uklighthousetour

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

5 days in Orkney – day 3

Our third day in Orkney has been just as enjoyable as the first two were. We changed boat operator today. Going out of St Margaret’s Hope, we spent the day on Scapa Flow with Gareth and Liam from Orkney Marine Charters on board the Mary Ann. They are a new company, and the only small boat operator on Scapa Flow to offer charters in the area.

We set off from St Margaret’s Hope and, on the way out, spotted Barrel of Butter in the distance and then Hoxa Head a little later. As the view really opened up on our way to Swona we could then see Cantick Head, then Pentland Skerries and Stroma. When we’d established the islands we wanted to visit in preparation for the trip I hadn’t really considered just how many others we would see on the way.

Hoxa Head

Hoxa Head lighthouse and old wartime defences

We arrived at Swona a little while later and managed to land successfully. We have been blessed with some particularly calm days this weekend, which is great, it makes trips so much more enjoyable. While the island baggers went off to the high point, I joined John in walking around to (what I would call) the beacon on the north of the island. There are a number of derelict houses on the island in various states of disrepair. Along with the houses there are a number of other objects that have seen much better days, such as an old tractor and a boat that has either been wrecked on the island or is just falling to pieces from lack of use. It certainly feels abandoned, much like it’s neighbour Stroma. Continuing around the coast it wasn’t too far to get to the beacon. There’s not a lot to the light here, just a little cabinet, a post with a light on top and then some solar panels on a frame. It was still good to see though and we also spotted the south light from here. As we walked back we noticed a post sticking up with a few holes in it. If you looked through the holes you were looking straight at the two towers on the Pentland Skerries. We jokingly referred to the post as the Pentland Skerries signal tower.

 

Swona north

The beacon at the north end of Swona

Due to time limitations and risks from getting too close to the island’s resident cattle, we decided that we would just sail around the south of the island instead. There are some stunning cliffs around the east side of Swona and we were pleased when the top of the light on the south appeared over the rocks. We took some pictures and Bob suddenly appeared carrying a a lifejacket and put it on John. He’d managed to arrange for the tender to the taken into the rocks so we could get a closer look at that light too.

We soon found ourselves back on the island and we could see the cattle high up in the distance so weren’t concerned about them at all. The sun had come out too and we managed to get up to the light. While my priority is always about lights with internal access, which this one doesn’t have, it was still a good one to visit. Something a bit different. Along with the light on the north end of the island and others I’ve seen recently such as Brother Isle, it’s quite interesting to see the range of layouts the Northern Lighthouse Board use for these types of structure. They all appear to be slightly different in layout and component parts. There was a cleit close to the lighthouse as well as the remains of an old building that may well have been used for storage for the lighthouse. It used to be a proper little white tower in the location of the current tower and it is likely that more storage was needed for that one. This light was well worth a visit.

Swona

Swona lighthouse (or beacon)

Heading north towards some of the islands within Scapa Flow, we passed close by Cantick Head and stopped for a while to enjoy the views of it from the bottom of the cliffs. It’s a lovely lighthouse and the whole complex is very well looked after. It’s always nice to see lighthouses from the sea as they very often look entirely different – and, of course, that is the angle they are supposed to be seen from. Leaving Cantick Head we passed the Ruff Reef beacon sitting off of the coast just off of Cantick Head. John had previously walked out to this one, but with the tide higher when we were there today there would have been no chance of that. It’s very similar to how the beacon off of Stroma looks. It was great to look back and get views of both Cantick Head and Ruff Reef together. It presented a nice picture of the various structures that light the coastline and rocks.

