uklighthousetour

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

A grand day on Oxcars and Inchkeith

Inchkeith is one of those places I’d been desperate to reach for a long time. When you look across at it from Leith or even from higher points in Edinburgh it looks so close, but I’d not made it there. That was until the very end of last month! Bob had made contact with Forth Sea Safaris about attempting to go out and they had agreed to take us, weather permitting of course.

We arrived at Burntisland, our departure point, and I was extremely pleased to see the water so calm. The boatman, Stewart, had said that it was looking like it would be better than it had been for a long time. Sometimes you get very very lucky with these trips. Other times not so much. We met up with our island-bagging friend Charlie who had signed up to join us and quickly introduced him to the inner light in the harbour. It’s not changed much since we were last there, still rusty!

Burntisland Inner lighthouse

Burntisland East Pier Inner lighthouse

Stewart arrived and off we set, waving goodbye to the resident seal in the harbour (and her pup). We sailed nice and close to the lighthouse on the end of the west pier. This one is looking very good and Stewart informed us that this one has had some work done to it fairly recently, including modernisation of the light. It was great to be able to see this one as it’s visible from the harbour, but still just a little too far away to get a good picture of.

Burntisland West Pier lighthouse

Burntisland West Pier lighthouse

After leaving the harbour I mentioned the old lighthouse that used to live in Burntisland harbour and is now on display in Leith Docks to the others. Stewart said he recalled there being something on the end of an old breakwater. After a minute or two he realised that he’d actually walked right past the tower in Leith Docks just a few days before. Imagine walking past a lighthouse and not thinking anything of it!

Now, the main target for the day was Inchkeith, but seeing as we were in the area anyway and I’d not been very close to Oxcars lighthouse we went along to that one first. It was, in fact, the addition of Oxcars to the itinerary that meant such an early start that day as we wanted to catch it at low tide – for landing, of course! There was no doubting the water was calm enough for landing and the RIB had a nice little platform on the front, which was very helpful for getting onto and off of islands. We were stepping off onto seaweed unfortunately, but it wasn’t so bad and within a short time we were there at the bottom of that fascinating tower.

Oxcars approach

Oxcars lighthouse

It looks so different at low tide. I’d only seen it at high (or higher) tides before and never realised just how much rock was there. We were able to walk out onto the two little jetties and get some pretty good pictures.

Oxcars lighthouse

Oxcars lighthouse from the jetty

Stewart had told us that the ladder up to the base of the red and white banded section of the tower would be ok to climb up, but not to go any further as the ladder isn’t in a good way. That was fine with us (well me anyway). It was a similar experience to landing at the Barrel of Butter where you know you are somewhere that very few people go. Some people look at islands and think “I’d love to go there”, but they look at a bit of rock with a lighthouse on top and only the hardcore lighthouse and island “baggers” would really try to attempt it. What a wonderful lighthouse though and a real bonus for this trip. Just fantastic.

Oxcars from below

Looking up at Oxcars

Stewart took us around Oxcars so we could get some pictures of the lighthouse with the new Queensferry Crossing bridge in the background. A very picturesque view.

Oxcars and bridge

Oxcars lighthouse with the Forth Rail and Road bridges

Inchkeith beckoned and, as the tide was still dropping, we knew there would be a ladder to climb. When Bob had been to the island previously the ladder was loose at the top, but thankfully Stewart reassured us that it had been fixed. It was quite a long way up and I must have made the ladder on Oxcars look really difficult as Stewart very kindly offered me a rope. I politely refused – I must make it look harder than I actually find it!

The lighthouse was sitting up there looking all majestic as it does. I could tell immediately that this was a special place. For a start Inchkeith has a lot of history and there is evidence of that all around with the range of buildings in various states. One of my favourite tales from its history is the alleged research that was undertaken when a mute woman was put on the island with her two young children. I’m not sure how long they were said to have been there, but the aim was to see what language the children would speak. Again, I don’t know what the outcome was!

Inchkeith arrival

Arrival on Inchkeith

We walked up the path and wandered through a gate into a walled area containing what would have been the old keepers’ accommodation. Before we explored that we turned right towards a circular brick wall. It didn’t look like much, but it is the remains of an old experimental tower that was used for testing new light techniques. It was designed by Thomas Smith and built around 1785 and was used to test a new oil-burning reflector light system. The terracotta tiles on the floor are still there and the wall is still standing up to a point, so it is difficult to imagine what it previously looked like, but there is a picture showing it slightly more intact in the book At Scotland’s Edge by Keith Allerdyce.

Inchkeith experimental

The remains of the old lighthouse tower on Inchkeith

The nearby cottages are not in a good way, missing doors and windows and just how you would expect rooms to look if they are open to the wind and rain for years on end. I’ve said numerous times before that it’s a shame that a lot of the cottages have gone this way, but I suppose they have served their purpose now and it would be a very difficult place for somebody to live now, although not really that far from civilisation. Presevation of the buildings would be wonderful, of course, but if there is no one to preserve them for… (apart from the occasional lighthouse enthusiast).

Inchkeith old house

Inside one of the old houses on Inchkeith

We crossed an overgrown stretch of foliage and then arrived at the archway the marks the entrance to the active lighthouse. The old air tanks for the foghorn are still there and the area looks very abandoned. Stepping through the arch you are then greeted with the lighthouse, uniquely painted entirely in the Northern Lighthouse Board’s bamboo/buff/etc. paint. The lighthouse is no longer owned or maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board after it was passed over to Forth Ports in 2013.

Inchkeith lighthouse

Inchkeith lighthouse

There’s no doubting it’s a fantastic tower, a little castle-esque.

Inchkeith lighthouse2

The best angle on Inchkeith lighthouse

I suppose, though, you are always aware that it is surrounded by neglect. The old engine rooms across the courtyard are exposed to the elements too and in a sorry state.

Inchkeith engine room

Inside one of the old buildings close to the lighthouse

On the plus side, and a big plus side it is, the views of the lighthouse and across the Firth of Forth are simply wonderful from up there. I’ve spent a lot of time on islands off of the west coast of Scotland, but those on the east have a very different feel about them. They aren’t so remote for a start, but still feel away from it all. There’s also a lot more life there, we saw countless snails and even the resident chickens gave us a noisy welcome.

View from Inchkeith

The view from the top of Inchkeith

We decided to wander on over to where the old foghorn used to be. We’d recently seen the foghorn that was originally on the island at the National Museum of Scotland’s large item store in Granton. We had to navigate our way around some old wartime buildings to get there, but we made it to the old, and partially collapsed, lookout point. There were more wonderful views to be had from here.

Inchkeith foghorn

Looking down to where the foghorn would have been

Due to the tide being too low for us to get back off of the island for a while, we’d had plenty of time to explore and while the others went off for a more off-piste exploration of a different bit I was able to sit down, enjoy the views and soak in the loveliness of being in such a great place. It was sad to see so much neglect of buildings there, but it was also interesting to see how nature was taking control again as it does when there is no one there to stop it. A thoroughly enjoyable day and definitely well worth the wait. 🙂

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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). 🙂

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