It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to spend some quality time on the Northumberland coast and one target for this trip was to get a closer look at Coquet Island, a mile off the coast of Amble. I was aware that only wardens were allowed to land on the island so the boat trip with Puffin Cruises seemed the best way to get as close as I could.
The trip also gave a really interesting insight into the history of the island’s lighthouse and the ownership in general. The island has been owned by the Duke of Northumberland since 1753 after changing hands between the church, and various local earls and others with titles over the centuries. When the lighthouse was originally being proposed on the island the Duke at that time stipulated that he wished for it to resemble a castle, hence the castellated tops to the towers of the structure.
There is evidence to suggest that the foundations of the lighthouse and some lower sections predate the lighthouse and are actually the foundations of what was a Benedictine monastery, which was completed in 1841. The lighthouse contains a sector light facing to the south, warning of the hazards of rocks lying just under the water between the south of the island and the mainland.
Although the island is no longer occupied throughout the winter months, it has a long history of occupation and a strong religious connection. Henry of Coquet, a Dane, wished to escape an arranged marriage after experiencing some sort of vision that told him to do so. Arriving in Tynemouth, he gained permission to build himself a small “cell” on Coquet island and lived there until his death in 1127. This is just one example of strange uses and habitation on the island. The Amble and District Local History website features a far more in depth history for anyone interested.
The restrictions on people landing on the island I had originally assumed was due to it being a site for nesting birds. It turns out it is instead that the island’s owner does not wish anyone to land on the island, with the exception of the RSPB wardens and Trinity House staff (though it was suggested that he’s not keen on the latter landing either, but the maintenance of the lighthouse is essential). As with the nearby Farne Islands, I expect that if Coquet was set up to accept visitors it would currently be closed due to Avian flu as its bird population has been very badly affected.
It was a good boat trip with very knowledgeable crew. I was quite nicely surprised at how close it actually got us to the island. It’s certainly worth doing the trip to get a closer look at the island and lighthouse. It’s also a great way to get a better look at the little light on the end of the pier in Amble.
We followed the boat trip with a visit to the beach to the south of Amble where we had great views across to Coquet 🙂
On Sunday we decided to make the most of the good weather and set off from St Abbs for Seahouses. My dad was keen to go and see the puffins, the Farne islands being best place for them in the area. Sadly last weekend due to the ongoing devastation avian flu is causing, they announced that there would be no landing on either Inner Farne or Staple Island. This was a shame as I’ve been wanting to take a closer look at their respective lighthouses, but the bird-focussed boat trip took us around both as well as close to Brownsman Island and Longstone too.
The Farne islands are quite a special place if you are into lighthouses. There is plenty of history with 7 lighthouses in total gracing these small islands over time. The oldest was introduced on Staple Island in 1776, 100 years after permission was first granted for lights to be built on the Farne islands. Prior to this attempts at lighting the islands for navigation were limited to two fire baskets on Inner Farne. The Great Storm of 1784 unfortunately claimed the Staple Island tower, and it is believed that a second tower was then constructed to replace it. The remains of what could well be one of these towers can still be seen on the island, although I am unable to find confirmation that this is definitely the case.
Fast forward eleven years and the first tower on Brownsman Island had been constructed. The remains of this tower are still visible as the tallest structure on the island.
In 1809 Trinity House built the lighthouse on Inner Farne, which is still in operation today. Just two years later this became the High Light after a lower light was added to warn ships away from the nearby Megstone island. This low light was removed in 1911 when the high lighthouse was automated.
Meanwhile there was navigational development on Brownsman Island too with the introduction of a new lighthouse and attached building in 1810. This tower shared the same design as the Inner Farne light and contained a revolving reflector which burned paraffin oil.
By 1825 it had become clear that the lighthouse on Brownstone wasn’t preventing shipwrecks and the decision was taken to construct a lighthouse on Longstone.
Today Longstone and Inner Farne are the only two lighthouses still operating on the islands. The trip was a good opportunity to see these two again. Landing on Staple Island and Inner Farne will wait for another time 🙂
With a day to get home from Preston, a bit of a detour en route felt necessary to clear up a few things lighthouse-related. I had yet to see a couple of the lights along the south coast of Cumbria, along the north bank of Morecambe Bay as well as the Walney Channel.
