uklighthousetour

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

The incredible lights of Islay and Jura

What a day! In this lighthouse bagging game you experience some days where, at the end, all you can do is throw yourself onto the sofa and say “wow, did that really happen?”. Today was definitely one of those days.

It’s our final day on Islay and Bob had been in touch with Gus and Rebecca from Islay Sea Adventures in the lead up to our visit to Islay to sort out a trip taking in some of the lighthouses in the Sounds of Jura and Islay. Gus had said that Friday looked to be the best day for it, so this morning we arrived at Port Ellen and spent a while throwing on even more layers in preparation for a RIB trip in January (mental!). You can’t imagine my delight at seeing a beautiful covered RIB gliding into port. Covered RIBs are my favourite!

carraig fhada

Port Ellen/Carraig Fhada lighthouse

Before we’d even got on the boat, Gus offered us a cup of tea and we chatted to Gregor who was helping him out on the boat while Gus went for the hot drinks. A short time later, and with tea firmly in hand, we set off and Gus offered to sail around the Carraig Fhada/Port Ellen lighthouse on the way out. It was great to see a bit more detail from the sides you can’t see from the land. We asked Gus if the walkway is covered at high tide and he said that it can be, and that a man and his son were washed away trying to reach the lighthouse about 100 years ago. Regardless of that, it really is a lovely tower, and the sentiment behind its history is wonderful (more details of this can be found on the Canmore website). I would be quite happy to have a lighthouse built for me (preferably while I’m still alive). With the cost of the recent trips though, I don’t think Bob would be very willing to oblige!

Back on the waves, or lack of I should say, off we went again. A short time later we passed a few small islands and spotted a couple of sea eagles closer than I’ve ever seen them before. They are very impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be get too close!

Eilean a Chuirn was destination number 1. I really like this kind of lighthouse, although I’m not entirely sure why it needs so many doors – perhaps so they can access it in high winds and which door they use depends on the wind direction. That sounds like the only plausible reasoning and would be my guess anyway. It’s a lot like the Waternish light on Skye. Gus explained that the large concrete block next to the lighthouse was part of the pulley system used for moving supplies from the landing point to the lighthouse.

eilean a chuirn

Eilean a Chuirn lighthouse

After a quick wave to McArthur’s Head, more on that one to follow, we went onwards to Na Cuiltean, which I’d seen from a distance from the ferry on Wednesday. It’s basically a solid platform with one level of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s flat pack arrangement on top. The base of the structure clearly takes a bit of a battering at times. One side of the base is almost completely covered in a layer of green algae and birds are obviously very fond of the rock it sits on!

na cuiltean

Na Cuiltean lighthouse

I was very excited about the next one. Skervuile isn’t really that far from land, but the land it is close to is very remote and fairly inaccessible, which makes seeing this one a bit of a challenge. I’d seen it as a small white pencil of a thing in the distance from the ferry. As we approached it was getting bigger and bigger and yet there still seemed to be some distance to go. It reminded me of a term I’d heard from Christian Nock who walked around the coastline of mainland UK: “lighthouse syndrome”. Anyone who has ever walked any distance to a lighthouse will know the feeling. You see the lighthouse and think “Great, I’m nearly there” and an hour later you are still walking towards it. Well, the approach to Skervuile was a little like that, except it wasn’t an hour. We did eventually get there though and I was very surprised to see the rock below it exposed. All of the pictures I’d remembered of it were at high tide where the sea completely surrounds the base of the tower. With the tide fairly low, the small landing platforms were also exposed. As with all rock lighthouses, I stood staring at it thinking “wow, I have no idea how they built that, but I’m so glad they did”!

skervuile

Skervuile lighthouse

Eilean nan Gabhar was next on the agenda as we sailed back down the Sound of Jura. This one is a fairly standard flat pack, except it’s a flat pack with those Paps in the background from certain angles! I’ve become a little obsessed with getting pictures of lighthouses with the Paps of Jura in the background. The joy of it being that it is very easily done in the Islay/Jura area. I believe the term “commanding the landscape” is very apt as that is exactly what the Paps do – well, until you stick a lighthouse in front of them, of course!

eilean nan gabhar

Eilean nan Gabhar lighthouse

Another wave to McArthur’s Head as we entered the Sound of Islay. The ferry had given us a very good view of Carraig Mhor, to the south of Port Askaig, on Wednesday, but this was an opportunity to get even closer. Not landing close (although that would have been possible, but was not a priority for today). With the reduced elevation compared to the ferry, and the calm sea conditions it was also a good chance to catch some nice reflection shots. Love a reflection! It still looked from our closer angle like it would be quite difficult to access by land.

