lighthouse and landscape. I used the spare time very wisely, having a lie down on the grass next to the beach and enjoying the peace, fresh air, sunshine and sound of the sea. My spot also offered great views across to Bass Rock which, as always, was looking fantastic.

Barns Ness from above

Half an hour down the road we made it to Burnmouth. Neither of us had been there before and it’s a beautiful little place. A real harbour, a fishing village as it should be. There were local men sitting around on the pier having a chat and some beautiful memorials to a local fishing disaster that occurred on 14th October 1881, where five boats carrying 24 local men were lost during a storm.

One of the memorials in Burnmouth to those lost in the 1881 disaster

From the moment we parked up I was fairly confident the little structure at the end of the east pier wouldn’t qualify as a lighthouse. We walked along the pier and climbed the very high steps up to it. It’s certainly not the same structure as before as it’s now just a hollow round metal tube with a cap on top. What I imagine has happened is that the old light was redundant and in a bad state, so it was replaced with something similar that was never intended as a navigational light. Something similar has happened with the light structure in Cullen. I think it’s great to see as it often shows how much the community values these small but important little features in their community.

The replacement structure on the end of the pier in Burnmouth

There may not have been an exciting new lighthouse in Burnmouth, but it’s a great place with a really lovely feel about it. Sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere different and change your focus a bit. Quite often you find the unexpected there 🙂

A different kind of lighthouse trail

A week ago a brand new lighthouse trail was launched across Aberdeenshire, Moray, Orkney and Shetland. Light the North is a collection of 2.5 metre tall lighthouses designed/painted by artists, as well as a series of smaller lighthouses featuring designs from local schools.

Why is this happening, you may ask. Well it’s all for an excellent cause, Clan Cancer Support. Clan provides free support to those with cancer across the geographical area mentioned above. The outcome of the trail is that the lighthouses will be auctioned off in mid-November, raising funds for the charity.

The trail has an associated app, which features a map showing you where the lighthouses are, details about each lighthouse and also lets you collect the lighthouses by entering the individual code found on the plinth of each model. Trail maps with a suggested donation of £3 are available in various locations, or you can take a look at the website to find out more.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I can’t resist a list, especially when it is lighthouse-related. It worked out rather well us being in Shetland for the start as I was able to see those based there. Then travelling back via Aberdeen we followed the coast, picking off more as we went.

It’s great fun and I’m hoping to get a chance to see some more before the trail finishes at the end of October.

Here are some of the models I bagged over the past week. 🙂

A final note from Shetland – and the challenges with lists

It’s been the final full day in Shetland today, ending a 10-day period of absolute perfection in terms of achieving everything I wanted to. With only three days of no boat trips, plus an extra day for me to spend with the family, there was just enough time to get to the land-based lights I had left to visit.

After the visit to Peerie Bard, home to Mousa Lighthouse, yesterday I have now visited all of the modern flat-pack (SPLAT) lighthouses in Scotland. There are a few I’ve not been close enough to touch yet, but have seen at very close range.

There was one, however, that had been mentioned to me and I’d not included on my list: Head of Mula. This one was built of the same aluminium framework as the flat-packs, but if didn’t have the white cladding on it, which to me is an open structure and therefore not meeting the criteria for inclusion on my list.

I mentioned Head of Mula to my lighthouse pal John and he was keen to see it. I thought it was definitely worth going along to check it out too, given that I am such a fan of the flat-pack type. It looked to be only a short walk from the ferry terminal on Unst. I wasn’t wrong. It is very easily accessed by following the main road north of the terminal for a short distance and then taking a right turn at a track heading uphill.

The track up to to Head of Mula

The track was great and after just a few minutes we spotted the top of the light just above an old wall ahead.

The light on Head of Mula

Beyond the lighthouse there were the remains of abandoned houses and it was really quite strange to be seeing such old buildings against the backdrop of a relatively new light structure.

The new light and the old building

The tower was exactly as had been described to me. This was where it got tricky though as the debate was then on as to whether or not it did qualify for my list. Is it possibly for someone to be enclosed within it? Not really. Someone could certainly step inside the frame, but they would still be completely exposed to the elements and visible to anyone on the outside. Therefore it doesn’t meet the criteria, but here is where the challenge has always been for me in preparing a definitive list of lighthouses.

Head of Mula Lighthouse (as the Northern Lighthouse Board plaque on the door says)

I always wanted my list to be objective and based entirely on what did or didn’t meet the criteria. I am well aware that one lighthouse may mean a lot to one person and very little to another. I’ve seen plenty of subjective lighthouse lists for Scotland out there and they usually feature the biggest and most impressive of the Stevenson lighthouses, often leaving out the smaller lights that (in my option) are just as enjoyable to visit – if not more so in some cases – as the large ones.

For me one of the big appeals of the flat-pack lighthouses has always been the beautiful places they take you to. Often places rarely explored by the masses and this too is the case at Head of Mula. The views here are fantastic, particular looking south/south east towards the Loch of Heogland and Holm of Heogland close in and then beyond to Fetlar.

The view to the south east

Looking west over Bluemull Sound was also excellent and the ferry moving back and forth between Yell and Unst was a regular reminder that civilisation was just down the track.

The view to the west

The light at Head of Mula has everything going for it that most flat-pack lighthouses have, except the white cladding. We jokingly referred to it all day as the ‘naked flat-pack’ due to its lack of white cladding “clothes”.

