uklighthousetour

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

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 »

Top speed to Flatholm!

Not wanting to spend the final day of our Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM weekend relaxing or preparing for a long drive back to Scotland, we threw ourselves head first into more lighthouse bagging last Sunday. The weekend had already been a success (see my previous posts for more details of that), but the highlight – perhaps nestled happily alongside Caldey Island in first place – was going to be a trip to Flatholm. The trip had been organised by the ALK and a lot of hard work had gone into planning it.

Photo 2018-09-30 07.48.04

The light on Cardiff Bay Barrage

We were to head out on Bay Island Voyages RIBs from Cardiff Bay Barrage. We arrived in plenty of time, which meant we were able to watch the barrage in action. The barrage was opened in 1999 and was developed as a measure to deal with the extreme tidal range. It’s been fantastic for the area. For me though, it was the green structure on the end of the pier to the north of the entrance to the barrage that grabbed my attention. There appears to be very little information available about it. It obviously pales in comparison with the lighthouse we were about to see, but I’m glad we spotted it and took a closer look after we returned to the barrage that day.

Anyway, back to Flatholm. Once we had all settled onto the boats we were off. Although I say that, it was actually a fairly slow process getting out of the bay with having to go through the barrage, but it was significantly quicker than it would have been if the barrage wasn’t there and we needed to wait for tides to change! Once we were out the other side though our skipper wasted no time in getting us over to the island.

Photo 2018-09-30 09.47.25

Flatholm lighthouse – and an old gun

Fortunately we were the first boatload to arrive so we were sent on our way to the lighthouse with our guide, Peter – the key holder! We immediately headed inside and had a wander about the old bedrooms and the battery room. Obviously having not been used for many years, since the lighthouse was automated in 1988, it has a disheveled look about it. Peter then led the way up the tower with us in tow. The lamp room is stunning, as they always are when fitted with a “proper” lens. What was equally stunning though were the views from the tower – particularly the landscape of the island. Aside from having a very beautiful lighthouse, Flatholm is filled with remnants and relics of times gone by. From the sea there looks to be very little there, but it hides a great deal. There is far too much history to cover here, more details can be found on the Cardiff Harbour Authority website. I found the old gun batteries, in particular, fascinating and the old guns can still be found laying about on the island.

After leaving the lighthouse (and bagging the island high point), we paid a short visit to the old foghorn building. We weren’t able to get inside as the roof on the main building is unsafe, but we were informed that there were plans to replace the roof and allow access in future. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that funding has been secured that will preserve and improve what’s there (including the foghorn station) while bringing more visitors across the short stretch of water from Cardiff. Great news for Flatholm, although I much prefer a tourist-free island personally!

Photo 2018-09-30 10.08.15

The foghorn station on Flatholm

We had hoped to get a bit closer to Monkstone lighthouse on the return journey back to Cardiff, but unfortunately we needed to make sure we were back in time for our barrage slot, so that’ll keep for another time. What will also keep for another time (the next day or so, hopefully) is the rest of our lighthouse bagging antics that day.

It was a great morning on Flatholm. The landscape is very different from Caldey, which is one of things I most enjoy about bagging lighthouses. The variety of places it takes you to, and often in short spaces of time, is wondrous. If you’ve not already taken up the hobby then it comes highly recommended! 🙂

 

1 Comment »

Dashing about on calming Caldey

Those who have been following my blog over the last few days will know that we spent the weekend in South Wales at the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM in Cardiff. During the planning for the weekend I was aware that Saturday morning was free and, feeling ambitious, I proposed heading over to Caldey Island for the morning, and Bob agreed – not entirely knowing at the time just how long it takes to get from Cardiff to the boat at Tenby. I looked at the timings and then considered them again numerous times. Would we really have enough time?! The difficulty was that it didn’t seem possible to find out what time the first boat left Tenby in advance. A couple of days before I called the number I found online and the recorded message said that the boats would run from 10am. We would be fine, I thought.

Photo 2018-09-29 08.28.58

Saundersfoot lighthouse

We got up super early on Saturday morning to allow plenty of time to get across to Tenby. Our journey was going well so we stopped off in Saundersfoot briefly to visit the lighthouse on the end of the pier. It’s not the most inspiring, and I actually preferred the “pretend” lighthouse inside the harbour, but we’ve been there now and you never really know what to expect until you’ve been there.

