uklighthousetour

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

West Coast Adventure: day five

The final day of our West Coast Adventure with North Coast Seatours arrived on Monday. If we hadn’t have had such a fun-packed day lined up then it may have felt a little sad. There was no time to be sad though as some north west lighthouses awaited.

While the majority of our trip had taken us further and further north, our first lighthouse stop after setting off from Gairloch was the island of Eilean Trodday off of the northern tip of Skye. This was perhaps a bit of a detour, but an important one as it was on the “to do” list for a number of members of the group. Again we were greeted with sunshine and calm seas –  we really were so lucky with the weather. Briefly pausing to look at a sea stack off of the coast of Eilean Trodday we then made our way around the coast looking for a section that would not involve a climb up sheer cliffs. I’d not expected the cliffs to be so high on the island. Luckily there was a more accessible landing area and we all made it safely onto the island. Once again we were faced with the joys of vegetation and not knowing where to put your feet. Being so slow with my short legs, I was in a fortunate position to take pictures of the two group members who fell over, which amused me no end. Reaching the lighthouse was tough going at times, but we got there even though I complained a couple of times, asking “why does everyone else seem to find it so easy?”, referring to the difficult terrain. The Northern Lighthouse Board have certainly stocked up at Eilean Trodday. There are solar panels galore (14 to be precise) and even separate white cabinets outside the tower as there is no room for them inside. Maybe it’s an island they don’t want to have to visit too often! The views from the lighthouse, which I should say is a standard size flat-pack, are fantastic. It was a clear day and we could see the Western Isles and Shiant Islands to the north west. A lovely spot and the return journey wasn’t quite so bad with Bob leading me around the most difficult bits.

Eilean Trodday

Eilean Trodday lighthouse

Onwards we went, this time to the north east, passing Rubha Reidh lighthouse. I’d not been to Rubha Reidh since my original tour and I know that there are now some access issues, which makes it a bit more challenging. It’s always fascinating to see these lights from the sea. Straightforward access to almost all of the mainland lighthouses means that, unless you are on a ferry heading somewhere and happen to pass the lighthouse, you don’t really get to see them from that perspective. Rubha Reidh is a fairly low-lying lighthouse with no high cliffs. It looks beautiful though, even if the scenery lacks the drama of some west coast locations.

Rubha Reidh

Rubha Reidh lighthouse

You may have noticed that I mentioned in the last paragraph that almost all of the lighthouses on mainland UK are straightforward to reach. Well, this can certainly not be said for the next two lights on the trip. I’d been desperate to get to the very remote village of Scoraig for some time. This was, of course, mainly due to its lighthouses, but also because there is something very intriguing about a village that has no mains electricity and no connections to the rest of the country’s road network. The only ways of getting to Scoraig (unless you have a boat in the area like we did) is by walking along a 5-mile path or by trying to organise hopping on a local boat across Little Loch Broom from Badluachrach. There is a great quote from a local man Hugh Piggott on the We The Uncivilised website: ‘Scoraig is not an “intentional community” but a collection of individuals who feel connected by our common location with its peculiarities.’ When you visit the village it is clear that it is not a standard community. The houses aren’t all huddled together in one area, they stretch across quite a large area. There are bikes near the entrance to a lot of the properties and you can see the appeal of getting about on wheels rather than on foot.

From the jetty we set off towards the school to see the old lighthouse that formerly sat at the end of the Scoraig peninsula at Cailleach Head. In the same way that the community in Glenelg rescued the old Sandaig Island lighthouse, the community here campaigned to keep their lighthouse – and it still has its lens too! It’s amazing what they have done with it. It now features in bold black letters ‘The Lighthouse’ above the door and it houses a range of information about what life is like for those who live in Scoraig. The lighthouse is always open for visitors. It’s a very calm location for it and close to the tower is a low, C-shaped stone wall featuring lighthouse drawings from local children and a series of carved messages and quotes. One example read: “On and on the lights will flash and those lost ships will crash on the craggy rocks of Scoraig”. Such a lovely thing to do and with that sort of personal touch it says so much more about the community than most other redundant lighthouses ever could. A really interesting place, and somewhere I would certainly not mind visiting again in the future.

Scoraig2

The old Cailleach Head lighthouse, now in Scoraig village

Time was not on our side with Scoraig as we still had one more lighthouse to see: the flat-pack light that had replaced the tower in the village. This wasn’t going to be the easiest to visit, but I was hopeful that it would be worth it. Initially I thought we would need to head all the way back down through the village and then up again onto the headland. Fortunately, Bob had thought it through and decided that the best approach to take would be to continue gaining more height by heading north east and then cutting across once we were at the highest point on the path or before we started going too far to the east. This worked well and, due to the lack of rain in the area in recent weeks, the ground was very dry, meaning there was little in the way of tough vegetation. The views as we gained height really opened up and were pretty spectacular, especially towards the south east with the hill straight ahead, Loch Broom to the left and Little Loch Broom to the right. Blue skies always help with that sort of view too. It wasn’t a quick walk by any stretch of the imagination and in order to save time we had arranged for the skipper, Derek, to pick us up from the rocks to the east of the lighthouse two hours after we arrived at the jetty. Bob, John and I made fairly good time on our walk to the end of the headland, meeting up with a couple of the other group members on the way to the lighthouse. The headland felt like it went on forever until eventually the lighthouse appeared. I was delighted when the other four formed an arch made up of three walking poles and one rucksack for me to walk through. The reason for this was that Cailleach Head marked my final lighthouse in the Northern Scotland region. It was a fantastic place to celebrate. A really lovely, isolated place alongside friends, what could be better? With only 20 minutes to spare before the boat was due to pick us up we followed a clearer path down to the rocks. There was a little more swell by this point, but we all made it into the tender and then back to the boat safely.

Cailleach Head

The modern lighthouse at Cailleach Head

Basking in the wonderful feeling that comes with visiting a unique place we had one more point of interest before we arrived at Kylesku, our final destination. Passing Stoer Head was wonderful. While Rubha Reidh from the sea lacks drama, Stoer Head certainly doesn’t. Having visited it by land and remembering the uphill section that takes you the last little distance to the lighthouse, I’d never considered what the shape of the coastline would be there. It is only when you see it from the north that you realise the lighthouse sits on a raised section of rock that is surrounded by relatively lower land. It’s a stunning angle on the lighthouse and I’m so glad I’ve been able to see it from the sea in order to appreciate it fully. Once beyond the lighthouse the land rises up again as you head further north where The Old Man of Stoer is on display. The Old Man is impressive, there is no denying that. While some members of the group were talking about climbing it sometime – and one already has – I was more than happy to just enjoy the view, safe in the knowledge that I will never even attempt to do such a thing.

Stoer Head

Stoer Head lighthouse

As we arrived in Kylesku I expected to feel sad, but instead I was elated. We’d had the most wonderful week. With the exception of the Cairns of Coll everything had gone perfectly. The group had really bonded, everyone felt that they had achieved something and I felt so lucky to have been on the trip. We made a lot of memories over those five days (as well as Rathlin for four of us) and I was certain that everyone would leave Kylesku the following day feeling like they’d made new friends and been part of a unique experience. I mentioned above that we all felt that we had achieved something. Well, the boat was full of “baggers” or, as the skipper so eloquently put it, “collectors of all things”. Here are some statistics that give an idea of what we achieved. We travelled 349.7Nm taking in 37 lighthouses (for me this was 18 new and 19 revisits), 36 Mervlets (islands on a list devised by our good friend Mervyn), 18 Significant Islands of Britain (SIBs), 16 TuMPs (hills with 30 metres of prominence), 1HuMP (hills with 100 metres of prominence), 3 Ordnance Survey trig points, 1 Ordnance Survey bolt, 55 bird species and 4 marine mammal species. All in all very impressive.

