The lesser known lights

Our recent break in Suffolk had come to an end and it was time to head home, as suggested by my last post – which was due to be the final one for the year. Always wanting to get the most out of these trips though there was something that needed to be cleared up and this took us to Hawkcraig Point in Aberdour on the east coast of Scotland.

The last time I visited Hawkcraig Point was two years ago when I was entering the last few months of preparing the content for my book. I had a list of lighthouses I needed to check out to ensure they met the criteria for inclusion, and the two towers here were on that list. On the last visit we discovered that the rear of the two lights had internal access through a door on the side. However, there were no visible signs of an entrance on the front tower. Returning home I looked into it and discovered some aerial images that seemed to suggest there was a hatch on the top of the front lighthouse and so it made it onto the final list for the book.

Hawkcraig Point front and rear lights

Now that we were equipped with Joe the Drone though it was time to check it for ourselves. While I kept the kids entertained by walking to each of the lighthouses and then up the nearby steps which gave great views across the Firth of Forth (Oxcars lighthouse was clearly visible), Bob sent Joe up to investigate. It very quickly became clear that there is indeed a hatch on top of the tower which allows access to the light itself.

Hawkcraig Point from above

The lights at Hawkcraig Point remain a bit of a mystery to me as there is really no information about them online, even basic information such as when they were first introduced. Much of the history of this particular area centres on HMS Tarlair, a Royal Navy facility that was used to research and develop hydrophones to listen out for any enemy submarines in the area during the First World War. There are still remnants of this base, such as the remains of the old pier and foundations of a couple of buildings.

Hawkcraig Point rear lighthouse

Information about the lighthouses here is very scarce. This is something I am coming across more and more frequently as I look into the smaller lighthouses, particularly in Scotland, and I find it frustrating and feel the urge to be more proactive about uncovering whatever history there might be out there.

Hawkcraig Point

Bob made the error, much to my delight, of asking if there was anywhere else I wanted to go as we continued our journey home. After seeing three screw pile lighthouses during the week and my suggestion was Tayport to see the Pile lighthouse as I knew, with Joe, we could get a closer look at it – or at least better pictures of it. That was exactly what we did.

I was left with child management duties (directing them to run around benches and trees, and taking a look at a nearby large pond) while Bob and Joe got to work. There were a fair amount of birds about and Bob was keen not to disturb them too much so he got some pictures and then left the birds alone. It’s fair to say the Pile lighthouse has seen better days, but it is also looking remarkably good considering it’s not been in use for around 60 years.

Tayport Pile lighthouse

The tower was introduced in 1848 to replace the front of the two lighthouses along the coast of Tayport. It’s essentially a wooden box with a lantern (or the remains of one) on top and it stands on timber stilts which are screwed into the sea bed, hence the name ‘screw pile’.

The Tayport Pile light from above

Much like Hawkcraig, there’s not a lot on information available about this one, and perhaps the most valuable information comes from comments on Facebook posts in more modern times. It had been suggested that the lighthouse was never manned and instead someone would just travel out by boat each evening to turn the light on and then back again in the morning. There were numerous comments though from those who live or lived in the area confirming that it was in fact manned and had 24 hour cover. One particular person explained that the tower had initially contained a candle in a prism, but had later been converted to oil and paraffin. They added that there was a bell that rung from the tower too in the event of fog. The lighthouse marked the entrance channel for Tayport harbour and aided ships in avoiding the sand banks that lie to the south of the tower.

The lighthouse has also been known as the Larick Beacon, but locally it’s the Pile Light

A report on the Canmore website states that though the condition of the Pile Lighthouse does not look so good it is structurally still quite sound, although it will need some work done to prevent it from deteriorating to the point of being at risk of collapse.

A cropped version of the picture above of the Pile lighthouse in Tayport

An interesting morning and the weather had been kind too. That honestly is it for now with no more sneaky posts appearing for a little while. Hopefully it’s not too long before more adventures can happen though. 🙂

Minor lights of Arbroath, the Tay and Fife

Last weekend we received an email to say that a trip to the island of Fidra in the Firth of Forth was imminent, so as we always say we “made it happen” by arranging childcare and time off work. While we’d originally been looking at Monday for the trip, it turned out that Wednesday could potentially be significantly better. After getting the kids to bed on Tuesday evening we set off for Dundee, our destination for the night.

In order to make the most out of the trip we had a look at other east coast lighthouses that were still on the list to be bagged. On Wednesday morning we got up early and set out for a day of lighthouses, with the aim of being in North Berwick for 1.30pm.

Arbroath
Arbroath lighthouse

Our first stop was Arbroath. For most lighthouse baggers this would the start of a wonderful journey out to the fabulous Bell Rock lighthouse or a stroll around the excellent museum in the former Bell Rock signal tower. Due to the excitement of both of these on our previous visit to the area, we had failed to see the lighthouse sitting in the harbour at Arbroath. This one was easy to find, once you knew it was there. A very interesting-looking structure, that you would never guess was a lighthouse from certain angles. There are some nice little staircases and railings around the lighthouse so you can wander around the area freely.

