On our way to Orkney last weekend we took a detour to John O’Groats to check on the developments around the old Duncansby Head foghorn. The area has really come on over the past year which is great to see.
While we were there we spotted a black RIB zooming about just off the coast and noticed a little cabin for OceanTrek who operate the RIB. Never one to ever miss an opportunity to fly Joe the Drone, once the skipper was back on land Bob approached him and asked if he would be willing to take us out to Pentland Skerries during the week coming. After exchanges of pictures of the landing area there between Bob and Alex the skipper, it was agreed we would head out on Tuesday morning.
Arriving on Tuesday we got ready to go and set off. About five minutes or so into the journey it became very clear that a large and never ending bank of mist was creeping in from the east as it so often does. Within another few minutes we were in it and the decision was made to return to John O’Groats and try again another time. The speed at which the mist came in was really quite incredible. Even the lady who works in the little food cabin said she’d just left the hatch for a couple of minutes and came back and it was there. The joys of the east coast!
After numerous checks on the weather later in the day on Tuesday it was agreed that we would try again on Thursday morning. Waking up to mist at home this morning it wasn’t looking likely we would make it out again, but thankfully Alex reported no mist over in Wick, which would give a far better indication of what it was like at John O’Groats.
Conditions were great for the trip today and we hopped onboard the RIB and off we went. We knew conditions were better as we could see the two towers on the island of Muckle Skerry, the largest of the Pentland Skerries group. Between John O’Groats and Pentland Skerries the sea gets really interesting for a while. I recalled being told about it by the skipper for Caithness Seacoast in Wick when we went out with them back in 2013 (a note for anyone looking to visit in future, Caithness Seacoast will no longer land people on the island) and thinking at the time ‘I’m glad we’re not going through that!’ Today, however, we did go through it and it was expertly handled by Alex.
A short while later we arrived at the landing area and edged in slowly to avoid any rocks just under the surface. It was a bit of a step up, but Bob threw himself up and then he and Alex helped me (and my short legs) up. There we were on the island again.
It was great to see those two towers again and the various views of them on the approach are always superb.
Of course the main purpose for this visit was so Joe the Drone could get some of his usual spectacular shots and he certainly did that.
We had a really good amount of time to explore the island today too and one of the most interesting parts I’d not seen before was the natural geo just to the north of the lighthouse. Muckle Skerry looks like a fairly low lying island from afar, but the cliffs in the group are impressively high. There is evidence here too that it may have been used at times for landing and lifting goods up for the lighthouse.
Since my last visit two years ago little has changed. The lighthouse and old tower are still looking glorious while the old keepers cottages are clearly not being maintained. The thing I find really frustrating about this is that someone has clearly bought the island including the cottages and yet is doing nothing with them. At the same time the owner doesn’t want anyone to go there, which they can’t enforce given Scotland’s freedom to roam legislation. It is yet another case of people buying things, not looking after them while not wanting anyone else to enjoy them. But we go there anyway so I can’t complain too much!
This time I really wanted to find the graveyard and old memorial stone that marks the loss of seven crew members from the Vicksburg, which was wrecked off the Pentland Skerries in 1884. While some of the crew were helped ashore by the lighthouse keepers those buried on the island weren’t so fortunate. The memorial stone also marks the loss of two of a Principal Lighthouse Keeper’s children who passed away on the island. Unfortunately, yet again I had no luck in finding it, but next time I will make sure I’ve done my research.
There was plenty of bird life around today with gulls, terns, skuas, puffins, fulmar, razorbills and various smaller birds too. We tried to minimise any disturbance to them and thankfully the terns and skuas didn’t swoop, which is always a worry.
Arriving back at the boat it was great to hear that the crew had enjoyed their visit too, particularly seeing the number of puffins around and enjoying the sunshine which very kindly made an appearance not long after our arrival. We hopped back down into the boat and Alex sailed around the north of the island for a different view on the way back. It was a pretty short journey back to John O’Groats – the boat can certainly go fast, but we took it a bit easy going back through the bumpy section, which wasn’t too bad.
It was an excellent hour and a half spent on a really interesting island. Although I’ve been there three times now it doesn’t lose its appeal and actually it becomes more and more fascinating each time. I’ve only just got back, but would love another chance to go out there again 🙂
For the last couple of months we’d had a lovely long weekend away to the Western Isles planned, including being on a chartered boat out to Sula Sgeir and North Rona, which I’d previously visited back in 2014. We had accommodation organised, ferries booked and had got the green light from the organiser of the trip. All was well, but actually it wasn’t, which I realised the day before we were due to leave when my good pal John called to check which ferry we were booked on as the time I’d told him didn’t tie in with any of the sailings. It was then that I discovered somehow we’d managed to book the ferries the wrong way around and we were due to sail from Stornoway to Ullapool instead of the other direction on Friday. We made a hasty call to Calmac having checked all sailings to the Western Isles to find nothing was available. The man on the other end of the phone confirmed this was the case and apologised, to which I reminded him it was our fault for getting the booking wrong in the first place so he had no need to apologise. With no way to get across there (due to COVID-19 related restrictions we couldn’t even hop into a friend’s car as they had no space even for extra foot passengers), the decision was made that we needed a backup plan.
I didn’t want to drive for hours as that’s an easy way to waste a weekend and so I began researching Orkney and, more specifically Westray for Noup Head Lighthouse. The ferry times didn’t tie in and, wanting to leave North Ronaldsay for another time, I took a look at Start Point Lighthouse on a tidal island off Sanday. The fact that the island is tidal has made it a really tricky one to get to and I’d previously resigned myself to the fact that we’d need to stay overnight on Sanday sometime to be able to do it. Thankfully, looking at the tide times for Sunday, I found low tide in the area to be at 1.50pm with the ferry arriving 10.25am and then departing at 5.40pm. It seemed to me like an ideal day to get to Start Point Lighthouse finally.
Luckily Bob agreed to my suggestion and suggested I contact a friend who lives on Sanday to see if he knew of anyone who had a key to the lighthouse and could show us around. I thought it was probably a bit of a long-shot especially given the current pandemic, but it was worth a try. The lighthouse used to be open routinely with guided tours run by the Sanday Ranger, but these tours no longer take place. It didn’t take long to get a response from our friend with a couple of people to contact. I called and left a message with the man suggested as the best place to start and he got back to me later that day (this was Friday so there wasn’t much time to organise it) and said I’d need to get permission from his manager, but that he’s be willing to show us up the tower if his boss said yes. Rather fortunately I had met his boss on a couple of occasions over the past two years and when I called him he said he was happy. So it was all planned and I was going to get inside a lighthouse for the first time in 17 months!