A closer look at Head of Mula

Thinking about my list, there are some lighthouses on there that I would be more than happy not to visit again, usually due to their location, but I’d happily stroll back up to Head of Mula again. This is where I feel a little envious of those who have their own personal list and can add/take away anything they please. From the point of view of The British Lighthouse Trail though, I need to be less subjective and not adjust it to become a list of lighthouses I personally think people should visit – although I do think that would make an excellent list.

The final decision on Head of Mula then? I’m going to have to say that the jury is still out. In terms of meeting the definition it’s a no. But if I think it’s important that people get to hear about it and visit it then absolutely yes. If any readers have any thoughts on this then do feel free to share these below in the comments.

The plaque on the lighthouse door

Back to Shetland though and, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the past 10 days have really been made so successful by the crew on the two boats we have used. Kevin, Michael and Alan on Lysander and the wonderful aluminium tender were exceptional. Magnie and John on the Papa Stour and Ve Skerries trip were more than happy to get us wherever we wanted to go too. It makes such a difference to have boat crew who enjoy their time out with the baggers. It was a real pleasure to spend time with them all.

That’s it for another trip. I’m not sure where the next one will be yet, but I shall be sure to take my followers on here along wherever it is and report back. 🙂

Shetland: mission complete (for now)

Today was my last day of my boat trips in Shetland and it marked one final success, achieving everything I had intended to during this trip. In fact, today was a success with an extra bonus too.

On the way back to Lerwick yesterday evening we took a quick look at the Loofa Baa light. Bob and I had seen it on a previous trip two years ago, but not so close and we had always wondered whether or not it met my criteria for a lighthouse. At the time of my last distant look at it I was right at the final proof of my book and so it was excluded based on the likelihood of it having only external access. We agreed we would go out first thing today in the tender to have a closer look.

Approaching Loofa Baa on the tender

Loofa Baa is used by larger vessels entering and leaving Lerwick harbour. It’s fairly understated in appearance, although it does feature that appealing combination of yellow and black paint. We sailed around the light and discovered that, although access to the light on top was entirely by external ladder, the top section did actually feature a door and therefore internal access. I always knew when having my book published that there may well be structures missed, but this is the first I’ve found over the past two years which isn’t too bad going.

Loofa Baa with its door

It looks like access to the ladder on Loofa Baa is only possible at higher tides. We were there at low tide which meant there was no landing today, but both John and I managed to reach out of the tender and touch the tower with help from Mervyn and Alan, and that is a good enough bag for me given the circumstances.

With the southbound journey today we passed close by both Bressay and Twageo Point lighthouses on the way to our next lighthouse stop. It’s always good to see these structures from the angle from which they were intended to be used.

Twageos Point Lighthouse

Peerie Bard off the east coast of Mousa island is a tricky little one to get to. With daily boats trips to Mousa itself when conditions allow during the summer, the RSPB insist that no one attempts to walk to Peerie Bard at low tide from the main island due to breeding birds or seals on the islands. We found a boatman willing to take us there and land so we went for it.

Peerie Bard

On the map it looked like there was a path marked across Peerie Bard going from a low lying section of the island. Four of us hopped into the tender and set off. As we neared the point at which it looked like the path started on the island, we spotted some landing-related ironmongery and a sloped rock leading up to them.

The slope was a little green and slimy so we needed to go carefully and then at the top there was a concrete path for a little way leading in the direction of the lighthouse. After the path it was just thick grass which was easy enough to walk on and just a few minutes later the top of the lighthouse came into sight.

Mousa lighthouse on Peerie Bard

We made it to the lighthouse and, rather oddly, my attention was drawn in the opposite direction to the fantastic rocks instead of the lighthouse. There are some overhanging rocks there and jutting rocks just off the coast. With the direction the sea was coming up at the island there were waves breaking on the rocks below.

The rocks off Peerie Bard

Mousa Lighthouse is yet another flat-pack in a superb location. This structure replaced an older tower. The only remains of the old tower now is the foundation stone, which is broken up a bit.

The modern lighthouse with what could have been a former tower on the circle of stones.

Peerie Bard as an island surprised me. I’d imagined it to be very small, but it was much bigger. Having said that, when you see some of Joe the Drone’s aerial views you realise that it is small in comparison to its neighbours, hence the name Peerie Bard compared to nearby Muckle Bard. I quite like that the name includes ‘peerie’ rather than ‘little’ which is used in a lot of other places across Shetland.

Peerie Bard as seen from Joe the Drone
Peerie Bard from a different angle

I’d known that the trip would involve a trip around the coast at Sumburgh Head, but hadn’t expected much beyond seeing the lighthouse high up on a cliff. What I’d completely forgotten about was the old Muckle Roe Lighthouse just down the road from Sumburgh Head. Seeing it up there on the cliff made me more glad than ever that it had been relocated there. I can’t recall any of these old structures still in situ that are located on a cliff. This one would, of course, have been when it was in place on Muckle Roe originally. It was just so great to see it almost looking like it was still doing its job up there.

The old Muckle Roe Lighthouse, now near Sumburgh Head

The route around Sumburgh Head was, as I’d expected, a bit rough with plenty of rocking and rolling, but fortunately I was able to still capture some images as we went. Again I was very pleasantly surprised at how stunning this one is from the sea. The cliffs and natural rock formations there are incredible and topped off with that wonderful tower and the old foghorn too… well, it was quite a special experience.

