uklighthousetour

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

A change of plan in Dundee

This is not the blog I was expecting, or hoping, to be writing today, but it is a blog post which means lighthouses have been visited, so never a bad thing.

We’d planned to travel down to Dundee and head over to the Isle of May today to take advantage of the Doors Open Days, which would allow us to get into two of the three lighthouses there.

Book release

Collecting my book from Whittles Publishing

Before I begin on that though, I should say that I received a message from the publisher of my book, The British Lighthouse Trail: A Regional Guide, to say that my advance copies were now in their office. Of course, that meant that I had to head over to see them after work before we began our journey south.

What a delight that was to be handed a copy of my own book! It’s taken me years to develop and I have been looking back at the process recently in preparation for a presentation I am due to give in a couple of weeks. It really has been a labour of love. To get my hands on the result is so rewarding and entirely wiped out the frustrations and stress I went through in order to get it to where it is. Such a fantastic feeling!

Right, back to our weekend. The visit to the Isle of May was not to be as I discovered by email this morning. We needed a back-up plan and this came in the form of Dundee Science Centre to entertain the kids in wet and windy weather.

Stopping here also gave the perfect opportunity to catch up with my lighthouse friend Laura who had also travelled to the area for the Isle of May. It was great to see her and nice to test out a copy of the book on exactly the type of person it is aimed at. Laura went away with a few lighthouses to do today that she’d missed the first time around and I hope she got on well with them.

We spent considerably longer at the Science Centre than anticipated, but when we did drag ourselves away we decided to take a drive up to Montrose as the kids needed a sleep and I was keen to get closer to the rear of the two range lights in Montrose harbour.

On the way to Montrose we passed the old Whitehill (or Vatsetter) light on the approach to Arbroath. I’ve seen this one a few times, but having recently been to the modern light at Vatsetter in Shetland where this one was previously located, I now have an extra level of enjoyment of it.

Montrose

Montrose Harbour Rear lighthouse

A little while later we arrived in Montrose and thanks to my book, which had the street names, we easily found the lighthouse. It’s an interesting one. It’s quite tall, but fairly slim with a fairly small, red section at the top which contains the light. I wandered around in the dunes next to it grabbing pictures from different angles. I was surprised to see dunes there to be honest. It’s a very industrial area and the lighthouse is just next to a massive warehouse. When we spotted the sign saying “Beach access” close to the lighthouse I was intrigued. I’ve since found some old pictures of the tower when it was white at the top rather than red and it certainly looks like there was much more of a beach next to the lighthouse then with no sign of the dunes. Presumably the river is shifting the sand banks over the years.

The river runs next to the lighthouse and there were a number of birds floating around on the water until a massive boat turned up and they drifted slowly towards the side of the river. It was brilliant to see Scurdie Ness in the distance too. It was great to get closer to this one after seeing from the south side of the river a couple of times.

 

Montrose and Scurdie Ness

Montrose Harbour Rear light with Scurdie Ness in the distance

The kids were both wide awake by the time we were passing back through Arbroath so we decided to stop at the Signal Tower Museum for a quick look around before it closed. It has been six years since I was last there. Life was very different then. Bob and I weren’t married and had no children, but also it was still very early in my lighthouse days. I wrote about it in my post at the time of my first visit. I had forgotten that it was as big as it is, and that they had the film depicting the building of the Bell Rock on a loop in one room. I caught the end of it and was reminded of just how incredible a feat it would have been to build a lighthouse on the Bell Rock. The film shows the Robert Stevenson, or at least the actor who played him, getting emotional when the light was first lit. It made me wonder how much of that was artistic licence (I suspect there was). It must have felt like a great achievement, but I wonder whether the Stevenson’s dealt with their successes by celebrating or whether they just moved on to the next task.

 

Signal Tower

Arbroath Signal Tower Museum

Anyway, I digress, the museum is still just as great as it was before. In fact it is better as, since 2017, they have held the old mechanism from the Bell Rock lighthouse (not the original, although they do have small parts of that too). It’s in a side room with a light inside and the mechanism is still in good working order, so it was lovely to see that in action.

I have heard that they are hoping to temporarily open the tower itself up to the public soon. It has been closed for health and safety reasons, but they are hoping to allow people to get up there a bit more in the future.

Signal Tower internal

Looking up the beautiful Signal Tower staircase

We stopped off at The Bell Rock Restaurant opposite the Signal Tower where we enjoyed smokies – we were in Arbroath after all. When we left the restaurant we spotted the Bell Rock tower in the distance with the sun shining off of it. I’d love to get back out there again some day to appreciate it all over again, and possibly even more so this time.

Although today turned out differently to how we had hoped it would, it’s still been a very good day with some lighthouses crammed in too. 🙂

Leave a comment »

Minor lights of Arbroath, the Tay and Fife

Last weekend we received an email to say that a trip to the island of Fidra in the Firth of Forth was imminent, so as we always say we “made it happen” by arranging childcare and time off work. While we’d originally been looking at Monday for the trip, it turned out that Wednesday could potentially be significantly better. After getting the kids to bed on Tuesday evening we set off for Dundee, our destination for the night.

In order to make the most out of the trip we had a look at other east coast lighthouses that were still on the list to be bagged. On Wednesday morning we got up early and set out for a day of lighthouses, with the aim of being in North Berwick for 1.30pm.