Not wanting the trip to be over, the following we day we stopped off at Rhue for a wander down to Rubha Cadail lighthouse. Yet again it’s a tower in an awe-inspiring location and for one final time the sun was shining down on us. It was a perfect day for reflections and I was glad to see a couple of little pools of water close to the lighthouse to get some nice pictures of these reflections. A really great end to a trip that will never be forgotten.

Rubha Cadail

Rubha Cadail lighthouse

These adventures sure do make you glad to be a lighthouse bagger 🙂

Leave a comment »

West Coast Adventure: day four

Our West Coast Adventure continued on Sunday, starting out from Glenelg. Having only been to Glenelg twice, with both times being in the last couple of months, I’ve only just discovered what a beautiful place it is. Near enough all sections of the West Coast are impressive, but that area has a different kind of beauty about it. There are trees, for a start, which I’m not used to! The sea was flat calm with perfect reflections – always a good sign when you’ve got some lighthouses coming up.

Our first lighthouse viewing of the day was the old Sandaig tower, which is near the ferry crossing to Kylerhea. Having seen the modern tower that replaced it the day before, it gives a better idea of how it must have looked in its former location. What a wonderful scene that would have been. Then again, it was wonderful to see the modern light there too, and on our last visit to Glenelg, to get inside the old tower, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if the light had not been replaced.

Glenelg2

The former Sandaig Island lighthouse, now at Glenelg ferry

Of course, the Kylerhea light was only a little further north on the opposite side of the Kyle. As mentioned above, conditions were perfect for reflections and Kylerhea was a great place to witness this. As one of the other group members said “We get two lighthouses for the price of one”. Surrounded by trees and green brown foliage the bright white lighthouse stands out perfectly. It’s not a big tower, but it’s definitely well-located both for navigation purposes and aesthetic value.

Kylerhea

Kylerhea lighthouse

On the approach to Kyle of Lochalsh we sailed close to Eilean Dubha East with its flat-pack lighthouse. I’d seen this one before, but only from Kyle of Lochalsh or Kyleakin. From a distance these structures are really just a white rectangle, so it is always well worth seeing them closer in my opinion – not only to appreciate the lighthouse, but also the islands that they sit on.  This one had a couple of wind-swept trees next to the lighthouse, which actually made it a more interesting view (I realise that sounds strange, but it’s true). On the neighbouring island was another, more unique structure bearing a light, apparently called Eight Metre Rock lighthouse. It’s a little too small to interest me much, but it looked a bit like a little robot with two solar panel eyes.

Eilean Dubha

The lighthouse on Eilean Dubha East

Of course Kyleakin was next up, after a brief stop to pick up some lunch at Kyle of Lochalsh. I’m not sure why, but I always struggle to get a good picture of this one. It’s quite nice to get pictures of it with the bridge, but it never seems to impress as much as others do. Perhaps it is the presence of the bridge, dwarfing it, that takes away the lovely views. I’m not sure. It’s still a great place though and I recall fondly when we stayed in the cottage there a few years ago and had a tour of the lighthouse. There’s a lot of history associated with the lighthouse and the island, Eilean Ban. Gavin Maxwell appears to be the one to thank for the appeal of it and it was nice to see another area he became known for when we were on one of the Sandaig Islands the day before. I can see why he was so attached to this area.

Kyleakin

Kyleakin lighthouse on Eilean Ban with the bridge to Skye

Up until this point, our lighthouse adventure for the day had been limited to just sailing past them. However, that changed in the afternoon. Our next lighthouse was the Crowlin Islands flat-pack. The Crowlin Islands are made up of three islands and the lighthouse is located on the smallest of the three. As we were there with a few island-baggers, in the interests of time we separated into a few different groups. My group was, of course, the lighthouse-baggers. Well, it wasn’t so much a group as it was just John and I. While landing on the island was fine, the walk across to the lighthouse was tougher than the others we’d done. In most places you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet and every step you just hoped for the best and that you wouldn’t fall into a massive hole. Thankfully there hasn’t been any significant amount of rain recently so the island was very dry, which helped. On the other hand, it was a warm day which contributed a little to the effort of getting there. We reached the lighthouse eventually though and enjoyed the blue sky views. On the previous day, at Ornsay if I recall correctly, it had been rather jokingly suggested that we should try to work out how many people it takes to hug a lighthouse. Well, I suggested that we should attempt to find out how many people it takes to hug a flat-pack lighthouse and Crowlin lighthouse seemed like the perfect one to try it out on. It turns out that a standard sized flat-pack takes 3 Sarah’s and 2.25 John’s to fully embrace it – so 6 people is the answer. Just a fun little exercise.

Crowlin

Crowlin Islands lighthouse

We returned back to the landing point just as the boat was heading across from the last island. I think John was quite proud that he’d successfully managed to guide us to and from the lighthouse – even if it did mean having to stop every now and then to allow me to catch up. Well done John!

We had one final lighthouse stop for the day (there were non-lighthouse islands in between) and that was Rona – or South Rona as we call it in order to differentiate from North Rona, which also has a lighthouse. The skipper, Derek from North Coast Seatours, had phoned ahead to check with the military (who operate on the island) that it was ok for us to land there and walk up to the lighthouse. Due to technology problems he’d not been able to get a clear response, but we were all pleased to hear that the guys there were expecting us. We walked through a number of military buildings before the road became quite steep. It was quite a walk up to the lighthouse, but it’s always rewarding when you get there and are blessed with wonderful views of a great lighthouse and the surrounding scenery. By this point I knew that the rest of the group were hooked on lighthouses. There was really no denying it. One very obvious piece of evidence to support this was that I decided we should continue the “how many people does it take to hug a lighthouse” game, and all 9 people there got involved, which was lucky as it turned out that it takes exactly 9 people of varying sizes to hug Rona lighthouse! The views were brilliant and the lone tower next to the old cottages surprised me as it so often does when you see these towers from afar and they look like they are attached to other buildings. We all hung around for a while at the lighthouse and then on the helipad before, rather unwillingly, heading back to the boat.

Rona 2

Rona lighthouse

Getting back to the boat was important though as we had to reach our final destination for the night, which was Gairloch. On this occasion we weren’t able to visit the new Gairloch Heritage Museum, partly because it’s not yet open, but also because of our late arrival and early start. I look forward to going sometime after June though as it looks like the old Rubha Reidh lens is to be more of a centre-piece in the Museum. It was really nicely located before in the circular conservatory-type building, so it will be interesting to see what they have done with it.

That was the end of yet another amazing day. By that point I was already feeling a little sad that there was only one day left of the trip, but what a day it was to be – more on that soon! 🙂

Leave a comment »

West Coast Adventure: day three

I have got a little behind with these posts due to having too much fun on the West Coast Adventure. On Saturday, day three of the adventure, we had another lighthouse and island-filled time. Setting off from Kilchoan it was only a short journey to our first stop, Ardmore Point on the north coast of Mull. The sun was already shining bright and the sea was fairly calm, which made landing on the rocks below the lighthouse straightforward. The lighthouse sits a little way up from the sea so we needed to find an appropriate route up, which was a bit of a struggle for me – although Bob was leading the way so I really just needed to follow him. John joined us too and it was only after we’d spent a while clambering up onto the rough grass that we spotted the skipper hopping across the rocks and taking what looked like a much more direct route. I didn’t enjoy the walk to the lighthouse, but as usual the lighthouse managed to cheer me up. Although the tower itself is a standard flat-pack (with multitudes of solar panels), it differs from most others in that it is accompanied by an extra little building.

