The Great Manx Lighthouse Extravaganza – part one

Two years ago I was due to go on an event to the Isle of Man organised by the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (which sort of means me as I’m their Events Coordinator). Then the pandemic began and it was put on hold. Another year went by without being able to hold the trip and so I was delighted to finally be able to go ahead with it this year alongside 21 other lighthouse fans.

Today we set off for Point of Ayre, the most northerly tip of the island. We’d prearranged to meet the Northern Lighthouse Board’s Retained Lighthouse Keeper, Fred Fox, here and after the safety briefing off we went with little groups heading up while others explored the surrounding area. There is plenty to see here with not only wonderful views of the main lighthouse, but also the old foghorn tower and little Winkie on the shingle. The geology of the island is worrying, but also fascinating. A lot of the coastline is being eroded and much of this eroded material is being washed up the island and gathering at Point of Ayre, meaning both lights here sit further inland now than they previously did.

Point of Ayre Lighthouse

Then it was my turn to go up the tower! Point of Ayre was a fairly brutal lighthouse to kick off with as it has a lot of steps to get to the top, but when you get there you are greeted by stunning views from every single angle. There is sea in almost every direction you look and where there isn’t sea it’s just land that stretches for miles and miles. The Isle of Man has a remarkably small population when you compare it to the much smaller Isle of Wight, and our coach driver explained that this is due to the Manx Government’s restrictions on building on a lot of the land there. As a result it has a much more vast and open feel about it.

The view north from the top of Point of Ayre Lighthouse…
…and looking south

The lens in Point of Ayre Lighthouse is wonderful and I was so pleased to hear that the Northern Lighthouse Board plan to retain it. In recent years they have been replacing the lenses with smaller, more energy efficient lights (more on that later) so hearing that this one is due to be kept in action was very welcome news.

Inside the Point of Ayre lens

After finishing up in the tower I took a quick stroll down to see the Winkie lighthouse and old foghorn tower.

The Winkie backed by the old foghorn tower and Point of Ayre Lighthouse

As always my zany ways always kick in somehow during a lighthouse visit. This time I was speaking to our coach driver whose wife is related to John Kermode, a former NLB lighthouse keeper. I recalled him being in the picture at Sule Skerry holding a small wind measuring device and was trying to find the picture online. Strangely a Google image search brought up a picture of a group of us from the West Coast Adventure in 2019 with our arms around Rona Lighthouse. I showed this to a few of the others and Stephen from Bidston Lighthouse suggested we should do the same at Point of Ayre Lighthouse. By the time I got back down the tower there weren’t so many people left as they’d headed back to the coach, but there were thankfully enough for me to recreate the Rona moment there. Many thanks to Christa, Joanna, Dave, Katka, Margaret, Kristy, Debbie and Paul for humouring me with this!

Craziness at Point of Ayre Lighthouse

Back on the coach it was time for some lunch in Ramsey. Well, for me that meant eating lunch whilst walking to the two small harbour lighthouses. I started this trip with five lighthouses left to visit on the island and the two in Ramsay were on that list so I was adamant I had to do them first before anything else. It was a windy old walk up the south pier, but with good company you can make light of these things and there was the usual jovial moans about people getting in each other’s pictures.

Ramsey South Pier Lighthouse

The light on the end of the north breakwater is only a short distance from the south pier as the crow flies, but it’s not quite as quick as it sounds getting between the two. It is necessary to head back inland and then cross the river over the swing bridge before heading back towards the harbour entrance.

The swing bridge in Ramsey

It was a really nice walk though and we’d been joking on the way about who was going to touch the lighthouse first, my lighthouse pal John or me. We had a bit of a race, which he won, but he did wait for me so we could touch it at the same time, so I couldn’t complain really.

Ramsey North Breakwater Lighthouse

The view from the north breakwater light is actually even better as you have the south pier in the foreground backed by Ramsey and then beyond a great hilly landscape.

The view south from Ramsey’s north pier

After a cup of tea we were back on the coach and headed for the most surprising part of the day. It wasn’t surprising in that it didn’t go as expected, more that I’d never given Maughold Head Lighthouse much credit. It’s not so easy to see, although there are fantastic views of it just before you enter Maughold village, and to spot the tower there is really only one space you can see it much closer and then is just off the approach road to the lighthouse. As it sits right on the edge of the cliff I wasn’t expecting there to be much there beyond a staircase going down to it and then just a lighthouse tower. On the face of it, that’s what it was, but it was also such an incredible place and one of those where everything just works so well together. The beautifully simple tower, that first glimpse of it as you start down the steps, the incredible cliffs around it and just the general feel of the place. It was glorious and I think we were all quite amazed by it and really just keen to spend as much time there as we could. Even standing in the base of the tower chatting to the other members was just really enjoyable and relaxed. There is definitely something about Maughold Head.

