Going Forth at the crack of dawn

I’m not really a morning person, but when there is something worth getting up at 2.45am for then I will do what needs to be done to make the most of an opportunity. Bob had managed to arrange a boat charter for us today from Burntisland for a bit more of an explore on the Firth of Forth. To ensure we could make the most of high tide it meant getting on board Calypso Marine’s RIB Alert at 5.30am (allowing a two-hour drive over from Ayrshire), before the sun had even risen. We had a bit of a laugh about how early it was with Stewart and Leanne who were taking us out and then climbed on board and off we went.

Setting off from Burntisland gave us a good opportunity to see how the west pier head light is looking after being struck by a ship and the lantern knocked off in January this year. Sadly it’s still not been repaired yet. However, at this point it was still quite dark so at least I got to see it in action.

Leaving Burntisland with the damaged lighthouse flashing away

It was great to be out on the water, heading west along the Forth, seeing lights flashing all around. Although mainly buoys it was good to see Oxcars Lighthouse operating and also see its red sector light too as we sailed away from it. Seeing the bridges too was also fantastic, with the incredible rail bridge, the road bridge (home to little Inch Garvie Lighthouse) and the new bridge, also known as Beamer Memorial Bridge (because the lighthouse on Beamer Rock was removed to make way for the bridge – I should add it’s not officially called that at all).

With the big chimney at Longannet edging closer I knew it wouldn’t be long until we arrived at Grangemouth, our first stop for the day. At the west of the entrance to the River Carron there is what looks like a very large cairn with a modern light and solar panel on top. This was significantly bigger than I expected it to be, but it wasn’t what I’d come for.

The light (or lit oversized cairn) at the entrance to the River Carron

The main point of interest for me was the old lighthouse opposite, which is just outside to boundary of the Ineos complex. I’d known not to expect much here. There are a small number of pictures about of it from the past thirty or so years, including this one, and also a couple (here and an artist’s impression here)showing how it looked when it was operational. I had partly been expecting just a big piles of rocks so was nicely surprised to see that there was something that still vaguely resembled a lighthouse, though a derelict one.

The remains of Grangemouth Lighthouse

It’s really sad to see the state it’s in now with parts of the walls fallen away and it just generally looking like a very unsafe structure. It’s devastating really how it’s been left to just gradually be destroyed now it no longer serves its purpose.

The former entrances to Grangemouth Lighthouse
A piece of rock dangling from the old handrail on Grangemouth Lighthouse

Very aware of our close proximity to the Ineos complex, Bob put Joe the Drone up and got some shots keeping clear of their boundaries.

The ruined Grangemouth Lighthouse from above

After I’d been manhandled back on to the boat with a push from behind by Bob and a pull up from Leanne we were ready to continue our journey. I left Grangemouth Lighthouse behind, feeling very glad that I’d made it there and put in the effort. I wonder how many more generations of lighthouse baggers will be able to do so.

With the rising sun in our eyes we began our return journey. Stewart and Leanne very kindly offered to sail us close to Inchgarvie Lighthouse on the way. It’s always seemed so small before, dwarfed by the infamous rail bridge, but when you get a closer look it is actually a good sized structure. It’s clearly had a bit of weathering over time but is still a perfect example of what I like to call a ‘lantern on legs’.

Inch Garvie Lighthouse
Inch Garvie Lighthouse under the Forth Rail Bridge

There was just time on the way back for Joe the Drone to take a quick flight around the very understated Oxcars Lighthouse.

A Joe the Drone’s eye view of Oxcars Lighthouse

I see Oxcars as the east coast’s equivalent of Skervuile near Jura on the west coast. Fairly little known, particularly outside of lighthouse circles, but still as much of a rock structure as the big ones like Skerryvore and Bell Rock – just not quite so far out to sea.

Oxcars Lighthouse at sunrise

I’ve found in recent years that revisiting places does increase your appreciation of them. Yes, it’s nice to pick off all lighthouses in an area in one trip, but it’s only by going somewhere a few times you notice some of the smaller details and start to familiarise yourself with a place. Today was my fifth time out on the Forth, but the first time I’ve truly appreciated how unique it is. To be going underneath those three bridges with an array of variously shaped islands ahead of you, from the ship-shaped Inchmickery, to the relatively vast Inchkeith, to the very recognisable lump that is Bass Rock in the distance, the Forth is unique in possessing so many islands, particularly as it’s on the east coast. It’s also got plenty of interest for those into history (particularly military) and scientific study. With it’s close proximity to Edinburgh, it’s been used as a playground for many inventors throughout the years, from testing the strength of lighthouse lens, foghorn trials and even paint sampling to establish the best exterior paint to use in marine environments, there’s been a lot going on in the Forth for many years.