Sumburgh Head from the sea

There were a few islands to do for a couple of the others round on the west side before we returned to the east. One of the reasons for taking the kids along today was so they could visit the broch on Mousa. In the interests of efficiency we were dropped off at an old pier next to the broch and the kids got to experience going on the tender. The big one was a little wary and the little one giggled all the way and said she loved the little boat. The broch was fascinating to see and we also took a closer look at a couple of the old buildings around. There wasn’t really time to explore properly or take it all in with the kids about, but it was still a great island to go to by a non-traditional method.

Mousa

The rest of the journey back to Lerwick went very smoothly. We sailed fairly close to Bressay, which was good. It’s a beautiful lighthouse and superbly located too.

Bressay Lighthouse

I’ve had some fantastic days out on the boats in Shetland over the past 10 days. It was above and beyond what I expected and I will leave Shetland after this visit with only 3 Shetland lighthouses left to do – Foula and the two on Fair Isle. This trip has far surpassed my expectations and I am hugely grateful to Mervyn for organising it all. Also to Bob for leaping onto these islands and helping us all to achieve what we want to do. The boatmen – Kevin, Alan and Michael – have been so brilliant. I cannot praise them enough. They are great company and so willing to help us on getting what we need.

A very memorable and massively enjoyable trip, and amazingly we have managed to sail the full length of Shetland (excluding Fair Isle) since we arrived, right from Muckle Flugga on that first day to Sumburgh Head on the last boat day for me today 🙂

Next stop: Out Skerries

It’s been another day onboard Lysander in Shetland today and it’s really starting to feel like home now. With Michael the fantastically knowledgeable and friendly skipper, and the equally knowledgeable and skilled tender skipper Alan, we have been in very good hands.

My first lighthouse stop of the day was Wether Holm. We were informed by Alan that ‘wether holm’ is the name given to islands where the sea gets shallower and breaks on the island. There are plenty of Wether Holms about in Shetland, but only one of them has a lighthouse. This is a flat-pack lighthouse and after we were dropped off it was just a quick stroll up to it. There were nice views across to Whalsay from the lighthouse including Suther Ness Lighthouse just across the water.

Wether Holm
Wether Holm Lighthouse
Wether Holm Lighthouse and you can just make out Suther Ness Lighthouse on Whalsay in the background

After we left the island Joe the Drone went for a fly and got some great aerial shots of the island and surrounding area.

Wether Holm from above
The tiny Wether Holm Lighthouse in a grand landscape

Next we landed on Inner Holm of Skaw. There’s no lighthouse here, but we were told that there were stories suggesting there was a human skull to be found near the cairn on the island. This intrigued us all so we took the opportunity to have a hunt for it, and with success too. Lying under a flat round rock close to the cairn were indeed bones. There was part of a skull, a jawbone still with some teeth in it and a few other bones too. It was very strange. Bob pointed out that there was a chapel marked on the map and when we looked back towards the cairn there was evidence of rows of stones that could well have been the walls of the old chapel. Our skipper looked into it a bit more and was informed that the remains are actually believed to be of the monk who built the chapel there.

The cairn on Inner Holm of Skaw

Onto my second new lighthouse of the day, Muckle Skerry. We’d considered landing on this one two years ago, but it had been raining and – given my experience of it today – I’m glad we didn’t. It’s a skerry so it’s rock really and although it looks from a distance like it has some nice grass on top it’s really just flora and fauna that thrives in wet environments combined with an occasional hard bit of soil and then random rocks in and around it all.

Muckle Skerry

It took us a little while to pick where we would land. The side of the island looked like any landing there would involve a scramble up rocks that looked green and potentially very slippery. We made our way around the island on the tender coming across another potential landing area where there turned out to be too many rocks just under the water. We then found a deeper section which got us onto some barnacle-covered rocks followed by a short section of slippy rock and then it was rock hopping all the way up to the mixed terrain described above.

Muckle Skerry Lighthouse

Muckle Skerry Lighthouse is another flat-pack and this time without a fence around it. There are great views all around which always make the less straightforward landings more worthwhile. It’s certainly somewhere you would struggle to land without the near perfect conditions we had today. We were very fortunate with sea conditions today.

Muckle Skerry Lighthouse, surrounded by the varied terrain

Joe was launched from the boat and caught some pictures which hopefully illustrate the tricky terrain of this one.

Muckle Skerry from Joe’s eye view
A very skerry-looking Muckle Skerry

We were bound for Out Skerries next. There are so many islands within this group that it wasn’t surprising that to save time we all dispersed a bit. Skipper Michael and I were dropped off on Bound Skerry, home to Out Skerries Lighthouse. Michael had never landed on the island before so we left the big boat moored up on the main island and Alan took us across.

Out Skerries Lighthouse on Bound Skerry

Although I’d been to Out Skerries Lighthouse before it was really nice to visit it with someone who was really looking forward to getting there. We had the island to ourselves for some time before the others arrived and we took a stroll around the rocks, getting as far to the east as possible so Michael could reach the most easterly he’s ever been in Shetland. One particular view from the highest point of the island was excellent with the lighthouse in the foreground and the shore station on neighbouring Grunay beyond.