Living where I do in the far north of Scotland, and the vast amounts of time I have spent in areas with big, wave-battered cliffs, the relatively flat landscape and the resulting fast-moving tides of this area fascinates me. To me it somehow seems more dangerous than spending time on coastal routes in areas with more dramatic scenery, and this is all to do with those tides. To spend a second day in an area where lighthouse bagging is so impacted by the tide is a really interesting experience.
Before we get to that though, our first stop of the day was Ulverston. I’d stopped here briefly during my 2012 lighthouse tour and the reason any lighthouse bagger visits the town is surely for the Sir John Barrow Monument. Generally monuments aren’t lighthouses (although I can think of a few), but this one in Ulverston has a couple of interesting connections.
When it was built in 1850 its construction costs totalling £1,250 were mostly paid for by donations from the public. However, £100 was paid for by Trinity House (the lighthouse authority for England and Wales) and the reason for this was it would be used as a seamark. There are conflicting stories related to this with some sources stating that Trinity House contributed based on it it being a seamark alone – though the original plans included a room in the basement that would act as the ‘lighthouse keeper’s’ living quarters. Others suggest that the funds from Trinity House were given in case the tower ever needed to bear a light for navigation purposes, and another that the donation from Trinity House was to ensure that the tower would never bear a light. It is all rather confusing.
That is not the only link though between the monument and lighthouses. The tower design is based on that of John Smeaton’s Eddystone lighthouse, which can now be seen on Plymouth Hoe. So, in a way, when you visit it does feel a little like you are visiting a lighthouse. I should add at this point that you may well be wondering who Sir John Barrow was, which is exactly what I was asking too. Sir John Barrow was born and raised in Ulverston and went on to become an explorer, a writer and – perhaps most relevant – Second Secretary to the Admiralty for 41 years. He passed away two years before the monument was constructed.
It was a pretty hot morning actually and so the walk up Hoad Hill to the monument, especially given that Bob insisted on using the steepest paths, was a good way to work off the remnants of alcohol left in my system from the previous day. The views were great as you got higher though, with those looking out towards the sea being of most interest to me. Chapel Island stood out for me as this big rock in the middle of the sea. I have since discovered that it is possible to access it at low tides, but with real care and from the east bank of the River Leven.
The monument is really impressive and quite beautiful actually. It does have a lighthouse vibe about it, which probably has a lot to do with the original design inspiration. It is possible to climb the tower on certain days between Easter and October. A good sign that the tower is open is if the flag is flying, but it is well worth walking up even if it’s not.
Back down off the hill, it was time to head for some lighthouses with lights! The first of these was Rampside, a wonderful skinny little brick tower known locally as ‘The Needle’. This tower, built in 1875 to guide ships into Barrow-in-Furness, is the last remaining one of thirteen of this same type.
The lighthouse is really easy to spot, sitting just off the road at Rampside on the way to Roa Island. Though it is close to the road, it is another one to be careful near due to those tides. The tide was pretty low while we were there, but there were still little puddles of unknown depth around that you need to watch out for. The fact that it has a ladder up to the door also is a good indication that the sea can impact access to it.
It’s a sweet tower and with most of it being red brick I was imagining it wouldn’t really be a very useful daymark, but seeing it later on from a different angle, it really is quite noticeable. This is another one with great views across to Foulney, Roa, Piel and Walney islands.
Speaking of Foulney Island, this was the next destination. Thankfully the tide times worked in our favour that day as this one really is tidal. Foulney Island is a shingle spit (with some grass) that reaches out 2 miles into Morecambe Bay. It is a nature reserve and an important area for birds during nesting season so some areas of the spit are cordoned off at certain times of the year.
It wasn’t necessary to walk the full 2 miles to reach the lighthouse here and it is clearly visible from the parking area at the entrance to the island. The walk out here was initially a little wet with many (thankfully successful) attempt at avoiding get our feet wet in the muddy puddles presumably caused by the area being flooded at high tide. Then it was onto the shingle, which gets a bit tough going after a while. There are the remains of a 19th century stone causeway here, which was constructed to prevent the silting up of the Walney Channel. With the state of some sections of this causeway now though it would be more like boulder hopping to walk along it.
