Reflections of a lighthouse fanatic: the beginning

With the second Scottish lockdown in full swing and no chance of visiting any new places or lighthouses in the immediate future, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the development and progression of my lighthouse fanaticism over the years, from the very beginning to where I am now. My lighthouse journey has really been life-changing and, equally importantly, has taught me a lot about who I am.

This is the first of four parts as there have been fairly clear turning points along the way which have seen me move on to a higher level of fanaticism. In this first reflective piece I will go right back to the beginning and aim to address the commonly asked question: what got you into lighthouses?

When I was doing promotion work for my book this question came up many times and I dreaded being asked it as my answer always sounds really flaky. It’s never been a question I’ve found easy to answer. Many of my friends with various interests can name a specific lighthouse, hill etc. that kicked off their passion. This was not the case for me.

Looking back, I remember feeling the draw of lighthouses in the early 2000s, but it was a passion that already had some sort of foundation at that point. During my childhood in the ’90s we’d been on a number of family holidays in Suffolk including Southwold, where the lighthouse has a very prominent position in the middle of the town, but the lighthouse didn’t really feature much in those.

In the last few months I spent living on the Isle of Wight before I left to go to university in 2002, I spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the island like I never had before. This ignited a passion in me for being outside, particularly by the coast, and this passion has never gone away. Although visiting the island’s lighthouses doesn’t feature in my memories of this period I knew I loved them, and when I moved to live in Weymouth later that year I always enjoyed going to Portland Bill and it was top of my to do list when I first visited the area.

In 2004 I visited Cromer Lighthouse in Norfolk where my grandparents were staying in one of the keepers’ cottages and I was really looking forward to seeing it. I made a point of taking some photos as I was so close.

Cromer Lighthouse

I also finally got around to taking some pictures of Southwold Lighthouse on that trip too.

Southwold Lighthouse viewed from the pier

By 2008 I was well on my way towards lighthouse fanaticism. Living in London at the time I paid a visit to Trinity Buoy Wharf to see the old Trinity House training lighthouse.

Blackwall or Bow Creek Lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London

I also dressed up as a lighthouse at a friend’s nautical-themed party on board a ferry that sailed around Plymouth Sound (excuse the picture, which was taken towards the end of the night, but it’s the closest I have of a full-body shot)!

My lighthouse costume

These memories do little to answer the question, of course. To make it even more complex, I don’t know that I ever went to the effort of visiting The Needles or St Catherine’s lighthouses (the Isle of Wight’s two main lighthouses) prior to these memories. I was however more than aware of the Needles Lighthouse being one of the main attractions on the island and often encountered references to it and tourist paraphernalia featuring it as I was growing up.

It has been suggested to me that perhaps my love of lighthouses actually has always been there on a subconscious level, in large part due to the presence of the Isle of Wight’s lighthouses. In the same way that children who grow up by the sea find it so normal that they don’t even realise how much they love the coast until they move away from it. Perhaps the love was always there, it just took some time for me to realise it. I can quite believe that this is the case. 

With hindsight I can now see that my increasing enjoyment of visiting lighthouses has very much run in parallel with my experience of growing up and discovering who I am. When I was young all I was sure of was that away from home and my family I was shy, quiet, prone to crying if I felt out of my comfort zone, and at times quite difficult to manage as a result. Home was where I felt secure and safe.

As I broadened my horizons by leaving the island and going to university, and then moving to London, I began to seek lighthouses further and further afield. My comfort zone expanded and my confidence grew. I no longer sought the security and safety of home, I wanted to explore – and it was lighthouses I wanted to see in those explorations. The more I saw the more I wanted to see, and this has continued to this day.

My increasing fascination with lighthouses has helped to shape me as a person and, even up until very recently, it has taught me a lot about myself over the years. It’s shown me how determined I am (my dad once referred to it as grim determination), how fixated I can become on something, and that I am really a ‘list person’ at heart. I am frequently reminded that the best people are.

I hope that gives some sort of background and ending here sets the scene nicely for what is to follow in the next post 🙂

New routes in Norfolk

Following a day visiting the lights of Suffolk on Sunday, it’s was Norfolk’s turn yesterday. It’s another area I’ve been to a few times but covered very few of them in detail on here.

