A lighthouse adventure in Essex

After our short boat trip out to see Gunfleet lighthouse on Tuesday morning it seemed a good opportunity to revisit some of the Essex lighthouses – and introduce Bob and Joe the Drone to them as well.

Back in 2012 the Naze Tower had been my first stop on my lighthouse tour and I’d not been back since. Some may argue that the Naze Tower might not have been a lit aid to navigation, but it also may have been – and, more importantly, it’s a lovely place to visit.

The Naze Tower

Due to Covid-19 the tower is currently closed, but that didn’t matter as the sun was shining and it was dry. My lighthouse pal John had joined us and we were all pleased to be able to spot Gunfleet lighthouse in the far distance having been closer to it that very morning.

The Naze Tower is quite impressive and is clearly very well looked after. The beautiful brickwork is looking excellent when you consider that the tower was built in 1720. The tower had been somewhat neglected in the past, but the owners did some extensive renovation and, in 2004, it opened to the public for the first time. Presumably it needed, and will continue to need, some repairs and maintenance done on it – it is 300 years old after all.

When it does reopen, hopefully next year, you can see it’s 8 floors which feature an art gallery with exhibitions, and a museum about the tower and surrounding area. On top of that, quite literally, you get the panoramic views.

Joe took to the sky and, as usual, captured the glorious coastline. Seeing this coastline is always tinged with a little bit of sadness though as it really does suffer from erosion. There is evidence on the beach here that some measures have been taken to try to reduce the erosion in the area as you can see in the picture below.

The sea defences were clear in one of Joe’s shots
The view from above looking towards the south

There’s a lovely little tea room nearby too and we chose to have lunch outside on a bench before waving goodbye to John and continuing on our way.

Harwich awaited our arrival and this is quite a special place for those with any maritime interest. It is where Trinity House monitor their lighthouses from – as well as the Northern Lighthouse Board lights during evenings and weekends. Trinity House also has a depot and buoy yard here. It has its own two old lighthouses, a Light Vessel you can (under normal circumstances) look around, the Lifeboat Museum and an array of other points of interest that make up the town’s Maritime Heritage Trail. In addition we were able to see three more light vessels anchored off shore in the area.

Harwich High Light and the Harwich Town Buoy at the start of the Maritime Heritage Trail
Light Vessel 18 which is usually open to visitors

The two lighthouses here are no longer active and haven’t been since 1863 when they were replaced by the two Dovercourt lights (more on those in a bit). The low light has housed the Maritime Museum since 1980 and the high light is now run by Harwich Society as a local interest museum.

Harwich High Light

The existing towers replaced the town’s original leading lights. All of these lights were intended to work in pairs to guide ships safely into the harbour.

Harwich Low Light with the High Light visible in the background

Joe had a little fly around the area too, which is actually how we realised the light vessels were offshore.

An aerial view of Harwich’s harbour area with the three light vessels visible
The lighthouses in Harwich

Harwich is a fascinating place and it would be nice to spend some more time here getting stuck into the maritime history.

Just a short drive to the south we found the two Dovercourt lighthouses. On my original tour I’d seen these two at low tide and with high tide now approaching it was interesting to see the bottom of the outer light under water and the rapidly heightening waves splashing around the base of the inner light.

The lighthouses at Dovercourt

As mentioned, these lighthouses were introduced in 1863 to replace the Harwich lights. At the time they were built they were believed to have been fairly revolutionary in that they were of the new screw pile design and were prefabricated. A ‘causeway’ was introduced between the two lighthouses which can be walked with care at low tide.

Dovercourt Inner lighthouse

The lights were decommissioned in 1917 when buoy markers were installed to mark the approach to Harwich and since then have been through a period of restoration in the 1980s. Recent investigations have found that further restoration work is required to secure their future and it looks like this is in hand, which is always good to hear.

Dovercourt Outer lighthouse

They are quite unique structures and it was good to also see them from a different angle with the help of Joe the Drone.

Dovercourt Inner light from the seaward side
Dovercourt Outer lighthouse from above

Yet another day of doing a little more exploring and revisiting had come to an end. A very good day it had been and with it also being the last planned lighthouse trip of the year I was glad it had been a success and undertaken with great company.

Let’s hope even a little lighthouse visit can occur at some point before the year is out. Finger crossed 🙂

Suffolk: the second round

In recent blog posts I’ve become very aware of how little credit and attention I gave each lighthouse as I was whizzing around so many – particularly in the early days of my 2012 tour when I only included one picture per post. The methods of posting on this blog then were somewhat different with me needing to send the text by email to a particular address and attach a picture to have that included at the end.

This week I am in East Anglia and, although I’ve seen a couple of these lighthouses a number of times they’ve not received the coverage they deserve on here. So I now want to rectify that.

Yesterday was a day for exploring the lighthouses of Suffolk and our first stop was Southwold. With grandparents living in the area, Southwold is a place I spent many a wonderful childhood holiday. Perhaps it was the lighthouse here, sitting proudly in amongst the houses, that contributed to my love of lighthouses. It’s hard to say, but I can certainly see that it might have been.

Southwold beach

With all the times I’ve seen the lighthouse here I’ve not yet managed to make it inside and yesterday was no exception. It may well be closed as it’s now out of season or it could well be the pandemic, but either way I had to satisfy myself with an external view, but what a lovely view it is. With this one, although I love to see it close-up, the best views are the glimpses you catch of it above and between the roofs and the houses as you walk around the area.

