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