The (correct) ferries for Orkney and Sanday were booked and camping arranged in Kirkwall so on Saturday we set off. Upon arriving we took a drive up to Birsay for a look at Brough of Birsay and its lighthouse.
Joe the Drone took a fly around his first Orkney lighthouse there too.
Sunday morning came and it was off to Sanday. Heading straight for Start Point, I contacted Ian to say we were on the island and he confirmed he was just heading over to the lighthouse. Reaching the end of the public road we found the three spaces in the parking area already full so we found a verge further back that wasn’t blocking any gates etc. and began the walk. The first bit was easy, following a good path along the coast.
The section between the main island and Start Point is rather deceptive. Initially you see a seaweed-covered track leading towards the tidal bit and think ‘oh, that looks fine to cross’. It’s not until you get beyond it that you encounter the very tidal section, which was still very wet when we arrived. At this point it was 2.5 hours before low tide and, as Bob escorted me across the seaweed and very wet bits like I was an old lady, we both ended up with wet feet. We made it to the other side though with no mishaps and then the path was easy going as the lighthouse got closer and closer.
As we approached the lighthouse Ian, our tour guide appeared, and after a short chat we were off into the tower. Ian was wearing wellies, which is something I would highly recommend to anyone considering visiting Start Point – not for the tower of course, but for the crossing.
Now climbing a lighthouse can cause some breathlessness anyway, but climbing with a face mask on makes it a lot harder. It wasn’t so bad though and I was just glad it wasn’t North Ronaldsay (the tallest land-based tower in Britain) we were going up.
After the spiral staircase there were the obligatory ladders to climb and then, there we were, right at the top with some stunning views in all directions. Looking back towards Sanday, out towards the sea, down on the old ruined buildings, there was plenty to see and Ian pointed out roughly where the previous lighthouse used to be.
Start Point had confused me for some time. On the Northern Lighthouse Board’s website the tower/light is dated 1806, but other sources said the current tower replaced the 1806 tower in 1870. I thought there was no better way to find out the truth than to look and ask around locally. Ian confirmed the current tower is the second with the first one introduced as a day mark in 1802. When wrecks continued to occur in the area it was decided a light was required and so a lantern and light replaced the stone ball on top of the tower (the ball can now be found on top of the old North Ronaldsay lighthouse). It was the first lighthouse in Scotland to have revolving lighthouse apparatus, paving the way for the light characteristics used in all lighthouses today and listed in the Admiralty List of Lights.
Ian opened up the wonderful fourth order Fresnel lens to show us the bulbs and explained that, for a while, there had been the risk of the lens being removed from the tower and replaced with a modern LED. It now sounds like this is not going to be the case, which is always a pleasure to hear.
Back down on the next floor Ian opened up the door to the balcony and we were blessed with even better views of the surrounding area. The tide at Start Point is really interesting. There is roughly 45 minutes in time difference between high and low tide on either side of the tidal section getting out to Start Point. Ian explained just how unpredictable the tides can be there and that he limits his visits to 2 hours maximum in order to make sure he can get back across to Sanday safely.
Back down the bottom of the tower I gave Ian a copy of my book as a little thank you gift. I think it’s safe to assume that anyone who signs up to be a Retained Lighthouse Keeper must have an interest in lighthouses. We bade farewell to Ian and set off to explore some of the ruined buildings in the area as well as getting some awesome views of the very unique striped lighthouse.
In the grounds of the lighthouse was a framework platform the type of which I’d seen at Ushenish last year. Since that visit I’ve been informed that it was a wind power trial the Northern Lighthouse Board has carried out, but (as at Ushenish) it had failed as it was blown to pieces within the first couple of weeks.
Stopping for lunch it was time for Joe the Drone to have another flight and, as usual, he caught some fantastic shots from the sky.
Once Joe was safely back down it was time to head back. It was still 50 minutes before low tide, but the tidal section was significantly less wet than it had been on our outward journey. I wouldn’t go so far as to say dry as I imagine with all the rocks and seaweed it never really completely dries out.
We paid a visit to Sanday Heritage Centre on the way back and the lady handed us their reference book about the lighthouse, which had some great little pieces in it and further confirmed the history of the lighthouse(s) mentioned above. There was a large poster on display about the lighthouse, showing an old map with the location of the former lighthouse, which having been there, we were able to picture how it would have looked out there.
That evening, leaving Sanday behind, I was satisfied in the knowledge that sometimes things happen for a reason. If the reason for the incorrect Western Isles ferry booking was that I really should go to Start Point instead then I’m certainly not complaining 🙂
As I mentioned in Friday’s post, I had just two lighthouses on Skye left to visit before this weekend. With Dunvegan Lighthouse bagged that just left one more: Waternish Point.
With rain forecast for this afternoon – and the need to get home today – a fairly early start was required. After the kayaking and then the added extras from yesterday it was a balance between setting off at a decent time and getting enough sleep.
It was nice and dry when we set off and quite some time later we arrived in Trumpan (I’ve said it before, Skye is big). Spotting the starting point for the walk as we drove past we then parked up opposite the old church. This church was the scene of a particularly nasty episode in the long-running battles between the MacLeods of Skye and the MacDonalds of Uist. In revenge for an equally sinister event on the island of Eigg, the MacDonalds made their way to Trumpan and burned the church while it was full of local worshippers. The churchyard surrounding the ruins contains a number of graves, including some quite recent ones.
There’s also a Dark Skies area next to the car park and I can imagine it gets very interesting there at night with the lack of light in almost every direction.
Once we were ready we set off along the road and through the gate. We were very much aware that cows could play a part in the day’s adventure, which is always enough to put Bob on edge certainly. He adopted the role of ‘cow lookout’ and went on ahead a little way, scanning the track and surrounding area. We reached a little mound featuring a cairn and Bob headed on up and ushered me up once he’s got to the top. He’d spotted the cows which had young with them and a couple had stood up when they spotted Bob. They weren’t far at all from the track so a bit of off-piste was required just to be sure we didn’t spook them.
We headed for the coast across the heather and after a very short time encountered a gaping chasm (Bob called it a gully, but it was definitely a chasm). ‘Follow the sheep track’ Bob advised me as we started to scramble down into the chasm. My response was ‘But I’m not a sheep.’ Sheep manage to balance their way about on all sorts of skinny ledges – which isn’t so easy for me as a human. ‘Follow the staircase’ was another one of his comments and I didn’t even dignify that one with an answer.