Arbroath

Arbroath lighthouse

Our first stop was Arbroath. For most lighthouse baggers this would the start of a wonderful journey out to the fabulous Bell Rock lighthouse or a stroll around the excellent museum in the former Bell Rock signal tower. Due to the excitement of both of these on our previous visit to the area, we had failed to see the lighthouse sitting in the harbour at Arbroath. This one was easy to find, once you knew it was there. A very interesting-looking structure, that you would never guess was a lighthouse from certain angles. There are some nice little staircases and railings around the lighthouse so you can wander around the area freely.

On the way into Arbroath we had another stop-off at the old Vatsetter (Yell) lighthouse at the side of the road. When the lighthouse was originally transferred from Yell it was kept at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh. In 2011 it was moved to Arbroath to mark the bicentenary of the Bell Rock lighthouse, the Year of the Light. It’s always nice to see a lighthouse a bit out of place. Even when you know it’s there, it’s good fun to spot again.

North Carr light vessel

North Carr light vessel

Our next lighthouse was the old King William IV Dock light, which has been relocated to the west of the north end of the Tay Road Bridge. On our way there we spotted the North Carr Lightvessel, which is looking a little worse for wear in Victoria Dock. It has a really interesting history. It was loaned to the Northern Lighthouse Board by Trinity House for use to protect ships from the North Carr reef, just off of Fife Ness, from 1933 to 1976. After that it was used as a floating museum in Anstruther. In 2002 it was sold on and then sold for £1 in 2010. It is a sad condition that it is now in, particularly as it is the only one of Scottish light vessels that remains. There is more details of its history on the Northern Lighthouse Board website.

 

King William IV Dock

The King William IV Dock lighthouse

We found the old lighthouse next to the Tay Road Bridge. It is also know as the Telford Beacon, in honour of Thomas Telford. This little lighthouse became landlocked after the bridge and supporting road network was built and there is a fascinating time lapse video online showing how the lighthouse was moved (in one piece, might I add) from its former location to where it stands today. It’s great to see that the lighthouse is being looked after and the area surrounding it has recently been improved to support greater movement of pedestrians and cyclists along the bank of the river. If only they had done the same sort of thing with Beamer Rock lighthouse when the new bridge was built over the Firth of Forth! Hopefully that one will make a reappearance again some day.

 

St Andrews

St Andrews lighthouse

 

St Andrews was next on the list. Another village we had passed through without realising it had a lighthouse! The small semi-circular lighthouse can be found just above the harbour, in front of the old cathedral ruins. It is clearly not a structure that is raved about in the area, but sometimes that’s a good thing. In researching for my list I had read that there was also the remains of an old lighthouse in the wall of the cathedral. This had been the rear of a range of lights – the front light is long gone. When we got there we found the section of wall it had been on and I quickly decided that the old lighthouse should be demoted due to the tower on which it stood not being built originally to serve as a lighthouse. I was happy to have seen the smaller light above the harbour though, so still worthwhile visiting.

Pittenweem

Pittenweem’s old lighthouse

 

 

Carrying on around the Fife coast, we came to Pittenweem. The old lighthouse here sits halfway along the east pier. It was discontinued when the pier was extended. It is very much a fishing village harbour and was fairly quiet while we were there. I strolled out along the pier to see the lighthouse. It’s not the most impressive by any means, and it is currently cordoned off by cones and tape, which I take to mean that there is something structurally unsound or dangerous going on there at the moment. A new beacon exists at the end of the new pier extension, but this doesn’t qualify for the list.

 

 

Burntisland inner pier

Burntisland East Pier Inner lighthouse

 

 

Before we attempted the lighthouses in Burntisland (which I’d always thought was pronounced “burntis-land” until I was more reliably informed that it’s “burnt-island”), Bob had warned me that this visit may only be a recce for a future visit. It’s a fairly built-up area with the docks very much in use. We took a drive around anyway and noticed a private car park, which looked like it would allow a view to the lighthouses. We drove through the car park and continued on until we reached a fence behind which sat the East Pier Inner lighthouse. It is in quite a bad way now. I had a note that it was a “white tower”, but “rusty tower” would have been a more appropriate description. From the east pier light we could see the West Pier Head lighthouse, which is doing a lot better. Just from looking across to the other pier we could see that there was no way we would be able to get any closer without being approached or getting into trouble, so we were resigned to the fact that we would have to settle for a slight distance bag for this one.

Hawkcraig

Hawkcraig Point lighthouses

Hawkcraig Point in Aberdour was our next stop. It seems like a nice area with some good spaces to walk along the coast. We parked a little further away that we needed to, partly because we didn’t know the area. It turned out we could actually have driven all the way there, but it was good to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. I had two lighthouses at Hawkcraig Point on the list, but I came away with only one. The front of the two leading lights is a more substantial structure. The rear light is taller and thinner than the front and not so easy to spot unless you are heading for the front light and happen to turn around, which is exactly how I found it.

 

 

Leith

The former Burntisland Breakwater light, now in Leith

 

 

Later on that day, and still on our way to North Berwick, we chose to go through Leith to see the old Burntisland East Breakwater lighthouse, which is now alongside the Water of Leith. By that point we were short on time and, although we used a grid reference and GPS device to find it (which was fairly accurate) it took us longer to find as it was obscured behind trees. I got there eventually though. It’s another example of a redundant lighthouse being displayed for the enjoyment of everyone – the third that day after Vatsetter and King William IV Dock!

After leaving Leith we made it in time for our boat out to Fidra. The lighthouse on Fidra, I feel deserves its own space, so a post on that will follow soon (a link to it will appear here once it is ready). 🙂

Leave a comment »