A very fresh restart to the UK lighthouse tour

It’s been, and feels like it too, a long time since I posted on here about a lighthouse visit. What day could be better to get back up and running than May Day. A new month in mid-Spring and a brand new challenge. By brand new I mean it quite literally with a visit to a one-month old lighthouse. In March this year the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) switched on their first lighthouse built in almost 12 years on Rubha Cuil-cheanna in Onich, just to the south of Corran.

The need for a lighthouse here was recognised due to the increasing use of Corran Narrows by cruise ships arriving at and departing from Fort William. It was in 2009 that the Corran Narrows North East light was installed just to the north of Corran for this same purpose and to supplement the well-known light at Corran Point. The North East light previously held the title for youngest NLB lighthouse.

A drone shot Bob captured of the Corran Narrows North East lighthouse yesterday

On the way to Onich yesterday, I was keen to find out the meaning of the name Rubha Cuil-cheanna. I established that ‘rubha’ means ‘headland’ or ‘promontory’. This is a word I’d encountered before in lighthouse names, and understandably so. ‘Cuil’ means ‘recess’ or ‘nook’, and ‘cheanna’ is ‘head’. The hyphenation in the name indicates that ‘cuil’ is an adjective giving an indication of place to ‘cheanna’. Based on this my very rough translation is ‘nook head promontory’. That’s a very literal translation of course and if we look at Rubha nan Gall on Mull, which translates as ‘Stranger’s Point’ then ‘nook head point’ might be a bit more like it. Either way it’s a very good description of the geography of the area as you will see in this picture.

The very end of Rubha Cuil-cheanna, clearly showing the ‘nook’ at the bottom

I’d spent quite some time looking at maps prior to the trip to work out the best approach. It seemed over land probably wouldn’t be ideal as there looked to be houses about. I know the Scottish laws make many areas very accessible, but it’s usually best not to push it and risk being shouted at, especially when we had the kids with us. A coastal approach seemed best. Onich seemed the obvious starting point, but again it wasn’t clear where you could park without it becoming a long walk for the kids. I also looked at a Bunree start from the caravan site.

The map also suggested that it might be best visited at low tide as there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre around the coast at high tide. Our timing this morning didn’t really tie in with low tide, in fact it was only 90 minutes after high tide. Knowing that our chances of success were much better if we left it another two or three hours, we spent a while playing about on the rocky beach (having thankfully found a great place to park up just above the beach – there’s an area for those in camper vans to park by arrangement too). Joe the Drone went for a spin and was the first to catch a glimpse of the lighthouse we were aiming for. We decided to find a park for the kids to have a run about in to pass some time.

Onich beach at high tide
Joe the Drone’s first view of Rubha Cuil-Cheanna lighthouse with Corran Narrows beyond

En route we drove along to the caravan site at Bunree to check out access from that side, although the map suggested the tide would need to be even lower to get along parts of that stretch. A sign on the gate at the campsite said ‘No visitors’ so without trying to find a long way around the caravan site that didn’t seem a decent alternative.

I spent a couple of hours being very impatient, desperate to be heading to the lighthouse but realising the longer we waited the better. We arrived back at Onich about 2 and a half hours before low tide and it was clear that the route was looking much drier so off we set. These things always take so much longer with kids in tow, stopping to pick up shells and rocks or having a bit of a whinge about being tired.

The start of the walk at lower tide
At the ‘nook’

All seemed to be going relatively smoothly until we reached the far end of the promontory where the water was still quite high. Bob went off to check how wet it was while we waited. As he returned from inland I knew that he’d obviously found an alternative way that didn’t require wading.

Rubha Cuil-cheanna from above with the water still high around the very tip

We all set off up the grassy slope through the trees and followed a track to a certain point where Bob went off ahead again to check the route before continuing on.

Heading off the beach
The view from our first waiting point was particularly good

We made it to a point where we could catch sight of the lighthouse through the trees, but we were still above the beach with no really clear route down. Again Bob continued along the track while we waited and he then appeared on the beach below informing us that we needed to go down the rocks where we were instead. The rocks were all fairly grippy, just a bit steep and so Bob manhandled the kids down one at a time.

Continuing along at the higher level
A zoomed in view of the first glimpse of the lighthouse through the trees with Corran lighthouse in the background
The route down the rocks, which wasn’t so bad

Once we were down on the beach we knew it was plain sailing and a short time later we arrived at the lighthouse. It’s a stunning location with magnificent views up Corran Narrows and over to the hills on the opposite side of Loch Linnhe. The lighthouse is quite a standard flat-pack style, but (like the Corran Narrows North East light) with the solar panels mounted on one side of the structure rather than separate. The lighting arrangements are particularly interesting with an All Round Light for the benefit of vessels heading north and three directional lights helping navigation through the narrowest section near the main Corran lighthouse. The tower doesn’t have a NLB plaque on the door as yet, but hopefully it will soon.