We made it safely and slowly to the bottom of the chasm and, of course, then there was a burn to cross. I am rubbish at crossing rivers or streams, but thankfully this time I managed not to get wet. Then it was up the other side, which actually was much easier. More sheep must have been up that side of the chasm prior to my visit.
From here we followed the coast for a while to make sure we were out of sight of the cows. I’m usually always on the look out for silver linings when things don’t quite go to plan. I certainly wasn’t while in the chasm (although it did look nice), but once we were back on the well-trodden sheep track along the coast there were some spectacular views both to the west and onwards in our direction of travel to the north.
We ended up following the coast for far longer than I expected and our 1km off-piste detour came to an end as we joined the track again at a nice little bridge. From here it was just trudging on, passing sheep and their lambs occasionally.
Eventually I got my first glimpse of our destination, Waternish Point Lighthouse. It did look about 500 miles away (I exaggerate), but it was a positive sign. We passed a couple of chaps who were just on their way back from the lighthouse and chatted to them for a few minutes before continuing on our way.
Reaching the end of the track we encountered the remains of walls and most notably the ruins of a house, which Joe had a fly over.
From here it was all downhill to the lighthouse and the lower you got the boggier it became, but thankfully the ground wasn’t too wet today. The lighthouse gradually got closer and then finally I was there at my final lighthouse on Skye!
What can I say about Waternish? Immediately you notice the stunning views across to the Outer Hebrides with the incredible hills of Harris on display and then a flurry of islands (I’m not sure at all that’s the correct name for a group of islands, but we’ll go with it) including the Shiants and the interestingly shaped and very appropriately named Lord Macdonald’s Table. Sadly the Uists had disappeared into the distance by then, but there was plenty to keep you occupied. Apparently it’s a great place for spotting whales and dolphins, but we didn’t see any of them, but we did see a Calmac ferry passing en route to Uig and the men we met on the way there had seen a submarine come up above the surface. Who needs whales and dolphins, eh!?
Onto the lighthouse. The current structure was built in 1980 and like just a few others has more than one door – presumably this is so you can access the inside of the tower safely without the door flying off in the wind and you would use the appropriate door based on the wind direction. This tower replaced the 1924 tower, designed by David and Charles Stevenson. It’s clear when you are there that there must originally have been a fair number of buildings on the site and now all that remains of them are the foundations. I really like the current tower as it is. There are very few like it left standing now so it’s always a pleasure to see one.
Of course Joe the Drone had to have another little fly around.
Just before we left I decided, for no apparent reason, to give the lighthouse a ‘high five’. Even as I was doing it I said ‘Can you give a lighthouse a high five?’ Anyway, I did. I even added a bonus ‘on the side’ high five! Then it was time to head back. The slog back up to the ruined house was tough. The energy from my lunch hadn’t quite kicked in at that point so I was slow and tired, and incredibly glad to get to the track when we eventually did. On the way we spotted a white-tailed eagle soaring around and being chased off by a smaller bird, who we imagined was defending its nest. There were also the remains of a small sheep and tiny lamb in the area, further evidence that we were on eagle hunting ground.
Back on the track we retraced our steps, with the wind and rain in our faces, we got to the bridge and left the track again. The cows were in roughly the same place as before, but had moved even closer to the track and so we strolled on quickly while we were in sight of them. The gaping chasm wasn’t quite so gaping on the way back (still a chasm though – and wet this time too). I had expected us to head for the track again once we were past the cows, but Bob thought we should continue to follow the coastal route. Imagining even more gaping chasms opening up in front of me, I reluctantly followed. I’m actually very glad we did as there were even more wonderful views to behold in the final section. We followed the coast as far as we could before heading slightly inland and following a fence line which took us directly to the gate. Just a bit more track to go, one more gate and then we were back at the car.
It had been quite a walk and I’d struggled a bit at times, mainly I think because of tiredness from the weekend’s adventures. It was so worth doing though and I would definitely recommend doing that coastal route to anyone visiting. It really is superb for impressive panoramic views. Just mind the gaping chasm! 🙂
In 2015 – almost exactly 6 years ago, in fact – we took a tour with Calum’s Seal Tours from Plockton for a closer look at Eilean a’Chait Lighthouse. Having done that trip it was one I thought I’d never manage to get a closer look at…
Fast forward to the week just gone when Bob said to me ‘Do you fancy going to Eilean a’Chait and landing?’ to which I obviously responded ‘Of course’. It was a few minutes later that he announced we’d be going by kayak. There have been a few occasions when Bob has made announcements like this and a wave of dread has swept over me. The first time it was skiing (which I didn’t enjoy so much), the second time was going up in a tiny helicopter to fly over Mew Island (which I thought was great fun in the end, Bob thought otherwise, especially when I took control of the steering!), and the last time was a skid control driving course, which was frightening. Nevertheless, each time I did them and accepted that I was being forced out of my comfort zone. This time I knew would be no different and I just had to get on with it.
We arrived in Plockton this morning ready to meet Willie from Sea to Skye and our fellow novice kayakers for an introduction to kayaking course. Bob had hired a double kayak for us and made Willie aware that our key priority was to get out to and landed on Eilean a’Chait.
One of many things I’ve learned from today is that kayaking takes preparation time. You don’t just turn up, jump into the kayak and go so there was plenty of time for me to stand around thinking ‘Can we just get this over with?’ After some really handy advice on how to get into the kayak, paddling techniques, and what to do if you capsize (terrifying!) we were ready to go and off we set.
We spent a while in the harbour at Plockton just having a try before Bob and I were sent off with a couple of the guides to head straight for the lighthouse. It was actually really quite relaxing, apart from the occasions when Bob decided to paddle like there was no tomorrow and any attempt I made to paddle along was lost in the midst of his frantic oar-use.
After a while the lighthouse came into view as we neared the neighbouring island of Eilean-an-Duine, which is where the house for the former keepers’ family is located. The house can still be seen today and at low tide it is possible to wade between the two islands. This time we were aiming straight for the lighthouse though and we found a nice little seaweed pool to stop alongside the rocks and haul ourselves out of the kayak. It was a bit of a scramble to get up to the grass at the top of the island and there is actually very little grass there, but the barnacles on the rocks were great for grip even if they were a little rough on the skin.
Eilean a’Chait Lighthouse, or Plockton Lighthouse as some call it, is looking a little worse for wear. It’s now privately owned and there is some evidence that work has been done here to renovate it, but maybe that the work has come to a bit of a standstill. I am told that it was open as a holiday let some years ago.
