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. 🙂
Having been to Peterhead on Saturday I had pointed out to Bob the lighthouse at the end of the South Breakwater. He asked if it was possible to get out onto the breakwater and I told him it wasn’t. I did, however, feel the need to do some research into access as these things can change. It seems that in recent years the owners of the breakwater closed it to fishermen and the locals who frequently fished there had been campaigning to have it opened again.
It felt worthy of being checked out so on Sunday morning we headed back north from Aberdeen to take a look. In Peterhead we easily found the entrance to the south breakwater and it was clear immediately that access would not be possible. The gates were closed and locked and a sign advised that the breakwater was currently closed due to Covid-19. It was still possible to see and take some distant pictures of it from the gate though.
Just back a little way along the road there was a parking area, which also gave some good distant views of it.
While there isn’t a huge amount to say about the lighthouse itself which was introduced in 1906, the south breakwater as well as the north were a large part of Peterhead’s Harbour of Refuge. The harbour was built from the late 1800s through to the mid-1900s. Much of the manual labour carried out in the area was undertaken by convicts at the local HMP Peterhead. At that time this was the only prison in Scotland to include hard labour for prisoners. It has been suggested online that the prison was actually built here to provide labour for the new harbour. It’s an interesting history and has added to my appreciation of an area that I’d previously not thought much of.
On the way to Peterhead that morning it was absolutely essential that I visit Boddam, home to Buchanness lighthouse. This lighthouse was one of my favourites on my original tour and I am still very fond of it. Although I’d been over to the island before and inside the gate I’d, rather foolishly, not taken the opportunity to walk around the outside of the wall where there is a well-trodden path. It’s a fascinating little island with lots of points of lighthouse history interest. These are always better shown in pictures, so here are a few.
It’s clear that the island receives quite a battering at times with nature trying to destroy anything man made that lies in its path, but to me that adds to the beauty. I’d love to spend more time there and I planted the seed of the idea after my visit by mentioning the keepers’ cottages are holiday accommodation and looking up the price. One day…
The rest of the day was lighthouse-free – or at least that’s what I thought. Bob had suggested that Stonehaven had a nice beach for the kids to play at so we headed down that way. As soon as we arrived it became very apparent that it was busy and we drove around the car park looking for a space to no avail. However we did find something else of great interest, a model lighthouse. I jumped out of the car to take a closer look while Bob continued the search for a parking space. The statue was fantastic, made of steel with such great attention to detail. It features a foghorn, birds flying around the lantern and even a tiny padlock on the door.
I looked into the statue a little more later that day and discovered that it was actually one of a number of steel statues that had been installed by an anonymous individual along the town’s coast since 2006. The lighthouse, installed in 2016, apparently also features keepers inside reading the paper and watching TV. I didn’t notice them so will need to go back for a closer look sometime. Among the other statues are a seal, a trawler and – most recently – a bi-plane. Earlier this year the artist was revealed as a local retired fisherman who had been building and installing the statues in private. It’s a wonderful story and you can read more about it here.
Later that evening I was delighted when Bob suggested visiting Girdle Ness lighthouse at sunset. After a takeaway dinner in the hotel room we flung the kids in the car and set off. It was great to see the lights starting to come on and the green light from the north pier lighthouse was flashing away as were the lights from the south pier. We also spotted the front of the Torry range lights in action – the road is currently closed so we couldn’t see the rear light.
Then we got to her majesty, Girdle Ness. She does look, in my opinion, a bit like the queen piece from Chess with her decorative features. Initially we drove around to the furthest point and hopped out to see the foghorn and I took some pictures of the tower.
On the way back around (the road to the south of the lighthouse is currently closed due to the harbour extension) we stopped briefly near the gate to the lighthouse complex. The signs there were very clear – no one was allowed in and I had heard that this could be very strictly enforced. My luck was in though as a young couple wandered out and the man told me that I could go in and have a closer look. He explained that one of the residents there doesn’t like people going in, but I got this chap’s permission so in I popped. It’s probably not something I would recommend to the general passerby without permission though.
It was great to see the tower so close, take a picture of it’s plaque and see those lovely details a bit closer. It looked like there were a couple of lights on inside the tower, but I chose not to knock to see if anyone was in.
I felt the need for a different angle on the tower, to capture the colours over the sea. We stopped at a parking area nearby and I strolled up alongside a wall and high fence to try and get a good vantage point with the sun setting behind my back. The high fence is linked to the harbour redevelopment and is currently home to a visitor centre where you can learn all about the work going on. Could be interesting.
I just wanted a quick view of the tower from the foghorn again as it was growing increasingly dark. When I’d initially looked at it from that angle it looked like the little emergency LED light was flashing instead of the main light source, but this time it was clear that the main light (or sealed beam lamp array) was rotating nicely. I was very excited and could have stayed for another half an hour at least, but was aware that I had a waiting husband and children in the car so we set off.
I’m glad we did though as we found a road heading south from Aberdeen and I was able to get out of the car and see the lighthouse in fully fleshed action from afar. I am useless as taking pictures at night so the resulting images aren’t so good, but I will include one anyway. It was beautiful to see it flashing and the wonderful reflection of the light on the water. A beautiful way to finish a lovely day, which was full of nice surprises. 🙂
I have added “part 1” to the title of this post with a fairly high level of confidence. We are in Shetland for two weeks with various chartered boat trips organised to take us to some of the more difficult to reach islands and, most importantly for me, lighthouses. It is Shetland though and in Shetland the weather dictates most things – particularly boats, although many of the scheduled ferries (and their crew) are pretty hardy. So, I am hopeful that by being here for two weeks I will manage to achieve at least a few new lighthouses.