The lighthouse on Bound Skerry
The walkway linking the lighthouse and the landing point

On a calm day it’s very hard to imagine how wild it must get there. Today is just seemed so tranquil and serene. For a while I sat at the base of the lighthouse and just enjoyed being there – that was until Bob came and asked me to move so I didn’t get in Joe the Drone’s pictures! However, I can’t complain as he did get some superb images. The blue sky appeared too!

Bound Skerry with its own lighthouse

A few hours – and a number of islands – later we arrived at Hoo Stack. John as well as Alan the boatman were keen to land here and I went ashore too, but stayed down on the rocks. I’d already been to this lighthouse back in 2019 and with the swell picking up I didn’t want to slow anyone down. The swell had picked up a fair amount by this point so landing wasn’t so easy, but we all did it and stayed dry, and John and Alan were happy.

Hoo Stack from above
Hoo Stack and its lighthouse

It’s been a long day, but another successful one. Mervyn has now set foot in one way or another on over 100 islands so far and I just have one lighthouse left to achieve my personal goal for this trip. That one is lined up for tomorrow. All fingers are crossed 🙂

To Papa Stour and Ve Skerries

It’s been some day today and certainly varied, taking in two very different lighthouses in extremely different settings. It is the day I have been waiting for, to make it to the remote and challenging Ve Skerries Lighthouse.

Leaving from Aith this morning, we set off for Papa Stour with our skipper Magnus Scott and John Anderson from Simmer Dim Charters. All four of us baggers on board had something of interest on this island that’s not so easy to get to, with one ferry a day in each direction only three days a week. For me, or course, it was a lighthouse – or, as I call it, a lightbox.

Upon arrival at the island Bob and John set off for the island high point and trig pillar while Mervyn and I took a stroll along the road, discovering quite a lot about the island community. For a start they have a great ferry terminal with tea and coffee making facilities, a book swap, a nice seating area and toilets.

Looking back at the pier on Papa Stour

There aren’t many houses on the island and those that are there are scattered alongside the road that runs from the pier to the airport landing strip. There’s a Primary School which has been closed now for around 8 years and the population of the island is just 6. A small community, but a really wonderful one which embraces its island and its history. This is very clear to see throughout Papa Stour.

Standing stones on Papa Stour

There is a wonderful ‘stofa’, an old Norwegian-style house made from carved wood. This was built in the place of a former stofa, but part of the build project was to allow younger people to learn the traditional skills of Norwegian building. It is really quite beautiful to see how well-constructed it is.

The Norwegian stofa on Papa Stour

We also took a look inside the Kirk, which is perfect for a small community. The building features a stained glass window that was designed and made by the locals to commemorate the lives of the four men from Papa who lost their lives during the Great War. It also contains a prayer tree which people can hang messages on explaining who they are praying for. There is also a small room with local history information and some locally made products for sale.

Papa Stour Kirk

From the Kirk we walked around to East Biggings and then began the attempt to reach the lighthouse. It had been visible nearly all the way around the road, but we’d not spotted a clear way to reach it. On our return journey we found a gate and followed the edge of a field down towards Housa Voe. Through one more gate and another field and we were there.

The field we walked around the edge of to reach the lighthouse

I would never say that these little lightboxes are anywhere near the most impressive, but they certainly do the job. The one here at Housa Voe is a similar type of structure to the two at West Burrafirth. It’s essentially a small square dry dashed building with a door at the back and a directional sector light shining out the front. There’s little more to it than that, but you can see when you step into the path of the light that it does it’s job very effectively. I had some fun for a few minutes walking back and forth in front of it and watching the red light change to white and then to green. This light is owned by Shetland Islands Council, which sort of explains its appearance. Clearly its purpose is to guide vessels safely into Housa Voe.

House Voe Lighthouse from the landward side
House Voe Lighthouse
House Voe light source

It was nice to introduce Mervyn to this type as well as they are very rarely visited. I’m not sure he was particularly impressed, but he pretended to be which was good of him. This is one of the delights of lighthouse bagging, discovering new places above and beyond just looking at the lighthouse.

The green light in House Voe Lighthouse

We left the lightbox behind and headed for the ferry terminal for a nice cup of tea. Even the waiting room is a trove of historical treasures relating to Papa Stour.

A little cove near the lighthouse

Once we were all back we set off to a few islands off of Papa Stour before we began to head north west towards a little collection of rocks called Ve Skerries. I’m not sure how well known Ve Skerries is in lighthouse circles. When you are as into lighthouses as I am you sort of lose any sense of what others do or don’t know. Anyway, for those who don’t know, Ve Skerries is a collection of very small islands/large rocks off the west coast of Mainland Shetland. They mark the most south westerly point of St Magnus Bay. On a clear day you can just make out the lighthouse in the distance from Eshaness. It is renowned for being a very dangerous area for ships with numerous wrecks occurring there. The most recent of which was the Corelleira in 2019 though thankfully there has been no loss of life there since the Ben Doran wrecked in 1930.