Rubha Cuil-Cheanna lighthouse comes into view (the NLB capitalise the ‘c’ in ‘cheanna’
Rubha Cuil-Cheanna lighthouse
Rubha Cuil-Cheanna and Corran lighthouses will clearly work well together
The view down Loch Linnhe from the lighthouse
The All Round Light is visible here with the back of the directional lights
The Rubha Cuil-Cheanna directional lights

Joe the Drone had a fly around too and captured some beautiful shots before we began the walk back. By this point it was an hour before low tide and we were able to get back around the coast. It was still quite wet in places around the end of the headland, but it was fine to navigate along the seaweed section. Depending on the tides, I would say it’s only really going to be passable 90 minutes or so either side of low tide. Once we were a bit further around we headed out to the shingle bar from which the walk back to the car was nice and dry.

A Joe’s eye view showing the status of the tide around the point

It felt like a great achievement to have made it there while it’s still so new. It’s another example of a flat-pack being a real adventure to get to, and it was great to have the kids along this time. It’s the first flat-pack for them both and hopefully they will see many more in the years to come. When sharing a picture of the kids with the lighthouse with a friend earlier their response was ‘And your kids will think they just do the same as everyone else on a Saturday!’, and then going on to describe the adventures with the kids as ‘delightfully different’. It’s not something I’d thought about as it’s just what we’ve always done. Hopefully they’ll continue to embrace it as they grow older rather than rebelling and losing interest entirely. Time will tell.

On the way back, as shown earlier in the post, we stopped just up the A82 from the Corran Narrows North East lighthouse and Joe took a spin to get some pictures, including this great one showing the whole area lit along Corran Narrows.

Corran Narrows from above with the North East light in the bottom left, Corran Point on the right of the narrowest point and Rubha Cuil-cheanna in the distance

I would highly recommend this walk to others interested in exploring the area and it’s been a really good experience to check out access to this one which won’t have been visited so much just yet 🙂

Loch Eriboll in winter

In these times of lockdown I am grateful for the vast landscape and small numbers of people we have living up on the north coast. Today was an opportunity to embrace that and go off piste for a winter return to Loch Eriboll lighthouse.

With the prediction of sunshine and very little wind, it was time for Joe the Drone to dust himself off and head out for a flight. Thankfully Bob’s mum has been staying with us in our bubble for a few weeks now and was happy to manhandle the children again so we could head out.

Loch Eriboll was the first of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s flat-pack lighthouses I had visited. That was back in 2012 and I walked along to it again in 2019 with my pal John. Each visit so far has been different and today was really no exception. The frozen bog actually made it far more pleasant and less wet than it was on my first visit.

This lighthouse, and Loch Eriboll in general, holds a special place in my heart. I can’t pinpoint exactly why that is, but I am fascinated by it. I suppose it’s a combination of it’s beauty, it’s geography and geology, and the part it naturally plays in maritime safety – being the last safe haven before Cape Wrath for ships heading west and the first point of safety for vessels after rounding the Cape. Some places you just feel a connection to and this is certainly one of mine.

The start of the walk is very much focussed on walking along the east side of Loch Ach’an Lochaidh with it’s lovely little islands. On a day like today it’s hard to imagine it being anything other than serene.

The tranquil Loch Ach-an Lochaidh

Once past the loch it’s a matter of heading in the right direction which takes you up and down, left and right as you avoid boggy sections and steep slopes. Thankfully much of the vegetation has died back which made it a lot easier to navigate.

This picture gives an idea of the terrain
Near enough all the water in this burn was frozen over
Loch Eriboll lighthouse with the entrance to the loch in the distance

Once close to the lighthouse Bob sent Joe up and I explored a little bit. I took a stroll along to a sheltered beach area to the south of the lighthouse. Sadly a lot of rubbish has been gathering here.

I then took the opportunity to sit down and enjoying the panoramic views to the north, west and south – with the occasional glance back at the lighthouse of course.

The view of Loch Eriboll during my rest
The view to the west
The view of the lighthouse to the north

Joe captured some really excellent shots. I have always been fascinated by the white marks down the rock in front of the lighthouse, which presumably is where some sort of acid was thrown down it before the structure was changed to a flat-pack.

Joe the Drone’s shot of Loch Ach-an Lochaidh
A bird’s eye view from the north east
Loch Eriboll lighthouse from the south west

A further short stroll took me closer to the lighthouse where there were some good views to be had from it too. I suppose the modern structure can’t really be compared to the natural beauty of Loch Eriboll and the snow-capped hills on west side of the loch, but if I’d not been out there to see the lighthouse I’d never have seen the natural beauties on show there.