On the way into Arbroath we had another stop-off at the old Vatsetter (Yell) lighthouse at the side of the road. When the lighthouse was originally transferred from Yell it was kept at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh. In 2011 it was moved to Arbroath to mark the bicentenary of the Bell Rock lighthouse, the Year of the Light. It’s always nice to see a lighthouse a bit out of place. Even when you know it’s there, it’s good fun to spot again.

North Carr light vessel
North Carr light vessel

Our next lighthouse was the old King William IV Dock light, which has been relocated to the west of the north end of the Tay Road Bridge. On our way there we spotted the North Carr Lightvessel, which is looking a little worse for wear in Victoria Dock. It has a really interesting history. It was loaned to the Northern Lighthouse Board by Trinity House for use to protect ships from the North Carr reef, just off of Fife Ness, from 1933 to 1976. After that it was used as a floating museum in Anstruther. In 2002 it was sold on and then sold for ÂŁ1 in 2010. It is a sad condition that it is now in, particularly as it is the only one of Scottish light vessels that remains. There is more details of its history on the Northern Lighthouse Board website.

 

King William IV Dock
The King William IV Dock lighthouse

We found the old lighthouse next to the Tay Road Bridge. It is also know as the Telford Beacon, in honour of Thomas Telford. This little lighthouse became landlocked after the bridge and supporting road network was built and there is a fascinating time lapse video online showing how the lighthouse was moved (in one piece, might I add) from its former location to where it stands today. It’s great to see that the lighthouse is being looked after and the area surrounding it has recently been improved to support greater movement of pedestrians and cyclists along the bank of the river. If only they had done the same sort of thing with Beamer Rock lighthouse when the new bridge was built over the Firth of Forth! Hopefully that one will make a reappearance again some day.

 

St Andrews
St Andrews lighthouse

 

St Andrews was next on the list. Another village we had passed through without realising it had a lighthouse! The small semi-circular lighthouse can be found just above the harbour, in front of the old cathedral ruins. It is clearly not a structure that is raved about in the area, but sometimes that’s a good thing. In researching for my list I had read that there was also the remains of an old lighthouse in the wall of the cathedral. This had been the rear of a range of lights – the front light is long gone. When we got there we found the section of wall it had been on and I quickly decided that the old lighthouse should be demoted due to the tower on which it stood not being built originally to serve as a lighthouse. I was happy to have seen the smaller light above the harbour though, so still worthwhile visiting.

Pittenweem
Pittenweem’s old lighthouse

 

 

Carrying on around the Fife coast, we came to Pittenweem. The old lighthouse here sits halfway along the east pier. It was discontinued when the pier was extended. It is very much a fishing village harbour and was fairly quiet while we were there. I strolled out along the pier to see the lighthouse. It’s not the most impressive by any means, and it is currently cordoned off by cones and tape, which I take to mean that there is something structurally unsound or dangerous going on there at the moment. A new beacon exists at the end of the new pier extension, but this doesn’t qualify for the list.

 

 

Burntisland inner pier
Burntisland East Pier Inner lighthouse

 

 

Before we attempted the lighthouses in Burntisland (which I’d always thought was pronounced “burntis-land” until I was more reliably informed that it’s “burnt-island”), Bob had warned me that this visit may only be a recce for a future visit. It’s a fairly built-up area with the docks very much in use. We took a drive around anyway and noticed a private car park, which looked like it would allow a view to the lighthouses. We drove through the car park and continued on until we reached a fence behind which sat the East Pier Inner lighthouse. It is in quite a bad way now. I had a note that it was a “white tower”, but “rusty tower” would have been a more appropriate description. From the east pier light we could see the West Pier Head lighthouse, which is doing a lot better. Just from looking across to the other pier we could see that there was no way we would be able to get any closer without being approached or getting into trouble, so we were resigned to the fact that we would have to settle for a slight distance bag for this one.

Hawkcraig
Hawkcraig Point lighthouses

Hawkcraig Point in Aberdour was our next stop. It seems like a nice area with some good spaces to walk along the coast. We parked a little further away that we needed to, partly because we didn’t know the area. It turned out we could actually have driven all the way there, but it was good to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. I had two lighthouses at Hawkcraig Point on the list, but I came away with only one. The front of the two leading lights is a more substantial structure. The rear light is taller and thinner than the front and not so easy to spot unless you are heading for the front light and happen to turn around, which is exactly how I found it.

 

 

Leith
The former Burntisland Breakwater light, now in Leith

 

 

Later on that day, and still on our way to North Berwick, we chose to go through Leith to see the old Burntisland East Breakwater lighthouse, which is now alongside the Water of Leith. By that point we were short on time and, although we used a grid reference and GPS device to find it (which was fairly accurate) it took us longer to find as it was obscured behind trees. I got there eventually though. It’s another example of a redundant lighthouse being displayed for the enjoyment of everyone – the third that day after Vatsetter and King William IV Dock!

After leaving Leith we made it in time for our boat out to Fidra. The lighthouse on Fidra, I feel deserves its own space, so a post on that will follow soon (a link to it will appear here once it is ready). 🙂