carraig mhor

Carraig Mhor lighthouse

From the ferry on Wednesday, I’d quickly caught the little lighthouse, Carragh an t-Sruith on the west coast of Jura. Very similar in appearance to Eilean a Chuirn, this one looks to be a nice little walk from the landing point for the ferry across the short stretch from Islay. Must put that on my “to do” list.

carragh an t-sruith

Carragh an t-Sruith lighthouse

Ruvaal hadn’t been part of the original plan, but I asked Bob this morning if we would be going that far. I think he sensed from my tone that I wanted to go there. We asked Gus nicely and he was more than happy to add it on. On the way there he told us about the couple who own the lighthouse and how they manage being such a long way from a road. The majority of their journeys to Port Askaig are done by small boat. They do have a quad bike to drive across the difficult terrain, but Gus explained that the land they cross is mostly mud. He had once driven up there on the quad once with a passenger and saw a big puddle, which he thought he could get through. As it turned out, a pole had blown down in the wind and had been removed along with its base, leaving a gaping chasm (my words, not his). So, Gus ended up stuck in this gaping chasm with water almost up the seating level in the quad. Fortunately he was able to get them out and back on the track. The challenges they must face seem endless to me and it would take a certain type of person to be able to live (or enjoy life) there. As much as I love lighthouses, I would need to draw the line when it comes to choosing which one to live in, and Ruvaal falls below this line! Having said that, the lighthouse is beautiful. Incredibly slender! If I were a lighthouse, I would want to look like Ruvaal. It was lovely to sail around it and see the side with the windows too. Maybe I could live there – perhaps – just for a few days.

ruvaal

Ruvaal lighthouse

mcarthur's head1

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

We had purposely saved McArthur’s Head for the way back. We’d rather cheekily asked Gus if he thought it might be possible for us to go ashore there and climb those glorious steps. He explained that it is not possible to land at low tide, he’d once been stranded in a nearby cave due to the tide going down. To maximise our chances of landing, he suggested saving it until the end of our trip when the tide would be in. He wasn’t wrong and I may have squealed a little (just a little) when he said that he’d get us in! We hopped ashore and made for the steps. I approached the steps thinking that there weren’t that many and it would be easy enough. About 10 or so steps from the top I changed my mind. It’s a long way up! But it was so worth it. The lighthouse, while not unlike a number of others in the area, was stunning and the extra effort you put into getting to it adds to the enjoyment. My favourite views though were from the end of the path beyond the lighthouse looking back at it with Jura in the background. Just beautiful. Gus told us that the lighthouse was painted last year and they flew in 2.5 tonnes of paint for the job. I imagine at least half of this paint was used on the wall rather than the tower itself. The wall is so long that I didn’t even realise we were inside it! McArthur’s Head now holds the record for the most number of hugs it has had from me (3). I even enjoyed walking back down the steps. I can’t decide though whether the lighthouse looks better from the land or from the sea. It is just an all-round wonderful lighthouse and I want to go back already!

mcarthur's head2

McArthur’s Head from the sea

Heading back to Port Ellen, the sea eagles were out in force again, being wound up by some gulls. Gus had told us about a group of stags he’d seen swimming between islands near Eilean a Chuirn the other day. By some wonderful chance, we spotted one in the water as we passed. Gus did a very quick and very sharp turn in the RIB to enable us to see the deer swimming at close range. After it arrived on the island it looked back at us briefly before wandering off onto the island.

A wonderful and very successful day. Certainly one never to be forgotten. 🙂

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Islay, where it’s all about the location

For a change, today has been a shorter day. In a recent post I mentioned the benefits of winter: being able to catch lighthouses at sunrise and the lights in action. The downside, though, is the later starts and earlier finishes. It’s still been a productive day though.

Two lighthouses beckoned this morning, and when they call one must go! The first was the Rinns (or Rhinns) of Islay, which resides majestically on the island of Orsay off of Port Wemyss. On the way there we passed what was to be our second stop of the day, Loch Indaal at Port Charlotte, and had a quick look at how we might be able to get access to it. While the field to the north of Loch Indaal House (which is available as a holiday let – the views of the lighthouse at night would be wonderful from there, I imagine) was home to a few young Highland cows, the field to the south looked a lot more inviting with just a few sheep roaming around. Back to that one shortly.