Loch Eriboll lighthouse gets some incredible views

The walk back was just as enjoyable. The remains of the little house not too far from the lighthouse always amazes me. What an equally beautiful and challenging place to live. There’s a lovely little burn running alongside the house though and I really like the patch of trees close by.

The ruin with the lighthouse and entrance to the loch beyond
There aren’t so many trees in the area so it was nice to see these
Lovely reflections on the way back
The burn you need to cross not far from the parking area

A really enjoyable relatively short walk today, made better by doing it in such frozen conditions. I’ll get back to my reflections posts shortly. 🙂

Return to Rubh Re

Those regular readers with a good memory may well recall that the last of my posts signed off by saying it was likely to be the last of the year, although I was hopeful of being able to fit something in. Ever the opportunist, when Bob suggested a weekend away while the kids stayed home with his mum there was no way I was going to turn it down.

But where to go? As always Bob had an idea and it was to travel down to Oban where we would base ourselves for exploring a couple of places. “But Rubh Re is nowhere near Oban” I hear you say, and you would be correct, although it is still in Scotland and still on the west coast. The draw over to this part was two-fold: Joe the Drone had never been there, and the Gairloch Museum (home to the old Rubh Re lighthouse lens) had moved into a new building – a former nuclear bunker, so I’ve been informed – which had only opened last year.

Arriving in the sunshine we decided it would be best to head for the lighthouse first. The road out to the lighthouse has some fairly scary sections, but thankfully there was no unwelcoming signs or people saying it was a private road (as has been the case for many people before). I believe a change in ownership of the lighthouse cottages has helped with that!

Approaching Rubh Re lighthouse

Rubh Re is actually a fair distance from Gairloch, which we drove through on the way there. I always thought it was ‘just up the road and round the corner’ kind of distance, but the road is fairly long and goes through a few outlying villages first. It’s absolutely worth it though as, when the lighthouse comes into view it certainly is a beautiful thing to behold. To me Rubh Re lighthouse is quite distinctive and it is so often photographed from this particular angle and you can see why.

The popular angle on Rubh Re lighthouse

It was quiet there today and although we saw another car in the parking area a short distance before the lighthouse, there were no other people to be seen. As we were leaving we spotted the owner of the cottages hanging out his horizontal washing – or “lighthouse washing” as I like to call it, which must almost always be horizontal with the wind in these coastal areas.

Looking back at Rubh Re lighthouse from the north

Close to the lighthouse gate there is a sign with a little information about the lighthouse and it also directs you to follow the path to see the old jetty that was used for bringing in supplies when the lighthouse was manned. I decided to take a stroll along that way as I’d not noticed it before. It was a nice little walk in the sunshine, passing a few sheep on the way.

The path to the lighthouse jetty

The jetty is looking very good considering it’s probably not used much now. The old mechanisms have obviously gone now, but the little set of steps and the main platform are still very much intact. Tucked away around a corner it seemed like it would be quite a good landing area, but apparently that was not the case. At Gairloch Museum I listened to some accounts from a former keeper and the large rock that sits near the landing caused problems for getting a boat in. I imagine if there was a lot of swell and movement there would be a risk of striking the rock.

Arriving at the jetty
Rubh Re jetty
The landing area and the hazardous rocks

Bob had stayed back at the lighthouse flying Joe about and caught up with me as I was heading back from the jetty. He’d managed to get some great shots of the lighthouse in the sunshine. 

Rubh Re from the south
The view of Rubh Re from the west

Rubh Re and the access road

Unfortunately the sun was hiding behind a long strip of a cloud by the time he got to the jetty so the pictures weren’t so colourful. I called them “moody’. I like to think there’s at least one word for every occasion.

The lighthouse jetty and Rubh Re lighthouse
A closer view of the Rubh Re jetty and lighthouse

Leaving the lighthouse behind (but only because we couldn’t take it with us), we headed back to Gairloch and the Museum. It was a delight to see the old Rubh Re foghorn now has pride of place right outside. It turns out it was only put into position about a month ago. It’s an interesting foghorn with a wheel that opens it up. As it said in the Museum, fog wasn’t a regular occurrence at Rubh Re.

The old Rubh Re foghorn outside Gairloch Museum

When you enter the Museum now you are immediately in the shop and much to my delight, I spotted a copy of my book on the shelf. That’s always great to see – books for sale in the right places. And this is certainly the right place for it as I spotted the massive lens from Rubh Re lighthouse behind the ticket desk immediately. Once one of the ladies who works at the Museum found out they have my lighthouse book for sale she very kindly showed us her favourite angle on the lens, which is actually from the window close to the entrance. She was right, it was a great viewpoint.

The Rubh Re lens shining above the Museum ticket desk

The lens dominates the ground floor of the exhibition and is surrounded by a bit more information about the lighthouse. There’s a real focus on the human side and the keepers with details of each one listed on a screen which tells you where they were from, their previous occupation, how long they were at Rubh Re, where else they served and when they left the service. It was sad to see that three of the keepers died during service with one falling to his death off the cliffs after 6 months of working at Rubh Re.