Ardmore Point

Ardmore Point lighthouse

Returning to the ‘mothership’ we set off again. We’d planned to head out to the Cairns of Coll, but a storm was forecast for the afternoon so we weren’t sure if it would be worthwhile. As it turned out the storm never reached us (or passed over the night before), so we decided to attempt it. Waving to Ardnamurchan on the way, we began the journey out to the north end of Coll. On our trip last year, we had been to the Cairns of Coll, but had not been able to land on the lighthouse island, Suil Ghorm, from the RIB we had been on due to the shallowness of the water. As we arrived at the island group it became fairly clear that we would be unsuccessful again. A couple of members of the group attempted a landing on a neighbouring island, which didn’t go particularly well so the decision was taken to abandon any attempt to land. Skipper Derek from North Coast Seatours did sail as far around the lighthouse as he was able to though so we could get some good pictures. It was nice to see it again even if it wasn’t as closely as we’d hoped.

Cairns of Coll

Cairns of Coll lighthouse

The Small Isles were our next destination. I was looking forward to this as it included a stop at Eilean Chathastail, home to Eigg lighthouse. I’d been here with Bob and a group of island baggers back in 2015 and absolutely loved it. It’s the type of lighthouse I am very fond of and the opportunity to revisit was one I jumped at the chance of. It was also one that John had been wanting to visit too as he’d previously only seen it from the sea. With the storm nowhere to be seen and  the sea calm, there was no problem at all with landing on the north west of the island. This was a little different to last time when we landed on the east coast of the island, closer to the lighthouse. This did mean we’d need to walk a bit further and I was glad that Bob had offered the use of his GPS device as it kept us on track for getting to the lighthouse. As it is set down a little from the highest ground on the island it is difficult to see from the north of the island until you are almost at it. The walk wasn’t too bad and we were rewarded with some fantastic views when we got to the lighthouse. We could see across to the pencil-looking Ardnamurchan lighthouse, this time to the south west, standing tall. I was reminded again of how calm the place feels and I enjoyed the visit as much, if not more, than the first one.

Eigg.JPG

Eigg lighthouse

After lunch at the cafe on Eigg, we continued our journey north. We were soon approaching Skye and we sailed close to the flat-pack lighthouse at the Point of Sleat. It’s quite a walk to the lighthouse, but an interesting one as explained in my post from 2016. Certainly much easier to visit/see from the sea!

Point of Sleat2

Point of Sleat lighthouse

 

I’d been looking forward to our next stop and I felt a little bit like a child in the back of a car as we sailed up the east coast of Skye. I had to stop myself a few times from asking “Are we nearly there yet?” On my original tour I’d seen Ornsay lighthouse from the village of Isleornsay when the tide had been in. On the second visit, Bob and I had walked out to it at low tide, and a last visit a few weeks ago was again just a quick stop looking across the water to the island of Ornsay and it’s tiny neighbour Eilean Sionnach, the island with the lighthouse. I wrote a fair amount about the beauty of the lighthouse in a recent post so I won’t go into too much detail in that respect this time. However, I was intrigued to see whether the lighthouse would lose any of its beauty for other angles. With the mountains as the backdrop from the general viewing area, I was concerned that it was just that view that made it so stunning. I am happy to confirm that there was no need for concern. I’m not sure what it is about the lighthouse, but it is amazing whichever side you see it from. Of course, with conditions being so calm, we had to land on the island for another opportunity to see it close up. While the sky at Ornsay lighthouse always seems to have been blue when I have visited, it was bluer than ever this time with a few clouds for added effect. I could have happily stayed there for hours and if the cottages ever come up for sale, well… I think the picture below says it all really.

Ornsay2

Ornsay lighthouse

I’ve got a bit carried away and not yet mentioned the Ornsay Beacon Lighthouse, which we actually visit in the small tender before landing at the big lighthouse. Although, from a distance, it doesn’t look like there is much to this one, when you see it close up it’s far more substantial. It is a solid round stone tower topped with one level of the flat-pack arrangement. Of particular note though is that, everywhere else, the flat-pack has a square footprint, but this one has rounded edges. It’s a good structure and really nice to get a chance to see it at close range. This is why I enjoy getting closer to this type as it is difficult to appreciate them from a distance when they all look pretty much the same. You also don’t get a true feel for the location unless you are on the island they sit on or very close to it. This one was great to see.

Ornsay Beacon

Ornsay Beacon lighthouse

Once the island baggers had bashed their way to the high points of a number of islands as we moved further north, we arrived at the Sandaig Islands. The Sandaig lighthouse is on Eilean Mor which, unlike most of the other islands within the group, is not accessible from the mainland at low tide. As the group were all looking to achieve different things on these islands, only a few of us were dropped off on Eilean Mor. With Bob joining us a little later, John took on the role of lead navigator, establishing whether attempting to walk along the rocks or across the island was the better route. Opting for the more foliage-filled option it wasn’t too long before John spotted a series of wooden posts sticking out of the ground that seemed to lead in the direction of the lighthouse. The path that these posts followed was quite good in places and a little rougher in others, but we were definitely glad to have found it. As we approached the lighthouse John joked that Bob was likely to just turn up around the corner at any moment and then, as if by magic, he appeared strolling across the rocks. I’ve taken to referring to Bob fondly as ‘Goat Legs’ on these trips due to his ability to make any walk across any terrain like like a stroll in the park. This is another brilliant island and so it was a pleasure to visit the flat-pack structure. I must admit though that it would have been nice to have seen the old lighthouse (now located at Glenelg pier – see my earlier post for more information on that one) in place, but still a great place to visit. Once we’d finished at the lighthouse we followed the posts across the island and to a little sheltered rocky bay. The three of us sat, chatting in the sunshine surrounded by beautiful views, while we waited to be collected.

Sandaig

Sandaig Island lighthouse

That was the end of our lighthouse adventures for the day. Glenelg was where we based ourselves that night. What a wonderful day we all had. While a large percentage of the UK was experiencing the wrath of Storm Hannah, we had avoided it entirely. What a lucky bunch we were 🙂

Leave a comment »

West Coast Adventure: day two

If I had started this series of posts with more imaginative titles I would have probably called this one “a day of little lights” or something similar. I think that describes it quite well really.

We started the day slightly earlier than the rest of the group and took the tender out from Craighouse on Jura across to land on Eilean Nan Gabhar, which is home to one of the “flat-pack” lighthouses – the one we had seen flashing while we ate dinner the night before. While the crossing was a little rocky, landing was absolutely fine and it was really just a hop across the rocks (I never enjoy that sort of thing very much though, but will do it if there’s a lighthouse at the end) to reach the lighthouse. This one is a fairly standard flat-pack so there’s not a great deal to say about it. It is always nice to see these ones close up though and, I believe, this is the first one I visited with my friend John who also has a rather rare appreciation of these structures.

Eilean Nan Gabhar lighthouse in the Sound of Jura

Once we’re returned to the “mothership” as our North Coast Seatours skipper Derek so nicely refers to it, we joined the rest of the group and set off northbound again. It wasn’t too long until we reached the great lighthouse that is Skervuile. While we did see this one earlier in the year, the tide was out then and this time it was higher so we got to see Skervuile in its full rock lighthouse glory with the waves lapping at its base. It’s a very interesting tower and considerably smaller than any others sitting on rocks often submerged by the sea. This was our closest view that day of one of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s larger lights and those on the boat couldn’t fail to be impressed.

Skervuile lighthouse

Continuing north we landed briefly on Ruadh Sgeir for a visit to the lighthouse. This was another one we had seen in January, but not landed on then. I am very fond of this type and it’s always nice to have a chance to see one close up. They strike a nice balance between the modern and the traditional. Although they don’t have the majesty of the old stone towers they have more substance to them than the flat-packs.