The lighthouse here is a funny thing, even I will admit that. It’s an oddly shaped white glass reinforced plastic tower, which is very much a different coloured version of the light at Cardiff Barrage. Probably understandably there’s not a lot of information out there about it.
This turned out to be an excellent area for Joe the Drone to stretch his blades and grab some great shots with the tidal sections of the islands all around exposed at that point. There are the remains of an old stone building just beyond the lighthouse. It’s not clear what purpose this would have served. Beyond that, although we didn’t venture that far, you can begin to see the first of many pile lights in the area just off the end of Foulney Island. It was one of these type of lights I was keen to see next.
In researching my book, one of the resources I’d used was the fantastic Online List of Lights website. The owner of this site aims to have a picture of every active aid to navigation listed in the Admiralty List of Lights. This is quite an undertaking as it is ever-changing and covers the whole world. I could, and have, spent hours scanning through this site taking a look at the lights of all shapes and sizes. It was on this site that I came across the Walney Channel West Pile light and you can see its entry here. It doesn’t look like much, but the little white hut on top of the pile structure was what caught my attention. It was time for me to take a look at it for myself.
Passing through Barrow-in-Furness we arrived on Walney Island and found somewhere relatively sensible to abandon the car in Biggar. The OS map showed a footpath running down to the east coast of the island from here and this was really straightforward to find, passing along a narrow grassy area between two fields. Initially the walk was easy enough once we got to the coast, heading north and then east. After a while it began to get a bit wetter underfoot and I was very grateful to have had my wellies available for this walk. Again, it’s another area that becomes flooded at high tide. We stuck to fence line though to try and avoid, as much as possible, the wettest areas. At one point we needed to cross a stream about a metre wide and Bob checked it out first to test how deep it was. Fortunately it wasn’t high enough to go over the top of our wellies so we carefully waded through it and then continued on our way.
Rounding the corner we spotted a whole range of pile lights ahead of us. Quickly recognising that, even at low tide, the land between us and any of these lights was pretty saturated in many places, we decided to send Joe in to investigate from the sky. It was unclear which light I was actually looking for here, which was the first sign that something had changed in terms of the light structure.
After inspecting both Joe’s photos and the grid reference against the map, I was a little sad to have to confess that this one was a lighthouse demotion. The light being investigated is now possibly the most unimpressive of all of them. Some have some very fancy coloured daymark triangles on them, but this one was just a pile structure with a light on a stick coming up out of the top.
It wasn’t the most exciting or joyful end to the day’s bagging, but to go to these places to check things out always feels worthwhile whatever the outcome is. It was also quite fun to wander around to which is really a big part of the adventure of lighthouse bagging.
This marked the final day of a week’s worth of lighthouse visits. It really was quite a week and one that saw me visit those lights I had left to see on the Isle of Man and in North West England, so I returned home with a nice sense of achievement having reached this goal and explored yet more of our amazing country’s (and the Manx) coastline. 🙂
Although the day I’m about to write about wasn’t all about the tidal island and not all about being tipsy either, I just couldn’t resist the title.
I arrived back on the ferry from the Isle of Man following the recent lighthouse bonanza over there, and was met by Bob at Heysham. I’d made some lighthouse plans for later that day and we had a little time to kill beforehand.
While in the area we decided to pay Hale Lighthouse a visit. I’d not been here since my 2012 tour and I felt I hadn’t really explored the area properly on that occasion. Hale Lighthouse was built in 1906, replacing an 1838 light in the same location. The light was introduced to help guide ships safely around Hale Head as they approached the Mersey. This area is renowned for its fast moving tides and the ever changing sandbanks that can sit just below the water level, a hidden danger to shipping.
When the original lighthouse here was built there was already a private bathing house in this location and with the introduction of the first lighthouse, this house was converted into the keepers cottage. This cottage was demolished shortly after the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1958 when the need for the light was no longer essential owing to the reduction in trade in the area and the use of that particular shipping channel.
The cottage has now been replaced with a new property and this, along with the lighthouse, is now in private ownership. There is plenty in the area to suggest that, although a public bridleway runs along here, visitors to the area aren’t necessarily welcome. However, you can see why this might be the case judging by the amount of graffiti on the wall to the seaward side of the lighthouse.