Ve Skerries

The sail out to Ve Skerries was actually not too bad at all and it was very encouraging to see hardly any swell around the islands. A fairly rare occurrence I think. I climbed into the tender with Bob and John and we set off to land on Ormal, the lighthouse island. We found somewhere to land and getting out of the boat was easy enough, but then the challenge began. Although the Ve Skerries are low-lying that doesn’t mean they are flat. The island is made up of tidal sections of rock and near enough all of these rocks seem to be jagged with no flat, horizontal edges. While some were covered in barnacles there was plenty of seaweed and slimy stuff about. Bob lent me his micro spikes which certainly made moving over the rocks much easier. It was a long section of rocks to cross though before we got to the helipad. Now whenever I think about Ve Skerries I remember those rocks and just have to laugh. It was quite an experience.

Ve Skerries Lighthouse

Relief set in when I finally got to the helipad which has a nice walkway across to the base of the lighthouse. There was a little stoney area down some steps from the helipad and John Anderson said it’s possible to find bits of ballast from the ships wrecked on the Skerries sometimes. I did have a look around, but couldn’t see anything.

Ve Skerries Lighthouse with a little of the stoney beach

Of course, we couldn’t have gone to Ve Skerries on a calm day without Joe the Drone coming along.

Ve Skerries Lighthouse and neighbouring islands
A Joe’s eye view of Ve Skerries Lighthouse

The lighthouse on Ve Skerries was first lit in 1979, built mainly to aid the large vessels moving around the area going to and from Sullom Voe. The wrecking of the Elinor Viking in December 1977 was also a deciding factor for the lighthouse which was already being spoken of at that point. After the lighthouse was built it received an award for its design and construction, and has very recently been granted listed status. It is a very unique structure, a real modern day rock lighthouse.

Getting back to the boat was slightly easier than the way we’d gone onto the island. However when I got towards the boat one of my feet slipped on some seaweed and my right foot ended up in the sea. Fortunately it was just my foot and I was able to get back into the boat safely before we had a quick stop in the very sheltered little harbour on North Isle, which was a great spot for watching the seals flopping on the rocks and swimming around.

Ve Skerries Lighthouse from North Skerry with plenty of seals keeping an eye on us

Reaching Ve Skerries Lighthouse felt like a great achievement. It is not frequently visited and probably for good reason.

Today was a great reminder to me of why I love doing this so much. That combination of straightforward, understated lighthouse trips and heading out into the wild extremes and creeping about over slippery rocks. Lighthouse bagging like this isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for me – even if I do get a wet foot every now and then! 🙂

Completing the Shetland walks at Vaila Sound

Contrary to what yesterday’s post suggested, today didn’t turn out to be as exciting as I’d mentioned (that’s now planned for tomorrow – fingers crossed). However, it did feature some success: the completion of the ‘walkable from the main islands of Shetland lighthouses’. This doesn’t actually sound like much of an achievement, but given that they aren’t necessarily the easiest or shortest of walks (see the recent Bagi Stack post for the most extreme example) it’s quite a good milestone. This completion took place at ‘the light with many names’, also known as Vaila Sound, Ram’s Head or Whites Ness Lighthouse – whichever takes your fancy. To be a bit more specific, the lighthouse is officially known as Vaila Sound Lighthouse by the Northern Lighthouse Board. It is located on Ram’s Head which is a part of the Whites Ness circular walk. Hence how it ends up with so many names.

Vaila Sound Lighthouse very much reminds me of this wonderful post I saw last year, which includes a beautiful sketch of the lighthouse – not a style that is very often sketched I’m sure! This is one of the Solar Powered Lattice Aluminium Towers and they grow on me more and more every time I see a new one. This is particularly the case when they involve a great and not too challenging walk. A couple I know through the Association of Lighthouse Keepers moved to Shetland last year and they have visited Vaila Sound Lighthouse a couple of times so we enlisted one of them, who I named Tour Guide Andrew, to lead the way.

There’s a great area for parking just up the hill from the start of the walk at Whiteness and then it’s following a farm track signposted ‘Coastal walk’ for the first part. This track felt like luxury after some of the recent walks.

The starting point for the walk

After passing a couple of buildings it’s not long before you get some stunning views of Vaila Sound and the island of Linga.

The first view across Vaila Sound

Beyond the mast the track continues and you begin to get views of the island of Vaila itself, which I have very fond memories of visiting a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful island with a really interesting little garden to explore.

Vaila from across the sound

The track then ends at a farm gate and we walked through the field a short way, ending up closer to the coastline. The views looking back towards Walls from here with the yellow flowers in the foreground were excellent.

The view towards Walls

We then arrived at an area of old ruined houses near the shoreline. One of them didn’t look as old as the rest and I thought ‘what an amazing location to live’, but of course it’s relative remoteness would have its drawbacks.

The more modern-looking property

From here we then took a short walk along the small, pebbly beach and took a look at the little stone jetty beyond it.

The old stone jetty near the ruined houses

From here the terrain gets a bit more undulating and after a stile, there is some uphill followed by downhill, but the uphills are so worth it for the views from the top.

One of the wonderful views from a higher point on the peninsula

A little more up and down later and the lighthouse suddenly comes into sight – and what a sight it is.

Vaila Sound Lighthouse comes into view

Bob set about preparing Joe the Drone while Andrew, John and I made our way towards the lighthouse.

Tour Guide Andrew on the approach to Vaila Sound Lighthouse

Unlike Hillswick and Bagi Stack lighthouses, this one is set fairly low down near the water and so it was possible to stand on the rocks behind it and get a great view of it against the serene waters of the Sound.