The lighthouse actually had quite a short-lived period as an active aid to navigation. It was built around 1880, 10 years after the train connection between Dingwall and Stromeferry was introduced. From Stromeferry people could catch a steamer from the pier over to Skye and this light was deemed necessarily for the steamers to navigate the surrounding waters safely. There are varying accounts of when the light was deactivated, with one source citing 1904 and another the 1920s. Either way its discontinuation ties in with the further extension of the railway to Kyle of Lochalsh, which provided a much shorter ferry route to Skye.
The two of us explored the island for a while as our fellow kayakers glided across the calm sea surrounding it. It’s a really interesting island and was also great to see it from above with some Joe the Drone images, including one which clearly shows the shallow the sandbank between Eilean a’Chait and Eilean-an-Duine.
After a while I made my way back to the kayak while Bob quickly bagged the island high point. Once we were safely back in the kayak we set off to meet the others for lunch on a beach to the west. It was a good opportunity to have a chat with Willie, the other guides and others in the group. Willie explained that when he’d heard that a lighthouse bagger was coming along he thought I must be mad, but he actually admitted that having talked about lighthouses for a while he could understand the appeal.
Continuing further west it was getting quite choppy on the water and paddling was getting much harder. Turning back we were told to aim for the lighthouse, which was just fine with me. Bob and I returned to shore with Chris the guide while the others continued on for a bit longer. Frankly I was pretty tired by that point and felt the need to stretch my legs. It was an excellent adventure and I was nicely surprised that I felt very safe out in the kayak and that getting into and out of it during the day was actually not as challenging as I’d expected. Kayaking would certainly be something I’d be up for doing again – so well done to Willie and his team (and to Bob of course) for making it such an enjoyable day out.
By the time we were back in the car and heading off I was pretty worn out, but there was still work to be done. We’d decided to use the afternoon to catch the turntable ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea and then see if we could touch the little Kylerhea Lighthouse. We were looking forward to a cup of tea in the old Sandaig Islands Lighthouse, now positioned just at the top of the ferry slipway, but sadly the flasks were no longer there and it looks like a tea room has opened nearby instead.
While we waited for the ferry Joe the Drone took another spin.
Once in Kylerhea we headed for the car park for the bird/nature hide, which is a good (or probably the only) starting point for walking to the lighthouse. Last time we visited part of the path down to the shore had been washed away so we weren’t able to get so close. This time though we followed the little track down to the pebbly beach. It was only an hour after high tide so I couldn’t touch the lighthouse, but it was nice to see it much closer than before anyway.
It was also another outing for Joe too.
It would have been rude not to have given Joe the chance to clap eyes on the beauty that is Ornsay lighthouse when we are staying so close to it, so we made one final stop on the way back.
It’s been a thoroughly exhausting day, but also great fun. Don’t tell Bob, but I’m quite glad he organised the trip. 🙂
A few years ago Skye became the place to be on my birthday, but it’s now been a while since I spent any length of time there – and birthdays were taken up with other trips like 2019’s Sule Skerry extravaganza!
This meant I still had a couple of lighthouses left unvisited on Skye. A long-awaited return was in order and there was no way I was going to turn down a weekend there.
Today was the day to set off. Nana was in position to take over child management at home (thanks Nana!). There was the usual packing at the last minute, throwing stuff into the car and then saying ‘have we got everything?’ This is especially the case at the moment after not being away much at all over the past year.
The journey felt long today, but we finally made it to Skye. That’s always only part of the journey though. I always forget just how big the island is and sometime later we were still in the car heading towards Dunvegan.
I’d found a walk report on the Walkhighlands website that took in Dunvegan Lighthouse at Uiginish Point, just to the north west of Dunvegan. This was really handy as, although we had Bob’s GPS device with us, it told us a particular gate we needed to go through (climb over) to be on the right side of the fence for the lighthouse.
Parking up just before Uiginish Farmhouse, we wrapped up warm as the northerly breeze was fairly strong and chilly. We set off through the farm, passing Uiginish Lodge, which is painted incredibly bright white. There’s a nice track along here and, while we were on the lookout for cattle making an appearance, we only encountered sheep.
The Walkhighlands report advised that when you reach two gates you should go through the one on the left. This was great advice as the lighthouse is one of those you can’t see until you are near enough at it, so being on the right side of the fence when it’s easy enough to do so is always helpful.
Bob, as usual, took the high route with the excuse that he was looking out to see if there were any cattle about. I wandered along a much less resistant route and enjoyed the views to the west across to a little bay with some stunning cliffs beyond.
The lighthouse soon came into sight and we battled into the breeze to get to it. It is one of the flat-pack kind and, boy, was the wind whistling through it today! When you see it on a map it looks like it could be a nice sheltered spot nestled there in Loch Dunvegan, but don’t be fooled, especially when the wind is coming from the north. It was great to look across and see the entrance to Loch Dunvegan and The Minch beyond. To the east there are good views across to Dunvegan Castle. It’s a superb spot for panoramic views.
There’s not a lot of information out there about Dunvegan Lighthouse. A Google search brings up lots of links to, relatively, nearby Neist Point and a search for Uiginish Point instead doesn’t fare much better. It is clear that the lighthouse is used to help guide vessels safely out of the Minch and into Loch Dunvegan. It is also used by vessels negotiating the route between Uiginish Point itself and the nearby island of Gairbh Eilean. My research has shown that in the 1890s steamers bound for the Western Isles stopped off in Dunvegan and this continued until the 1950s, which would explain why a Northern Lighthouse Board light would be required in this area. The lighthouses installed by the NLB were generally those that provided some sort of national importance, such as ferry and general shipping routes, while the lighting of harbours for local fishing, for example, fell to the local harbour authorities.
The walk back from the lighthouse was rather more pleasant without the wind in our faces and there ended a rather nice little wander and a great new bag for me.
In recent years while I’ve been visiting lighthouse of all shapes and sizes, particularly those smaller lights in Scotland, I’ve seen a number of very negative comments about these modern lighthouses. What I am referring to here are the Northern Lighthouse Board’s SPLATs (solar powered lattice aluminium towers). That acronym describes it rather perfectly actually, although regular readers of my blog will be aware that I personally refer to them as flat-pack lighthouses.
These towers are limited to only the north and west of Scotland, which gives a good indication of their often remote locations, on islands or tucked away on headlands. There are 53 of these structures in Scotland: 18 in Shetland, 2 in Orkney, 1 on the North Coast, 7 in the Outer Hebrides, 11 in the Inner Hebrides and West Highlands, 13 between Mull and Islay, and 1 in South West Scotland.