The Rubh Re lens in all its glory

There are a range of other items removed from the lighthouse after automation on display including the old clockwork mechanism that worked with the lens. It’s a great tribute to the lighthouse and those who worked in it.

The Rubh Re exhibition at Gairloch Heritage Museum

The rest of the Museum is focussed on other aspects of the local area, such as day to day life and crafting, the geology and (Bob’s favourite bit) Gruinard Island which was used for testing anthrax and was out of bounds until 1990 when they were certain it was safe for people to go back to. They tested this by putting sheep on the island and thankfully they survived. It is still often referred to as Anthrax Island.

I couldn’t leave the Museum without a little memento (or three). They had a booklet about the road to Rubh Re which looked interesting. I spotted a copy of a recently released book about the village of Scoraig which had a few snippets of information about Cailleach Head lighthouse. It’s a fascinating place anyway so the book came away with us too and it will be nice to read a bit more about its history and the people who lived there. Finally, I spotted a mug with the Rubh Re lens on it – need I say more…We finished the day with a great drive through Torridon. A nice end to a good day of examining things a little more closely.

More to come over the weekend. 🙂

Day trips to Strathy and Stoer

During our recent trip I’d got back into the habit of visiting lighthouses and, as they say, old habits die hard. With it being the first weekend back after the holiday it seemed like a good time to make the most of the sunshine and see some lighthouses at the same time.

Yesterday we visited a friend at Strathy Point lighthouse for the first time in a few months. With it being so close to home, we’d been thinking of dropping by for a while, but wanted to hold off as we knew there would be hoards of people (relatively) descending on the Point once lockdown restrictions were eased.

Strathy Point lighthouse

Joe the Drone had to come along too, of course, and with permission from our friend he got some great shots of the lighthouse.

Strathy Point lighthouse from the sky

I never get bored of Strathy Point, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed paddling in the small loch close to the lighthouse. Anyone who has been before will know that there is a model lighthouse in the loch. Apparently they were made by the lighthouse keepers and, when the light was automated one of the engineers took one of the models with them. At one point one of the residents put a solar powered light on top of the remaining tower, but that obviously didn’t last.

The loch and model lighthouse at Strathy Point

Today looked like it would be cloudy at home, but sunny and warm on the west coast. So it seemed sensible to go somewhere where the weather was good for the day. One of the benefits of living on the north coast, although it was a three hour drive each way. We chose Stoer as I’d not been there since my original tour in 2012, Bob hasn’t been for a while and there was a nice beach nearby for the kids to enjoy.

As we headed west the skies started to clear, the sun came out and so did the cars. As we got closer to the turn off for Achmelvich beach the traffic really picked up. Clearly many people were aware of the incredible beaches the area had to offer, as well as the beautiful mountain views.

Some of the Assynt mountains

We made it over to Stoer and parked up. After a picnic on the hill close to the lighthouse Bob went off with Joe the Drone – who managed to unearth a lone bonxie from nowhere as soon as it took off. After lunch we wandered up to the lighthouse and I handed over parenting duties to Bob while I wandered around the lighthouse.

Stoer Head lighthouse

It’s such a beautiful location and the coastline here is fascinating. It’s hard to appreciate from the land really, although starting the walk along to the Old Man of Stoer as I did on my last visit gives an extra wonderful angle. Last year on our west coast boat trip I was fascinated to see Stoer Head lighthouse from the sea and to get a better idea of the lie of the land around it.

The cove behind Stoer Head lighthouse

This was where Joe the Drone really came into his own as the aerial shots really showed the shape of the land to its full effect. That is what I’m finding I enjoy most about the drone pictures, is being able to see the shape of the land around these lighthouses. Just the little ins and outs and grass slopes leading down to the cliffs, looking like a green blanket has been laid over the top of the land. It’s wonderful to see – and I’m sure Bob will be very grateful to read that I appreciate his new toy!

Stoer Head from above

The lighthouse buildings have now been converted into holiday accommodation with an upstairs and a downstairs flat. It’s not the cheapest of place to stay, but the 360 degree views make it worth it, including (as they did today) over to the hills in Assynt, then Skye and even small sections of the Western Isles too. There was even a sheep nearby watching out over the sea.

The sheep enjoying the view at Stoer Head

The light in the tower has now been replaced with one of the LED “puddings”, so the lamp room looks fairly empty. It’s still such a beautiful complex throughout though and the buildings are looking really well maintained.

Stoer Head from the south

Waving goodbye to the lighthouse, we then stopped off at Stoer Bay, just around the corner from the busy Clachtoll beach, which the kids absolutely loved – to the point where our little girl thanked Bob for “making this beach”!

A couple of great days out. 🙂