The wonderful staircase at Maughold Head
The view south from the top of Maughold Head Lighthouse

I mentioned previously that many of the lighthouse lenses across the UK are now being replaced by modern lights and Maughold is one of these. Around 2017 a new pair of modern LED lights were installed and the massive lens was covered with cloth, which it still is to this day. I’m going to assume that this may be because it would be incredibly difficult to remove the lens from the site with the staircase leading up outside, but I bet it’s a stunning lens. It was very warm in the lamp room today and after I pointed this out Fred recalled how it often felt like a sauna in summer when he used to be up there cleaning the lens, which must have been unbearable I should think.

The new lights in Maughold Head Lighthouse with some of the cloth covering the old lens visible on the right

I eventually managed to drag myself away from the lighthouse and marvelled at it one more time from a nice little area near the top of the steps. It’s a place that I could quite happily waste hours just enjoying, but it was time to start heading back to the coach.

Saying a very fond farewell to Maughold Head Lighthouse

Once back in Douglas and with a full stomach I decided to take a stroll towards the town’s two lighthouses, namely Battery Pier and Douglas Head. Both had been beckoning me since my arrival on the island and although the whole group will be visiting on Monday it seemed like a nice time to see them as the sun was getting low in the sky. It was a nice walk and I strolled along Battery Pier first to get a good look at it bathed in the beautiful yellow light of the setting sun. It’s such a great spot with a wonderful little platform behind it which gives you some excellent views out to sea and also across to Douglas.

Battery Pier Lighthouse in Douglas

I’d already decided not to walk all the way to Douglas Head, but thought I’d just take a quick look from a slight distance. What I hadn’t expected was the stunning view of it I got. All I can do to describe it really is just to share the picture.

Douglas Head Lighthouse

It was just glorious and a really perfect way to finish a truly excellent day out with friends 🙂

A helping hand in Heysham

As well as being something really handy to refer back to if I’m wondering when I visited a particular lighthouse, this blog has brought me into contact with some really helpful folk. Earlier this month I heard from a follower who had previously contacted me about access to the lighthouse on the south pier in Heysham, which I had previously only seen from the ferry to the Isle of Man.

Heysham South Pier Lighthouse as seen from the ferry in 2015

I’d been informed by this follower in late 2020 that it was no longer possible to view the lighthouse from the north side of the harbour as the road had been blocked off. Fast forward 17 months to early April this year and he very kindly sent me an email saying that he’d found another way to get to it.

With a ferry booked from Heysham for the forthcoming Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Isle of Man event, it seemed the perfect opportunity to check out the route for myself. Thanks to his excellent directions it was easy enough, approaching from close to the holiday park to the south of the harbour, first using a footpath from the end of Money Close Lane to reach the coast and then heading north, following the sea wall around the outside of Heysham Power Station.

The route follows the coast northbound from this point, alongside the Power Station fence

On the way there I spotted an old pier ahead looking like it had seen far better days. Towards the end of what remained of this pier was a small round tower with an access door. Obviously this kind of structure on the end of an old pier is always going to pique my interest. I did some research and discovered that it’s actually an old fog signal tower. In my experience, this is quite an unusual location for a fog signal. The old breakwater was part of the original harbour which opened in September 1904.

The remains of the old pier with the small, round fog signal tower visible
A closer (and much poorer quality) view of the old fog signal tower

The South Pier light soon came into view, the top of its lantern appearing above the upper level of the sea wall. I was really pleased to see it looking in considerably better nick than when I’d viewed it before and in others’ pictures. This occasionally happens and it really does make you feel very grateful to the local harbour authorities who, in most cases, are responsible for these smaller harbour lights.

Approaching the lighthouse
Heysham South Pier Lighthouse with the old pier remains in the background
Heysham South Pier Lighthouse looking much improved
The lighthouse marks the southern entrance to Heysham Docks

It’s clearly a well trodden route for locals. It may not be the most picturesque (although the power station buildings are quite colourful in comparison to most others – I feel like I’m rather unwillingly beginning to bag power stations after this one and the recent Bristol Channel and River Severn outing), but it’s great to have had a closer look at this small but important tower. Many thanks go to Howard who considerably reduced the time it took me to find it with his very clear directions 🙂

Finally kicking off 2022

It’s been some time since my last lighthouse extravaganza – too long. It was definitely time to make up for it with a good old bagging session. It’s difficult these days to find an area that will allow me to visit more than one or two lighthouses I’ve not seen before.