Cantick Head

Cantick Head from the sea

It was the turn of the island baggers to get a bit more done so I chilled out on the boat for a while. A few islands later we reached Cava. After dropping the lads off at the bottom end of the island to walk over the high point and meet us at the top, John and I had a lovely beach landing just to the south of the lighthouse. This visit was a good one as it marked John’s final lighthouse on Orkney. He’d seen it from the ferry, but it was the only one he’d not got close to. Once we reached the highest point on what is referred to as the Calf of Cava (the little bit at the top of the island that is joined to the main island by a narrow strip of beach and grass), the view really opened up and we could see the lighthouse with the coastline of Mainland Orkney in the background. A fantastic view to approach the lighthouse. Once we were at the lighthouse John did a celebratory star jump and we wandered around the lighthouse to get views from all angles. It’s a wonderful little spot. The rest of the group joined us a little while later and it was then time to make our way back to the boat.

Cava

Cava lighthouse

We had one final stop before we headed back to St Margaret’s Hope. We’d requested a sail past of Barrel of Butter in the original communication with Gareth, not realising that there would be an option to land there. As we approached it was looking like landing would actually be possible so we hopped into the tender and set off with waves splashing in our faces on the way to the rocks on which the light sits. It was fairly shallow on the final stretch and Liam and Bob climbed out and dragged the tender closer to the exposed rocks/seaweed where Charlie and I then jumped out and slowly made our way across the deep seaweed to the dry rocks. Thankfully it has been dry for a while as I imagine it would be a much bigger challenge to walk on the rocks if they were wet. We made it safely to the light and had a quick check to make sure that it definitely didn’t have any internal access – it didn’t. That means it doesn’t make it onto my list, but I’m so pleased we stopped there. It was a real treat to have landed there. It seems there are a couple of stories about where it got its name from. One theory is that its central location to so many of the islands and land in and around Scapa Flow meant it would be the perfect place for a market for residents to go and get their “barrel of butter”. Another story says that the name originates from a time when residents in Orphir wished to hunt seals on the rocks there (and there are still seals there to this day, I can confirm) and paid an annual rent of a barrel of butter in order to be allowed to do so. Whatever the origins, it’s a good name and a fantastic place to visit. I imagine it’s rarely landed on so that always gives it a special edge too.

Barrel of Butter

Barrel of Butter

Thinking that was us done for the day, Gareth said he would sail close to the Nevi Skerry light, which was good to see. Again, something a bit different. This one is owned by Orkney Islands Council, which would explain why it looks so different to the rest. It was nice to see this one up close as it’s been flashing away out there at night and very much visible from our B&B, Ayre of Cara. It had been bothering me that I couldn’t work out which light it was I could see, but now I know!

Nevi Skerry

Nevi Skerry with a seal!

That was it for our three-day island bagging extravaganza. We had a fantastic time out on the boats. We now have just under two days left to fit in a few more adventures on dry land or using scheduled ferries. Orkney really is a very special place. 🙂

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A brief lighthouse trip to Wales

The lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West

The lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West

A couple of weekends ago, Bob and I made a break for freedom, leaving our little man with his grandparents for the weekend. The purpose of this trip was to spend some time in Wales, particularly for a boat trip out to get a closer look at the lighthouse on St Tudwals Island West off of the west coast. A hill-bagging friend of ours had arranged the trip with the owner of St Tudwals Island East who had kindly agreed to take us to his island. Due to it being August, the owner of the West Island (Bear Grylls) was staying on the island and, understandably, very much likes some privacy with his family. That meant it wasn’t possible for us to land, but Carl did take us on a spin around the West Island so I could get a good view of it. Carl, who co-owns the East Island, was telling us that he suspects the St Tudwals lighthouse may be discontinued shortly, which would mean that Bear Grylls would inherit a lighthouse. Lucky him! It’s an attractive little structure. We spent a short time on the East Island, enough time to wander up to island high point for Bob and to take a stroll around some of the coast there – with some nice views across to the lighthouse too. What amazed me most though was the small house that sits on the east side of the island. From the outside it doesn’t look like there’s much going on, but as soon as you step inside there are tables, decorations aplenty and even an upper floor with a double mattress! It’s a great little island and the owner is full of some amusing stories. He described how he went about getting large stones airlifted onto the island for a stone circle he set up there about 10 years ago. It was a really enjoyable trip and the weather was absolutely perfect.