Southwold lighthouse

With very calm conditions Joe the Drone was able to get an outing too. Bob attracted a bit of interest from passers by, which he’s not used to in the more remote places we go to in Scotland! My favourite view of Joe’s was taken from above the sea looking down on the town with the lighthouse standing proud. It was also good to see how it looked facing south with the shape of the coastline.

Southwold lighthouse from above

Our second stop of the day was Pakefield, which we managed to catch between showers. The lighthouse here is no longer active with the squat tower now used as a Coastwatch station. Again, this is one you can visit under normal circumstances, but the virus is currently impacting on that. Pakefield is the only lighthouse I’m aware of that you access through a holiday park!

Pakefield lighthouse

Up went Joe again and captured some great images showing just how small the lighthouse looks in relation to its surroundings (unlike Southwold) and the beautiful coastline here that is so characteristic of the area.

Pakefield lighthouse from above

Three lighthouses awaited in Lowestoft. Rather greedy of Lowestoft, but you will not hear me complaining. The two lighthouses on the end of the north and south piers in Lowestoft can be easily seen from the south pier, but you can’t get close enough to either to be able to touch them. The north pier is closed completely to the public while a fence prevents you from getting to the south pier light.

Lowestoft North and South Pier lighthouses

However, we had Joe and we weren’t afraid to use him – between rain showers again.

Lowestoft South Pier lighthouse
Lowestoft North Pier lighthouse

It was fairly overcast, but still good to get a different angle on these two and see the harbour from above. The harbour is far bigger than I ever remember it being.

Lowestoft harbour

With one lighthouse to go we continued north. As the lighthouse appeared among the trees on the landward side of the car I pointed it out to Bob’s surprise. I don’t think he’d expected it to be there and it’s another one that’s not in a standard location. It is right next to a main road on the west side and slightly further inland than you would expect. We parked up and wandered up through Sparrow’s Nest Gardens to get to it. This was rather good as I’d remembered the area being quite picturesque and filled with trees on my previous visit, but that time I’d parked to the north and so missed most of the nicest bit.

Lowestoft lighthouse

We strolled up the steps to the south of the lighthouse, which I think gives the best land-based views of the tower. From almost every other angle the lighthouse is obscured by trees. There is currently some work going on here with scaffolding covering the two buildings, which detracts a bit from the loveliness of it, but of course that’s only temporary.

We followed the steps up to the road, passing the lighthouse complex and then strolled back into the Gardens. We were delighted to see some fairly tame squirrels running about across the paths and on the grass.

A squirrel at Sparrow’s Nest Gardens

That kept the kids and I entertained for a while as Bob went to the car to pick up Joe for his final flight of the day. From above you can really see how well surrounded the tower is by trees, and you also get an idea of just how big Lowestoft is, which amazed me.

Lowestoft from above
Lowestoft lighthouse from above

It had been a lovely day of revisiting a few old friends, now with my greater appreciation of these structures and their wonderful surroundings. It’s nice to do these things at a slower pace every now and then. 🙂

Looking back: the first “tour”

What inspired me to go on my 2012 tour of lighthouses? Well, I loved lighthouses for a start, but I also had a taste of just how great it can be to go on a trip specifically to see multiple lighthouses back in July 2010. Thanks to my flatmate at the time and my sister, I was treated to a few beauties on the south coast of England over a long weekend.

Visiting multiple lighthouses wasn’t the only similarity to my later tour, as we also camped too. Camping wasn’t something any of us had done much of at all and I recall plenty of laughter and confusion when putting the tent up. It turned out to be good practice for me.

Our first lighthouse of the trip was the small but beautifully located Anvil Point. Thankfully we had excellent weather all weekend which made the walk from the Durlston car park to the lighthouse all the more enjoyable – and I remember the walk which is always a good sign!

Anvil Point
Anvil Point lighthouse

Rather fortunately the lighthouse was open for tours on that particular day, although these are sadly no longer running, so I’m even more glad to have done it when I did. I remember the tour guide being really friendly and pleased to meet someone else who had a genuine interest in lighthouses. I look back now at pictures of the tour and it brings back memories of being in awe of it all, which is a feeling I often still get when I reach the top of a lighthouse. I suppose you never lose that feeling of wonder – or I hope I never do anyway.

Anvil Point interior
The lens inside Anvil Point lighthouse

The views from the top of the tower were amazing, with the turquoise sea and the various tracks littered along the coastline around the lighthouse. We wandered a little further around to the east after we’d left the lighthouse and read up on the Tilly Whim Caves.

Durlston view from lighthouse
Looking towards the Tilly Whim Caves

We then continued on to our next destination: Swanage. No more lighthouses on that particular day, but we did have a nice ride on the Swanage Railway Steam Train to Corfe Castle. The Castle wasn’t open for long after we arrived so we settled for a wander around the outside and dinner in a pub nearby. We finished off the day with a visit to Swanage beach before heading back to the tents.

Day two was to bring back lots of memories for me and certainly made some wonderful new ones too. As a student I was based in Weymouth for a couple of years so Weymouth itself, Portland, and the coast around Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door became my playground and I am still very fond of the area to this day. I’ve obviously seen a lot of coastline since then, but it’s never dampened my appreciation of that area. Just looking at the pictures makes me want to go back. Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door were our first stopping points that day, followed by lunch and cider in Weymouth (for old times’ sake, of course).