I’d not been looking forward to visiting the lights along the south side of the Bristol Channel and River Severn. The structures are all a bit odd, a far cry from the majestic towers many would expect from a lighthouse, and I didn’t expect access to be particularly easy. A week on the Isle of Wight with grandparents looking after the kids allowed a day away though to have a good go at getting to some of the 13 I had left in the region.

I am really keen to point out here that I was really wrong to pre-judge the area in the way I did. Yes, the towers aren’t the most thrilling, but if all lighthouses looked exactly the same this would be a much more boring hobby. Access was also not an issue as the Severn Way is a massive help, you just need to know the right places to join the Severn Way to get to the lights.

The journey began (after the ferry) with a 2 and a half hour drive to Watchet. As you enter Watchet the sign reads ‘Ancient port of 1000 years’, which is quite a claim, but is certainly does have some history based around it’s harbour, which was turned into a marina in 2000 after centuries of being integral in the import and export of goods, including iron ore, paper, kelp, flour and gypsum. When you park up in the car park near the marina you are welcomed by an amazing mural charting historical periods from prehistory and the dinosaurs right up to modern day and space exploration.

Watchet mural

The lighthouse in Watchet sits at the end of the breakwater and, as with many pier lights, is a point of interest for holiday-makers to reach. The small tower dates back to 1862 during the peak of Watchet’s role as a major exporter. At the time there were about 1,100 ship movements each year and the pier and breakwater had just been constructed. The tower was designed by James Abernathy – who won the design contract over, amazingly, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who also submitted a tender – and built by Hennet, Spinks and Else of Bridgewater at a cost of £75. The light now exhibits a fixed green light and boasts a nice little plaque which was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2012 to mark its 150th birthday.

Watchet Lighthouse

Though it would have been nice to have spent more time exploring Watchet (there’s a Maritime Museum too), more lighthouses beckoned and the next was the Round Tower in Burnham-on-Sea. I’d been to Burnham-on-Sea before and visited the very popular low light on the beach and its high light, but hadn’t been aware at the time of the Round Tower Lighthouse. My research informed me that it was now a guest house and it looked like it wasn’t easy/possible to actually get close enough to touch – unless you were staying there, or course.

Burnham-on-Sea Round Tower

The best view of the tower is from the neighbouring graveyard (or, in fact, from one particular spot in the nearby car park). At the front of the building though there is a sign showing the Round Tower Lighthouse as part of the Burnham Heritage Trail. The sign takes you to this link: http://www.captureburnham.co.uk/heritage-trail/round-tower-lighthouse which gives plenty of detail of the history of the tower and it’s really quite sweet beginnings.

Joe the Drone took the opportunity to dust off his blades and went for a fly about and got some great shots from above.

Burnham-on-Sea Round Tower Lighthouse from above

Bidding Burnham adieu, it was time to head for the River Avon. I’d come across the three lights along the north bank of the Avon during research for my book and I wasn’t massively enthralled by them and access looked like it might be a bit tricky. I’d done my various map investigations though and found what seemed like a reasonable way to get to Fir Tree with Upper and Lower Horseshoe looking a bit more of a challenge. Finding somewhere to park in Sea Mills, we set off for the river, easily spotting the footpath heading down through the trees to the river bank. Passing under the bridge meant we were then on the right side of the railway line and the Fir Tree light came into view as soon as we reached the river. Upper and Lower Horseshoe could also be seen further downstream, but whether it was possible to get to them along the bank was something that needed more investigation. First though it was time to take a look at Fir Tree. It’s a very basic structure as the picture shows and I’ve certainly not got much to say about it, but it was a reminder that lights really only need to be functional to fulfil their purpose, especially when they are only lighting a fairly small area as this one is.

Fir Tree Lighthouse

It seemed like there was a path that continued on along the river and I was pleased to find that it went all the way to the Upper Horseshoe light and, even better, beyond!

Heading downstream alongside the River Avon

Upper Horseshoe isn’t much beside a pretty thick pole with a light on top and a ladder to one side which is covered towards the top. However, this was actually my favourite of the three, which (of course) had nothing to do with the fact it had Mr Bump from the Mr Men books drawn on it. It was just a better looking light and, rather interestingly, it had a long ladder leading up the embankment next to it and Joe the Drone later confirmed that the ladder led straight up to the railway line, which seemed like a very unwise return route on the way back.