Llanddwyn Island lighthouse

Llanddwyn Island lighthouse

During my tour in 2012, I attempted to visit the lighthouse on Llanddywyn Island off of the south coast of Anglesey. Officially its not a tidal island, but many (and the name itself) would tell you otherwise and, when I visited before it was spring tide time so the tide was particularly high and access to the peninsula was not possible. This time we were able to time our visit perfectly so we arrived as the tide was retreating. From afar it didn’t look like there was much to it, but it’s actually a great place to explore, with paths leading out to the beacon at the very end. The old lighthouse there is really interesting in that the light was displayed from the base of the  structure, rather than the top. I think there is often confusion over which is the lighthouse out of the two as it would be easy to miss the old lamp room in the lighthouse if you’re looking for it at the top. There’s a lot of history surrounding the island (sorry, peninsula) and a great deal of information on display around the island relating to pilgrimages. After leaving the island, we noticed some wooden poles on display near the car park with various carvings on top and one of them was clearly a carving of the old lighthouse. As the weather was so good that weekend there were plenty of people around on the beach, but not so many taking the walk out to Llanddwyn Island, which made it much nicer.

Penmon Point at low tide

Penmon Point at low tide

We had a little time to spare that day before dinner, so Bob suggested going along to Penmon Point to see the black and white lighthouse there, which I’d visited on my tour in 2012. As we followed the coastal road north it was clear that the tide was quite far out, so we were hopeful that we would be able to walk out to the lighthouse for a proper “bag”. I was very amused when we arrived and Bob, excitedly, when dashing off towards the lighthouse. We managed to get right out to it and Bob, as usual, chose to climb up to the door using the very cleverly built footholds. It wasn’t too busy there either so we only had to share the lighthouse with a couple of other people. There’s nothing worse than crowds of people when you’re trying to get a good picture!

On the Sunday we headed home, but first we needed to get at least one lighthouse visit in, considering it was International Lighthouse-Lightship Weekend! I’d read online that both Leasowe and Bidston Hill lighthouses would be open to the public that day, so it was an opportunity not to be missed. We had a bit of time to kill before Bidston Hill opened, to we had a quick look at Leasowe and then drove along to Hoylake. When I’d been there in 2012, I’d seen the lighthouse (or what I thought was the lighthouse) so this was an opportunity for Bob to see it too. We had a quick stop there and then went on to Bidston Hill. It’s not one I had seen before, so it was an added bonus for me to actually be able to get inside it too.

The Bidston Hill lighthouse

The Bidston Hill lighthouse

We arrived just in time for the first tour of the day, which was run by Stephen Pickles who is an active member of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. I had, in fact, received an email from Stephen shortly before that weekend asking if I would be interested in preparing a piece on my favourite lighthouse for their journal, Lamp (more on that later in the year). It was a really interesting tour and you could tell that Stephen is not only the owner of the lighthouse, but has a real fondness for its history too. There are some fascinating stories about how they would go about informing the port authorities at Liverpool that a boat was on its way in. There was a group of amateur radio guys halfway up the lighthouse, chatting away to others around the world as part of the Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend. We were fortunate enough to get into the lamp room at the top of the lighthouse, which boasts panoramic views of the surrounding area and out to sea. Sadly, there is a lot of damage to the panes of glass in the lamp room. They suspect someone has been shooting at them from outside and they are currently looking to replace the panes, which isn’t going to be cheap for them. Why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me. We had a chance to speak to Stephen and his wife for a while after the tour and got a stamp for my lighthouse passport. It was during our chat with them that we found out that the building we’d seen at Hoylake is actually a lighthouse folly and not the actual lighthouse. So, we will need to head back there again at some point.

When we left Bidston Hill, we did consider popping into Leasowe to have a look around, but we were running short on time for getting home that evening, so decided to give it a miss this time. We hope we will be back in the area when it’s open again some day soon. We’re nearing the end of our peak lighthouse-bagging season, but it’s not over yet. There will be at least one or two new ones in the next couple of weeks. More on this to follow soon! 🙂

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