The islands of (left to right) Inchkeith, Inchmickery (built up to resemble a warship) and Bass Rock in the distance

As we returned to Burntisland we had a clearer view of the damaged lighthouse.

Burntisland West Pier Head Lighthouse minus its lantern

After a coffee, freshly baked pain au chocolat and chat on board Stewart’s bigger boat, Pathfinder, we set off for Methil where I had some improvement work to do. Back in 2012 I was a lazy lighthouse bagger and if I couldn’t see a lighthouse very well I wouldn’t put in much effort. Methil was one of these. It isn’t actually very easy to see at all with so much of the harbour inaccessible to the general public. Last time I’d seen it from quite a distance so it was time to rectify that while in the area.

Parking up in an industrial area we set off on foot for the longest pier in the world (no, sorry, in Methil). We still hadn’t seen the light at this point and didn’t for some time to come. We wandered along a grassy mound and then down onto the pier which may have technically been closed to the public. This rule is clearly not abided by very often, although you can see why the rule has been made as one section of the pier in particular has been partially washed away.

The most damaged section of the pier in Methil

Onwards we continued, and by this point I was wondering whether or not the lighthouse was still there at all as it still hadn’t come into view. Thankfully I spotted the top of the lantern over the sea wall a short while later and then there it was.

Finally approaching Methil Lighthouse

The tower is no longer operational as a lighthouse. It’s only function now seems to be to hold the solar panels for powering the replacement light on a stick which is just in front of the old structure.

Methil Lighthouse with the new ‘light on a stick’

After a few quick pictures and a short flight by Joe the Drone we set off back along the heavily weathered pier.

Methil harbour from above

While doing some research into Grangemouth Lighthouse I’d come across some pictures of what seemed like an interesting structure worth closer inspection at Burnmouth. It meant a detour but, being the Lighthouse Detective I am, I just had to look into it. On the way there we happened to stop for lunch not far from Barns Ness so a bit of time there was required.

Barns Ness Lighthouse

I never give Barns Ness the credit it deserves. I visited it on my 2012 tour and, although it was nice to see, the low lying land it’s on didn’t wow me in the same way many of the others did. As I mentioned above though, the more you visited a place the more you enjoy it (with a few exceptions, of course) and I did really enjoy seeing Barns Ness and wandering around a bit more this time.

Barns Ness Lighthouse and cottages
Barns Ness Lighthouse tower

There’s a flying exclusion zone in the area due to Torness Power Station so Bob wandered off along to beach to where he could legally fly Joe the Drone and get some nice distance shots of the lighthouse and landscape. I used the spare time very wisely, having a lie down on the grass next to the beach and enjoying the peace, fresh air, sunshine and sound of the sea. My spot also offered great views across to Bass Rock which, as always, was looking fantastic.

Barns Ness from above

Half an hour down the road we made it to Burnmouth. Neither of us had been there before and it’s a beautiful little place. A real harbour, a fishing village as it should be. There were local men sitting around on the pier having a chat and some beautiful memorials to a local fishing disaster that occurred on 14th October 1881, where five boats carrying 24 local men were lost during a storm.

One of the memorials in Burnmouth to those lost in the 1881 disaster

From the moment we parked up I was fairly confident the little structure at the end of the east pier wouldn’t qualify as a lighthouse. We walked along the pier and climbed the very high steps up to it. It’s certainly not the same structure as before as it’s now just a hollow round metal tube with a cap on top. What I imagine has happened is that the old light was redundant and in a bad state, so it was replaced with something similar that was never intended as a navigational light. Something similar has happened with the light structure in Cullen. I think it’s great to see as it often shows how much the community values these small but important little features in their community.