To start with, some history. My recent research suggests that, although it was around 1996 that these structures began to replace the older, small lighthouses, the two towers of this type on Gasay and Calvay – found on the approach to Lochboisdale in South Uist – were actually installed in 1985. These two framework towers aren’t as enclosed by the white cladding as many of the newer versions are, but they are still very much the same arrangement.
I’ve been fascinated to find that the history of these towers actually goes back a lot further than I’d originally thought. Along with being left off most lighthouse lists, and left out of near enough all books on Scottish lighthouses, they are so rarely mentioned anywhere which is a shame as it appears they played a key role in shaping the future direction of small Northern Lighthouse Board structures for many years to come when those first two were installed.
For a good few years now I’ve had a growing appreciation of these structures. To begin my defence of them, I want to highlight the purpose of a lighthouse. Lighthouses, unless purely decorative, were never built for us land-based folk to gaze at adoringly. That is certainly the case for many of us now who travel to admire the big, old lighthouses. However, their primary purpose was to exhibit a light that could be seen at night and would help to guide ships. At night you can’t see the structure, all you know is that it’s a light helping to guide you or assisting you with working out exactly where you are. If it achieves that, regardless of what the structure looks like, then it is fulfilling its core purpose.
In an ideal world money would be no object, but of course cost plays a role when deciding what type of structure will be installed. As much as I love a large, dramatic lighthouse I recognise that, for any lighthouse authority, paying out hundreds of thousands (or more likely millions) of pounds to build a new one is not a wise financial decision.
Financial restrictions force a company to look at what is required for the new or replacement structure in this case. The big lighthouses we all know and love were built to be lived in and to contain a considerable amount of machinery and equipment too. If you’ve ever been in a lighthouse that contains the old equipment you will see that even then a lot was squeezed into a small space.
If you have ever visited one of the flat-pack type lighthouses you will see just how little equipment is in them, usually just one or two cabinets on the ground or first floor and then the external light and another small cabinet on top. There is no need for bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom etc. so it’s understandable that the decision wouldn’t be made to build a lighthouse that has the space to accommodate those.
I’ve often seen mentions of ‘The Stevensons would be turning in their graves if they saw these’ and I’m not so sure they would. The Stevensons were engineers. Yes, engineers probably like to design the most awe-inspiring buildings which would give them a big personal boost, but practicality is key for them and if they were having to work within today’s budgets I’m sure they would opt for this type too. The final generation of Stevenson lighthouse engineers designed a range of smaller wholly practical lighthouses, such as the former Sandaig Islands Lighthouse (pictured below). These lighthouses are not grand, although I am still very keen on them myself. They were a sign of the times and reflected the changes in what was needed for new and unmanned lighthouses as well as availability of more cost-effective materials.
On a final and personal point, I’ve visited a considerable number of these flat-pack towers over the past 9 years and I’ve had some of the best days out with them as my objective. I’d like to share a few examples. The light on Loch Eriboll, my first flat-pack, is one of those I’m most fond of. It’s a relatively short walk compared to many of the others, as long as you know where to start and the right direction to head in. The coastline of Loch Eriboll is top class and my first walk to the lighthouse really kicked off my ever-growing appreciation of that loch.
These lighthouses aren’t often easy to get to. You can’t drive to them as you can with some of the larger towers and they certainly don’t have obvious tracks or paths leading to many of them as all of the older lights do. Getting to the flat-pack now located on Cailleach Head near Scoraig was a massive personal achievement. I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it as I knew it involved a long walk in from the nearest road or making arrangements with a local boatman. This was also the case with Hoo Stack in Shetland, which was great fun to visit alongside some island bagging pals. The shared enjoyment with friends could very much also be said of Glas Eileanan (Grey Rocks Lighthouse) in the Sound of Mull, the Sandaig Islands light and Bunessan Lighthouse on the west coast of Mull.
It’s not just friends though, my son visited his first flat-pack lighthouse when we walked to Point of Sleat. It was a great walk, but was super windy and I remember well us setting up a little pop-up shelter not far from the lighthouse to hide away in at lunchtime with the little man. My daughter only recently bagged her first flat-pack lighthouse, the newest one, Rubha Cuil-Cheanna near Onich. That was a great walk made slightly more challenging by having the kids to keep safe, but still good fun.
There have been some fairly unique experiences involved in reaching them too. Wading through a channel of water to get to the flat-pack on Hestan Island was great fun. Visiting Papa Stronsay was also an interesting experience with the island being home to the Golgotha Monastery and having a long history of occupation by religious groups.
There have been so many great times getting out to these small but really important little structures. I suppose if there was one final thought I would like to end on it’s that, with the recent addition of the Rubha Cuil-Cheanna light, I’m just glad they are still adding new lighthouses, even if it is only one every 11 or so years 🙂
I write this post after thinking over it for a few days, I can honestly say that the thing I miss most, aside from seeing family and close friends, at these times are the times I spent out on chartered boats, setting off for the relatively unexplored islands around the UK, particularly those in Scotland. These “bagging” years, as I call them, ran from around mid-2014 to mid-2019, although this post will only cover up until Summer 2018 for reasons that will be made clear in the next and final post. I have thought about those times a lot over the past year and not only because I’ve not been able to do them as I used to, but because I don’t imagine they will feature in my life in the same way going forward.
This is a fairly long post this time as there is a lot to say. I did consider splitting it over two, but I didn’t want readers to lose the essence of it in the transition between posts. I have included pictures from the bagging years throughout to make it slightly easier on the eye.
To clarify what the bagging years were here is a bit of background. As explained in my previous post, I’d met and married Bob. For those who don’t know Bob, two of his favourite pastimes are hill-bagging (reaching the summit of hills – mostly in the UK now, but he has also completed 6 of the 7 summits – or 6.9 as he says after his Everest attempt in 2013) and island-bagging (reaching the high point of an island). Both of these are guided by lists. Of course I like lists too, more specifically lighthouse lists. Bob was, back in 2014, a member of a group of like-minded people called the Relative Hills of Britain (now the Relative Hills Society) with islands naturally falling under that as they also contain hills, although members are also interested in various Ordnance Survey-related points such as trig pillars and benchmarks. Members of RHB organised group trips to islands not covered by schedule or routine ferries and boats. With Bob going off on these adventures it was only a matter of time before I was invited along too.
The term “bagging” and the idea of ticking things like islands off a list seems to divide opinion. Those against its use see it as simply a ticking exercise with no time spent enjoying or experiencing these places. There are three reasons I fully support what they (and I, in fact) do:
It is not necessarily the case that baggers do nothing in these places to enhance their experience of it. On some of the very small islands there is little else to do than walk around a bit and then leave. On the larger islands they often do spend more time there, checking out old buildings, walking the beaches or looking at other points of interest.