Gorleston-on-Sea was first up and I was happy to return to this one. On my 2012 tour I was in the habit of parking in any old car park and then walking to the lighthouse rather than parking as close as I could to it. That meant I spent a little longer wandering the streets of Gorleston that time.

Gorleston lighthouse

This time I spent a little more time seeking different angles and approaches rather than just close-ups of the tower. This theme continued for much of the day, but more on that later. I made a point of walking around the back of the tower this time and then strolling out along the pier, noticing the beach on the other side, which I’d not realised was there before.

Gorleston lighthouse from behind

Joe the Drone had a bit of a fly around and captured some excellent pictures as usual.

Gorleston lighthouse with the beach in the distance
Gorleston harbour from above

Northwards we went to Winterton-on-Sea. Last time I was there I got the feeling that visitors weren’t massively welcome with lots of private road signs in the area. So I then settled for a view above the houses in nearby roads. This time though we went for a different approach, this time from the beach and sand dunes. 

Winterton-on-Sea lighthouse across the dunes

I’m glad we did as it’s a much more enjoyable approach. While Bob flew Joe about over me like I was in some sort of action film, I wandered as close as I could get to the lighthouse, which wasn’t that close, but I found some higher ground and got some nice views from there.

Winterton lighthouse from the coast

Joe had got some great views too.

Winterton lighthouse from above, looking north
Winterton lighthouse from above, looking south
Winterton lighthouse from the east

Bob then suggested we try approaching from the nearby holiday camp area so we set off back over the dunes. This turned out to be a good idea as, although we still couldn’t get close enough to touch the lighthouse we got much closer than I’d been before. So I was happy with that – and it was nice to see the tower behind the coloured little houses too! Winterton lighthouse is actually available as a holiday let and Lighthouse Accommodation can provide more details about this.

Winterton lighthouse from the neighbouring holiday accommodation

On the subject of Lighthouse Accommodation, which is written and compiled by my lovely friend Joy, our next stop was Happisburgh lighthouse where Joy is a very active volunteer. As we arrived at the lighthouse the clouds cleared and blue sky and sunshine came out. It’s always been nice weather when I’ve visited Happisburgh. 

Happisburgh lighthouse
Approaching Happisburgh lighthouse

It was also nice and calm there today so the walk along the track to the lighthouse was very enjoyable as was the stroll around the wall. The lighthouse is currently closed because of the pandemic, but I would highly recommend going there once it opens again. It’s such a special place and you can see why the community work so hard to keep it running.

Happisburgh lighthouse from the entrance
Happisburgh lighthouse from the east

One more stop of the day and that was Cromer. The lighthouse here is at the end of a private road and the cottages here are let out by Rural Retreats. On other occasions we may have been tempted to drive up the road, but with Bob wanting to be there long enough to fly the drone I suggested we take the coastal route by walking from the town centre. It’s a great walk, although initially we weaved our way through the people in the town to ensure we kept our distance. Once we started walking along the promenade it was a bit easier and the views opened up. We reached the row of beach huts and Bob, who was in his usual position in front of me, spotted the steps leading up the cliff.

The sign that marks the start of the steps

I knew there would be quite a few steps and they were pretty tiring, but thankfully they changed direction enough to keep them a bit more interesting. Once at the top we took a left turn and followed the various paths along the coast. It wasn’t long before the lighthouse came into view, which is always encouraging! Bob, off in front again, found a narrow track leading from the path up to the lighthouse which went from a fair little path to quite a steep final section, but once at the top I was there and could enjoy views all around. 

Cromer lighthouse comes into view

There was a perfectly positioned helipad for Joe the Drone to borrow for take off.

Cromer lighthouse
Cromer lighthouse from the north
Cromer lighthouse from the west

I imagine Cromer lighthouse would probably have been quite a popular station to serve at as it looks fairly spacious judging by the size of the associated buildings and the width of the lighthouse. It was great to see the light on too. That’s always an added bonus.

Cromer lighthouse in action

On the walk back I enjoyed the occasional look back to the lighthouse as I took a slightly different route along the paths. The views down to the beach and pier were wonderful too with people’s reflections in the water.

Cromer beach and pier

Rather than taking the steps back down to the beach huts we followed the path down and came out in the town. More weaving between people ensued and we were soon back at the car.

A great day and I’m so glad I took the opportunity of suggesting the alternative routes at both Winterton and Cromer. The coastal route is near enough always more enjoyable. 🙂