uklighthousetour

One crazy lady and a bizarre obsession = an ongoing tour of the best lighthouses the UK has to offer

Looking back: the first “tour”

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!

Anvil Point

Anvil Point lighthouse

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.

Anvil Point interior

The lens inside Anvil Point lighthouse

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.

Durlston view from lighthouse

Looking towards 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).

Lulworth

One of the many great views at Lulworth

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.

Chesil Beach

Looking back at Chesil Beach from Portland

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.

Portland

Portland Bill lighthouse

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.

Hurst

Hurst Point lighthouse

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.

The Needles from Hurst

The view towards the Needles from Hurst and some of the sea defences in place at the time

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! 🙂

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The VIP treatment at Hurst Point

Back in 2010 I went on my first ever trip organised specifically to see lighthouses. The trip had been organised by a friend and my sister, and took in the lighthouses at Anvil Point and Portland. It also included a visit over to Hurst Point, taking the boat from Keyhaven. I’d not been back to Hurst Point since and so what better time than a Friday in mid-December when everything is closed to the public?!

Thankfully I was armed with my super lighthouse friend John (previously referred to on occasion as my flat pack partner in crime) who, being a volunteer there, knew the right people and where the keys were!

On the way to Keyhaven on Friday morning, we took the coastal route giving us some wonderful views across to the Needles. I often forget that the Isle of Wight isn’t so far away from mainland UK, mainly because I spend most of the time travelling there on a boat in Southampton waters! It was great to be able to see the island from this angle.

Thanks to John’s excellent pre-planning, we were able to hop on board the boat as the Hurst Marine team set off to undertake some ongoing maintenance work out there. It was a nice ride out and with the low winter sun there were plenty of beautifully lit views all around.

Hurst arrival

The active lighthouse at Hurst Point

In lighthouse terms it doesn’t get much more exciting than approaching four lighthouses. Yes, four! The only one of these I’d seen really close up before was the white tower – the most noticeable of the four and the only one still in operation. The priority this time though was to get at those inside the grounds of Hurst Castle. So in we went.

Hurst low lights arrival

The old low lights within the grounds of Hurst Castle

I must admit that there was one I was particularly excited about and that is the old lantern from the tower that used to sit on top of the Nab Tower. I think John knew this as, aside from a brief stop at the office for those who volunteer at the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Museum at Hurst, it was our first stop. First a bit of background: the Nab Tower is located to the east of the Isle of Wight and was introduced to protect again German submarines. Originally it didn’t feature a lighthouse, but this was added after the Nab Tower itself was no longer required. The decision was made to replace the nearby Nab light vessel with a lighthouse on top of the Nab Tower. The structure now at Hurst Castle is that very lighthouse lantern. It was removed in 2012 during a big renovation and had to be dismantled to get it inside the castle at Hurst before being reconstructed (without instructions).

Old Nab Tower

The old Nab Tower lantern

It’s fantastic to see how much love and attention it has had to get to the point it is at now, which is near enough ready to be open to the public as a child-friendly exhibit. Complete with rotating light and child-size steps, I can tell it’s going to be a very popular addition. It was a real pleasure to see this one.

Old Nab lens

The rotating lens now inside the Nab lantern

Next we moved on to the Association of Lighthouse Keepers rooms. This was wonderful to see. Just like the Association itself, the rooms are a real celebration of lighthouse keepers in particular. The displays include some wonderful pictures and also what has proven to be a very popular exhibit, a map pointing out where the lighthouses are so visitors can see where their nearest one is. Alongside the Trinity House rooms, there is a lot of lighthouse information there. I even got to wind up the rotating mechanism on an old lens – I would have been a useless lighthouse keeper! The old Egypt Point lantern was on display too, which was brilliant to see. Also the old Holm of Skaw lantern from Shetland. Amazing! A treasure trove of all things lighthouse.

Rotating lens

The lens that I (just about) managed to rotate

While we were in the area, I was allowed to venture up onto the roof of the castle, which is normally out of bounds to the public (another benefit of going when the castle is closed). John has informed me that this was a great angle for getting a picture of all three of the Hurst towers. We weren’t able to get along to the prime viewing point as there has been some fairly significant damage to the castle in that area in recent months with the shingle underneath the walls being washed away. Work is very much ongoing to try and reduce any further damage, but nature is a real force to be reckoned with. The roof was definitely a great point for a picture of the three towers.

Hurst three lights

The view from the roof

Next on the priority list was the old grey low light. The grey tower is open to the public on the odd occasion and I was very pleased to have my own private tour. With the lower half being just a metal framework section it was all external staircases initially. Once inside there were some really interesting features. The round windows with their large handles intrigued me and when looking through the windows to the east there were some nice views of the other two towers.

Grey light lamp changer

The replica lamp changer in the grey lighthouse

John showed me the replica lamp changer, a great little contraption. I saw a larger version at the top of the tower where the lamp changer is still in position and the old lens is still in situ too. John showed me exactly where to stand to be able to get a view through the lens of the Needles upside down! A rather unique view on those iconic rocks and the lighthouse.

Upside down Needles

Spot the upside down Needles!

We got even better views from the balcony, including a fairly close view of the other low light, the stone tower. Another lovely looking building. Again John was on hand to show me the two positions to stand in to see the different colours of the sector lights on the active lighthouse. With the wind picking up, the sea was getting much more choppy and you could see where different currents were meeting and causing quite a stir. Another excellent vantage point.

Old stone tower

The old stone lighthouse, viewed from the grey light

On the way back down I took a look at a map showing the various lighthouses that have existed on Hurst Point in the past. Once back on ground level we poked our heads into a store room beneath the old stone tower and could see the curved wall of the tower. In another room there was a little doorway leading to the base of the tower where there was a beautiful curved ceiling. There was, sadly, no access to the rest of the tower from here.

It would have been rude not to have taken a stroll over to the white lighthouse so that was where we went next. It’s a really distinctive tower, with the oversized “ball” on top of the lantern. At least that’s what we called it, for want of a better (or more accurate) term. The tower looked perfect against the bright blue sky, as it had when I had last visited. It must always be sunny at Hurst! The diggers being used to help save the castle walls towards the east could be seen in this area, as could the big waves splashing up over the shingle.

Hurst Point lighthouse

Hurst Point lighthouse

We took a look around the east wing of the castle, which at times feels like being in a maze with so many different doorways and sets of stairs. One area on this side gave some more great views of the old stone tower from a different angle with the shingle spit that links Hurst Point to Keyhaven visible in the distance.

Old stone tower from east

The old stone lighthouse viewed from the east

Hurst is a really fascinating place and I have much more of an appreciation for it now that I have spent more time there and seen how much hard work goes into the improvements and the essential ongoing maintenance. There is so much more to it than I ever imagined.

Tour guide John

Me with tour guide John

I am, of course, massively grateful to John for taking the time to show me around, making arrangements to get out there, and for such a fun time. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and definitely won’t be leaving it another 9 years before going back this time. 🙂

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