Now, back to the beginning. Last night we set off from Aberdeen on board the MV Hrossey. I wolfed down my dinner a little too fast in order to be able to head outside as soon as we set off. My aim was to get a closer view of the lighthouse on the end of the north pier. The pier is closed to the public so the best views I’d managed to get of it in the past were from the other side of the harbour and from the beach to the north of the pier. This was a much more successful attempt though and while I was still taking pictures of the lighthouse when some dolphins appeared. My dad, who was standing next to me at the time, later asked me if I had taken any pictures of the dolphins. I, of course, hadn’t as I was too busy concentrating on the lighthouse and only caught a brief glimpse of the dolphins before they disappeared.
Happy with the views of the north pier light, I then thought I’d take a wander to the back of the boat to see how the south breakwater light was looking. Getting to the bottom of the steps I realised that at the point we were probably as close as we were going to get to it. Dashing across to the other side of the boat I caught a few pictures just in time. It was interesting to see it from that angle as it features a set of four lights all in the line. As if it didn’t look odd enough from the land, it looked even more strange from the sea. Well worth the dash to get closer to it though. I always thought Girdle Ness was fairly close to the south breakwater, but the tower seemed fairly distant from the ferry, so certainly not the best view of that one.
If I hadn’t been quite so tired last night then I may have been tempted to get up early to see what lights I could spot as we travelled up towards Lerwick, but it was just not going to happen. I enjoy my sleep too much and dealing with young children on little sleep never makes for a pleasant day. So I woke in Lerwick like most normal people would.
When I visited Shetland for a couple of days last November our first stop was Sumburgh Head. There’s something about that place that seems to draw me in every time I arrive. Of course that was where we went as soon as we left the ferry. I spotted the beautiful Bressay tower across the water as we headed south (more on that one later) and also the flat-pack Mousa light. It was great to see how much the kids enjoyed wandering about at Sumburgh Head, even starting from the car park where the old Muckle Roe tower is now located.
Strangely enough the weather was very different for us today (a chilly wind and plenty of cloud about) than it was in November last year when the sun was rising wonderfully. I strolled around the outside of the buildings looking for any new angles to take pictures from. After that I joined the rest of my family in the exhibition room and gift shop. I was pleased to see that my son was thoroughly enjoying repeatedly pressing the button that set off a recording of the foghorn. Apparently most children who visit are petrified of it. Sumburgh has a nice feel about it and its location always draws you to it as it’s so easy to get to from the airport or ferry (if you have a car of course).
Returning to Lerwick for the afternoon we had a quick lunch before we were due to re-board the MV Hrossey. Our arrival nicely coincided with the Lerwick RNLI Harbour Day and Northlink Ferries had organised a cruise around the islands of Bressay and Noss. Weather permitting the ferry was due to be joined by the Lifeboat, which I knew my little boy would love. Of course, I also had in the back of my mind that it would mean passing fairly close to Bressay lighthouse so I booked us all tickets to go on the cruise.
For some reason I’d expected us to set off heading south east and catching the Bressay lighthouse within the first 20 minutes or so. When the captain announced over the tannoy system that we would be heading north first it took a while for my brain to catch up and I suddenly realised that we may be sailing quite close to the Rova Head lighthouse very early in the trip. By the time I realised this, I dashed (again) to a window just in time to see the lighthouse, a flat-pack type, right outside. As the view through the window wasn’t very clear I knew I needed to go outside so I did a bit more dashing. My dashing came to a halt before I’d made it to the door though. You know how there are those scenes in cartoons where characters get stuck behind people or a person and just cannot get past, well that is exactly what happened here. I got stuck behind a very slow-moving person and then went to take a short cut only to get stuck behind a couple of people who had just come in from outside and were standing aside to let the slow person past. I eventually made it out just in time to see Rova Head getting smaller and smaller. I did get some pictures of it in the distance, but I’d not even had time to grab the camera and the zoom lens. Some of the pictures were nice though as the Lifeboat was passing between our boat and Rova Head. So I can’t really complain too much.
We arranged to go up to the bridge where the kids showed no interest in the captain’s chair or anything like that. They just wanted to enjoy the uninterrupted views of the Lifeboat bouncing about from the panoramic windows.
As the ferry began to follow the south coast of Bressay I went outside with the camera poised ready to see the lighthouse. I’m quite fond of this one having enjoyed spending time inside it last year. It’s a lovely little tower. It slowly came into view after some frankly astonishing coastal scenery. While everyone else was busy taking pictures of the Lifeboat running very close alongside us, I had my camera trained on the lighthouse. There were a few opportunities to get pictures of both the lighthouse and Lifeboat at the same time, which was nice, but the highlight was being able to see the lighthouse from this angle. As we turned the corner the natural arch very close to the tower came into view. It’s such an impressive section of the coast. It’s a shame the tower no longer contains an operational light as we may well have been able to see it from our accommodation, which looks down over Lerwick. The boat trip around Bressay was a fairly last minute addition to our schedule, but I’m pleased we did it. I’m just kicking myself a bit for not thinking of Rova Head sooner.
So, a positive start to the trip and let’s hope it continues in that way. We have already begun discussing back up plans to get to some of the smaller lighthouses on the mainland if boat trips aren’t running. Being on holiday with my parents, who have been looking forward to seeing the kids for months, we are lucky to be able to have a little bit of free time to go off and enjoy walks and trips that we couldn’t do very easily at all with the kids.