Vaila Sound Lighthouse

While we were gazing at the lighthouse a little fishing catamaran sailed past and honked its horn at us. It’s not often you get an opportunity to see a boat moving near one of these little lights so it was a perfect picture opportunity.

The little boat passing the lighthouse

The rocky terrain in front of the lighthouse is lovely and the jagged rocks compared to the calm waters in the area were a striking, but great contrast. I imagine it’s not always so calm!

Vaila Sound Lighthouse from below

It was possible to see the old boat landing area nearby and it looks like a little leap may be required to get from the flat landing area to the surrounding rocks to avoid wet feet!

Looking west across Vaila Sound with the landing platform just visible in the dark brown rocky area

Joe the drone, as ever, got some super scenic shots from above, including this one, which I absolutely love. Little did I realise at that point what was around the corner!

Ram’s Head and the Whites Ness peninsula from above

Sometimes you come across a view that just makes you say ‘wow’ (or in my case ‘wowzers!’) and the fabulous promontory of Green Head was a perfect example of that – and yes, I did indeed say ‘wowzers’ out loud when I first saw it.

Green Head

As you walk further around the coast you see more and more of the promontory and realise it’s actually joined to the Whites Ness peninsula by a narrow section of land.

Green Head from a different angle

From here we headed inland across a slightly boggy section of land before returning to the field we passed through and then onto the track.

A little wet underfoot at this point

This felt like a stroll in the park in comparison to some of the other recent walks to see lights. If there is anyone who happens to be in the Shetland area who isn’t sure about whether or not to visit a flat-pack lighthouse then this one is a great one to start with. It has many of the benefits of a flat-pack lighthouse – with the main one being that it’s in a stunning location – but without the tough walk. Just brilliant, and a really enjoyable way to get those ‘walkable lights’ done.

I should also mention here that I went on a short trip to Sumburgh Head Lighthouse this morning with my kids. They were delighted to see the Light the North Shetland map lighthouse on display here and, of course, had a wonderful time pressing the button in the museum that blasts out a foghorn’s bellow. I’m not sure the museum staff were so delighted!

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse with the Light the North lighthouse

Another great day in Shetland, but what will tomorrow bring…! 🙂

A stop off at Lunna Holm

The wind had dropped for us in Shetland overnight and, although we knew it may be a while before the sea recovered from 48 hours of strong wind, we decided to head out on Lysander again today and see what we could achieve.

Today’s trip started off at Ulsta on Yell and the agenda featured a number of islands including Lunna Holm which I’d been keen to get to for a while.

A few islands were visited and we got a closer look at the light on Rumble too. The tide in the area made it a very rocky little detour.

The Rumble light

A little while later we arrived at Lunna Holm. There was still plenty of movement in the water, but it didn’t prevent us landing thankfully. It‘s a nice little island and we wandered up towards the high point and then cut across in the direction of the lighthouse.

The first sighting of Lunna Holm lighthouse after landing

The lighthouse on Lunna Holm dates back to 1985 and it was introduced to mark the south eastern approaches to Sullom Voe during the hours of darkness. The foundations were prepared in the first half of 1985 and by the end of that year the structure was complete and the light operational.

Lunna Holm in the sunshine

The lighthouse, which is still the original 1985 tower, and it’s surrounding fence look like they could do with some attention so I was pleased to find that, in June this year, the Northern Lighthouse Board put out a tender for full refurbishment of the lighthouse. This is due to include not only a refurb of the tower and concrete base, but also replacement of the lighting system and the fence that surrounds the structure.

Lunna Holm Lighthouse

One of the crew on board informed us that a former inter-island ferries, The Earls, ran aground on Lunna Holm back in the 1980s, which may well have occurred before the lighthouse was installed.

The island reminded me a lot of Cava in Scapa Flow, Orkney. The lighthouse is the same type, the island has a similar sort of layout (for want of a better word), and the grassy terrain was the same. I always see Shetland and Orkney as being completely different, but there are definitely some similarities in certain areas, which geographically makes sense due to their relatively close proximity.

Joe the Drone went for a spin while we were there too.

Lunna Holm from above
Lunna Holm with Lunna Ness beyond

It was just the single lighthouse for me today, but I was happy. After a couple of busy walking days I was more than willing to spend a day on the boat and I even managed to fit in a nap, lying on the comfy seat, while the others ticked off another 6 islands in one go.

Tomorrow has the potential to be a very exciting day and I cannot wait! 🙂

The Bagi Stack experience

In the effort to visit every lighthouse in Shetland at some point I was going to have to do the walk out to Bagi Stack on the north west point of Yell. There was no boat trip today due to crazy wind and, as a result, far too much swell. Though the wind might make walks in exposed locations a bit less pleasant, my lighthouse pal John and I decided to give it a try today, knowing full well from the very start that it wasn’t going to be easy.

The start point for the walk is at Gloup, beyond Cullivoe. There’s a memorial here to the 58 local fishermen who were lost just off the coast in July 1881. The loss had a massive impact on the community with so many women and children left behind and cleared from the area after the disaster.

The Gloup Disaster Memorial

From here we set off to the south, passing some ruined buildings, and then continuing straight on we went through a small gate. The reason for heading south was that you need to get around Gloup Voe and Mare’s Pool before you can begin heading towards the lighthouse. After the gate the path got very narrow and was barely more than a sheep track, which wasn’t too bad to begin with, but it quickly became a bit more worrying as the land was steep and if you were to lose your footing it was highly likely you’d end up sliding down the slope and into the water below. Concentration was key at this point and enjoying the views fully involved stopping to look around every now and then, which was well worth doing.