When they get to these islands they do what they love, walking up hills, visiting a lighthouse or getting to trig points. If others with different interests went to these places they may choose to sit on the beach and sunbathe, for example.
Finally, but most importantly in my opinion, when you have been out on any of the trips with the baggers, you will end up in places that you can never imagine, that most people don’t even know exist. If they weren’t into lists then they would never see these magnificent places.
From those I’ve met most are happy to be called “baggers” and to do what they are doing. In the process they aren’t harming anyone and that, to me, is the most important thing.
My introduction to these trips came in May 2014 with a trip organised by Alan who has done so much towards getting me and others to places we had only dreamed of. We went out from Skerray harbour on the north coast of Scotland to the Rabbit Islands, which had looked so alluring from a distance for some time. It was rather an embarrassing start actually as when I went to get off the boat onto the island I was completely in control of what I was doing and going at my own speed, but Bob obviously thought otherwise and went to haul me onto the island faster than I was planning to go. The result of this being me ending up lying on top of Bob. It gave everyone a laugh and all of those on the trip went on to become friends who I always looked forward to seeing in one place or another, just like many of the others I was yet to meet.
A month later, at 6 months pregnant, we spent a week over in the Outer Hebrides, camping at various stunning locations and heading out on a couple of boat trips, including my next island bagging adventure. This one was to the tiny island of Sula Sgeir followed by nearby North Rona, both to the north of the main Outer Hebrides. This was organised by John who I’d met on the Rabbit Islands trip. If I was ever going to wonder what I’d let myself in for and say “never again” it would have been then. Thankfully, whatever stressors I had to deal with at Sula Sgeir were all forgotten upon arrival at North Rona. North Rona was bliss, with the exception of a few bonxies hanging around ready to swoop on any unsuspecting bagger. While there the group wandered in groups or alone in various directions, chatting and laughing – just really enjoying their time on the island. The atmosphere was wonderful and from that point I was a little bit hooked.
Over the few years that followed our annual holiday would always tie in with the hill/island bagger events. One of my most memorable days spent out on boats was in 2015 on another Alan trip from Oban with Coastal Connection when we visited the island of Oigh Sgeir and its lighthouse, more commonly known as Hyskeir lighthouse. During that visit I grew so fond of the place, and I recall the enjoyment I hit from wandering along the bridges, checking out the basalt columns, spotting minke whales in the distance – in fact everything about the place was stunning. We also visited Eigg lighthouse on the little island Eilean Chathastail afterwards which I enjoyed so much for the peaceful surroundings. I remember staying at the lighthouse enjoying the sounds and views while the others went to the high point. Later that day a couple of us waited on the boat while the rest of the group disembarked for a trek across Muck. Heading around to the pier the rest of us then enjoyed sitting in the sunshine outside the little cafe where we had lunch, ready to welcome the others back with big smiles.
The bagging years have taken me completely out of my comfort zone on numerous occasions. In fact most island landings without a nice pier, jetty or steps get me a little nervous. Thankfully I’ve not had any major incidents so far and hopefully it stays that way, but I think that is down to the other baggers and the boatmen always being willing to help me out if I end up struggling at all. I am always amazed at the baggers who will sit on the boat, fall asleep, wake up when we get to the next island and just go without giving any thought to checking out where the landing might be. One landing attempt stands out far above the others though for being really frightening and it was actually at Dubh Artach lighthouse, which we attempted to land at the day after the perfect Oigh Sgeir day mentioned above. A group of us were in the tender edging closer to the rock and Bob was just about to attempt to step out onto the rock. He got his foot onto a bit of metal grate just as the swell came in and as it was going back out we weren’t going with it. A result of this could well have been that we’d be tipped out of the boat, but thankfully the skipper handled it superbly. I was pretty glad to be back on the main boat that day!
Later in 2015 and then into 2016 there were some Welsh visits organised by Adrian. We visited the Skerries, a truly beautiful island off the Anglesey coast, and Tudwal East in South Wales to get a closer look at the Tudwal West lighthouse, as well as landing at both Smalls and South Bishop lighthouses off the west coast. One of my most amusing memories was on The Smalls. There were numerous seals hanging around on the rock as we approached and they went off for a swim and kept a close eye on us as their heads bobbed up and down in the water. Seals, like most animals, leave a lot of mess and I recall making my way over a section of rock that was pretty slippy with their waste. I remember seeing a slightly craggier bit and thought “oh, I might get better grip on those rocks” and a few seconds later I was stranded on said rocks knowing that wherever I stepped I was going to slip. Thankfully Bob came to the rescue and escorted me to safety.
Later on in 2016 Rick organised a trip out to Little Cumbrae. This was an excellent island to explore and a real treat to be able to get inside the old lighthouse for a look around. One of my favourite parts though had to be standing around for about 20 minutes at or near the island high point while a few members of the group debated which point out of two was actually the highest. I have some amazing pictures of the group standing around with some scrutinising their GPS devices while others gaze at a bit of rock looking a little bemused by the whole situation. Before the boat came to pick us up we had a little time to spare back at the jetty on the east side of the island and so we decided to make the most of the falling tide and visit the tidal Castle Island. The tide wasn’t low enough to get across without getting wet feet initially, but Bob went wading on through boots and all anyway. Others removed their boots and paddled through. I joined the final lot who waited patiently until the tide had dropped enough to allow for a dry crossing.
Building on an already successful year, Alan’s annual trip for 2016 saw us all travelling to the Isles of Scilly. We were so lucky with the weather that week and managed to achieve near enough everything we wanted to. Lighthouses were visited, island high points were bagged and on one particular day I ended up staying in the small tender with another of the ladies on the trip as the side of the main boat was so high I knew I would struggle to get back into it from the tender. The skipper said that Gladys and I could stay in the tender and be dragged along until we reached an island where he could get the main boat in to pick us up. It was such a fun ride along. There was minor panic (probably more major panic in the main boat though) when a wave caught the boat and sent Gladys falling backwards into the middle of the tender. She was absolutely fine and we had a good laugh about it.
2017 didn’t start so well with an awful bout of morning sickness, but by April I was ready to head out on a Douglas-organised trip and this time to Lady Isle. It was so good to be out in the real fresh air again and going to a lighthouse that was so unique too. We were accompanied on the boat by the skipper’s lively spaniel who wasted no time in jumping into the tender for a big old run around on Horse Island, which the group visited after Lady Isle. It was a really enjoyable day and the time spent on Lady Isle itself was really pleasant.