The replacement structure on the end of the pier in Burnmouth

There may not have been an exciting new lighthouse in Burnmouth, but it’s a great place with a really lovely feel about it. Sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere different and change your focus a bit. Quite often you find the unexpected there 🙂

A grand day on Oxcars and Inchkeith

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

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

Burntisland Inner lighthouse
Burntisland East Pier Inner lighthouse

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

Burntisland West Pier lighthouse
Burntisland West Pier lighthouse

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

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

Oxcars approach
Oxcars lighthouse

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

Oxcars lighthouse
Oxcars lighthouse from the jetty

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

Oxcars from below
Looking up at Oxcars

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

Oxcars and bridge
Oxcars lighthouse with the Forth Rail and Road bridges

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

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

Inchkeith arrival
Arrival on Inchkeith

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

Inchkeith experimental
The remains of the old lighthouse tower on Inchkeith

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

Inchkeith old house
Inside one of the old houses on Inchkeith

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

Inchkeith lighthouse
Inchkeith lighthouse

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

Inchkeith lighthouse2
The best angle on Inchkeith lighthouse

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

Inchkeith engine room
Inside one of the old buildings close to the lighthouse

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

View from Inchkeith
The view from the top of Inchkeith

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

Inchkeith foghorn
Looking down to where the foghorn would have been

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

The beautiful island of Fidra

As mentioned in my previous post, we were informed of a fairly last minute boat trip that was headed for Fidra on Wednesday. Fidra is one of those islands that, although it is fairly close to the mainland, isn’t so easy to get to. During bird nesting season landing on the island isn’t really allowed, meaning boat operators just won’t take you there. It is the same for Bass Rock, which is even more of a challenge to land on. Obviously as soon as the nesting season is over the weather starts to turn, so you just need to hope for a good weather window in autumn or winter in order to get to these places.

Bass Rock
Bass Rock from North Berwick

When we arrived at North Berwick and managed to jump into a newly vacated parking space on the sea front, we had wonderful views over to Bass Rock with its immediately identifiable shape and lighthouse. The sky was blue, but there was a fair wind coming from the west, which we thought wouldn’t have much of an impact on the Firth of Forth, but it certainly does!

We found our fellow passengers and the boat, Braveheart, where the skipper informed us we would need our waterproofs for the crossing. Always nice to hear! He was definitely not wrong though. While it wasn’t a particularly bad ride it was bumpy at times with a lot of splashing. Two of our party had taken up the most unfortunate positions at the back of the boat. You may recall in older television comedies where it was clear that buckets of water were being thrown at people to resemble being in a boat on choppy seas. Well that was what it was like. It was good fun though.

Fidra arch
The natural arch

As we approached the island the conditions became much calmer and by the time we pulled in alongside the jetty it was positively calm. Landing on the jetty was easy, much easier than many other landings. A couple of members of the group wandered off over to the tidal section of the island (the South Dog) while the rest of us followed the route of the old tracks leading up to the lighthouse, passing the ruins of the old 12th/13th century chapel. There is a wonderful natural arch in the rock to the right as you walk up. It’s not a big island, but it’s stunning. I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful, possibly because it isn’t particularly remote. I always felt that islands that took a long time to get to were often the most beautif

Fidra3
Fidra lighthouse and the old cable drum

As the highest point of the island is to the east of the lighthouse, once you’ve landed on the island it’s not possible to see the lighthouse. It was only after a few minutes of walking up the old tracks that it came into view. Just after passing through the wall that surrounds the compound, we saw the old cable drum that was used to haul the carts up from the jetty to the lighthouse. We also spotted one of the wheels from a cart on our way back down too.

The different land levels around the lighthouse give a variety of perspectives on it. The large rock to the south of island, as one of the other group members said, almost seems as if it was placed there just for people to get a good view/take pictures of the lighthouse from. So often it’s the surroundings of the lighthouse that add to its appeal and that’s definitely the case with Fidra.

Fidra
Fidra lighthouse from higher ground

The lighthouse here was designed and built under the leadership of Thomas and David A Stevenson. The light was established in 1885 and was automated in 1970. In 2009, along with lighthouse on Inchkeith and Elie Ness lighthouse, ownership of the light was transferred to Forth Ports.

After we left the lighthouse, we had a stroll around the old lighthouse garden, which is a fair size. It is covered with old puffin burrows so we had to tread carefully.

Fidra is a stunning island and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. A little gem in the Firth of Forth! 🙂