The view down Gloup Voe and Mare’s Pool
Looking across Gloup Voe
The path on the Easter Lee of Gloup

Reaching the end of the Easter Lee of Gloup it was time to turn the corner and work out which route we wanted to take from there. The Ordnance Survey map shows a small path running up the Wester Lee of Gloup and ending slightly inland near some old houses. I must admit I was tempted to head straight uphill from there, but we decided to follow what looked like a sheep track along the west side of Mare’s Pool. There was no doubt from quite early on that the west side was steeper and I was increasingly uncomfortable walking on such a tiny sheep track along it. The track, in places, was hard to follow too. After a while we established that the path marked on the map was actually further up than where we were. At this point we found a little ledge, had a sit down and chat, and agreed to begin heading up the slope towards the ridge line and then assess from there. Thank goodness for the heather as the grip it offers certainly helped to get to the top. To say I was relieved to get off that slope would be a bit of an understatement, but I also knew that there was some distance to go to get to the lighthouse.

The steep side – Wester Lee of Gloup

Trudging over the grass and heather wasn’t too bad, but there was plenty of spongey-looking ground and bog cotton about. Fortunately there has been a spell of dry weather in the area of late and so many of the little burns and pools were completely dry as were the extra boggy bits of terrain (which was nearly everywhere really). Having been there now it is not a walk I would even consider doing when the ground is wet. The walk was really just up and down, skirting around or going straight through dry bogs and was a fair amount of effort, but we had the wind blowing at 40mph behind us which probably helped.

Water was so rare here today that I had to photograph it
So much bog cotton around
A rare water-filled burn

At one point we began to spot some skuas flying about. I’ve seen quite a few already on this trip and thankfully, although they fly about when you go near them, they seem to have decided now their young have grown that they don’t need to attack people anymore. It’s still quite unnerving though.

Making it to the coast

After an age (or almost 5 miles) we finally spotted Bagi Stack Lighthouse ahead of us. It looked tiny in comparison to the vast surroundings and the beautifully dramatic coastline around it. There are stacks aplenty in the area and also views over to Point of Fethaland and Gruney (oh, we also spotted Muckle Flugga from a distance on the walk too). The lighthouse, unsurprisingly given its location, is looking a little weather beaten. Two sides of the white cladding on the tower have begun to turn yellow – and while I love yellow I recognise it’s not the best colour for a lighthouse with daymark requirements. The plaque on the door also looks like it’s seen some weather. Thankfully, although they have gaps between the white panels, these lighthouses offer a surprising amount of shelter from the wind. It was a great place to eat lunch and I also managed to make a phone call to Sumburgh Head Lighthouse while here too!

Finally catching sight of Bagi Stack Lighthouse
The lighthouse looks tiny next to the nearby coastline.
Bagi Stack Lighthouse
A picture showing the yellowing of some of the white panels

The return walk was never going to be easy, but given our experience of the landscape so far I felt comfortable suggesting we set the GPS device for the bottom end of Mare’s Pool and follow the direct route as much as we could. This seemed sensible based on the fact that it was so dry underfoot and so we wouldn’t need to worry so much about avoiding boggy areas. This was all prepared and off we set with the wind full in our faces, which I actually found rather refreshing if a bit much at times.

Evidence of former habitation in this remote spot
Looking back the way we’d been

It was mainly a slog to get back, but towards the end we spotted a lovely-looking glen that weaved left and right a bit before coming out at the bottom of Mare’s Pool. The burn that ran down the glen did have water in it, but thankfully wasn’t a raging torrent and was narrow enough to step over most of the time to avoid any narrow or difficult terrain. At one point we needed to cross at the top of a tiny waterfall, but this was straightforward enough and it didn’t feel like long at all until we could see some familiar ground at the bottom.

Approaching the glen
A little water in the burn, but evidence that much more flows at times

After a brief stop we just had the final section to go along the Easter Lee of Gloup. After the experience on the west side this felt so much easier a second time and I really rather enjoyed it. I still had to stop to take any pictures and look around, of course, but it was just as beautiful as it had been on the outward journey, but with the tide much lower so it all looked a little different.

A lower tide in Gloup Voe

Arriving back at John’s van was great and we had already begun to feel the need to celebrate successfully getting to and from the lighthouse without any major mishaps. A cup of tea seemed like a sensible celebratory drink at the time.

It was quite a walk – over 8 miles in total – and a good test of navigation skills, including making decisions about which route to take and realising that sometimes taking the high route gives you better perspective even if it does involve more effort to get up there, but also enjoying some of the lower routes where possible too. Maps can tell you a lot, but there’s nothing like being there and seeing the lie of the land for yourself at the time.

My advice for anyone looking to walk to Bagi Stack Lighthouse would be simply take whatever route you feel most comfortable with, but make sure you have a map and compass (that you know how to work with) or a GPS device – don’t rely on your mobile phone as signal is patchy once you are away from Gloup. It is best done after a period of dry weather as bog trotting is never fun if you can avoid it. Other than that I can’t offer much else in the way of directions. Oh, and it’s probably best avoided during skua attacking season! 🙂

A day with Shetland’s land-based lights

The wind picked up during the day yesterday and overnight meaning there were no boat trips today. It seemed a perfect time to reach some of those lighthouses that involved a walk on Shetland Mainland.