Arriving in Tenby there appeared to be little in the way of activity. It was then that we were informed that the boat wouldn’t be leaving until 10.30am (I probably could have found that out if I’d phoned the number again that morning), eating even further into the precious time we had to bag the lighthouse (and the island high point for Bob).

However, the coastline at Tenby is actually quite interesting to wander around, with the tidal St Catherine’s island just off of the beach, the old Tenby Castle and the very modern Lifeboat Station. While we waited for the boat a couple of ladies waiting behind us informed us that the boats had been cancelled the day before and it became very clear as time went by that a number of people must have been waiting to get over to the island, as they just kept on coming!

Photo 2018-09-29 10.56.29

The old Priory on Caldey Island

We were the first passengers on the boat and it was a very pleasant ride across to the island. The sun and blue skies were out in preparation for some wonderful picture opportunities. Once we were on the island we hurtled off ahead, stopping occasionally to take pictures. The island is stunning, not in the rugged way that most of the islands we visit are (partly because they are in Scotland), but in the same way as the Isles of Scilly (Tresco to be more precise). The island seemed very quiet and peaceful as we walked up the main road that took us to the lighthouse. Aside from a man in a van giving a lady a lift into the village we saw nobody else on the way there. The village is perfectly picturesque with the monastery sitting above it. A little further on there is the old Priory, possibly the most beautiful view on the island (excluding the coastline and the lighthouse, of course). There is a large pond bordered by trees in front of the Priory, and it would be easy to forget at this point that you are in Carmarthen Bay just off of the Bristol Channel. If someone passed you there and greeted you in Italian or Spanish it wouldn’t seem at all odd. There’s something quite Mediterranean about the island.

Photo 2018-09-29 11.03.18

Caldey Island lighthouse

Not long after passing the Priory I spotted the top of the lighthouse appearing. As the lamp room came into view the optic sparkled as the sunlight shone through it. It is one of those towers that looks amazing from every angle – or at least it does when the sun is shining! The lighthouse is still in operation, and has been under the control of Trinity House since it was built in 1829. It was rather late to the old electricity game, being the last of Trinity House’s lighthouses to begin using mains electricity when it was converted in 1997. It’s a great tower, made even better by its location. If we hadn’t been so short on time then I would have happily wandered around the area enjoying the isolation and tranquility. But the need to get back to the boat was there in the back of our minds, so Bob ran off to the island high point (contrary to what it reported online, the actual high point is not where the lighthouse is located) while I started the journey back down the road.

Upon returning to the village it seemed like an entirely different place to the one I had passed through only a short time before. Everything was open, people were milling around and it suddenly felt more like the tourist destination that it is during Summer days (excluding Sundays when the boats don’t run). There were too many people about in my opinion (again, I’m used to smaller Scottish islands on my lighthouse bagging trips) and I had a deadline. Arriving back at the pier just as the boat was leaving I waited around in the sunshine and a short time later Bob turned up. We were privileged to have the boat to ourselves on the way back – although there were still plenty of people heading in the other direction.

I am pleased to report that we did indeed make it back in time for the start of the ALK AGM and even managed to fit in a cup of tea and chats with a number of people before the meeting started. We had about 1 hour on the island in total. A very enjoyable day, and Caldey is certainly somewhere I would like to re-visit at some point to explore a bit more. I made it to the lighthouse though and that was the aim this time so all is well 🙂

1 Comment »

My first ALK event

At the weekend I finally made use of my Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) membership, which I have had for 5 years, and attended their AGM and associated lighthouse visits in South Wales.

Earlier in the year I received an email to say that the ALK required a new team to organise their events and I had expressed an interest in joining the team. After meeting their Secretary/Events Coordinator, I was still keen to be involved so I spoke to their Chair, Neil Hargreaves (a former lighthouse keeper for Trinity House), and Trustee Lin Sunderland, who is also joining the events team and is on the committee for the St Mary’s Lighthouse Group and a volunteer at Spurn lighthouse.