Lulworth
One of the many great views at Lulworth

Continuing onwards to Portland, we set off to see its three lighthouses. Portland Bill is a pretty famous lighthouse and you can see why it attracts a lot of people, it makes for a nice day out. It’s another scenic area, particularly the views looking down on Chesil Beach as you climb higher and higher up Portland itself. It is incredible what nature does, and I could happily spent hours researching barrier beaches and tombolos, which I fell in love with in Shetland last yet, (put extremely simply, it’s an island attached to the mainland by the narrow spit). It’s truly incredible what nature does and we are so lucky to be able to witness it, either in a single moment or (if we are really lucky) to see how it changes over the years. Of course not all of the change is good of course as we are seeing at Orfordness now.

Chesil Beach
Looking back at Chesil Beach from Portland

The lighthouse at Portland offered another chance to climb some steps – plenty more this time than at Anvil Point. Even more lovely views of the Dorset coastline were to be had from the top of the tower and it was great to see the big lens in there too, although this has recently been removed. Back down on the ground we strolled around for a while and I captured a couple of pictures of the other two lights before we returned to camp.

Portland
Portland Bill lighthouse

Our final day began and great adventure awaited us, this time in the form of a boat trip which would take us out to Hurst Point. It was another beautiful day and I gave the big white lighthouse at Hurst a hug as that was as close as I could get to going inside. For some unknown reason we didn’t go into Hurst Castle itself, which with hindsight was rather foolish of me as there would have been the other two lighthouses in there and I may well have discovered the Association of Lighthouse Keepers sooner as they have some excellent rooms there, which I finally got to see last year.

Hurst
Hurst Point lighthouse

It’s interesting looking back at my pictures from that visit to see how the area around the Castle looked then compared to how it is now, although there was clear evidence then that the movement of the shingle was a problem. Again, it’s nature doing its wild and wonderful thing.

The Needles from Hurst
The view towards the Needles from Hurst and some of the sea defences in place at the time

Only a short visit to Hurst that time, but it was a perfect end to an inspiring trip. It was only a few months after this that I began learning to drive. The weekend had given me a taste of what could be done, and I knew I needed a car and a licence to be able to do it. The rest, as they so often say, is history! 🙂

The VIP treatment at Hurst Point

Back in 2010 I went on my first ever trip organised specifically to see lighthouses. The trip had been organised by a friend and my sister, and took in the lighthouses at Anvil Point and Portland. It also included a visit over to Hurst Point, taking the boat from Keyhaven. I’d not been back to Hurst Point since and so what better time than a Friday in mid-December when everything is closed to the public?!

Thankfully I was armed with my super lighthouse friend John (previously referred to on occasion as my flat pack partner in crime) who, being a volunteer there, knew the right people and where the keys were!

On the way to Keyhaven on Friday morning, we took the coastal route giving us some wonderful views across to the Needles. I often forget that the Isle of Wight isn’t so far away from mainland UK, mainly because I spend most of the time travelling there on a boat in Southampton waters! It was great to be able to see the island from this angle.

Thanks to John’s excellent pre-planning, we were able to hop on board the boat as the Hurst Marine team set off to undertake some ongoing maintenance work out there. It was a nice ride out and with the low winter sun there were plenty of beautifully lit views all around.

Hurst arrival
The active lighthouse at Hurst Point

In lighthouse terms it doesn’t get much more exciting than approaching four lighthouses. Yes, four! The only one of these I’d seen really close up before was the white tower – the most noticeable of the four and the only one still in operation. The priority this time though was to get at those inside the grounds of Hurst Castle. So in we went.

Hurst low lights arrival
The old low lights within the grounds of Hurst Castle

I must admit that there was one I was particularly excited about and that is the old lantern from the tower that used to sit on top of the Nab Tower. I think John knew this as, aside from a brief stop at the office for those who volunteer at the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Museum at Hurst, it was our first stop. First a bit of background: the Nab Tower is located to the east of the Isle of Wight and was introduced to protect again German submarines. Originally it didn’t feature a lighthouse, but this was added after the Nab Tower itself was no longer required. The decision was made to replace the nearby Nab light vessel with a lighthouse on top of the Nab Tower. The structure now at Hurst Castle is that very lighthouse lantern. It was removed in 2012 during a big renovation and had to be dismantled to get it inside the castle at Hurst before being reconstructed (without instructions).

Old Nab Tower
The old Nab Tower lantern

It’s fantastic to see how much love and attention it has had to get to the point it is at now, which is near enough ready to be open to the public as a child-friendly exhibit. Complete with rotating light and child-size steps, I can tell it’s going to be a very popular addition. It was a real pleasure to see this one.

Old Nab lens
The rotating lens now inside the Nab lantern

Next we moved on to the Association of Lighthouse Keepers rooms. This was wonderful to see. Just like the Association itself, the rooms are a real celebration of lighthouse keepers in particular. The displays include some wonderful pictures and also what has proven to be a very popular exhibit, a map pointing out where the lighthouses are so visitors can see where their nearest one is. Alongside the Trinity House rooms, there is a lot of lighthouse information there. I even got to wind up the rotating mechanism on an old lens – I would have been a useless lighthouse keeper! The old Egypt Point lantern was on display too, which was brilliant to see. Also the old Holm of Skaw lantern from Shetland. Amazing! A treasure trove of all things lighthouse.

Rotating lens
The lens that I (just about) managed to rotate

While we were in the area, I was allowed to venture up onto the roof of the castle, which is normally out of bounds to the public (another benefit of going when the castle is closed). John has informed me that this was a great angle for getting a picture of all three of the Hurst towers. We weren’t able to get along to the prime viewing point as there has been some fairly significant damage to the castle in that area in recent months with the shingle underneath the walls being washed away. Work is very much ongoing to try and reduce any further damage, but nature is a real force to be reckoned with. The roof was definitely a great point for a picture of the three towers.