Upper Horseshoe Lighthouse

The third light, Lower Horseshoe was also easy enough to get to by continuing along the small path. This one also had a ladder that went up towards the rail tracks. It was a bigger version of the Fir Tree light.

Lower Horseshoe Lighthouse

Looking back towards the first two lights it became clear why two of them were called Upper Horseshoe and Lower Horseshoe. They are located on a horseshoe shaped section of the river and later, when Joe the Drone went for a fly he wasn’t legally able to fly high enough (within the drone flight height limit) to capture the whole horseshoe.

The River Avon with the Lower Horseshoe light visible on the right

It’s a very quiet area with the occasional train going past and as much as I expected to not enjoy it, I must say it was actually my favourite part of the day. Sometimes the fun in getting to these odd lights makes them much more memorable and enjoyable than one you can drive straight to.

Upper Horseshoe from above with the ladder up to the railway track visible

On the way back, passing underneath the bridge again in the opposite direction I spotted another Mr Bump painted on the side of it. I’ve no idea why he appears in two places here, I’m quite glad he does.

The railway bridge, complete with Mr Bump

Heading further east now and to the River Severn, the next destination was the very interesting box on a pole that is the Sheppardine front light. This one is super easy to access from the very end of Shepperdine Road where there is a parking area and the road comes out straight onto the Severn Way. It’s just a short walk east along the river then to reach the tower. The rear of the range lights – a tall pole with lights and day mark – can be seen nearby too. This is another really unique one and makes you wonder what they were thinking when they designed it. It has a radar on top too so the box room may well need extra equipment inside and the pole that it sits on top of gives it the extra elevation it needs.

Shepperdine Front light with the rear light visible in the background

I had just pointed out how good access to the bridleways were in the area when Bob suggested we try an alternative approach to the Fishinghouse Front light to the directions in my book. The light is actually very close to what is marked as an access route on the map, but the signs on the gates when we arrived there indicated that passing through here wasn’t going to be so easy. In the end we resorted to the directions in my book, which meant a longer walk, but quite a nice one.

Some interesting trees on the way to Fishinghouse Front light

The Fishinghouse light is another one of a pair of leading lights and, again, the rear light is a tall pole with lights in a field nearby. The front light is slightly unimpressive, but I’d say the walk to this one from Berkeley Power Station was what made it enjoyable.

Fishinghouse Front light with the rear light on the left

Aware that it would be time to start heading back soon, we decided to leave the two Berkeley Pill lights for next time and instead take a quick look at the old lighthouse lantern at Sharpness Docks. I’ve not managed to get confirmation, but I suspect it was one of the old lanterns from one of the Berkeley Pill lights as the lanterns were changed on these at some point. The old lantern now sits just behind a fence and is looking in a sorry state, especially as the nearby green area is filled with nautical paraphernalia including an old buoy.

The old lantern in Sharpness Docks

While in the area we spotted Light Vessel 23, which was built in 1960 and originally served under the name Planet at the Bar station in Liverpool Bay. After being sold to Trinity House in 1972 she served on a number of other stations before she retired in 1989. She came to Sharpness Docks in 2016.

Light Vessel 23 at Sharpness Docks

It was time to head back to Southampton at the end of a day that felt a little bit like the old times with multiple lighthouses in a day. As mentioned already, this was a far more enjoyable day than I’d imagined it would be. There are still some more to do, but I don’t see them as the hurdle I used to 🙂

The interesting little island of Calvay

There are the odd occasions when you spend some time in a place and plans just don’t work out as you’d hoped. Usually, in the case of visiting island lighthouses, this is due to the weather. This was certainly the case over the past week which we spent in South Uist.

The Western Isles islands of Lewis and Harris hold a special place in my heart, but the shores of the chain of islands comprising of North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay plus a multitude of smaller islands around them, were fairly unexplored. The area doesn’t boast the volume of lighthouses that the islands to the north do and most that can be found there I had visited last year, including Ushenish, Weavers Point and Gasay. There was one that remained though, Calvay. I’d seen it from the ferry last year as we left Lochboisdale, but seeing it from the ferry just wasn’t close enough and so it was part of the agenda for the week just gone.

As the week approached it was clear that the weather wasn’t got to play ball. With strong winds and wet weather forecast, it looked like we’d be lucky to get out on a boat trip at all. I was in regular contact with David from Uist Sea Tours and it only took a couple of days to realise that Friday was really going to be the only day a trip would be possible. It was no big problem as we occupied ourselves as tourists on the islands with the kids and met up with friends who had joined us for the week.