Of course, to organise any events for the ALK I needed to attend at least one of them, and the AGM in Cardiff seemed like the perfect one – particularly as the members would be approving the new events team at the meeting. Going along to the AGM would also mean I’d get to see Ian Duff again (see my earlier post on Skerryvore for more information about Ian), as well as Stephen Pickles from Bidston lighthouse who I’d met a few years ago on our visit there. Prior to the event I had also been in contact with another ALK Trustee, John Best, who shares my enjoyment of lighthouses of all shapes and sizes (including the Northern Lighthouse Board’s “flat-pack/IKEA” type). John has been a massive help recently in my attempt to pull together some form of a list of lighthouses. So the AGM would also be an opportunity to meet him.

So Bob and I went along and were immediately welcomed by the record number of ALK members attending the AGM. I shall prepare separate posts about our lighthouse visits over the weekend, which included East and West Usk, Caldey Island, Flatholm and Nash Point. We met a number of them during the day on Friday and had some good first in-person chats with Lin, John and Neil.

Photo 2018-09-29 18.44.37

The particularly impressive ramparts at St Donat’s Castle

On the Saturday afternoon we arrived at the amazing AGM venue, Atlantic College at St Donat’s Castle. It really is a hidden gem with some incredible buildings and a fantastic little beach and slipway where the early lifeboats/RIBs used to be launched. The room we had dinner in reminded me of a smaller-scale version of the hall in Harry Potter, and I don’t even know where to begin with describing the toilets…

The AGM went well and the new events team proposal was approved, so I am now officially involved with the ALK. As well as Lin, I also met Laura who is the third member of the team and has embarked on her own lighthouse tour this year. She had come across this blog while preparing for her tour, and it was nice to hear that it was useful to her. The three of us had some good laughs over the weekend, so I am sure we will get on well as a team. The AGM was concluded with a fascinating presentation on foghorns delivered by a lady who is doing a PhD on the human aspects of the topic!

Photo 2018-09-29 17.56.36

The view from the slipway at Atlantic College, St Donat’s Castle, where the first RIBs were launched

As well as meeting Neil Hargreaves, I was also privileged to meet another former keeper, Gerry Douglas-Sherwood. Gerry was one of the three founding members of the ALK alongside Neil and the recently departed Graham Fearn. Gerry served at the Needles lighthouse and wrote the first issues of the ALK journal, Lamp, on a typewriter during his time in the lighthouse. Getting a chance to speak with both Gerry and Neil, as well as Ian again, was a real honour for me. To date I have found no other profession that people are more proud of than lighthouse keeping. It is incredibly refreshing in a time when work is so frequently seen as a chore. The former keepers also seem very grateful to the rest of the ALK membership for their appreciation of the structures they lived and worked in. They all seem so modest and humble. Such a wonderful experience to speak to them.

Among the others I met at the AGM and dinner were Chris Nicholson whose book Rock Lighthouse of Britain was one of my first ever books on the topic. Also, Roy Thompson who appears to know boatmen all over the country and will, I’m sure, be a huge help in putting us in touch with the right people. There were a number of very well-connected people there who were happy to help anyone looking to visit a particular lighthouse. There were also a number of people wishing me “good luck” with taking on the events! I’m not sure if I should be scared by this or not. I guess only time will tell!

While this hasn’t been my standard sort of blog post, I felt it was important to share and to give some more details on the ALK. As stated on their website:

“The Association of Lighthouse Keepers provides a forum for everyone interested
in lighthouses, lightships and aids to navigation. We have a number of serving and former keepers amongst our members, although being a lighthouse keeper is not a requirement for joining the Association.

Membership is open to everyone!”

There may be some regular visitors to my blog who aren’t aware of the ALK, but if you are interested in lighthouses anywhere in the world (they have members from a number of countries) then do check our their website. Annual membership is only £18 per year, £24 for joint membership or £35 for family membership. I would highly recommend it already and I’ve only just become an active member. Why I left it so long, I don’t know!

More to follow soon on the lighthouses we visited over the weekend 🙂

3 Comments »

The beautiful island of Fidra

As mentioned in my previous post, we were informed of a fairly last minute boat trip that was headed for Fidra on Wednesday. Fidra is one of those islands that, although it is fairly close to the mainland, isn’t so easy to get to. During bird nesting season landing on the island isn’t really allowed, meaning boat operators just won’t take you there. It is the same for Bass Rock, which is even more of a challenge to land on. Obviously as soon as the nesting season is over the weather starts to turn, so you just need to hope for a good weather window in autumn or winter in order to get to these places.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock from North Berwick

When we arrived at North Berwick and managed to jump into a newly vacated parking space on the sea front, we had wonderful views over to Bass Rock with its immediately identifiable shape and lighthouse. The sky was blue, but there was a fair wind coming from the west, which we thought wouldn’t have much of an impact on the Firth of Forth, but it certainly does!