Getting around down here involved a little hop over a bit of fencing (we later found the actual way down), wandering around on some rocks, and then trying to avoid getting stuck in the mud just below the lighthouse. Our shoes didn’t thank us for that that bit!
With the big plans still ahead for the day it was time to get a shift on down towards the Wirral. Thankfully there was a little time to spare which allowed us to take a swing by Ellesmere Port. On my original 2012 lighthouse tour I’d not managed to get to this one and I recall reading that it was part of the National Waterways Museum, so I’d assumed that I could turn up there and get to see it. I am not sure to what extent it is a part of the museum, but the land it is on is now private with the building owned by a fire brigade union. Having done my research though I knew where we needed to go to get the best view of it and so it was a relatively straightforward visit.
This lighthouse, built in 1880, is also (rather confusingly to my mind) known as Whitby Lighthouse. The village of Whitby in the area has, in more recent years, merged with other neighbouring villages to form Ellesmere Port. There is a wonderfully detailed explanation around why the lighthouse was originally built and its relationship to the waterways in this area on the excellent Lighthouse Accommodation website.
There is a fantastic old picture on the Ships Nostalgia website showing the lighthouse when it marked the entrance to the Shropshire Union Docks and Canal. Sadly the introduction of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 meant the lighthouse became surplus to requirement after only 14 years.
It was time to head for the exciting afternoon we had planned. In my role as Events Coordinator for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers I’d come into contact with the owner of the lighthouse in Hoylake, which is now a private home. I’d made contact with him ahead of this trip and had also mentioned our intention of heading over to Hilbre Island while in the area. He very kindly offered to walk over to Hilbre with us and show us around the Hilbre Island Canoe Club’s base there, which seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
First though he (Charlie) had invited us to meet him at his home and, of course, I couldn’t resist the chance to take a look inside such a beautiful building and lighthouse. For a start the garden is just glorious and so well kept. To see the lighthouse towering out of the top of the very grand looking house makes for such a fantastic scene. Charlie explained to us which parts of the house would have been there when the lighthouse was operational and how the building was split into two with a shared access hall when it housed the keepers and their families.
Hoylake Lighthouse was originally the high light, working in partnership with a low light that has since been demolished. Charlie has a wonderful map on his wall showing the area and you can clearly see how these lights, which appear relatively inland, would have helped to guide ships. The navigation on the Wirral is particularly interesting as running through a series of lining up lights was necessary for safe passage.
The existing lighthouse was completed in 1866, replacing its predecessor which had been operating for just over 100 years by that point. The light was discontinued in 1886. When Charlie purchased the house he also inherited the old lighthouse log book which, as you can probably imagine, is a wonderful thick tome just full of history.
I won’t say too much about the house itself as it is a (beautifully decorated) private home, so I will skip ahead to the tower. It’s a really unique tower, very open and the type that those without a head for heights would really struggle with. There is no central column, just open space, and the spiral staircase is made up of fantastic lattice metal stairs which allow you to see right through them to the area both below and above. There is definitely nothing enclosed about this lighthouse tower.
Just below the lantern there is the usual small room where, these days, operational lighthouses would have a couple of boxes that keep the light going. Then it’s just a climb up a ladder to get to the lamp room. What a space that is! Again it’s very open and bright with 360 degree views. What amazed me most up the top though was the width of the gallery. The railings around the gallery are pretty low so you do need to be a bit careful, but it is such a wide space compared to those I have been to before that I was quite impressed. Again, it’s all about the space at Hoylake.
Charlie had very kindly carried his wonderful and heavy old binoculars up the stairs (no mean feat) and set them up so we could see a number of the other lighthouses in the area, including Talacre (Point of Ayr), Bidston and Leasowe, the latter of which could be seen quite clearly with the naked eye that day. We could also see across to Hilbre Island and this served as a reminder that we should probably start heading that way to ensure we caught the tides right.
Hilbre Island, or the Hilbre Islands (actually three tidal islands, with Hilbre being the biggest) sit just off the coast at Hoylake. Although it is recommended to go from West Kirby at low tide, Charlie said that walking from Hoylake was fine as long as you knew which way to go. The timing for Hilbre is key as there is plenty to see on the island and you definitely don’t want to be only just starting the walk back with the tide already coming in.