As Friday approached we got the final confirmation from David that we were good to go. The plan was to stick to Lochboisdale area and then creep up the east coast a little way and, if conditions allowed, to sail down to the island of Gighay to the south west of Eriskay. With the kids in tow it was decided that I would join for the beginning of the trip only, taking the kids along for a short ride out to Calvay and back.

Calvay island

There was still some swell about, remnants of a few days of strong winds, and so landing on the north side of the island looked like it might be a bit tricky. Although it would land us further from the lighthouse, we headed around to the south side where it seemed nice and calm. For this first venture onto the island (the others returned later) it was just my lighthouse pal John and I.

Landing on seaweed is never the nicest way to set a first foot on an island, but we managed it with some assistance from David. There aren’t many occasions when you hear someone say ‘Grab any part of me you need to’! Then it was making our way across the wet and dry rocks before we hit the heather. There are good things about heather, it’s really grippy underfoot, but it’s also very hard work to walk through. You can never really see where you are stepping and on occasionally there will be a hole hidden underneath and I ended up with a foot in a hole a few times, which would end with me having a ‘quick sit down’ two or three times.

John making his way through the heather and ferns

John did a great job of navigating, heading off ahead and then advised as to whether we should continue on that route or head for a slightly easier looking track. We find a nice grassy route at one point, but then lost the benefit of the ground being fairly dry underfoot. The distance from the landing point to the lighthouse was relatively short, but it wasn’t easy going.
We arrived to some lovely views across the entrance to Lochboisdale waters. The island is really best known for its castle (which is on a different tidal section of the island) and was one of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hiding places. The full story of his escapes on and around Calvay can be found here

Calvay Castle, taken later in the day

The existing lighthouse here was installed in 1985 and, along with its twin light on Gasay, was the first of the second generation of this type (a friend of mine who was on the trip refers to them as Stefansons – a combination of a link to the Stevenson lighthouse engineers, and the flat-pack style of the towers. The original ‘Stefanson’ was on Eilean nan Gabhar near Jura, but it has since been replaced making these two the oldest still in existence.

Approaching Calvay Lighthouse

The structure is the Northern Lighthouse Board’s standard framework tower with white cladding – known as SPLATS (solar powered lattice aluminium tower). It is slightly different though in that it has no cladding on the ground level and a section on the first floor that is also unclad, on the landward side. These white cladding panels work wonders as daymarks and have certainly helped me to spot many a flat-pack lighthouse in the past.

Plenty of long, thick, tufty grass near the lighthouse

The first lighthouse on Calvay was built in 1891 to a design of David A Stevenson with the assistance of his brother Charles. The light was installed following a request from the West Highland Commission that more aids to navigation be built to support trade in the area. The purpose of the lighthouse on Calvay specifically was to mark the entrance to Lochboisdale. Nothing there at present resembles the style of lighthouse he often designed, although he didn’t stick to the a standard design with examples of more unusual styles being Dunollie and Kyle Rhea lighthouses.

Calvay Lighthouse, taken later in the day after the sun had risen
The Calvay equivalent of a Northern Lighthouse Board plaque

While there we noticed an old concrete pillar laying on its side on the ground in front of the light. I have since asked the boatman what purpose this served and whether it was somehow related to the stone platform just to the west of the light (which is shown as a shed here). It may well be that this pillar was part of the former lighthouse. He is going to look into it, but if any readers have further information about this then do get in touch here.

The entrance to Lochboisdale and the old concrete structure below the lighthouse
The old platform where a shed once stood

Keen not to hold everyone up for too long at the start of the day, we began the slow walk back to the pick-up point, which was easier than the drop-off, but still seaweed-covered. I think that was unavoidable really and John was a big help in getting me safely across the seaweed without slipping.

Joe the Drone had a nice flight as the sun was rising
Calvay Lighthouse from above with the old pillar visible below it
The island of Calvay which, in my view, looks like a tarantula from this angle!

Just this evening, while looking back through some of the drone images we spotted a little jetty not far at all from the lighthouse. It’s quite tucked away, understandably given that its primary purpose is probably to allow vessels to land to maintain the lighthouse. The walk from it wouldn’t have been half as fun though!

The jetty gives quick access to the lighthouse

Back on the main boat it was time for the kids and I to head back to dry land. We had some lovely reflection views of the light on Gasay en route back to the marina, which incidentally is where the starting point is for the short walk to Gasay lighthouse – made accessible without a boat since the new marina was built.

Gasay Lighthouse

It may only have been a single lighthouse on this trip, but actually that was really the only one on the original itinerary that I’d not managed to get close to before so I’m happy. 🙂

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! 🙂