We found our fellow passengers and the boat, Braveheart, where the skipper informed us we would need our waterproofs for the crossing. Always nice to hear! He was definitely not wrong though. While it wasn’t a particularly bad ride it was bumpy at times with a lot of splashing. Two of our party had taken up the most unfortunate positions at the back of the boat. You may recall in older television comedies where it was clear that buckets of water were being thrown at people to resemble being in a boat on choppy seas. Well that was what it was like. It was good fun though.

Fidra arch

The natural arch

As we approached the island the conditions became much calmer and by the time we pulled in alongside the jetty it was positively calm. Landing on the jetty was easy, much easier than many other landings. A couple of members of the group wandered off over to the tidal section of the island (the South Dog) while the rest of us followed the route of the old tracks leading up to the lighthouse, passing the ruins of the old 12th/13th century chapel. There is a wonderful natural arch in the rock to the right as you walk up. It’s not a big island, but it’s stunning. I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful, possibly because it isn’t particularly remote. I always felt that islands that took a long time to get to were often the most beautif

Fidra3

Fidra lighthouse and the old cable drum

As the highest point of the island is to the east of the lighthouse, once you’ve landed on the island it’s not possible to see the lighthouse. It was only after a few minutes of walking up the old tracks that it came into view. Just after passing through the wall that surrounds the compound, we saw the old cable drum that was used to haul the carts up from the jetty to the lighthouse. We also spotted one of the wheels from a cart on our way back down too.

The different land levels around the lighthouse give a variety of perspectives on it. The large rock to the south of island, as one of the other group members said, almost seems as if it was placed there just for people to get a good view/take pictures of the lighthouse from. So often it’s the surroundings of the lighthouse that add to its appeal and that’s definitely the case with Fidra.

Fidra

Fidra lighthouse from higher ground

The lighthouse here was designed and built under the leadership of Thomas and David A Stevenson. The light was established in 1885 and was automated in 1970. In 2009, along with lighthouse on Inchkeith and Elie Ness lighthouse, ownership of the light was transferred to Forth Ports.

After we left the lighthouse, we had a stroll around the old lighthouse garden, which is a fair size. It is covered with old puffin burrows so we had to tread carefully.

Fidra is a stunning island and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. A little gem in the Firth of Forth! 🙂

2 Comments »

To Skerryvore or not to Skerryvore? That was the question!

Back in June an island-bagging friend of ours started plans for a trip to Tiree in August, taking a boat out to a number of islands, but more importantly to Skerryvore lighthouse. Now, anyone who knows anything about lighthouses will understand the delight I felt on hearing of such a trip. We’d previously been out to Dubh Artach with Coastal Connection based in Oban. They had said they would be willing to take us out to Skerryvore, but this trip would take us out from Tiree, which would give us the opportunity to see the shore station, signal tower and museum at Hynish. Another boat trip for the same weekend would be heading north to Coll, taking in the Cairns of Coll including the lighthouse on Suil Ghorm.

We were short on a few people to get a boat-load and I had recently been in contact with the Secretary of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers, of which I am a member, so I asked him if he knew of anyone else interested in joining us. Due to the short notice of the trip there were a number of people interested, but had other plans. However, one particular person was able to make it – a former keeper on Skerryvore!

We set off ridiculously early to catch the ferry from Oban to Tiree and were informed on the ferry that, although the trip to Skerryvore was originally planned for that afternoon, it might happen the following day. While the sea seemed calm at Oban, once we were past Mull we could see a change in conditions. On the boat we met up with Ian Duff, the former keeper at Skerryvore who was joining us. He had served there for 4 years of his career with the Northern Lighthouse Board, as well as Duncansby Head, Fladda and Sanda. If there’s one way to pass time quickly on the ferry journey from Oban to Tiree it’s listening to a string of fascinating stories from a former lighthouse keeper! We were to hear a lot of stories over the weekend, leading me to wish I had been recording everything Ian had said while we were there!