Ruadh Sgeir lighthouse

We sailed past Reisa an t-Sruith, another one we’d seen earlier in the year. In the interests of time we passed on landing at this one as lunch beckoned! The sea conditions in the area reminded me of the boat trip we did in January where the skipper informed us of the translation of the islands name, which was something along the lines of “the island in the rushing currents”. How very true that is.

A short distance on we sailed past both Fladda and Dubh Sgeir, almost at the same time, which always make it difficult to know which side of the boat to stand on. Do I look at the more beautiful one that I’ve landed at previously or the smaller, less impressive one that I’ve not seen close up before? I like to think I managed to get a bit of both in.

Fladda lighthouse

Not that it mattered too much as our lunch stop was on Luing from where Fladda lighthouse becomes the centrepiece of an incredible view. We were booked in for lunch at the Atlantic Centre, which I was particularly pleased about as it is now home to the old Fladda lens and I caught sight of it as soon as we walked in the door. It is very nicely displayed, surrounded by information about the lens itself as well as the lighthouse and details of what life was like for the keepers and their families on the island. That wasn’t it though as, very excitingly, the Centre has a really interesting lighthouse exhibition upstairs. There is information about the Stevenson’s and their lighthouses as well as some fantastic old pictures. The most interesting, in my opinion, due to its relevance to that particular day was a 1947 picture of the old Reisa an t-Sruith lighthouse. Also, a couple of historical pictures of the Garvellachs light with one from the 1950s showing a few people posing on the gallery. A really interesting exhibition.

The old Fladda lens on display in the Atlantic Centre on Luing

After lunch we were off again and sailed past the lighthouse on Sgeirean Dubha. This is an interesting one and a little different from your average flat-pack as you can see from the picture.

Sgeirean Dubha lighthouse

A little while later we passed Oban and obviously saw Dunollie and Lismore lighthouses. We also sailed close to Lady’s Rock, a rock completely submerged by water at high tide, where a husband allegedly abandoned his wife only to then see her wander into the pub later that day after she was rescued by a passing fisherman. An interesting story, that one. Lady’s Rock now features a lighthouse. It’s a different one as the base is solid concrete while the top section is like a layer of the flat-pack design (like Sgeirean Dubha or Na Cuiltean), but the flat-pack section is clad in red rather than white panels.

Lady’s Rock lighthouse

A sail past of Duart Point on Mull was next on the agenda. Although we’ve been to Mull we’d not quite made it there and it will be nice to visit from the land at some point.

Duart Point

Further up was Glas Eileanan. As a structure in itself it’s a fairly standard flat-pack. The only difference really with this one is that it has a little stone hut – probably not associated with the lighthouse at all – fairly close by on the same small island.

Glas Eileanan lighthouse

Ardtornish was our penultimate stop of the day. Bob, John and I managed to land here at the little steps, presumably used by the Northern Lighthouse Board to access the tower. Once off of the rocks it was a really easy walk along the grass to reach the lighthouse. Again, there’s not much to be said about it, and the visit there was possibly not quite as fun as it would have been if it hadn’t been raining.

Ardtornish lighthouse

The final scheduled viewing of the day was Eileanan Glasa (not to be mistaken for Glas Eileanan!). Another flat-pack (I did say it was a day for the little lights, didn’t I?!)

Eileanan Glasa lighthouse

Before heading for our final stopping place for the night, Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, we popped to Tobermory on Mull. There was a music festival taking place and we bought fish and chips to eat on the pier before spending an hour or so in a one of the pubs listening to some local music. On our way back across the water to Kilchoan that evening we could see the flashing lights of both Rubha nan Gall and Ardmore Point. More on Ardmore to come tomorrow.

A really good day and great to have seen so many of those lights that many would just shrug their shoulders at. I think John and I may be converting some of those on the trip towards liking these structures though 🙂

Leave a comment »

West Coast Adventure: day one

As mentioned in my previous post, we had positioned ourselves in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland in preparation for a sail with North Coast Seatours up to Kylesku. Yesterday was the first day of the trip and what a day it was.

Heading out in considerably calmer conditions that we had expected, our first intended stop was to be possibly the highlight of the trip. Sanda, off of the Mull of Kintyre, has become a very difficult island to access for reasons I won’t go into. While it has never been easy to get to, it has become one of those places that those in both the lighthouse and island bagging communities alike dream of getting to. With the conditions as they were it was looking hopeful that our attempt would be a successful one.

On the approach to Sanda

I think we had all anticipated landing at the north of the island followed by a walk down to the lighthouse at the south end. As it turned out the conditions were perfect for landing right next to the lighthouse, which was fantastic as you immediately get the views before you even leave the boat. The jetty there was fine to land on and then the shortest of strolls took us to the base of the lowest tower. Sanda lighthouse is breathtaking. It really is unlike any other with the two brick towers containing the staircases that would take the keepers up to the third and final tower, one much more in-keeping with the standard Northern Lighthouse Board tower. When I saw the towers I was reminded of a friend of mine, a former keeper who served on Sanda, and how he said he never liked Sanda as you had to climb three towers to get to the top. I’d never thought of it like that and it makes sense, although I can certainly forgive Alan Stevenson for that as it is such an incredible structure.

The three towers of Sanda lighthouse

The natural landscape around the lighthouse is equally impressive with the elephant-shaped rock next to it, it’s trunk reaching out towards the lighthouse. The views of Sanda lighthouse are impressive from every conceivable angle. I particularly liked looking up from the base of the bottom tower where you could see all three towers looming large above you. The best view though is from the top of the hill on the opposite side of the little bay we landed at. This spot offers the ultimate view of both the lighthouse and the elephant rock. The best way to describe it really is to include a picture.

The best view of Sanda lighthouse

The old keepers building and store rooms are looking a little worse for wear now, but still make up an important part of the scene. We eventually dragged ourselves away and back into the boat.

Our journey is, in general, taking us north so we needed to sail around the Mull of Kintyre, which for a lighthouse bagger like me is never a problem. We caught sight of the more modern foghorn first, which I’d never realised was there. A short while later the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse came into view. The height of the cliffs there dwarfs the lighthouse, but it was fantastic to see from the sea. It’s not something I ever thought I would see. It takes some effort to get there by land, but is worth it.

Mull of Kintyre

Onwards we went. After some short visits to islands for others we arrived at our next stop: McArthur’s Head. In our Islay trip in January we’d landed at McArthur’s Head and walked up the amazing steps to the tower and fortunately the conditions allowed us to do exactly the same this time. It wasn’t as calm, but once we were in the tender approaching the little landing area we were fine to step off. Last time we had stunning views from above the lighthouse and again we were rewarded with a very picturesque landscape, albeit very different from the one we had last time. I imagine it is one of those places from which the views are constantly changing. It is a really enjoyable place to be and a good opportunity to show other non-lighthouse people how great it can be. After Sanda and McArthur’s Head I’m pretty certain that they are converted now.

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

Our destination was Jura, so of course we couldn’t possibly have arrived at Craighouse without passing by both Na Cuiltean and Eilean Nan Gabhar lighthouses (more on the latter tomorrow). As the sun was going down by this point it was nice to see these two in the yellowish light, which made a difference to last time.

Na Cuiltean lighthouse

We ended the day in the Jura Hotel having dinner while routinely gazing out of the window while waiting for Eilean Nan Gabhar’s light to come on – and come on it did and a short while later we also spotted the light of Skervuile flashing away in the distance.

A truly fantastic day and one I can guarantee I will never forget 🙂

Leave a comment »

Getting serious with some January bagging

Happy New Year to you! I’m not sure I’ve managed to say that in a blog post before with the key reason being that bagging season for me doesn’t usually start until at least March. Winter isn’t always conducive to enjoyable lighthouse visits, although last weekend’s trip to Northern Ireland is evidence that it’s not necessarily the case.