Hurst three lights
The view from the roof

Next on the priority list was the old grey low light. The grey tower is open to the public on the odd occasion and I was very pleased to have my own private tour. With the lower half being just a metal framework section it was all external staircases initially. Once inside there were some really interesting features. The round windows with their large handles intrigued me and when looking through the windows to the east there were some nice views of the other two towers.

Grey light lamp changer
The replica lamp changer in the grey lighthouse

John showed me the replica lamp changer, a great little contraption. I saw a larger version at the top of the tower where the lamp changer is still in position and the old lens is still in situ too. John showed me exactly where to stand to be able to get a view through the lens of the Needles upside down! A rather unique view on those iconic rocks and the lighthouse.

Upside down Needles
Spot the upside down Needles!

We got even better views from the balcony, including a fairly close view of the other low light, the stone tower. Another lovely looking building. Again John was on hand to show me the two positions to stand in to see the different colours of the sector lights on the active lighthouse. With the wind picking up, the sea was getting much more choppy and you could see where different currents were meeting and causing quite a stir. Another excellent vantage point.

Old stone tower
The old stone lighthouse, viewed from the grey light

On the way back down I took a look at a map showing the various lighthouses that have existed on Hurst Point in the past. Once back on ground level we poked our heads into a store room beneath the old stone tower and could see the curved wall of the tower. In another room there was a little doorway leading to the base of the tower where there was a beautiful curved ceiling. There was, sadly, no access to the rest of the tower from here.

It would have been rude not to have taken a stroll over to the white lighthouse so that was where we went next. It’s a really distinctive tower, with the oversized “ball” on top of the lantern. At least that’s what we called it, for want of a better (or more accurate) term. The tower looked perfect against the bright blue sky, as it had when I had last visited. It must always be sunny at Hurst! The diggers being used to help save the castle walls towards the east could be seen in this area, as could the big waves splashing up over the shingle.

Hurst Point lighthouse
Hurst Point lighthouse

We took a look around the east wing of the castle, which at times feels like being in a maze with so many different doorways and sets of stairs. One area on this side gave some more great views of the old stone tower from a different angle with the shingle spit that links Hurst Point to Keyhaven visible in the distance.

Old stone tower from east
The old stone lighthouse viewed from the east

Hurst is a really fascinating place and I have much more of an appreciation for it now that I have spent more time there and seen how much hard work goes into the improvements and the essential ongoing maintenance. There is so much more to it than I ever imagined.

Tour guide John
Me with tour guide John

I am, of course, massively grateful to John for taking the time to show me around, making arrangements to get out there, and for such a fun time. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and definitely won’t be leaving it another 9 years before going back this time. 🙂

The missing light: Egypt Point

I was informed by a regular, and probably the most eagle-eyed, reader that I had missed a blog post covering a lighthouse I had visited last week. He is indeed correct. I confess, I visited Egypt Point lighthouse without writing about it here. Now there are times when I quickly stop off at a lighthouse and don’t mention it on here, but as a fan of the little lights I do now feel it would be wrong of me not to promote them whenever I get an opportunity.

Egypt Point2
Egypt Point lighthouse

My first intentional visit to Egypt Point lighthouse was in August last year, which seems crazy as I am from the Isle of Wight and lived in Cowes itself for a couple of years. As I said in that earlier post, I’d passed the lighthouse here numerous times in the days before I became seriously interested in lighthouses, and not paid it any attention.

Egypt Point lighthouse is unique, there isn’t another one like it (as far as I recall). It can be found on the most northerly point of the Isle of Wight at the side of Egypt Esplanade, at the bottom of Egypt Hill. All very Egyptian you may be thinking. Well, it turns out that the “Egypt” in Egypt Point apparently takes it name from the fact that a colony of gypsies lived in the area in the sixteenth century. That’s another thing I’d not questioned before.

Egypt Point plaque
The plaque on the base of the tower

The tower is actually quite old, 122 years old to be precise, although you wouldn’t think it. It was built by Trinity House and, in 1969, the original lantern was removed and replaced by a new light powered by electricity. The old lantern can now be found at Hurst Castle as part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers Museum. The added bonus of going to Hurst Castle to see the lantern is that you can see three lighthouses, plus the old Nab Tower lighthouse.

The light at Egypt Point was switched off for good in 1989 and, in 2007, ownership passed over to the Isle of Wight Council after a couple of local councillors campaigned for it to be kept. Just last month it was reported that Cowes Town Council are being urged by Cowes Heritage to take over maintenance of the tower.

Egypt Point1

This has to be among the easiest lighthouses to get to with it being right at the side of the road. Only the double yellow lines are there to stop you parking right next to it. Let’s hope it gets the care and attention it needs so people can just carrying on walking straight past it with only the occasional lighthouse bagger stopping to enjoy its existence.

Egypt Point

Oh, and while I’m confessing, I did briefly see St Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight last week too, but that was so brief I didn’t even get a picture. 🙂

The Near Naze puzzle

Travelling up the M6 today, we were diverted off of the motorway for a junction due to roadworks, and this diversion just happened to coincide with Heysham, which is somewhere I’ve been meaning to stop off at for some time now. Having previously seen the rather run-down lighthouse on the end of the south pier in Heysham, I just had to stop off to see the Near Naze tower and the nearby base of an old light.