Once we had arrived, the organiser spoke to the boatman from Tiree Sea Tours, who were taking us out on the trips in their RIB. Tiree Sea Tours have only started running trips from the island this year and, over the summer have regularly organised trips out to Skerryvore when the weather has allowed. For us, we were hoping to get onto the rocks surrounding the lighthouse, which the boat company will only allow on a private charter, so that was the plan. The boatman said that they would meet us that afternoon to discuss the plan, with a view to running both of the proposed trips in one day as the swell was due to go down the following day. It was clear from the sea conditions that going out that afternoon would have achieved nothing, so we headed off to Hynish with Ian and Brian (the organiser of the trip).

Hynish signal tower

The signal tower at Hynish

The key buildings and features at Hynish are the shore station for Skerryvore, including the accommodation for the keepers’ families, the signal tower to/from which semaphore signals were sent to communicate with the keepers at the lighthouse, workshops and a man-made dock. As with Skerryvore itself, the shore station building and dock were designed by Alan Stevenson, who also oversaw the building work. Hynish was also the location from which the stone for the lighthouse was dispatched after being quarried on Mull and then transported by tender to Tiree. The shore station and signal tower at Hynish have not been used since 1892 when it was moved to Erraid, which was already the location of the shore station for Dubh Artach. Ian pointed out that Hynish was a better location for the shore station due to its proximity to Skerryvore lighthouse, whereas it was often not possible to see the lighthouse from Erraid. By the time Ian was a keeper on Skerryvore the shore stations for Skerryvore, Dubh Artach, Barra Head and a couple of others in the area were all located next door to each other on a single street in Oban – I imagine there must have been good community spirit there!

The museum at Hynish is wonderful and it was great to be able to visit it with Ian, who was able to point out that the old telescope on display was definitely from Skerryvore, but the clock wasn’t! We took a stroll up to the signal tower, which unfortunately was closed, and then we had a look around the dock that was built for use during the construction and servicing of the lighthouse. To visit a place that would have been so busy back in the late 19th century and which is now so quiet is fascinating. The world has changed so much and Hynish is a good example of how advances in communication and transport technology have led to the abandonment of places. Luckily, The Hebridean Trust have stepped in and have done some wonderful work there, of which there are details on their website. It is great to see everything that was built there either being maintained or used for another purpose.

Scarinish

Scarinish lighthouse

That afternoon we met up with Fraser and Kris from Tiree Sea Tours at the Scarinish Hotel, which confirmed that we would be hoping to get both trips done in the one day on the Saturday. It also gave us a chance to wander across from the hotel to Scarinish lighthouse, which used to be a more substantial structure (similar to Sgeir Bhuidhe at Port Appin, but hexagonal in shape). Now it is a much less interesting structure (for me anyway), but it wasn’t a lot of effort to get to so I couldn’t complain! A little later we went for a drive around the island and the air must have cleared a little as we got our first glimpse of Skerryvore from Tiree. Would we get there? – only time would tell.

Overnight I was hopeful that the wind would drop and we’d wake up to calmer seas and blazing sunshine in the morning. I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t the case, with the sea calmer but not flat and lots of cloud and light rain. We all got onboard the boat and off we went. It was bumpy from very early on as we began our journey out to Skerryvore, with there being little in the way of shelter on the pier. Not long after we set off the skipper decided to abandon the attempt and head north that morning, with the aim of returning to try Skerryvore that afternoon. My heart sank a little, but all was not lost as the Cairns of Coll beckoned.

Cairns of Coll

Cairns of Coll lighthouse on Suil Ghorm

After a stop off on Coll to pick up a man who had done extensive work in surveying the Cairns of Coll, we continued north. As we sailed through the many islands in the area it took a while before Suil Ghorm and its lighthouse emerged. It’s a wonderfully-shaped island, almost like the top half of a whale sticking up out of the sea – with a lighthouse on its head! The lighthouse was built in 1909 by David A and Charles Stevenson, who were responsible for a significant number of the smaller lighthouses, including the former light at Scarinish as mentioned above – particularly those that, in more recent years, have been replaced with the “flat pack” type. They were also the creators of some of the larger lighthouses too. We had planned to land on Suil Ghorm and there had been no indication that getting onto the island would be a problem. However, when we got there, the tide was fairly high with rocks just under the surface of the water all around the island. This meant we couldn’t get in close enough to be able to get onto the land without damaging the boat. I was happy to see it from the sea though.