Feeling the need to continue the brilliance of last year, and fill some gaps in pictures required for my book (see this earlier post for details of this), a little time in the Islay and Jura area was required. It’s very much been uncharted territory for me so far.  It’s also not the easiest area for visiting lighthouses as some of the lights aren’t so easy to access, being either on rocks in the middle of the water or involving a long distance walk on very rough or boggy terrain.

Ardrishaig

Ardrishaig lighthouse

There is a plan to address this later in the week – more on that in a couple of days, all being well. Before that though, today has been a day of “glimpsing” the lights, almost in preparation.

Travelling from Ayrshire to Kennacraig to catch the ferry, we stopped on the west bank of Loch Fyne at Minard. From here the black and white Sgeir an Eirionnaich (or Paddy Rock) light can be spotted. From such a distance there’s not a lot to say about it, except that one day I hope to get a little closer! Continuing the journey south, we gave the lighthouse in Ardrishaig a quick wave as we passed.

McArthur's Head

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

We weren’t sure what it would be possible to see from the ferry between Kennacraig and Port Askaig, more specifically the section to the south of the Sound of Jura. I braved the elements and stepped outside with the zoom lens in tow. At first I spotted a white tower in the distance and, checking the map, established that it must have been Skervuile. I was actually on the look out for the Na Cuiltean light at the time, not expecting to see Skervuile, so that was a bonus. I’m really looking forward to seeing Skervuile close up (fingers crossed it will happen this week). Scanning the coast, I finally caught sight of the Na Cuiltean lighthouse, another one to get closer to. It’s not a huge tower anyway, but even if it had been it would have been dwarfed by the incredible Paps of Jura in the background. What an island Jura looks to be from the sea!

I’d had my eye on McArthur’s Head between views of the two lighthouses to the north. I had a few minutes to go back inside and warm up a bit, before it was time to head out again on the approach to the Sound of Islay. Although I’d never seen it in person before, the lighthouse and its surrounding wall at McArthur’s Head are very recognisable. It was wonderful to pass it and see it from a number of different angles with more detail of the landscape emerging with every moment.

Carraig Mhor

Carraig Mhor lighthouse

The final lighthouse of the journey was Carraig Mhor just to the south of Port Asking. There was no need for a zoom lens for this one. The small, but perfectly formed tower would not even be worth attempting to visit from the island itself, but the very surroundings that make it so inaccessible from land is exactly what makes it such a picturesque view from the sea. The lighthouse is nestled there quite happily with its own jetty.

I’d just started to make my way back inside again when I remembered there was one left to see – Carragh an t-Sruith on Jura. We weren’t particularly close to it, but it was visible and yet another one for later in the week – hopefully. As I said, it’s been a glimpsing day with hopefully better views and clearer pictures to come. 🙂

Leave a comment »

A closer look at Bass Rock

So, eagle-eyed followers of my blog will recall that my last post claimed to be the final one for the year. It turns out that wasn’t quite right, which I suspected at the time might be the case, such is the way when opportunities seem to arise out of the undergrowth, even at this time of year.

For a few years now we’ve had our names on a list to go on a winter trip to Bass Rock at the entrance to the Firth of Forth. Every winter the organiser, Alan, would be very helpfully communicating with the boatman and sending emails every couple of weeks with new potential dates and each time it would come back with the instruction “Stand down”. However, last year Bob got lucky and managed to be around for the trip out on the Braveheart from North Berwick. With a four-month-old baby at the time, I was the one who stayed at home, but with the promise that I would still get there, one day.

Fast forward a year and, again the emails were coming and then the disappointing messages would follow. A couple of weeks ago we were about to pack our bags when a second email confirmed that, contrary to the first message, the trip was in fact cancelled. When you do these things frequently you accept that sometimes conditions change. That’s just the way of it. You can’t control it, so you just go with it as and when you can.

Well, the email came through at the weekend to say that while Tuesday was not an option, Thursday might be. We had an “amber light” on Monday and then again on Tuesday. Final confirmation was to come at 6pm on Wednesday. Of course, living as far from North Berwick as we do, I needed time to get there. So, after work on Wednesday I continued down the road to Inverness and waited for news to come at 6pm, which it did and it was a green light! So, I hopped onto a train bound for Edinburgh.

It was an early start in Edinburgh for me this morning to make sure I arrived in time for the boat. I am not at my best in the mornings, but I ended up quite pleased to have arrived in North Berwick while it was still dark. Not only could I see the light on Bass Rock flashing away, but the light on Fidra too. Most impressive of all was the Isle of May though. While both the Bass Rock and Fidra lights have been replaced with LEDs, the Isle of May light is still something that slightly resembles a rotating optic and was fabulous to see flashing brightly in the dark. As soon as the first sign of daylight emerged though the flash was significantly less visible. I strolled out to the end of the harbour which is a particularly good vantage point for seeing the three lights already mentioned. I also spotted one across the Firth of Forth, which (based on its location) was most likely to be that lovely little Elie Ness light.

IMG_7159I met up with the rest of the group and we set off. I must admit I was fairly confident that we would get landed as the sea conditions were calmer than the day we went out to Fidra earlier in the year. Bass Rock is an amazing island, very imposing and you can sense that even from a distance away. I had seen “the Bass” a number of times from North Berwick in various conditions, from perfect sunny afternoons to gloomy days when it was shrouded in mist or low cloud. It’s got a similar feel to Ailsa Craig. The approach to the island is awe-inspiring. Seeing that recognisable shape close up is pretty special. We slowed and sat back for a while as the crew had a look at the landing area. There was more swell that we’d be expecting, with the occasional wave from the east skirting around the base of the island. As soon as the skipper, Dougie, started giving advice on exactly when we should go and that he would do two at a time before pulling back and going in again, I began to wonder if landing might not be as straightforward as I had hoped.

I got in the queue and watched as the others flung a leg over the handrail , got a foot on the island when the boat has momentarily stopped lurching up and down, and were then – in some cases – partially dragged onto the island by the crew member on the steps. Having seen the height of the handrail and the speed the others had needed to move I decided not to risk it. I went back down to the skipper and then saw the last guy get off in a slightly more controlled manner and thought “maybe I can do this”. Once I got back to the front of the boat again I changed my mind though. It just was not going to happen. Had it not been for having to climb over the handrail and if it’d had a gap in the middle that I could have walked through then I would have absolutely gone for it. I’ve since spoken to Bob about the landing conditions today and he informed me that “It would have been fine, you just need the confidence and experience”. I have neither, and I’m certain I made the right decision. The skipper himself said it was marginal for landing today, which made me feel a bit better about my choice!

IMG_7169Anyway, not having to endure the stress of landing and getting back on the boat, I chatted away to Dougie while watching the lighthouse and the changing colours as the sun continued to rise. He sailed around to the east of the island to show me the alternative landing “for a laugh”. It was a very uninviting landing today! After that we took a spin around to the west of the island where he pointed out the cave (see picture below) that goes through the entire length of the island and, at low tide, it is possible to wade through. Interestingly, the water to the west of the island is very shallow, at only about 7 metres, while the depth at the east is more like 40. The geology is truly incredible and this is further enhanced on the south by the remains of the various buildings that have called Bass Rock their home, including the castle, which once operated as a prison.

IMG_7192Dougie clearly knows the rock and its history particularly well. He recalls there once being sheep and grass there, which is difficult to imagine now, but the gannets who insist on making it their home each year have destroyed that, as well as seeing away the puffins who used to nest there. Aside from the boat operators at the Seabird Centre in North Berwick, Dougie in the only boatman who has permission to land on Bass Rock, which he has obviously done a number of times. He described the state of the old lighthouse buildings on a recent visit with the roof now threatening to fall in as a result of damp. There has also recently been a mudslide near the lighthouse, which has left a layer of deep mud across some of the path.

