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

A very special day on the north coast

Wow! It’s been another fantastic day on the north coast. After the excitement of yesterday’s visit to Noss Head as part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers event, it was going to be a tough day to follow, but it’s done far more than that.

I have gazed at the light from Dunnet Head from the back of my house for years now and visited it numerous times. It’s one of my favourites, but until last year I never thought I would have the privilege of being able to get inside. Today was the day though. We had arranged access with the Northern Lighthouse Board and were met by their Retained Lighthouse Keeper again. He’d opened up the bothy too and the owner of some of the cottages had also opened the art gallery he has created in the old engine room. The weather, once again, was fantastic with blue skies and very little wind in comparison to the Dunnet Head I am used to. It was incredible really.


Dunnet Head lighthouse

It’s not the tallest of towers so wasn’t too tough getting to the ladders. Once up the first ladder I was able to step out onto the balcony and see the wonderful views. Orkney, particularly Hoy, was so clear and the sunshine was casting a wonderful shadow of the tower on the ground below. The light setup they’ve got in there is nowhere near as inspiring as the old lens from Noss Head, which we saw yesterday, and not even really as likeable as the new “pudding” (as one of my lighthouse friends calls them) LEDs like those I had seen in Noss Head and Ardnamurchan recently. It’s difficult to explain so I will just include a picture below. The black panels rotate to give the sweeping beam effect. That is one of the benefits of this sort of arrangements, that the sweeping beam is still there whereas it wouldn’t be at Noss. I enjoy seeing the light coming and going from the back of the house.

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The lighting system in Dunnet Head

It was such a great experience to get inside Dunnet Head and I will always see its light flashing in a different way now.

We spent a while at John O’Groats for lunch before heading onwards to Duncansby Head.  We’d already seen how amazingly clear the view was across to the Pentland Skerries towers today while we were at John O’Groats, but it was even better from Duncansby. The best thing about visiting Duncansby Head lighthouse today though was being there with former Northern Lighthouse Board keeper Ian Duff who had served there and has some incredibly fond memories of the place. One of the other group members referred to me as being “star-struck” while we were there as I was following Ian around taking lots of pictures of him – sort of like I had on the Skerryvore trip last year. It was brilliant though as it’s like he suddenly became so excited and was reeling off so many stories.


Duncansby Head lighthouse

I was very keen to get up the tower to the lantern to see the new light apparatus. It’s brilliant what they have done there. They have kept hold of the lens, but replaced the light in the middle with an LED, so you still get the sweeping beam and the look of the lovely lens, but the LED makes it more cost-efficient. There were also great views outside the lantern from the balcony, from all angles in fact. In one direction there was the Pentland Skerries, then the Duncansby stacks and then fantastic views to the west along the coast. After I’d made it back down the three steep ladders I followed Ian around a bit more, listening to all of his stories about what they got up to during their time there. It sounds like great fun, but I can imagine there were some challenges too. He certainly seems to recall the good times much more than the bad times so he must have enjoyed it there. It was a really lovely moment to experience, especially as Ian hadn’t been inside the building and tower there since he left.

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The new light apparatus in Duncansby Head

We had planned at some point to head out to Dunnet Head to see the lights as the sun went down. Tonight was chosen as the best option so ten of us set off. Dunnet Head was the only one on when we arrived, but a short time later we spotted Tor Ness on Hoy, Orkney flashing away. The next one we saw was Noss Head and Duncansby Head a short time later. Pentland Skerries and Stroma were next, followed by the beacon on Swona. We’d waited a while to see Cantick Head come on, and we were wondering whether to call the Northern Lighthouse Board headquarters to let them know it wasn’t working when the flash began to appear around the same time as the flat-pack lighthouse at Hoxa Head. So that was nine lights in total that we were able to see from standing above Dunnet Head lighthouse. I’d been meaning to head out to Dunnet Head to see it flashing at close range at some point, but never made it out there. It was great to do that this evening and there was plenty of laughter and smiles which always adds to the memories of these visits.

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Dunnet Head lighthouse by night

It’s been a fantastic day and I have returned home keen to write this post while I am still excited about it all. A real treat of a day. That’s not the end though. Two more days to come 🙂

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A well-timed return to Dunnet Head

As you can imagine, we have a few lighthouse-related items around our house and so it was no surprise really that our 4-year-old son requested a visit to a lighthouse yesterday. With pretty strong wind about, we realised that there’s really no such thing as a sheltered lighthouse, so we decided to go all-out and head to Dunnet Head. Dunnet Head is probably our most visited lighthouse, partly because it’s one of the closest (after Strathy Point and Holburn Head) and also because it’s a great place to take visitors.

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Inside the lighthouse compound

I had been in contact with the man who now owns the buildings within the compound (excluding the lighthouse, of course) about visiting, but our timing had never been quite right. So we were nicely surprised to see the “Gallery Open” sign on the gate when we got there. I was mostly pleased to have the opportunity to get closer to the lighthouse, which we headed straight for.

After we’d touched (bagged) the lighthouse we popped into the art gallery, which is within the old engine room. There are some beautiful pictures in there, clearly very much inspired by the local landscapes. A number of local artists have paintings on display there, and it’s really interesting to see their different styles and takes on local views. While we were in there, we were accompanied by a friendly dog – clearly the compound tour guide as he was also wandering around the paths outside when we left. There are a number of artistic features around the compound too.

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Dunnet Head lighthouse, the view from the fog horn

After we’d been to the art gallery we briefly went through the gate towards the old fog horn. There is a sign next to the gate warning visitors of the high winds and that dogs and children are not allowed beyond that point. So, clinging on to our son’s hand, we went through. The wind direction meant that it was actually a little sheltered once we were down the steps. It was good to be able to see the lighthouse from the seaward side for a change.

It’s really good to see something being done with the lighthouse buildings that allows the public access. The man behind what happens there has set up a website which contains contact details if you are ever looking to visit 🙂

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