Being based in Lerwick, with three particular lighthouses in mind, my lighthouse pal John and I decided to begin with those furthest from the accommodation and the longest walk, which took us to Hillswick on the west coast. Finding a place to park here wasn’t a problem with a nice little area close to the farm gate which marks the start of the walk, and what a walk it was.

Initially following a farm track, which though not the most direct route avoided going through fields and some pretty overgrown terrain.

The track made the first section of the walk very easy

After leaving the wide track there was a section with no clear route, but once down by the coast we found the route. This is clearly a popular walk and very understandably. The coastline around here is absolutely stunning. There are some fairly steep sections, but the effort is quickly rewarded by the views. I can’t do them justice by just describing them so will just add some pictures here instead.

It was a long time before we saw the flat-pack Hillswick Lighthouse. In fact we were relatively close to it before it appeared. As we arrived at the lighthouse a couple were just leaving and the man informed us that he had been involved in the building of the lighthouse when it was solarised.

The lighthouse comes into view

The lighthouse is in an incredible position with views of St Magnus Bay to the south, and some very dramatic coastal scenery to the west with views towards Esha Ness and its couple of islands. We even managed to spot part of The Drongs, that glorious collection of sea stacks, at one point during the walk.

Hillswick Lighthouse looking excellent
Saying goodbye to the lighthouse

I think we probably could have done the walk a bit faster if I hadn’t been quite so in awe of the views, stopping frequently to get pictures of the views. Typically we made it back slightly faster as I’d taken most of my pictures by that point.

One of the views on the return from Hillswick Lighthouse

The next stop saw us off to the east coast to walk to Ness of Queyfirth Lighthouse. After a bit of debating over where we should park we eventually stopped on a verge at the end of the public road. Fortunately a local man drove past and John spoke to him about walking over to the lighthouse. Apparently he was surprised we wanted to walk, but he said it would be fine to follow the fence around the outside of a field a cows, which looked to me like it avoided entering any fields.

The cows near the starting point for Ness of Queyfirth

Early on in the walk we spotted what looked like a quad track (one of the benefits of walking on farm land) so we followed this until it petered out. It was a bit of a slog up the hill, made harder by the terrain being very overgrown, but thankfully it was mainly grass and dry bog. I can imagine it would be a much less enjoyable walk after a prolonged period of rain, but the ground seems very dry at the moment.

The route towards Ness of Queyfirth lighthouse

This was another one that seemed to take a long time to catch sight of the lighthouse and we were almost upon it when we finally spotted the top of it emerging as the land went downhill. It is fairly steep in places on that peninsula and on the way out we were getting slightly sore ankles from walking on sloped ground. We found a power line which we thought would lead us to the lighthouse, and thankfully it did. In the meantime though we had some wonderful panoramic views, including Quey Firth itself, the hills to the west and out to Lamba and other islands in Yell Sound.

The view of Yell Sound from the walk to Queyfirth Lighthouse

The lighthouse is the same type as Gruney, or like Little Roe and Skaw Taing Front, which we saw yesterday, but without the orange section. They really are quite funny structures, but once you’ve seen a couple they really grow on you, as is the case with most of the smaller lighthouses – or it certainly is for me anyway. It was nice to have a sit down at the lighthouse and enjoy the views for a bit.

Ness of Queyfirth Lighthouse

The journey back was tough going but we made it and were very glad to meet the original track and see John’s van not too far away. The sky had cleared a bit which made for much brighter conditions.

The view to the west on our way back from Ness of Queyfirth

The timing was perfect here as it began to rain just after we go into the van. Fortunately it had stopped before we reached our final stop of the day, Eswick.

We weren’t sure if we would fit a walk to Moul of Eswick in today, but there was still enough time to give it a go. This was the shortest walk of the day, but parking was a bit of a problem as the only place at the end of the road we could have parked was already taken so we had to drive back along the road almost half a mile and set off from there. As with the other two, this one involved a walk over farmland initially and was actually quite straightforward. Passing through one field, we continued to follow the track which brought us out by the side of Muckle Loch, which is beautiful.

Muckle Loch at Eswick

I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to cross a burn that was showing on the map, but it was completely dry so we continued on our way. We then went over another gate only realising as we headed in the direction of the lighthouse that we were then on the wrong side of the fence. This was quickly rectified and with the lighthouse in sight we headed straight for it.

Approaching Moul of Eswick Lighthouse

The lighthouse is a flat-pack which I always think are nice to see, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of this visit were the views.

Moul of Eswick Lighthouse

With the wind really picking up there was plenty of swell around the islands to the east, one of which was Hoo Stack, which I very much enjoyed visiting back in 2019. Not only that, but there was the amazing 17 metre high Fru Stack just off the cliffs here, which was brilliant to watch with the waves breaking against it. A gorgeously dramatic scene.

Fru Stac just off the coast of Moul of Eswick
Hoo Stack, as seen from Ness of Queyfirth

The return journey, during which John did his celebratory dance at having achieved three new lighthouses today, was straightforward if a little slow after a long day. It was a great day though and really good to get to these ones which were always due to be on my back-up plan list should there be days without boat trips. One more tomorrow – hopefully! 🙂