He has also dealt with Northern Lighthouse Board engineers a lot in the past. He recalled one time he took them out to the island in the morning to work on the light and returned at dusk to pick them up, but which time conditions had deteriorated considerably. Luckily they managed to get them off safely, but it sounded a bit hairy! He had also taken the engineers out to Inchkeith in 1986 when they were automating the lighthouse there and he spoke very fondly of his memories of looking around the keepers’ accommodation during those visits.

IMG_7241The topic of the yellow-ish paint that the Northern Lighthouse Board use on their lighthouses (I’ve heard recently that it is called “bamboo”) came up. He had a funny story about a local resident who was looking to paint the top of their wall, but didn’t have any paint for it. They had asked if anyone had any and a few massive cans of this bamboo paint appeared and shortly afterwards the wall may have every so slightly resembled a Northern Lighthouse Board shore station, or even lighthouse, wall. I imagine that happens fairly routinely where there is a lighthouse nearby.

By the time the others started heading back down to the landing point the blue sky had appeared and I was able to get some pictures of the lighthouse bathing in the golden sun with blue skies in the background. Sometimes these things happen and you think that maybe there is some force looking down on you thinking “Oh, let’s just send in some beautiful conditions, just for her, just for a few minutes.” It often happens when you don’t expect it, as was very much the case at Barra Head earlier this year.

IMG_7251You could tell Dougie wasn’t entirely looking forward to everyone getting back on the boat when he turned to me and said “This should be fun” as they were coming down the steps. Their return was thankfully straightforward with no men injured or overboard, and we set off back to North Berwick. I think we all appreciated the final close-up views of Bass Rock as we sailed away. It really is a magnificent island, even if the others were keen to clean their boots in puddles once we got back to the harbour! One of the guys told me he’d spotted some kind of liquid of various colours and he had no idea what it was. The island was also described as “aromatic” by another!

I may not have landed this time, but I’m not too disappointed. I had a fun morning and got to see the lighthouse much closer than I ever had before. Maybe I will need to join one of the tourist trips during the summer and just accept that I’m going to be surrounded by birds, as much as I dislike the thought. A good day today though, and definitely worth the effort, even if it was just to get a closer view.

I won’t say that this will be my last post for the year this time as it won’t be. Exciting plans lie ahead for one final bagging trip before 2018 is over. More to come on that in just over a week! 🙂

Leave a comment »

The mad plan: Shetland – part three

Today was the last official day of the mad plan (we do now have the Clyde trip organised for tomorrow), but it was also the day where the mad plan caught up with me. It has indeed been a mad week: eight ferries, one boat trip, four flights, and – most importantly – over 20 lighthouses not including the distance bags. No wonder I’m tired.

Anyway, another factor contributing to my tiredness today was Bob’s insistence that we get the 7.10am ferry across to Whalsay. I obviously didn’t mind visiting the lighthouses, but did it have to be so early a start! His reasoning was that it would then allow us time to visit some more on Mainland Shetland before flying back to Aberdeen. How could I argue?! So, a 5.20am alarm call it was.

Off we set in the dark (I know, there are so many things wrong with this) and made the first ferry. Due to the irrepressible southerly winds we have experienced in Shetland over the last couple of days the ferry was departing from Vidlin, which meant a potential sighting of the light on Wether Holm on the way to Whalsay. Sadly, this was not to be as the ferry took a different route. The crossing was a little splashy in places, but not too bad. Not only did we have an early start, but our time was restricted on the island to 1 hour and 25 minutes (not by ferries necessarily, but by Bob – the man is relentless). So, 85 minutes to visit two lighthouses and hopefully allow him time to get to the island high point. Fortunately, Whalsay isn’t too big and the lighthouses aren’t too many miles apart.

Symbister Ness

Symbister Ness lighthouse

Our first stop was Symbister Ness on the south west coast of the island. Brian had very helpfully informed us that it was just on the other side of the quarry, which we skirted around. If anyone reading this is thinking that Bob is cruel then you’ll be pleased to know that he got wet feet on the way to the lighthouse (mine are still dry)! It was quite wet underfoot in places, but in general was straightforward. The lighthouse is one of the delightful IKEA types, which replaced a more traditional looking structure (more on the original a bit later). It was a nice vantage point for watching the waves crashing on the smaller islands in the area and on the rocks just below the lighthouse. Having spent just long enough there to take some pictures, we needed to return to the car in order to stick to the schedule.

Suther Ness

Suther Ness lighthouse

Suther Ness was our next destination. Again, Brian had offered his advice on where to park and we made sure not to leave the car in anybody’s way. Suther Ness sits in a stunning location, similar to Ness of Sound on Yell, on a small almost-island that is connected to Whalsay by a narrow strip of land. The sun was rising as we walked out to the lighthouse and who can resist that golden glow? We could also see the light on Wether Holm from here so we felt we hadn’t entirely missed out on that one. The original lighthouse at Suther Ness now stands in the car park outside the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh. The team at the Museum are doing fabulous work to give a home to the disused lights and optics. The current tower at Suther Ness is also a flat-pack IKEA. After two days in Shetland I had not managed to see any of this type at close range, so felt the need to make up for it today!

Wether holm

Wether Holm lighthouse

Again, sticking to the schedule we dashed back to the car and I encouraged Bob to make an attempt on the island high point as he’s not got a lot out of the past week in terms of hills. That good wife move almost backfired though as he only had a very short period of time to bag the hill before we needed to get back to the ferry, which meant he had to rush, so perhaps not as enjoyable for him as it could have been. But he got the hill done and we made it back to the ferry and just about squeezed on. We were particularly pleased to find that the ferry was taking its usual route back to Vidlin, which would take us past Wether Holm. We got fairly close too, so a nice end to our very brief visit to the island. I imagine there is plenty more to see there, but the other attractions will need to wait for another time.

Old Symbister Ness

The old Symbister Ness lighthouse

I mentioned earlier the former lighthouse at Symbister Ness. Well, unlike the Suther Ness light, this one has ended up in a more unconventional location – in somebody’s garden in Collafirth on Shetland Mainland. We simply had to stop by and see it. It is very much out of place, but makes you smile when you see it. It felt a little weird taking pictures of someone’s garden, but I’m sure they must be used to it. I mean, you don’t put something like that in your garden and expect people to ignore it, surely! It’s great to see it as you head north on the main road. I have informed Bob that I would like one in our garden, so I shall eagerly await Christmas…

The main aim of the trip to Shetland was to gather some pictures of its lighthouses and we all know variety is the spice of life. I had seen very distant pictures of the two Shetland Council-owned lights in West Burrafirth. From a distance they just looked liked a box with a small light coming from them. I really knew very little about them, except that they were 2 metres tall so I suspected they had doors and were probably a bit more substantial than they appeared online. These lights would definitely offer the variety I required so we headed for West Burrafirth and the inner light first.

West burrafirth inner

West Burrafirth inner light

Spotting it from the ferry terminal initially we then knew exactly where we had to go. It was a short walk to the lighthouse (Bob still managed to get his foot wet for the third time though) and I can confirm that it is indeed bigger than it looks. It’s still essentially a box with a light sticking out of it, but there’s more to it than that. Firstly, it is actually a building, roughcasting and everything! Secondly, the light is really quite interesting. If you look into the tube sticking out of the hole (I’m really selling it here, aren’t I?!) you can see the different sector colours. It’s all a little bit modern and you just never know it could revolutionise lighthouse technology in the future – probably not, but it’s a clever idea. I have decided to name this type a “light box” – it’s an affectionate term.