Considering it’s a small island it has a really interesting history. There’s a great piece on the Hilbre Island website that gives masses of information on various aspects of its past. My interest in visiting was largely a result of the light over there, but I got somewhat waylaid when Charlie showed us the Hilbre Island Canoe Club building. He is a member of the club and the building is full of a variety of pictures from past and present.
While Bob flew Joe the Drone around the island, Charlie showed me a photo album which gives a wonderful overview of the club’s past – oh, and the wine came out!
There was so much conversation about the Club and other topics that I almost forgot what I was there for, but we did eventually make it to the lighthouse. I’d had a couple of discussions before with my lighthouse pal John about whether or not the light on Hilbre met the criteria for inclusion in my book. As a result, my first priority was to check that it did and that it was actually big enough for a person to be able to get inside. As you will see from the picture, the door is considerably taller than me. There may not be room to swing a cat in there, but it could fit a person inside. I would give it a good go!
Around 1810, two wooden markers were installed at the north end of Hilbre to help guide ships into the Hilbre Swash at the entrance to the River Dee. In 1840 these were replaced by new markers on Little Eye (the middle of the three Hilbre Islands) and just offshore at Hoylake. After being replaced at some point they were eventually demolished during WWII to avoid the enemy using them as landmarks.
A navigation light, an acetylene gas-powered light on a lattice tower initially, was first introduced by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Authority in 1927 to mark the Hilbre Swash. It was later replaced by the existing steel structure and ownership of the light changed to Trinity House in 1973.
Close to the lighthouse is the old telegraph station, which was the second station on the island (the original was a wooden structure). This was one in a long chain of stations used to communicate messages from as far as Holyhead to Liverpool. A couple of other lighthouse locations were involved in this process, those being Great Orme and Bidston Hill. The telegraph station on Hilbre was completed in 1841 with the system continuing to be used until 1860.
We then had a great walk around the island.
Then it was back to the Canoe Club where I proceeded to gulp down another glass of wine. When you are on a tidal island you can’t be hanging around for too long sipping on a glass of wine! The walk back across to Hoylake was thankfully very refreshing. On arrival back at Charlie’s we discovered his lovely wife Ali was back so we popped in and I enjoyed even more wine.
I had arranged to stop off at Bidston Lighthouse that evening to collect something and poor Stephen and Mandy ended up waiting very patiently for our arrival only for me to turn up a little worse for wear. As far as I could tell they didn’t seem to mind too much though and very kindly gave me coffee. The visit to Bidston was actually very well timed as it is currently one of four lighthouses currently lit up with beautiful moving light designs by Hendrick’s Gin, which seems like a wonderful image to leave you with at the end of this long and crazy day 🙂
As well as being something really handy to refer back to if I’m wondering when I visited a particular lighthouse, this blog has brought me into contact with some really helpful folk. Earlier this month I heard from a follower who had previously contacted me about access to the lighthouse on the south pier in Heysham, which I had previously only seen from the ferry to the Isle of Man.
I’d been informed by this follower in late 2020 that it was no longer possible to view the lighthouse from the north side of the harbour as the road had been blocked off. Fast forward 17 months to early April this year and he very kindly sent me an email saying that he’d found another way to get to it.
With a ferry booked from Heysham for the forthcoming Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Isle of Man event, it seemed the perfect opportunity to check out the route for myself. Thanks to his excellent directions it was easy enough, approaching from close to the holiday park to the south of the harbour, first using a footpath from the end of Money Close Lane to reach the coast and then heading north, following the sea wall around the outside of Heysham Power Station.
On the way there I spotted an old pier ahead looking like it had seen far better days. Towards the end of what remained of this pier was a small round tower with an access door. Obviously this kind of structure on the end of an old pier is always going to pique my interest. I did some research and discovered that it’s actually an old fog signal tower. In my experience, this is quite an unusual location for a fog signal. The old breakwater was part of the original harbour which opened in September 1904.
The South Pier light soon came into view, the top of its lantern appearing above the upper level of the sea wall. I was really pleased to see it looking in considerably better nick than when I’d viewed it before and in others’ pictures. This occasionally happens and it really does make you feel very grateful to the local harbour authorities who, in most cases, are responsible for these smaller harbour lights.