rinns of islay2

Rinns of Islay lighthouse on Orsay

As we approached the small but very picturesque village of Port Wemyss the Rinns of Islay lighthouse just appeared out of nowhere, considerable bigger than I expected it to be. While I knew it wasn’t a huge stretch of water between Port Wemyss and Orsay, I hadn’t expected it to be so close. One of the first views we had of the lighthouse was fantastic. Heading straight for the coast with houses on either side of the road, the lighthouse was perfectly positioned at the end of the road, looking almost like you could drive right up to it. There are some wonderful spots to get views across to the island and lighthouse from the coastal road. A perfectly positioned picnic bench is just up the hill slightly from the slipway. A wonderful spot to spend some time “lighthouse gazing” and enjoying the moment. One day I hope to make it across to the island, but it’s not on the plan for this week. Something to look forward to another time.

loch indaal2

Loch Indaal lighthouse

Returning to Port Charlotte, we parked up in the village and wandered along the road until we reached Loch Indaal House. I asked my usual “are you sure we’re allowed to go through this field?” and Bob reassured me for the 500th time that it was absolutely fine – we are in Scotland and there is “right to roam”! Onwards we went. I’d already said that I wanted to get a picture of the lighthouse with the Paps of Jura in the background, so we walked slightly further south before heading to the lighthouse. The best place to get this picture is actually from the road where the Paps still manage to look about the same height as the lighthouse! Where yesterday the Paps made Na Cuiltean lighthouse appear so small and insignificant, Loch Indaal light won this time, but only once we’d made it to the bottom of the field! It did make for a lovely view. No blue skies today, but also no rain and very little wind. It’s a nice rocky area to wander around and we slowly made our way towards the lighthouse. The tower is a fairly straightforward affair and reminded me a lot of the tower at Corran. It’s no wonder really as they were both the brainchild of the wonderful Stevenson team that was David and Thomas, with Loch Indaal first lit just 9 years after its twin on the mainland at Corran. I mean, why reinvent the wheel?! Interestingly, the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) face plate next to the door says “Loch Indaall”, but most spellings appear to only have the one ‘l’ on the end – even in places on the NLB website. It’s not the most astounding of lighthouses, but it’s really easy to get to and in a lovely location.

carraig fhada2

Port Ellen/Carraig Fhada lighthouse

After a lunch break, we hit the road again with Bob shuttling us all (the four of us and his mum) to Port Ellen in two runs. I was dropped off first which gave me the chance to go on ahead to the Port Ellen lighthouse, which in these parts is more commonly referred to as Carraig Fhada. It’s a nice little walk around the coast and the lighthouse is visible pretty much all of the way along. It doesn’t resemble a lighthouse in the traditional sense, but it looks wonderful and you just can’t help but take numerous pictures on the approach. Well, I would have done just that had a couple and their two dogs not entirely ruined my view by walking out to the lighthouse at completely the wrong time. I can’t complain about them too much though as the man pointed out a heron on the rocks on the way out, so I managed to get some decent pictures of a heron (not really my sort of thing, but good to have to share with my birdwatcher dad). The best pictures and views though, in my opinion, are to be had near the entrance to the narrow walkway that leads out to the lighthouse. When you see a little walkway like that there is nothing for it, you just need to walk it. It could be pretty hairy at times I imagine and completely unwise to walk out in rough sea conditions, maybe even verging on impossible without getting washed away. I was splashed a little once on the way out and today has been really quite calm. It’s a great little wander. There’s not a lot to see once you are at the lighthouse. It’s a relatively small rock that it sits on, so you can’t get any decent pictures of the tower. Crossing back over the walkway I made my way back towards the cemetery where I’d been dropped off and met the others on their way to the lighthouse. We all bagged the lighthouse and had a walk along to the Singing Sands, which didn’t appear to be singing today (apparently the wind was coming from the wrong direction). On the way back to the car, I managed to get those pictures I’d missed out on due to “that couple” with the dogs. All was well in the end.

I should add that, as we arrived in Port Ellen this afternoon, I spotted a few flashes straight ahead. Considering it was still daylight at this point, I was quite amazed, and intrigued. Looking at the map, I wondered if it might be one of the lights on Rathlin Island off of the north coast of Northern Ireland, most likely Altacarry Head. Bob wasn’t sure. Having looked into it a little more though, I am very pleased to have been proven right. Altacarry Head, or Rathlin East, lighthouse does indeed flash 4 times every 20 seconds as we had seen and, very interestingly, does so 24 hours a day! This has been the case since November 1995 and was introduced to “improve the daytime conspicuity of the station”, as stated on the Commissioners of Irish Lights website. That explained everything.

That’s all for today. More to come tomorrow (she says, with crossed fingers)! 🙂

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Getting serious with some January bagging

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

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

Ardrishaig

Ardrishaig lighthouse

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

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

McArthur's Head

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

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

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

Carraig Mhor

Carraig Mhor lighthouse

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

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

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