Near Naze distance
The Near Naze lights (or what remains of them)

Our visit was rather well timed as the tide was out and the sun was still low, so a golden glow lit up the tower. Although the more lighthouse-looking tower was my top priority, I wanted to get closer to the stump (as I call it). The rocks were nice and grippy to begin with, but as soon as I started to walk across the tidal section the rocks became greener and more slippery. I made it there safely, but there wasn’t a lot to see. You can actually see more from further away with the metal posts sticking up from the stone section, which were presumably what the top section of the light was attached to.

Near Naze stump close
The Near Naze stump

 

The return journey was a little more exciting with the sun in my eyes and I ended up with a wet foot, but it’s all part of the experience. The taller tower is in fairly good condition, although the inside has a lot of rubbish laying around. It’s a nice spot, especially when you keep your back to the industrial buildings.

Near Naze upper
The Near Naze tower closest to the road

After the visit I did some research into the buildings here as it didn’t make sense for them to be a pair of leading lights. It turns out it’s all quite confusing. A number of sources say that the tower closest to the road is the oldest, built at some point between 1896 and 1904 as part of the construction of the harbour at Heysham. This is reinforced by Ordnance Survey maps from 1892-5 showing no lighthouse at Near Naze and a 1915 map showing a “North Lighthouse”. That all seems ok. Then you have conflicting explanations with some sources saying the light on the south pier in Heysham replacing the 1904 Near Naze light and others stating that the south pier light was also built in 1904. Some say that the tower and south pier lights were range lights, and elsewhere it claims that the other range light has now been demolished. There is even the suggestion that the tower next to the road was not a lighthouse at all as it was marked on an Ordnance Survey map as an anemometer station!

Near Naze lights

The year 1916 seems to make a regular appearance in write-ups on lights in the area. It looks like the Near Naze tower next to the road was discontinued in that year. Whether it was replaced by the light on the stump (we’ll call it “Stumpy” as that’s what I’ve been referring to it as all day) remains to be seen. Having checked one of my “go to” books, it seems to suggest (although it’s not really very clear) that the stump pre-dates the tower next to the road, but I can see no evidence of that elsewhere. It seems fairly certain that the structure on top of Stumpy was a cast iron skeletal tower at some point in the 20th century. The British Islands Pilot Volume 2, dated 1924, refers to a 70ft fixed white light shown on Near Naze and explains that when the Near Naze is in range with the light on the south pier it will lead vessels safely into the harbour.

The Admiralty List of Lights from 1959 also describes a 67ft white iron framework tower bearing a fixed white light. So that seems fairly clear and both from reliable sources too. As to when the light on Stumpy was turned off I don’t know. I’ve not found anything to indicate when the light was turned off or the skeletal tower removed. I’ve also found no pictures of this tower.

It’s a puzzle, but I feel like I understand a little bit now. I had anticipated this being a fairly straightforward and short post, but clearly it was not to be. If you happen to know any more about these lights then please do leave a comment at the bottom of this post. 🙂

Return to the Needles

It was a little over seven years ago that I last got a closer view of the Needles lighthouse off of the most westerly point of the Isle of Wight, the island I still consider to be home in many respects. It’s the sort of place you never lose a connection with, which I suppose could be said for any place where you were born and brought up.

The is a picture on the wall at home of the Needles, taken back in 2012, and so it’s a lighthouse that my son, in particular, is quite familiar with. He’d mentioned it a few times since we had arrived on the Isle of Wight earlier this week so we thought we’d take a drive out there to see if the boat trips that take you close to the lighthouse were running.

Needles
The picture of the Needles on the wall at home

The chairlift was clearly moving when we arrived so we were hopeful of getting out in a boat. We asked the lady at the kiosk and she said that they were due to start running the trips soon so we quickly bought tickets and rushed off towards the chairlift. On the way down to the beach my little boy asked if we were going to go inside the lighthouse and I had to break it to him that we weren’t. His response was “But I want to go inside” and all I could say back to that was: “So do I”!

We hopped off of the chairlift and looked across at the boat rolling about in the sea with a couple of men on board. The kids were quite content throwing stones into the sea so we thought we would wait there to see if the boat started to move.

Needles distant
The Needles seen in the distance from the beach

Unfortunately that plan was scuppered when the chairlift operators announced that they would shortly be closing the chairlift for technical reasons and that those who had tickets should make their way back up. We reluctantly followed these instructions, but decided we would go for lunch and try again later. It was slightly irritating to hear as we were heading to the cafe that the chairlift had re-opened, but you can’t dwell on these things.

A little while later we checked with the chairlift staff who reported that the boats were indeed due to start running very soon. Back on the chairlifts we went and wandered on over to the little jetty which the boat was moving about quite a bit at the end of. Last time we’d taken the RIB, but fortunately the only option today was the slower boat. I say fortunately as there appeared to be a fair amount of swell once you got out past the lighthouse, and the RIB takes you right around to the other side of the Needles.

Needles getting closer
Closing in on the Needles

It was quite a pleasant little cruise and a real pleasure to see the lighthouse again. The tower, at 31 metres, has got some height to it, but it appears slightly dwarfed almost by the actual “Needles” between it and the island. I sometimes think the helipads on top of the towers take away from the beauty of the structure, but what they take away in beauty they make up for in the “bring it on” exterior. The metal bars sticking out from around the helipad appear almost as arms spread wide, saying “Throw whatever you can at me. I can withstand anything”. I usually picture lighthouses as females. It’s just something I do, often singing “Isn’t She Lovely” at them, but I would struggle to do so with these rock lights boasting helipads. That’s possibly a little old-fashioned (and also quite strange) of me to think of it like that, but there you go.