It’s clearly a well trodden route for locals. It may not be the most picturesque (although the power station buildings are quite colourful in comparison to most others – I feel like I’m rather unwillingly beginning to bag power stations after this one and the recent Bristol Channel and River Severn outing), but it’s great to have had a closer look at this small but important tower. Many thanks go to Howard who considerably reduced the time it took me to find it with his very clear directions 🙂
It’s been some time since my last lighthouse extravaganza – too long. It was definitely time to make up for it with a good old bagging session. It’s difficult these days to find an area that will allow me to visit more than one or two lighthouses I’ve not seen before.
I’d not been looking forward to visiting the lights along the south side of the Bristol Channel and River Severn. The structures are all a bit odd, a far cry from the majestic towers many would expect from a lighthouse, and I didn’t expect access to be particularly easy. A week on the Isle of Wight with grandparents looking after the kids allowed a day away though to have a good go at getting to some of the 13 I had left in the region.
I am really keen to point out here that I was really wrong to pre-judge the area in the way I did. Yes, the towers aren’t the most thrilling, but if all lighthouses looked exactly the same this would be a much more boring hobby. Access was also not an issue as the Severn Way is a massive help, you just need to know the right places to join the Severn Way to get to the lights.
The journey began (after the ferry) with a 2 and a half hour drive to Watchet. As you enter Watchet the sign reads ‘Ancient port of 1000 years’, which is quite a claim, but is certainly does have some history based around it’s harbour, which was turned into a marina in 2000 after centuries of being integral in the import and export of goods, including iron ore, paper, kelp, flour and gypsum. When you park up in the car park near the marina you are welcomed by an amazing mural charting historical periods from prehistory and the dinosaurs right up to modern day and space exploration.
The lighthouse in Watchet sits at the end of the breakwater and, as with many pier lights, is a point of interest for holiday-makers to reach. The small tower dates back to 1862 during the peak of Watchet’s role as a major exporter. At the time there were about 1,100 ship movements each year and the pier and breakwater had just been constructed. The tower was designed by James Abernathy – who won the design contract over, amazingly, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who also submitted a tender – and built by Hennet, Spinks and Else of Bridgewater at a cost of £75. The light now exhibits a fixed green light and boasts a nice little plaque which was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2012 to mark its 150th birthday.
Though it would have been nice to have spent more time exploring Watchet (there’s a Maritime Museum too), more lighthouses beckoned and the next was the Round Tower in Burnham-on-Sea. I’d been to Burnham-on-Sea before and visited the very popular low light on the beach and its high light, but hadn’t been aware at the time of the Round Tower Lighthouse. My research informed me that it was now a guest house and it looked like it wasn’t easy/possible to actually get close enough to touch – unless you were staying there, or course.
The best view of the tower is from the neighbouring graveyard (or, in fact, from one particular spot in the nearby car park). At the front of the building though there is a sign showing the Round Tower Lighthouse as part of the Burnham Heritage Trail. The sign takes you to this link: http://www.captureburnham.co.uk/heritage-trail/round-tower-lighthouse which gives plenty of detail of the history of the tower and it’s really quite sweet beginnings.
Joe the Drone took the opportunity to dust off his blades and went for a fly about and got some great shots from above.
Bidding Burnham adieu, it was time to head for the River Avon. I’d come across the three lights along the north bank of the Avon during research for my book and I wasn’t massively enthralled by them and access looked like it might be a bit tricky. I’d done my various map investigations though and found what seemed like a reasonable way to get to Fir Tree with Upper and Lower Horseshoe looking a bit more of a challenge. Finding somewhere to park in Sea Mills, we set off for the river, easily spotting the footpath heading down through the trees to the river bank. Passing under the bridge meant we were then on the right side of the railway line and the Fir Tree light came into view as soon as we reached the river. Upper and Lower Horseshoe could also be seen further downstream, but whether it was possible to get to them along the bank was something that needed more investigation. First though it was time to take a look at Fir Tree. It’s a very basic structure as the picture shows and I’ve certainly not got much to say about it, but it was a reminder that lights really only need to be functional to fulfil their purpose, especially when they are only lighting a fairly small area as this one is.
It seemed like there was a path that continued on along the river and I was pleased to find that it went all the way to the Upper Horseshoe light and, even better, beyond!