That afternoon came the chance to try again for Skerryvore. The sea seemed to have calmed down a little and the skipper sounded slightly more optimistic that he’d be able to get us out there, but pessimistic about us getting off of the boat and onto the rocks. I was satisfied with that, as long as I could see it close up I was happy – besides, getting good pictures of lighthouses when you are sharing a rock with them can be really tricky. Ian had told us that, if he had been making the final decision as the whether or not it would be possible for a NLB boat or helicopter to land that day he would have said “no”, and he knows those rocks better than most.

Skerryvore2

Skerryvore lighthouse

We had a bumpy old ride out to Skerryvore, but as soon as I saw her pointing up ahead of us it all felt like it was worth it – and I knew that the return journey would be an easier ride. It is fairly widely reported that Skerryvore is often considered the most “graceful” lighthouse and there would be no argument from me on that. The Trinity House habit of replacing the top of rock lighthouse lanterns with helipads hasn’t done most of their wave-washed structures any favours, which automatically gives its Northern Lighthouse Board counterparts an advantage. In comparison to the Bell Rock or Dubh Artach lighthouses, which are both painted, Skerryvore’s untainted granite tower has more of a natural-ness to it.

While the sea to the east of the lighthouse (the side we were on) was relatively calm, you could see how rough things were to the west with waves breaking over the reef running north. Ian told us about a time that the Principal Keeper at Skerryvore had given the helicopter the go-ahead to land on the helipad (which sits on the rock next to the lighthouse), but after it had landed a wave broke over the top of the helicopter and damaged the blades. At the same time one of the other keepers was washed off of the rock and dislocated their shoulder. The coastguard helicopter needed to come and rescue both the NLB helicopter and the keeper. A pretty dramatic day!

Skerryvore1

Skerryvore’s helipad is located on the flat section in the centre of this picture

Another, more amusing, story he told was of a video he had made while serving on Skerryvore that he had shown to his mother. The video was of the other two keepers walking in circles around the outside of the helipad. His mother, understandably, asked what they were doing and Ian responded that they were getting some exercise and seeing how many laps they would have to do of the helipad to walk a mile.

Visiting Skerryvore was very special for me. It’s a real pinnacle lighthouse and takes me one step closer to visiting some of the more harder to reach lighthouses. This year has been a great year for that, what with the Flannans, the Monachs, Barra Head and now Skerryvore – it’s turned out to be a pretty successful year, probably thanks to the good weather we have had. The visit to Skerryvore, though, was made just that little bit more special by visiting it with Ian.

Skerryvore with Ian

With Ian Duff at his former “home”, Skerryvore

Ian spoke very fondly of his time as a keeper and the range of characters he encountered at the various locations. He described how Duncansby Head lighthouse was a big part of the local community while he was there, and that it marked the first time his wife had moved away from her hometown of Oban. It was also interesting to hear that he wasn’t too keen on the lighthouses on Oigh Sgeir and Sanda, which I think are wonderful. A particular point he made, which I’d never thought of before, was that he needed to climb three towers at Sanda in order to get to the lamp! Very true – I still think it looks amazing though!

For Ian, working for the Northern Lighthouse Board was more than just a job, it was (and still is) a hobby too. We had the pleasure of being invited to visit his house after arriving back in Oban and it is clear before you even step foot inside the door that he has a great appreciation for lighthouses (as I believe everyone should). While we were there I was amazed by his extensive collection of lighthouse books and we got to see the Skerryvore model that he had built during his time living in the lighthouse itself.

So, there we were – we made it to Skerryvore! A fantastic weekend 🙂

1 Comment »

Bagging all the way to Barra Head

Last week we dragged the kids and my mother-in-law over to the island of Barra in the Western Isles with one specific target in mind: to get me to the island of Berneray to see Barra Head lighthouse. Bob had visited the island and lighthouse back in July 2014 when I had been 7 months pregnant – we thought not the best time for long and multiple boat trips with potentially risky landings! He had always promised that he’d get me there some time to make up for my missing out then.

The journey to Barra became a bit of a lighthouse tour in itself, beginning with a quick stop at Cromarty. As we were heading south on the A9 we decided to try something different and take the 2-car ferry across the Cromarty Firth from Nigg. It’s a really fun little ferry with just enough space for the two cars. The crossing also gave us a new vantage point for the lighthouse at Cromarty and, after the crossing, we wandered around the building. This was my second time at the lighthouse, my first being during my original tour back in 2012.