Then came the big bagging year: 2018. For three years between 2014 and 2017 we’d been to the Outer Hebrides, shipping in grandparents for childcare duties once the kids had come along. The big aim was always to get out to the Flannans Isles and the Monach Islands, but we’d just never had good enough sea conditions to be able to do it. Then 2018 came around and our first two bagging days offered calm seas, calm enough to allow us to reach both of these places, the Flannans on the Monday and Monachs on the Tuesday. Those were both such special trips and to have waited for so long to get there made me appreciate them all the more. I was also delighted to land at Haskeir after the Monachs which allowed me to see the little light there too.
Later that year Mervyn planned a trip to Barra with a number of boat trips organised including one to Berneray, home to Barra Head lighthouse. That was a superb day and not only for the lighthouse. Some of the highlights of trips I have been on have actually been on islands with no lighthouse in sight. On this particular trip one such moment was on a beach on Pabbay where I walked along the beach and at one point spent about 10 minutes watching a ball of foam spinning around in one of the little streams leading down the sea.
During these few years there were many other lighthouse adventures with Bob, and then with our son, and from 2017 our daughter too – all of which have been included in posts on this site. I am delighted to report that the kids are well and truly into this lighthouse bagging malarkey, and can even be encouraged to do a small hill here and there if there is the promise of Smarties at the top. The little one even demands to be let into every lighthouse we see. She will go far, that one!
I am super grateful to all of those who organised the trips mentioned here as well as the other adventures not included in this write-up. I am also hugely thankful to the baggers who really supported my book and bought their own copies – to Douglas who suggested the inclusion of the listing on haroldstreet.org.uk and then to Alex and Rob who supported the case for it to be added to the site which usually only features hill lists and walking routes. Charlie and Mervyn were among the handful of people I knew at the launch of my book at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh in September 2019, and the Relative Hills Society were keen to feature my book in their regular newsletter as a members’ publication.
I have a lot to thank so many of the baggers for. Although my interests didn’t start out being the same as theirs (and they really are “collectors of all things” as a skipper once described it) they welcomed me, helped me and – probably because they love a good list anyway – embraced the opportunity to visit lighthouses too, even enjoying bagging the flat-pack types more than most other lighthouse enthusiasts I know. I have a real fondness for them and what they do. They are amazing to watch when you’re out and about with them, they just seem to keep going and going. They will be out on a boat doing island after island and it gets to the afternoon lull period at 2.30/3pm and they are still going and you know it’s because it is what they love to do, and for some it is even more than that – it is what they live to do. 🙂
Contrary to what the title of this post suggests, we actually started yesterday in Oban with a short visit to Dunollie lighthouse. This little lighthouse, made up of a stone tower and lantern with gallery placed on top of it, is quite understated and that’s one of the things I like about it. I also like the fact that it’s still standing as actually, close up, it looks like it’s just made of a big pile of rocks – the sort of thing my 6-year-old might make, just on a larger scale. But standing it is and it has been for over 100 years.
Joe the Drone had a little flight around the area.
Meanwhile I spent a while at the nearby War Memorial to mark an early 2-minute silence for Remembrance Sunday.
We had a little time before we had to be at the ferry and I mentioned the old Northern Lighthouse Board houses on Pulpit Hill so we took a drive up to find them. I took a guess at which they were and the series of 5 large buildings with four front doors each seemed most likely. This has since been confirmed by my former keeper friend Ian. He actually stayed in one of them while off duty during his time serving on Skerryvore.
The houses were built to house the families of those keepers (and the keepers themselves when off duty) while they were based at some of the major rock stations off the west coast.
After taking a look at the buildings I contacted Ian again as I wasn’t sure how it had worked with the families. I knew the families of the keepers on Skerryvore, Dubh Artach, Barra Head and Hyskeir lived there, but I wasn’t sure if there were any others. Ian explained that initially each block was for each lighthouse, so Dubh Artach, Skerryvore, Ushenish, Barra Head and Lismore. The families of the Hyskeir keepers stayed in a separate house (Glenmore House) which is still on the other side of Pulpit Hill.
It changed when Lismore was automated in 1965 though and the Hyskeir families moved to the blocks. He added though that, as time passed and more of the lights were automated, the blocks began to house families and keepers from other lighthouses. Ian himself stayed in one of them while off duty from Pladda, for example. It was good to see these buildings and Ian has said before that it was quite a community up there with, I imagine, anything up to 20 families there at any one time.
It was time to hop on the ferry to Mull, which was thankfully very quiet. The sailing to Mull (or in fact a lot of sailings out of Oban) are always enjoyable as you pass a number of lights including Dunollie followed by Lismore and Lady Rock. It was good to see Lismore with the main island in the background thinking “I was there yesterday” and then looking over to Lady Rock thinking “I landed there last year”!
Almost immediately Duart Point was next to us and to this one I thought “I’ll be there shortly – hopefully”. We weren’t sure how easy it would be to get to as we knew there was a big craggy Rock behind it and it wasn’t clear how easily we would get around that. There was only one way to find out.
We headed straight for Duart Castle, which is currently closed, but the car park is a good starting point for the walk to the Point. Bob had managed to find some directions on his GPS device for reaching a geocache very close to the lighthouse and this was a great help. I will try to include them as best I can here for anyone wanting to walk out to it.
Walking back along the road we found the gate on the left just after a row of trees. Once through the gate (remembering to leave it as we found it, of course) I spotted another gate on the skyline at the top of the field as the instructions suggested.
Passing through that gate we turned left immediately and followed the fence and wall along. There are rough paths through the vegetation and I would actually recommend this time of year to visit if you can as the ferns have all died back exposing the grassy paths. I imagine they would be harder to see in Spring/Summer.
Where the wall ends the landscape opens up and we headed “straight on to the left” as Bob calls it (which basically means somewhere between straight on and left!) This route zigzags as you go downhill and once you are on a flatter section you have two options, you can either stay up high and view the tower from above first or continue around and down to the right. The tower is tucked away just to the left of the trees at the coast. As you go down you should then spot the tower as you follow the grassy track down.
It was raining today so it was quite wet underfoot and a lot of the ground was covered in leaves, understandable as Autumn draws to a close. It was great to spot the tower through the threes and craggy rocks though. It’s a beautiful tower, originally built as a memorial of the Scottish author William Black who died in 1898 and always enjoyed Duart Point. The cost of the tower was partially covered by Black’s family and friends and there is a lovely plaque above the door explaining this.