West burrafirth outer

West Burrafirth outer light

I’m not going to say I enjoyed visiting the West Burrafirth outer light as much as that would be a lie. This was where my mood really went downhill. I can only blame lack of sleep and food and I have since apologised to Bob for his having to put up with me. Anyway, this walk was slightly longer with a bit more up and down, but we got there. You may be interested to know that this one is slightly different to the inner lighthouse. The light doesn’t stick out of the structure, it is set in slightly. The door also has a wider pane of glass! Really, there’s not much to say about them, but I can’t recall having seen any like this before.

It was finally time for a quick lunch and we decided, on the way south, to stop off at Port Arthur to check out access to the Point of the Pund light. We found the gate and start of the footpath, but decided we didn’t have time for the walk today, so we abandoned a visit. We’ll be back for that one, but good to get an idea of the starting point.

So that was really it for today and we are now back on the mainland. With it being such a clear evening we were able to clearly see Fair Isle and the islands of Orkney on the flight back. What a time we had on Shetland. It was exhausting, but so worth it. We achieved so much more than I expected and that is, in no small part, due to Brian. I must also mention Bob’s massive contribution to the trip: all of the miles of driving, the wet feet and putting up with me. Finally, thanks to Bob’s mum for having the kids and enabling us to have such a mad week.

One more post to come tomorrow following our Clyde trip and there is a chance that will be it for this year, but what a year it’s been! 🙂

Leave a comment »

The mad plan: Shetland – part two

A second day of lighthouse bagging in Shetland today, but how could we really have followed the success of yesterday? Well, the truth is we probably couldn’t, but that wasn’t going to stop us, so we ventured out into the wind and rain this morning to meet Brian not far from the ferry to Yell. Today has felt a bit like the grand tour of Shetland, although this morning’s weather was really not in our favour when it came to spotting lighthouses on the numerous small islands that surround Mainland, Yell and Unst. Our ultimate aim today was to reach the very top of Unst for a glimpse of the lighthouse that seems to magically sit on the rock that is Muckle Flugga, making it the most northerly of all British lighthouses.

With a little while to wait until the ferry to Yell, we drove into Mossbank and had a brief look at Firths Voe lighthouse from the end of the road. We’d seen it flashing (or occulting really) as we’d driven up the main road to the south west. We didn’t have time this morning to walk to it, but we will return at some point as it’s an easy one to get to.

Uyeasound

Uyeasound lighthouse

Once on Yell and driving north along the road that follows the west coast, Brian was informing us of all of the lights we would be able to see in Yell Sound if there wasn’t so much mist about. It was one of those mornings where you know it’s no use looking for something that’s any distance away. We were just hopeful that it might clear at some point. On the road north we saw the Ness of Sound lighthouse, which looks fantastic. A great little walk to do some day soon, but we were keen to get to Unst so continued the journey.

Arriving just in time for the ferry, we made the short crossing and decided to take a break from the car at Uyeasound to see the lighthouse there. Brian, having been to the lighthouse numerous times and not fancying the short walk in the wind and rain, very sensibly decided to watch us from the car. Uyeasound lighthouse isn’t your usual style of lighthouse, which is interesting for me! There are a few of this type dotted around Shetland and they are more substantial than they look when you are close up. It’s a really easy walk to the lighthouse and on a nice day it could be part of a really pleasant stroll along the beach.

Flugga shore station

Muckle Flugga shore station

Continuing our journey to the very north we were very much still in the mist. Brian wasn’t convinced we would see Muckle Flugga, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity if the weather cleared a bit as the forecast was predicting. As we neared Burrafirth there was no sign of improvement so Brian suggested we stop by the old shore station for Muckle Flugga. The shore station itself is in a great location with wonderful views of the coastal landscape of the area. The old boat shed is still very much there and it gave a really good idea of how the boats were launched and where the keepers began the final leg of the journey to “The Flugga”. Part of the cottages has been converted into the Hermaness Visitors Centre, although that is closed at this time of year. Another of the cottages is self-catering accommodation. Just beyond the main building is the helipad. It would be a wonderful place to depart from for getting to the lighthouse, although Brian’s undertaking of that journey on so many occasions in the past has considerably dampened his enjoyment of it.

So, it was time to see if we were going to have any luck seeing the lighthouse itself from beyond Saxa Vord. Once we were up there it became clear very quickly that the low cloud simply wasn’t going to allow it. We decided to stay in the area though and try again in a little while – we weren’t so easily discouraged.

Brian suggested heading out to Holm of Skaw to see the most northerly house and I, of course, quickly pointed out that I recalled there being a lighthouse (the flat-pack IKEA type) out that way, which Brian confirmed was correct. On the approach to the most northerly house we could see the lighthouse in the distance. Interestingly, we learned from Brian that the dangers around the Holm of Skaw were originally covered by a red sector light within the Muckle Flugga lighthouse compound. The small building that housed this light is still there today, but the light was discontinued when Holm of Skaw lighthouse was introduced. Brian also informed us that Muckle Flugga was originally known as North Unst lighthouse.

After another quick and unsuccessful attempt at seeing The Flugga we decided to give the weather a little longer to sort itself out while we went for lunch. It was one of the most productive lunches I’ve ever experienced while we quizzed Brian, with mapping set up, for details of access to the lighthouses and the best viewpoints to see them from if they were a little more tricky to get to. Invaluable stuff, this. He really does know everything there is to know about Shetland and its lighthouses!

Flugga

Our view of Muckle Flugga lighthouse

Now, it was obvious that the sky had cleared by the time we left the very nice Final Checkout Cafe, so we went for a third and final attempt on The Flugga. As we got closer we were all feeling a lot more confident – I may have clapped with excitement at one point, something I do very rarely! Then when I spotted her (sorry, the lighthouse) as we came over the rise I might have squealed “There she is!” – something I do slightly more often, but not frequently! It was still a little misty, but the lighthouse was very definitely there between the two rising slopes. It wasn’t a view for getting stunning or detailed pictures, but I had seen it – or as Brian so eloquently put it, “eyeballed” The Flugga! I was, of course, very happy about this, particularly as we had tried and failed the first two times. You always appreciate things much more when you don’t succeed straight away, as was very much the case with the Flannans and the Monachs (I was getting quite used to our annual holidays to the Western Isles while we waited for the perfect conditions to get to them).

Satisfied, we began our journey back down the islands. On the way, and as a result of improved visibility, we were able to see the Balta Sound lighthouse, the light on Little Holm, Mio Ness lighthouse and The Rumble light beacon. A much more interesting return journey.

Eshaness2

Eshaness lighthouse this evening

We travelled straight back in order to see the final lighthouse that Brian had offered to show us: Eshaness. It’s a fair old drive out to Eshaness, but we were rewarded towards the end of the journey by views of the light flashing away, inviting us to continue on over and pay a visit. Brian informed us that once the light was on there would be no access to the lamp room. I was fine with that. With regularly visiting lighthouses, so often you are there during the day and don’t get to witness the light in action, so it was a great opportunity to do just that.