Needles lighthouse
Needles lighthouse

The colour on the tower wasn’t as vivid today as it was when I’d seen it before against brilliant blue skies, but it’s nice to have different views each time you visit. We also had to contend with kids this time and while one of them held on to his seat the whole time and only moved when he was helped, the smaller one wanted to run free along the benches or lay on them singing away to herself. A natural at this boat malarkey she is, which is scary and encouraging in equal measure.

Needles and lighthouse
Looking back at the lighthouse

Once back on dry land and at the top of the cliff, the little man was repeatedly informing us that he didn’t have a Needles lighthouse toy – there was clearly a Needles lighthouse gap in his toy box! He chose, rather than a toy, a little ornament depicting the Needles lighthouse and the stacks. We also read up a bit in the shop, via an information panel on the wall, on the old lighthouse that was built upon the headland above the Needles in 1785. As is so often the case, this old lighthouse was frequently obscured by sea mist and therefore did not serve its purpose, hence the replacement tower being built at a lower level.

Today was a reminder of the variety of experiences you have when visiting lighthouses is your favourite thing to do. Some days are about the big adventure, hopping (or cautiously stepping in my case) onto and off of boats a number of times. Other days are for the enjoyment of the little ones when you take a step back, hold your hand out towards the lighthouse and say “kids, this is what it’s all about.” 🙂

Kids at Needles

The long way around: Whitehaven and Plover Scar

It’s a long way from the north coast of Scotland to the Isle of Wight and, particularly with two young children, regular breaks are essential. So why not tie these breaks in with visiting lighthouses?! We had to drive from Stirling to Leicester yesterday and, of course, if you take the most direct route you aren’t going to go anywhere near a lighthouse, so a bit of a detour was in order.

We decided to aim for Whitehaven as our first point. I’d visited back in 2012, but there was some sort of event going on in the harbour and there were far too many people around for my liking. I had just travelled around the coast of Scotland and got quite used to not seeing lots of people! As a result, on that occasion I didn’t do it justice.

Whitehaven lighthouses
The three lighthouses in Whitehaven (l-r Old New Quay, West Pier and North Pier)

This time we parked up and immediately headed for the south side of the harbour. We could see all three lighthouses in the harbour as we set off, as well as the watchtower, which is often mistaken for a lighthouse. The first one we came to was the Old New Quay light. It’s quite an amusing name: how can it be old and new, you might ask? Well, I believe it is related to the various stages of development in the harbour. There was the original quay and then the new one was built (the one with this lighthouse) as the New Quay. Then it was extended further with the north and west piers, so it became the Old New Quay!

Whitehaven Old New Quay
Whitehaven Old New Quay lighthouse

 

They’ve done a lot of renovation work on this pier in recent years, with that particular effort completed in 2017. It’s looking good, in fact a lot of the harbour is. The two other lights need some work, but it was reported this week that funding has now been approved for improvements to be made to the towers.

Whitehaven Old New Quay pier
Whitehaven Old New Quay Pier

Continuing on, we walked right out to the end of the west pier and what is probably the most well known of the Whitehaven lighthouses. It does need a bit of work done, but it’s going to look great once it’s finished. It’s quite an ornate tower. It reminds me a little of Smeaton’s tower. It’s nice that you can walk up the steps around the far side of it and see higher up the tower from the upper level of the pier.

Whitehaven West Pier lower
Whitehaven West Pier lighthouse

Whitehaven West Pier upper
Whitehaven West Pier lighthouse viewed from the upper level

From here Bob and the kids went to the beach to throw stones in the sea while I walked over to the north pier. On the way there I walked past the watchtower, another nice building. I particularly like the sun dial on the side.

Whitehaven watchtower
Whitehaven watchtower

Crossing over the lock, I then walked along to the north pier lighthouse. This is clearly the pier to use if you want to go fishing it seems, and the gulls knew it too! The tower at the end is a nice castellated affair with its year of “birth” on it. Another point for getting great views across the harbour from.

Whitehaven North Pier
Whitehaven North Pier lighthouse

I’m glad I have now spent more time in Whitehaven. It’s a lovely harbour to walk around with a lot of points of interest.

Our second, and last, stop of the day today was Plover Scar. I’m not sure what had happened between me and Plover Scar, but I’d not taken any pictures of it back in 2012, although I did see it. It’s amazing when you look back at how little effort you put in during those early days when you really only care about the bigger lights. Clearly my lighthouse outlook has changed since then as Plover Scar had remained on my to do list.

It was always going to be a challenge, What with tide times and the fact that we were taking the kids, but Bob had researched the former and we would just have to deal with the latter as best we could. We spotted the top of the tower on the approach road and then it disappeared while we parked up near Cockerham Sands holiday park. There was a nice little path around the coastline from here. The lighthouse came into view and the tide was far enough out to enable us to reach it. There was, however, a field of cows ahead of us that the footpath takes you through. Neither of us trust cows and we knew we had to get down onto the beach at some point anyway, so we headed down before reaching the cow’s field.

 

The walk out to the lighthouse wasn’t quick, in part because we had the kids there, but they enjoyed the walk (or should I say “carry” in the case of the little one) out there. The tide was still receding as we walked out, but we were aware that it was due to change soon and the tide charts showed that it changed pretty quickly with the transition from low and high being fairly quick.

Plover Scar distance
Plover Scar lighthouse with the tide out

We finally reached the lighthouse and it was a great feeling to have made it. You can never really appreciate the size of a lighthouse from a distance and it was good to get up close to this one.