On the drive to Oban, we glimpsed Corran lighthouse and, once on the ferry, there was plenty of lighthouse fare on offer. We spotted Dunollie (north of Oban), Lismore, Ardnamurchan, as well as Duart Point, Rubha nan Gall and Ardmore Point (all three of which are on Mull), and a few of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s modern “flat-pack” lighthouses.

DSCF3339

Berneray with Barra Head lighthouse, as seen from the sea

The week started well when our skipper, Francis (owner of the Boy James who routinely runs trips to Berneray’s neighbouring island of Mingulay) announced on the Monday morning that we would be heading down to Berneray first that day. A great start to the week, and exactly what I wanted to hear! We travelled down the east side of the islands of Sandray, Pabbay and Mingulay on our way there. The majority of the time we were sheltered from the westerly wind by the islands, with occasional relatively rougher (or should that be “wetter”?!) sections in the more exposed areas.

The landing on Berneray was very easy, although we were surprised not to have landed on the island’s pier. Instead we arrived on the rocks on the north east of the island, just to the east of the pier. Thanks to both the Boy James and its tender being well set-up for moving onto and off of, getting onto the island was easy enough.

DSCF3229

Barra Head lighthouse surrounded by cloud

There is a clear track up from the pier to the lighthouse and we joined this track near an old shed close to the pier. It’s a fair wander up to the lighthouse, but there are points of interest scattered along the way with old houses in various states of disrepair, the helipad presumably used by the Northern Lighthouse Board, and what appeared to be a well with a pump. As we walked up the hill to the lighthouse the cloud was coming and going, at one point entirely obscuring the lighthouse. The light in Barra Head lighthouse sits higher above sea level than any other in the UK. While the lighthouse is only 58 feet (just over 17.5 metres), the huge cliffs on which it is located mean the light operates from a height of 693 feet (slightly over 211 metres). It is incredible to see. As you walk the track, the lighthouse gets bigger and bigger, but once you reach the start of the lighthouse wall and look over the edge you see the true extent of the cliffs, which dwarf the lighthouse.

DSCF3244

The lighthouse with the old keepers’ cottages in the foreground

The buildings, which I assume were the keepers’ cottages, in front of the lighthouse on the landward side are looking worse for wear, not surprising really given that the station was automated in October 1980 and the wild weather that hits the island on a regular basis. We were surprised to hear that the skipper of the Boy James had lost 19 working days in the month of July this year. This says a lot about the sea conditions and weather in the area; the sun may be shining and conditions can seem calm, but the extreme exposure changes everything.

DSCF3275

The view east from the lighthouse compound

Often we have visited islands with lighthouses on calm days and you can’t imagine how wild it can get. Barra Head is different though. The dramatic scenery of the cliffs and the slippery courtyard outside the lighthouse hint at just how bad it can be. Some of the aerial images I have seen since on the Canmore website of the cliffs on which the lighthouse perches give me the chills. You then get a better grasp on just how close we were to the edge of two cliffs at exactly the same time when we walked to the highest point on the island, which is just next to the lighthouse. The lighthouse sits right at the top of an extremely tall gully in the cliffs, and I imagine this gully sends up some pretty huge waves at times. I mentioned the word “dramatic” before and I think that is the best word to describe it in any conditions.

DSCF3320

The three graves inside the keepers’ graveyard

The lighthouse itself was built by Robert Stevenson and completed in 1833. While the island may seem like an almost impossible place to live compared to today’s standards, it was home to a small number of people in the past. The last remaining residents though were the lighthouse keepers who lived in the cottages there until the station was automated. The keepers, interestingly, have their own walled graveyard on the island not too far from the lighthouse. Within the walls are three graves, including those belonging to two of the keepers’ children who died at particularly young ages. The keepers’ cottages, which I referred to above, appear to have an interesting history since the keepers left. There is a fascinating summary of the plans for the buildings at buildingsatrisk.org.uk since automation. I really hope someone manages to find a use for it before too much more damage is done.

Berneray is a very special place and I feel privileged to have been able to make it there. If I were given another chance to visit then I wouldn’t hesitate to take it. If you are ever thinking of heading that way then I would definitely recommend getting there on the Boy James. A fantastic trip and a great day, and the kids were in bed when we arrived back at our accommodation too! 🙂

2 Comments »

When in Wales… head to Bardsey!