Upper Horseshoe isn’t much beside a pretty thick pole with a light on top and a ladder to one side which is covered towards the top. However, this was actually my favourite of the three, which (of course) had nothing to do with the fact it had Mr Bump from the Mr Men books drawn on it. It was just a better looking light and, rather interestingly, it had a long ladder leading up the embankment next to it and Joe the Drone later confirmed that the ladder led straight up to the railway line, which seemed like a very unwise return route on the way back.
The third light, Lower Horseshoe was also easy enough to get to by continuing along the small path. This one also had a ladder that went up towards the rail tracks. It was a bigger version of the Fir Tree light.
Looking back towards the first two lights it became clear why two of them were called Upper Horseshoe and Lower Horseshoe. They are located on a horseshoe shaped section of the river and later, when Joe the Drone went for a fly he wasn’t legally able to fly high enough (within the drone flight height limit) to capture the whole horseshoe.
It’s a very quiet area with the occasional train going past and as much as I expected to not enjoy it, I must say it was actually my favourite part of the day. Sometimes the fun in getting to these odd lights makes them much more memorable and enjoyable than one you can drive straight to.
On the way back, passing underneath the bridge again in the opposite direction I spotted another Mr Bump painted on the side of it. I’ve no idea why he appears in two places here, I’m quite glad he does.
Heading further east now and to the River Severn, the next destination was the very interesting box on a pole that is the Sheppardine front light. This one is super easy to access from the very end of Shepperdine Road where there is a parking area and the road comes out straight onto the Severn Way. It’s just a short walk east along the river then to reach the tower. The rear of the range lights – a tall pole with lights and day mark – can be seen nearby too. This is another really unique one and makes you wonder what they were thinking when they designed it. It has a radar on top too so the box room may well need extra equipment inside and the pole that it sits on top of gives it the extra elevation it needs.
I had just pointed out how good access to the bridleways were in the area when Bob suggested we try an alternative approach to the Fishinghouse Front light to the directions in my book. The light is actually very close to what is marked as an access route on the map, but the signs on the gates when we arrived there indicated that passing through here wasn’t going to be so easy. In the end we resorted to the directions in my book, which meant a longer walk, but quite a nice one.
The Fishinghouse light is another one of a pair of leading lights and, again, the rear light is a tall pole with lights in a field nearby. The front light is slightly unimpressive, but I’d say the walk to this one from Berkeley Power Station was what made it enjoyable.
Aware that it would be time to start heading back soon, we decided to leave the two Berkeley Pill lights for next time and instead take a quick look at the old lighthouse lantern at Sharpness Docks. I’ve not managed to get confirmation, but I suspect it was one of the old lanterns from one of the Berkeley Pill lights as the lanterns were changed on these at some point. The old lantern now sits just behind a fence and is looking in a sorry state, especially as the nearby green area is filled with nautical paraphernalia including an old buoy.
While in the area we spotted Light Vessel 23, which was built in 1960 and originally served under the name Planet at the Bar station in Liverpool Bay. After being sold to Trinity House in 1972 she served on a number of other stations before she retired in 1989. She came to Sharpness Docks in 2016.
It was time to head back to Southampton at the end of a day that felt a little bit like the old times with multiple lighthouses in a day. As mentioned already, this was a far more enjoyable day than I’d imagined it would be. There are still some more to do, but I don’t see them as the hurdle I used to 🙂
In this third part of my series of posts about my lighthouse journey I will be covering the period from mid-2012 to mid-2014 when I began to visit places I never imagined I would get to.
When I first planned this Reflections series, I’d not considered this rather important couple of years as separate from the years that followed, but it very much is. As a result, this will now become a five-part series.
As mentioned at the end of my previous post, I returned from my lighthouse tour with no plans for future lighthouse visits. That changed completely with the introduction of Bob. Many of my longer-term followers, friends and family will know the story of how we met, but for those who don’t, the best way to catch up on that is by reading this post. It’s quite an interesting one to read back for myself. It reminds me that 9 years ago I was filled with excitement and enthusiasm for visiting these places; the kind of feelings you get when you have discovered a new pastime that you enjoy so much. That’s not to say, of course, that I no longer have the same feelings, but it was a more innocent, carefree enjoyment then. I will say more on how that has changed in the final post of this series.