We sat with Brian for a while as he showed us pictures he has of Muckle Flugga, Ve Skerries (which you can often see at Eshaness flashing at night, but not today unfortunately), Out Skerries, Sule Skerry, Cape Wrath and the Flannans, among others. The pictures are fascinating and some have great stories to accompany them. While we were there a couple who run a lighthouse museum on Lake Erie in the USA joined us for a little while. After that we spent a while taking pictures of the lighthouse from outside before saying a very fond farewell to Eshaness. It was a wonderful end to another lighthouse-filled day. We have more time here tomorrow before our flight leaves so you can expect one more Shetland post coming very soon.

me and brian

Me with Brian

Leaving Eshaness also meant that it was time to say goodbye to Brian who had proven to be the most valuable of lighthouse tour guides there could possibly be. His experience and knowledge combined took his “tour” far beyond your average look around a place. He knows these lighthouses inside out and clearly has a real enjoyment of and enthusiasm for them. He’s also incredibly modest: I told him earlier that he was so helpful and great company too and his response was “I’m just me”. I will definitely be maintaining regular contact with Brian in the future. We’ve got a good new friend there! 🙂

2 Comments »

The mad plan: Shetland – part one

The mad plan for this week was introduced in my post from Sunday. We successfully completed the Jersey part of the week, and today the second half began: Shetland!

I’ve struggled a little with Shetland recently. Having never been there I was getting to the point with my lighthouse list where it felt like everything was miles apart with massively long walks to each of them. The reason for coming to Shetland for three days was to take pictures of some of its lighthouses, but after the first day it has already become one of my most exciting trips to date.

After just a couple of hours sleep last night and an early flight from Aberdeen to Sumburgh, I wasn’t quite bouncing off of the walls with excitement. That soon changed though as we spotted the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head flashing away as we came in to land. The start of our time here was also enhanced by meeting up with Brian who, in his “retirement”, carries out maintenance work on 37 lighthouses across Shetland. I had come into contact with Brian through my membership of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers and Ian Duff who joined us for the Skerryvore trip earier this year. Brian and Ian have known each other for many years and worked together in a number of lighthouses. Brian had very kindly offered to act as our tour guide for seeing some of the major lights, and he suggested heading straight to Sumburgh Head. I was, of course, delighted with this suggestion.

IMG_6167

Sumburgh Head lighthouse

Brian made arrangements with the Northern Lighthouse Board for us to go up the tower. The day was just getting better and better already! Throwing into the mix the fact that the sun was just rising made it even more amazing! The tower at Sumburgh Head is fairly short – one of the benefits of sitting on top of high cliffs, I suppose. This made it particularly pleasant to climb up. The optic and light must be turned off before anyone goes up there. It is a massive optic and, partnered with the views from the tower, made for a really special experience. He also showed us how the foghorn equipment worked and we got to witness him starting the engines, which he routinely does just to keep them up and running.

It didn’t take us long to realise that Brian is an absolutely master of his trade. He knows everything about Shetland’s lighthouses as well as so many others. There are only a few he hasn’t been too, and by all accounts it sounds like he was often specifically chosen to address problems with the lights across Scotland. He’s served in some of the most impressive including Sule Skerry, Skerryvore, Chicken Rock and Ardnamurchan and has stories to tell about them all. Watching him doing anything within the lighthouse at Sumburgh as well as the foghorn was fascinating. His attention to detail and his knowledge are outstanding. Definitely the right person to have around if anything goes wrong!

IMG_6191

The old Muckle Roe lighthouse with Sumburgh Head in the background

From Sumburgh we headed back down the road and stopped at the old Muckle Roe light which welcomes visitors to Sumburgh Head at the main parking area. Brian had already informed me that he and a colleague had re-built the tower in its current location – no mean feat considering most of the detail necessary to assist with building it had long gone. As if the day wasn’t exciting enough, we were able to get inside this little tower and climb to the top where we saw the small optic, more great views and got to spend some time in one of these lovely structures that I’d never had the opportunity to get inside before. I felt very privileged, especially as Brian had taken the time to show just the two of us around.

After lunch we hopped over on the very short ferry crossing to Bressay. As well as continuing to work for the Northern Lighthouse Board, Brian also does some work for the Shetland Amenities Trust who own both the old Muckle Roe light at Sumburgh and the old lighthouse at Bressay as well as the associated buildings. As soon as you arrive at Bressay lighthouse you know you are somewhere very special. I don’t even know where to begin in describing the coastline around it, and then with the lighthouse standing tall above it… There are really no words. If the geo and surrounding rocks next to the lighthouse weren’t enough, the tower itself stands not far away at all from a natural arch (known as the “Giant’s Knee” by the keepers). It’s places like Bressay that remind me of why I enjoy lighthouses so much. To actually explain why I enjoy them is tough – just go to Bressay and you will find out for yourself!

IMG_6215

Bressay lighthouse

Brian had warned us that the lamp room was now completely empty (the old optic can be seen in the Shetland Museum and Archives) and I was expecting to feel sad about it once we reached the top, but I felt anything but. Firstly, they’ve raised the floor level slightly making it exactly the perfect size of room for someone of my short stature. The views from every single angle are awe-inspiring and the acoustics inside are fascinating!

Standing around in the lamp room at Bressay was a brilliant opportunity to hear lots more of Brian’s stories from his days travelling the lights of Scotland. One question I asked which prompted numerous stories was “what do you think really happened to the keepers who missing from the Flannans?” He said that there is something very strange about the Flannans lighthouse and recalled various occurrences of things happening that made no sense. Some of the stories he told were particularly creepy, such as one of the keepers seeing a man in a storeroom and when he returned to Brian was clearly frightened. When they went back to the room there was no one there and the keeper pointed to the spot he’d seen this man and it was within a small area that always felt considerably colder than the rest of the room. Brian also felt like he was being watched sometimes when no one else was around. By this point I definitely wasn’t smiling anymore! There was one really funny story though when one of the keepers was outside the lighthouse on a very misty day and saw three man emerging from the mist and he thought it was the missing men. It turned out to be three fishermen from the Channel Islands who had landed on the island and wandered up to the lighthouse. We laughed about it, but it would have been pretty scary for him!

Anyway, I digress (very easy to do with Brian’s stories). We eventually pulled ourselves away from the lighthouse and took a drive up to the island high point in the hire car, as you do! It was quite bumpy and the road wasn’t really suitable for a Micra, but it’s still intact.

Before we left Brian for the day he had a look through my list and shared his knowledge of the best way(s) to access the lighthouses he regularly visits. There is no end to his knowledge!

Twageos

Twageos Point lighthouse

We decided to finish the day with a couple of stops off at some of the smaller lighthouses. Being in the Lerwick area anyway, the structure at Twageos Point was just begging us to visit. It turned out to be a very simple visit – the lighthouse basically has its own gate and a well-trodden path leading to it. In comparison with the lights we’d already seen that day it wasn’t the most amazing, but it has its own charm and was obviously built to be functional above anything else.

With just a short time left before the sun was due to go down, we obviously felt the need to cram in another lighthouse.

IMG_6249

Fugla Ness lighthouse

We opted for Fugla Ness based on it being fairly easy to access and not too far from where we were. The walk out there was a combination of easy grassy sections and big old boulders. Bob rushed off ahead with all of the abilities of a mountain goat to then have to wait for me to catch him up (or came back and accompany me along). As soon as I saw this one from the road I knew I loved it! The surrounding scenery probably helps, but it really is a beauty, sitting there on its own little grass and rock peninsula. I think I might just take that one home. I will let the picture speak for itself.

On top of the lighthouses we’ve visited, we also had distance glimpses of a number of other lights today, including Mousa, Hoo Stack and Moul of Eswick. We’ve seen the islands of Foula and Fair Isle too. So many islands still to do here…

I am hoping this post goes some way in conveying just how much I have enjoyed today. All of the smiling and fun of the day (and probably the lack of sleep last night) is catching up with me! We have another day lined up with Brian tomorrow. More on that tomorrow evening! 🙂

I should also note that, in my last blog post, I mentioned that we would be going on a RIB ride along the Clyde to catch a few of the lights there. For technical reasons relating to the boat we weren’t able to do this on Wednesday. It has instead been postponed until Monday.

Leave a comment »