There aren’t too many Welsh islands with lighthouses left for us to visit. One of those that we’d never been in the right area for previously was Bardsey Island. We had booked a holiday in north Wales and we saw the opportunity to finally attempt to make it there.

A number of weeks ago I contacted Colin who operates the boat to Bardsey and enquired about booking. He was very quick to respond and seemed to understand that if we weren’t able to get out there on our first full day in Wales that we would like to attempt the following day and so on until we had got there. Colin’s boat departs from the end of the Llyn peninsula, which isn’t really an area you’d find yourself passing through!

DSCF1450

Colin’s boat preparing to be pulled up the slipway

Colin said we were to call the evening before to check if the boat would be going so we called on the Friday evening a couple of weeks ago and, thanks to the amazing weather we have been having, conditions were 100% in our favour for the Saturday. We arrived in plenty of time and took the wander down to the small harbour. The harbour is very picturesque and after enjoying the views for a while we saw Colin’s yellow boat heading in. He has a great little set-up in place for pulling the boat onto a trailer and then dragging the trailer up the short slipway before passengers embark up a ladder onto the back of the boat. So we hopped on and then Colin reversed us back into the sea and off we went.

It was a fairly short crossing over to Bardsey. It’s a really interesting looking island from the sea, with the lighthouse sitting on the flat southern end of the island and the hill rising up from steep cliffs on the north east. The harbour was between the two so we could see exactly where we needed to go. Our son, who joined us on the trip along with my dad, decided we should head to the lighthouse first, so we followed the coast around to the distinctive red and white striped square building. On the way we were serenaded by the local seals who were in full voice!

DSCF1546

Bardsey lighthouse

There looks to be some work currently going on at the lighthouse, in particular on the chimneys on the buildings within the compound. We sat and had lunch overlooking the lighthouse. My husband often says, in his own sceptical little way, that every lighthouse seems to be able to claim to be the “first” something or other. Bardsey lighthouse holds the accolade of being the tallest square tower in the UK! It stands at 30 metres and was built in 1821. In 2014 the rotating optic inside the lamp room was replaced with an LED light as part of Trinity House’s efforts to move away from “continuous running diesel stations”. This effort has now also been adopted by the Northern Lighthouse Board with lighthouses across Scotland slowly switching over to the more modern technology. I find it a little sad, particularly as the science behind the rotating optic was so advanced in its day and, for me, is a large part of the make-up of a lighthouse. However, it’s always onwards and upwards in the technology stakes. When the optic was replaced, the LED installed also saw a change from white light to red.

There is some really interesting information on the Bardsey.org website about the history of the lighthouse. A couple of points of particular note were that the lighthouse keepers were initially restricted from leaving the lighthouse buildings in the early years. Over time though they would gradually become part of the island community. Also, the island is renowned for its bird populations and before the optic was removed from the lighthouse a number of incidents were reported of birds being attracted to the light and colliding with the building. This has since been resolved, initially by an area near the lighthouse being floodlit to attract the birds there instead, and then with the red LED installed. Thirdly, the lighthouse supply boat was lost on its way across the Bardsey Sound in November 1822.  Finally, the website has also informed me that one of Colin’s roles is maintenance of the lighthouse – if I’d known at the time…

IMG_9432

The view to the south from part way up the island’s highest point

After we left the lighthouse our next priority was getting to the island high point. To get there we wandered through the village, but didn’t spend a great deal of time exploring it. The route up to the high point was easy going and the views as we got higher and higher opened up and, by the time we reached the top, we had 360 degrees of beauty. Among the views, just before reaching the top, were of the lighthouse and we spotted a beautiful-looking beach to the west of the island as it narrowed on the way to the lighthouse. Due to the gradient of the land we hadn’t noticed it at all as we had walked past.

We followed a different route back down to the village, coming out at the little building full of locally-produced items and some very welcome refreshments with an honesty box. We sat and enjoyed our drinks in the company of a couple of dogs and a few friendly goats before heading back to the harbour.

What a wonderful island Bardsey is. You get a real sense of community while there and even on the boat crossing. We were the only people on the boat who didn’t speak Welsh, but everyone was very friendly and Colin was a big help in advance of the day and on the day itself. A lovely day out 🙂

Leave a comment »