Those two years were a time of massive change – the biggest of my life so far. Within that period I’d gone from living in London and having no plans at all to settle down, to then moving to the north coast of Scotland, getting married and getting pregnant. Looking back now it was a whirlwind and I don’t think I even had time to take it in as it was happening. During the first year I would work full time during the week and spend weekends away visiting amazing places. While Bob was away for over two months for his attempt to climb Everest from March to May 2013, I filled my spare time with wedding planning and packing ready for my move. Once I’d moved it was only two months until we were married and then another couple of months before I fell pregnant. Life then was very much ‘don’t think, just do’ and I enjoyed the ride as all of these life-changing events were taking place.
There were two very important changes that happened during this time in relation to my appreciation of lighthouses. Firstly, lighthouses on islands suddenly went from being in the ‘not likely to ever reach’ domain to ‘I could actually go there’. I’d recognised the need for more time and money being required for visiting islands, both of which were not something I had been able to afford previously, hence my focus on the mainland with the original tour. However, when you have a successful first date on Arran, as described in the post linked to above, you know islands are likely to become a more regular occurrence.
Secondly, I gained access to a range of new resources that gave me a much clearer picture of where lighthouses were. It was from looking at mapping software that I became aware of many more lights that I wasn’t aware of. One of these was Loch Eriboll lighthouse, which I wrote about recently after a revisit. Since discovering this one I’ve grown more and more fond of these very modern structures. A short time after visiting the first at Loch Eriboll I encountered the second at Hoxa Head in Orkney, which is the same standard flat-pack type tower. Even in those early days I recognised the glorious surroundings you witnessed when visiting these small, and often overlooked, towers as well as the more challenging off piste walking required to reach them. The discovery of these was the start of being propelled onto a new level of fanaticism. It turned out I wasn’t just your average lighthouse bagger (if there is such a thing) who is only interested in a tall tower with a lantern, gallery and coloured bands as a bonus. My lighthouse adventures started to become more about going to new places and not solely about just getting to see the lights.
It was sometime during the second half of 2012 that I came across the book The Relative Hills of Britain by Alan Dawson. Bob’s well-thumbed copy had set up home in his car’s passenger side pocket so it was only natural that I would take a closer look at some point. I was fascinated by it as only a list person could be. It featured, among other chapters, maps of the U.K. split into sections followed by a listing of all hills with a prominence of at least 150 metres within that section. I knew my lighthouse list at that time was not comprehensive and I longed for a lighthouse equivalent list of Alan Dawson’s hill listing. Bob, the bright spark, suggested I should do it myself and this was the first ever mention of the idea behind my book The British Lighthouse Trail: A Regional Guide. Rather optimistically Bob’s suggestion was to get it published in my maiden name before we got married. That turned out to be an unrealistic timescale as it rather quickly became apparent that there would be more to it than just scouring maps and making a list. Key to the development of a list was having a definition and it took me quite some time to finalise that, based on what I already knew of the lighthouses I’d visited and those I had yet to see. It turned out I needed a few more years’ bagging experience before I felt able to establish a definition I was happy with.
In the meantime there were plenty of trips to be had. While I was still in London many long weekends were spent away in such places as Cornwall, Gibraltar (for the romantics among you who don’t know this bit, here’s the post from that trip), Orkney, South Wales, Davaar and the Mull of Kintyre, North Wales, the Isle of May and Bell Rock lighthouse. After moving north there were further destinations across the country including Pentland Skerries, Northern Ireland (another link for those romantically-inclined) and Colonsay. There are so many memories packed into those sentences and looking back now it feels like it all happened a long time ago. I very quickly went from doing a lot of my adventures alone to sharing the experience with someone else and along with that came more challenging walks to lighthouses, more access issues, and more pushing the boundaries in order to reach a goal. I suppose to summarise the change that occurred in my outlook during that period was the development of the bagging mentality – and it turned out I was going to need that very thing in the coming years.
Up until this point any boat trips to islands or offshore lights were undertaken using scheduled ferries or on routine tourist boat trips – but boy, was that about to change… 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Joe had a little fly around the area too, which is actually how we realised the light vessels were offshore.
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.
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.
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.
They are quite unique structures and it was good to also see them from a different angle with the help of Joe the Drone.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
However, we had Joe and we weren’t afraid to use him – between rain showers again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