The only real indications of this being a lighthouse are the Northern Lighthouse Board plaque on the door and the modern little light and solar panel on top of the tower. There is a little platform nearby that looked like it may once have accommodated some sort of derrick.
The tower has enough variety in its shape to make pictures from every angle look quite different. My favourite view was of the lighthouse in the foreground with the big rock behind it.
Another great angle was from the fence around the trees. This angle gave you a view of the Duart Point tower with Lismore to its left and Lady Rock to its right. It’s not often you get that kind of view.
Joe the Drone had come along and, although it was slightly wet, Bob thought he’d give him a fly anyway and he got a few great shots.
Following the path back up we then wandered along to the top of the craggy rock to look down on the tower. This is an excellent angle on it, particularly if you want to get a better view of the lighting equipment. The viewpoint allowed us to get some Joe-type images without needing to use Joe. I would highly recommend including a stop here in your walk if you go (just be careful near the edge).
Annoyingly the weather started to clear up as we walked back, but we’d still enjoyed the visit to the light and the nice walk to get to it.
With no ferry leaving the island until after 4pm we had a few hours to kill. Unfortunately we didn’t have long enough for Bob to do a hill or for the walk out to Rubha nan Gall so we went for a drive. Mull seemed very unfamiliar to me, particularly the southern part, and it’s no surprise really as I worked out I’d only been once before (if you exclude the quick stop off at Ardmore Point from a chartered boat last year). It was beautiful to see it though, especially with the clearing skies and the sun eventually deciding to make an appearance.
After a fair wait at the terminal at Fishnish we boarded the ferry for the short crossing to Lochaline. By this point it was beginning to get dark and so I enjoyed the outline of the landscape as Bob drove us along to Corran. I always find Corran lighthouse just seems to suddenly appear when you aren’t expecting it and that was exactly what happened yesterday evening as we arrived suddenly at the Corran ferry at Ardgour. The joy of seeing lighthouses at night is, of course, seeing them in action. Corran is a good one as it has the red and green sectors which make for a more colourful view. This was another one I could look at and think “I was at the top of that tower last year”.
Across the water I could also see the little Corran Narrows light flashing away and I remembered the unnecessarily tricky walk down to that one!
After crossing the channel on the Corran ferry we began the journey northwards and home. It had been great to get another weekend away this year, while we could. Who knows what the coming weeks and months will bring. Stay safe everyone and, if I don’t manage another post then have a restful Christmas time. Let’s hope 2021 can be an improvement upon this year. 🙂
Argyll is a beautiful part of Scotland, that’s for sure, and never moreso than in Autumn when it’s beautiful tree-lined roads and coastline completely change the colour of the landscape. It also helps when the sun is shining as it very much was yesterday.
We were due to visit Lismore and had a little time to kill so a stop off at Port Appin to see Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse seemed appropriate. It was high tide too, which would give a bit of a different perspective from the last time we were there when we walked out to the light at low tide. It’s very easy to fall in love with this area and the little lighthouse is an important part of the local landscape.
Die hard lighthouse fans will have heard of its rather amusing history, when it was painted to look like Mr Blobby as a protest by a member of the local community during the period when the Northern Lighthouse Board were looking to replace it with one of the IKEA flat-pack lights. I do love a flat-pack lighthouse, but even I would have been devastated by the loss of a lovely little tower if I’d lived in Port Appin at the time.
Thankfully a compromise was reached and a replacement modern round tower was installed, and it’s one of my favourite type too. There is so much to love about this one, including the fact that ‘Sgeir Bhuidhe’ translates as ‘Yellow Rocks’ due to the lichen growing on the rocks, which is evident in these pictures that Joe took. Yellow also happens to be my favourite colour.
Bob wandered off to find a point that would allow him to fly Joe without breaking any of the rules that apply to the use of drones. I knew he would get some excellent shots because it was a wonderful location anyway, but with the calm water and bright skies it seemed perfect.
Meanwhile I took a different route. Firstly I stopped off to revisit the old lighthouse lantern. Another arrangement made between the local community and Northern Lighthouse Board was that the lantern from the old tower could stay in the area and the community have installed some information boards inside it. These boards cover local history, biodiversity and the island of Lismore, which can be seen just across the water. More importantly though it has a panel about the lighthouse and it’s history. It’s really quite clever how they have done it.
From here I took a walk along the road until I reached the pebble beach where I cut down to the sea. It was so incredibly calm with just the sound of the little waves lapping at the shoreline and the small birds singing from somewhere nearby. It’s such a calming place and somewhere that nature takes over and you can’t fail to be affected by it. I could have spent so much longer there and hope to sometime.
This time though there was a ferry to catch. I’d gazed across the water at Lismore and now it was time to go there. Lismore could be quite deceptive for any new lighthouse bagger. Lismore lighthouse must surely be on Lismore you might think, but in fact it’s on a smaller island, Eilean Musdile, just to the south west of Lismore itself. However, we still hoped we would find something of interest relating to the lighthouse at the Gaelic Heritage Centre.
Lismore was a new island for both of us and after the fairly short ferry crossing we headed towards the southern end of the island. After finding a suitable place to stop the car Bob set off to reach the island high point, which he managed to reach after negotiating the river, walls, fences and a row of cows just before the high point. Once he was back we set off to find the Heritage Centre. It’s a great building. Very modern and a nice contrast to the little blackhouse (if they call them that in these parts too) next door. The blackhouse is an exhibit now, kitted out as it would have been many years ago.
The Centre itself has a lot going for it. It contains a big room with the exhibition panels as well as a shop and a cafe. The exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the island, its history and many other aspects. I found the information about the flora and fauna quite interesting. Lismore is known as The Great Garden, which is how its Gaelic name Lios Mor translates. It is home to 200 species of wildflower and 18 species of butterfly, so it certainly lives up to its name.
Further around the exhibition we spotted some information about Lismore lighthouse and, interestingly, the old telescope from the lighthouse, which is engraved with ‘Lismore Lighthouse (Signalmen)’. A special little artefact. There was also a lovely lighthouse design by the local children on one of the windows.
Standing outside on the balcony in the sunshine, we ate lunch before continuing to explore a bit more of the island. Heading up to the arrival point for those travelling on the foot passenger only ferry from Port Appin, we were able to get more views of Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse. Before concluding our visit to the island and heading back to the ferry, we even managed to buy a Danish pastry from the little phone box!
It had been a fantastic day, very much helped by the weather. It’s good to be out and enjoy the outdoors while we can as we don’t know when that might need to stop again. One more post for this weekend to come 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These adventures sure do make you glad to be a lighthouse bagger 🙂