Plover mid distance
Plover Scar lighthouse

The tower was repaired and renovated after it was hit by an empty cargo vessel one night in March 2016. The lantern was removed that year for renovation works to be carried out on it and repair to the tower followed in 2017. It is certainly looking good now. What a pleasure it was to see it close up.

Plover Scar close
Looking up at Plover Scar lighthouse

Although the walk back from the lighthouse needed to happen within a certain time frame due to the light disappearing and tide turning, it was still a fantastic walk to an excellent lighthouse. 🙂

The lights of the Humber Estuary and River Ouse

While in Hull for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers AGM weekend at the end of last month, it was the perfect opportunity to improve upon my previous efforts to visit the lights along the south bank of the Humber Estuary and the River Ouse. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a day I was excited about, mainly because our first stop was Killingholme and I didn’t enjoy my last visit there.

I did try to approach it with a more positive view that perhaps I had just been tired that day or maybe it was the stress of constantly feeling like I was getting lost at roundabouts that made me enjoy it less. I was willing to give it another try. Almost immediately after arriving in the area I was reminded of the smell and then we encountered the approach road to the lighthouses and the feelings began to return again. Bob had remained positive about it until this point, but he’d not been there before. He was just enjoying all of the industrial scenery around, it seemed. When we reached the end of the road and arrived at the first of the three lighthouses I knew exactly why I didn’t enjoy the place.

Killingholme North Low
Killlingholme North Low lighthouse

The lighthouse next to the road is looking even worse than it did seven years ago and has even more damaged cars surrounding it. I’ve looked into the lighthouses here over the past year and found this website. It is the comments further down the page that tell of happier (and not so happy) times at the lighthouses there. There’s also an interesting explanation as to why the North Low light might be falling into disrepair. It sort of makes me more intrigued by the lights, but I’d read this before I went recently and I couldn’t get past the feeling of the place.

Killingholme High
Killingholme High lighthouse

Not hanging around for too long, off we went and the next priority was for Bob to go up a quick hill, not that there was much “up” involved. I waited in the car as I often do on these occasions.

The next stop was Whitgift, where I’d only seen the lighthouse from the road on my last visit. This time we walked right up to it. It’s quite a nice tower and much better maintained than some of the other smaller lights we’d seen. I don’t have a huge amount to say about it to be honest. I’m glad I’ve been closer to it now.

Whitgift
Whitgift lighthouse

Now the next one I do have a bit more to say about and that’s the old River Ouse Apex light. I had seen this one through the fence back in 2012 and I’d also stopped at the nearby Yorkshire Riverways Museum in Goole, which had a nice cafe. On the way there this time though I discovered that the Museum actually closed earlier this year, which was a shame. We decided to still drive along though so Bob could see it, and I’m so glad we did. When we arrived the gate to the area the lighthouse is in was wide open, and who can resist an open gate when there is a lighthouse on the other side? We went in, but didn’t expect to stay long in case someone turned up and shouted at us.

River Ouse Apex1
The old River Ouse Apex light

 

We’d been there a few minutes when a car drove in through the gate, the driver got out and it looked like he was locking the gate behind him. I mean, I love a lighthouse, but I didn’t fancy being locked in a compound with one! We spoke to the man and it turned out he wasn’t locking the gate, he had just closed it and was off to play guitar with a friend in the little building there. Phew, we weren’t in trouble! He said it was fine for us to wander around so we returned to the lighthouse feeling considerably more relaxed and taking a bit more time to check it out. Considering it’s no longer in use and not even in its original location it looks a lot better than some of the other active lights in the area. It’s a really interesting tower and I was so pleased we arrived when we did so we could get a much closer look.

River Ouse Apex2
River Ouse Apex lighthouse

The final stop of the day as we continued our journey north was Teesport. This area is not an easy one to find a lighthouse in as it is rather industrial. Thankfully through the research I carried out for my book, it was simple enough to find. There’s no public access to the tower itself, but we could see it through a fence. It’s a fairly understated and functional tower as you would expect in such an area.

Teesport
Teesport Front Range lighthouse

We spotted the rear light (which is incredibly tall) as we drove along the road on the approach to the lighthouse. It’s a long way back from the front light, hence the need for it to be as tall as it is. We didn’t linger here for too long as we felt that we were probably being watched by a number of security cameras and personnel, so we got some pictures and off we went, noticing the security car hanging around close by as we drove off. Clearly they aren’t used to lighthouse enthusiasts in Teesport!

A good lighthouse day, even if it wasn’t the most inspiring. When you do these things you need to accept that there will be some good days and some not so good days. Although this particular Sunday hadn’t been so enjoyable, the following day was to balance it out perfectly. More on than very soon! 🙂

In Yorkshire with ALK friends – part two

I’ve found myself encountering more and more lighthouses in various states of dereliction recently, and although you don’t necessarily get used to it, it’s no longer shocking in the way it was with, for me, Ailsa Craig. When I saw the state cottages there I found it so sad, but I’ve seen many like that and worse since then. It’s a very rare occurrence to see a vast improvement in the state of lighthouse towers, and often their associated buildings, when the light no longer shines from it. A couple of Saturdays ago I was to witness exactly this though.

I’ve been to Spurn once before, on my original 2012 tour, and I was excited to be going back there as part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM weekend. I knew that it had changed a lot since my first visit and I was excited about going to what felt like an entirely new place. The two key changes that have occurred since my visit are that the tidal causeway leading out to what is essentially an island was washed away in 2013. When I was there before I drove out quite happily (I mean, I did nearly get my car stuck in the sand, but driving out and back was fairly uneventful otherwise), but now the only way to get out other then on foot or by bike is to join the Spurn Safari Unimog – a fantastic vehicle! Secondly, the lighthouse itself, while still recognisable as the same structure, has had the TLC it desperately needed. No more paint flaking off on the outside, and as a member of the public you can get inside it now and climb right to the top. The change is incredible really.

Spurn 2012
Spurn lighthouse in 2012

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have opened Spurn Discovery Centre on the “mainland” side, and this was where we met that morning. They’d laid out plenty of lighthouse-related items and artefacts for us, they had videos playing and Spurn-related books laid out – and then there was tea and coffee. We knew we were going to be well looked after here!

Spurn Discovery Centre.jpg
Spurn Discovery Centre

Once we were all gathered we set off for the Unimog. It’s a monster of a vehicle, and I know I wondered if we would be going over big old boulders in it and bouncing about all over the place. It was actually good fun and there were a couple of times I thought we might topple over, but the people who drive these things at Spurn certainly know what they are doing. The only thing that made me feel a little uneasy was that one of the volunteers there had said to me the day before that every day there are noticeable changes on the way out there. I suppose it’s impossible to know a “road” fully if it is in a constant state of change. One of the things I found impressive is that there are a number of groins still out there, jutting up out of the sand. They don’t look in particularly good condition, but they are still there, and obviously were able to withstand the conditions in which the road was destroyed six years ago.

Spurn Unimog
Our chariot – the Unimog

We arrived safely at the lighthouse and parked up in the same place I’d parked last time. It was more overgrown than I remember it being with higher sand banks, but it could just be that I don’t recall it correctly.

Spurn lighthouse
Spurn lighthouse now

We all went on inside the lighthouse. I could go into great detail about everything in the lighthouse, but (a) I’m sure I would miss a few things, and (b) this post would become far too long. The amount of time and effort the team there must have put in is astounding. It’s all been so well done and each floor has something different to offer, from details of wildlife to be found there, to the geology of the area, and of course the process of restoring the lighthouse. Of course you are then treated to some wonderful panoramic views at the top of the tower. The lens isn’t there anymore, but that wasn’t a problem for me as it meant I could stand on the raised platform in the middle and see out, which I couldn’t have done otherwise. From here I was able to spot the older lighthouse tower on the sand (more on that in a bit).

View from Spurn lighthouse
The view from the top of Spurn lighthouse

There was a lot to fit into our short time out there so, when we left the lighthouse, we were taken over to the most unexpected part of our tour: some military underground tunnels and rooms. These have only very recently been uncovered and there has clearly, yet again, been considerable effort put into discovering what is there and making it safe for the public to go inside. The walls in one room in particular were covered in graffiti and in another was a collection of items found during the excavation work. It was amazing really and added an extra element of wonder and interest to Spurn. What a treat that was!

Spurn tunnels
The military tunnels at Spurn

It was time to move on, so we left behind our hard hats and torches and continued along the track towards the RNLI buildings. On the way there, a few of us took a slight detour to go and get a closer look at the old lighthouse tower on the sand. Although it now boasts a not so fetching water tank on top, it is a beautiful tower. It once had the words ‘Explosive Magazine’ on the side and you can still see the remnants of this lettering half way up the tower. I wasn’t really wearing the most appropriate footwear for wandering out to it and my feet got a little wet, but it was so worth it!

Spurn low light
The low light at Spurn

We caught up with the others at the Lifeboat station. The original plan had been to have a tour of the station with the crew, but they were out on a call-out at the time so Andy from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust gave us a bit of history of their work out there. The Humber Lifeboat crew are the only full time all-weather crew in the UK. There are a number of buildings around the station, which used to be the homes of the crew and their families until the families were moved off of Spurn in 2012, which was by all accounts a very sad occasion as they had formed quite a community there. The work they do out there is amazing. The crew are paid for the time they spend at the station, but as soon as a call-out comes in and they go out they become volunteers. At the ALK dinner that evening the Coxswain, David Steenvorden, gave an incredible talk about his life in the crew, which was a real eye-opener. To hear his stories after being there that morning was wonderful.

Humber RNLI building
The Humber Lifeboat station

We left Spurn in the rain, but with a feeling of having been somewhere really special. Recently I’ve found that returning to places has uncovered new details and points of interest that I missed the first time around. I knew Spurn would do just that, but it went beyond that. It was like being there for the first time as I’d not appreciated it anywhere near as much as I should have done on the first visit. I felt very calm as I left Spurn – so much so that I nearly fell asleep in the Unimog!

That afternoon was the AGM and it was particularly important for me (aside from my events duties) because I had copies of my book there to sell and everyone seemed excited about it. The most important bit though was being able to hand over a copy each to a couple of people who had helped so much with it. The first was Ian, a former keeper on the likes of Skerryvore, Duncansby Head and Sanda. He’s been mentioned a few times in my blog over the last year and was one of the first ALK members I met. He checked over the dates and designers for my book (as well as various other things he picked up on in the final draft). The second was John, my flat-pack partner in crime, who has also had a few mentions on here. John helped to make the book so much better than it would otherwise have been and was the person I called upon to discuss the details of lights of all shapes and sizes. I’ve thanked him countless times, but feel he needs regular reminders of just how grateful I am. Thanks you two!

Books
John and Ian with their copies of the book

Well, that was the end of another ALK AGM and what a great weekend it was. Going to two places that are both fairly accessible was good fun, but the experience of sharing it with others who appreciate lighthouses as much as I do is invaluable. Many of them feel like old friends already because I have communicated with them so much over the past year. All I can say is bring on next year’s event! 🙂