The Great Manx Lighthouse Extravaganza – a personal finale

As mentioned in my last post, the Association of Lighthouse Keepers‘ Isle of Man event was over, but I still had one more task to do before I left the island. I’d arrived on the Isle of Man with five lighthouses left to get a close look at. With the lights in Ramsey and Laxey now visited, it just left the slightly trickier Derbyhaven light to reach. The only reason Derbyhaven Lighthouse can be difficult to reach is that it is on a tidal breakwater that was built to allow shelter for Derbyhaven Bay. More on that later though.

The closest view of Derbyhaven breakwater and lighthouse I’d had prior to the visit. There was’t time to visit on this day.

With low tide predicted to be around 4.30pm there were plenty of hours to play with before heading to Derbyhaven. I’d agreed to spend the day with John, Steve and Lianne as they continued their trig-bagging adventures. They had three in mind and it didn’t get off to a great start with the first trig surrounded by cows and calves. After satisfying ourselves with seeing it from a distance, not wanting to disturb the cows if they were going to get funny, we set off for the next one. Parking near the entrance to the beach at Sartfield near Jurby we set off heading south and it quickly became clear that a bit of a climb up the grassy bank was required to reach the trig here. I was quite happy at this point to sit on the empty beach and just enjoy the sights and sounds (while also dealing with emails relating to the second Isle of Man trip which was starting just a few days later), and let the others get on with it.

The beautiful beach near Jurby

Cronk ny Arrey Laa was the final trig pillar on the list for the day and it was a great walk up to it from the nearest road. The views from the top of this hill were superb and it is clearly frequently visited as the large cairn at the top is surrounded by some clear little paths that allow you to enjoy the view from every single angle.

The final trig pillar of the day on Cronk ny Arrey Laa

After lunch in Kirk Michael it was time to head for Derbyhaven. We stopped at a little grassy area and parked up and it seemed like the tide was low enough to walk across without getting wet feet. It’s always a bit of a worry with walking on tidal sections of a beach as you never know how soft the sand might be, but thankfully it was okay here and I didn’t at one point wish I had my wellies with me, which is always a good sign. We took a slight detour on the way out to avoid the worst of the puddles that remained, but it was all quite straightforward.

A little green, slimy and wet, but an easy enough stroll

The breakwater is much bigger than it appears from the shore, but it does have a very handy slipway leading up to it. It’s actually a really impressive structure. I’ve done a little research about the light and the pier in the general. When it was constructed in 1842-3 it was built, at a cost of £3,524 on the solid foundations of the North Rock. This, presumably, would have helped no end in the construction process. Originally the plan had been to build a larger breakwater like the one in Plymouth which would only leave gaps for ships to pass through on either side, but the smaller design was chosen instead.

Arriving on Derbyhaven breakwater

While we walked along the breakwater John said that it looked like the breakwater could do with a bit of pointing as there are gaps between each of the large stones. I’ve since found an IOMToday article from 2020 though that suggests that instead of pointing the breakwater, which is in need of repair, ‘there are now plans to drill some 4,000 holes into the blocks to anchor steel reinforcing mesh and then entomb the carefully-crafted stone blocks in a ’concrete overcoat’.’ This seems a real shame to me as it looks great close up.

On Derbyhaven breakwater

Though the Manx Electric Railway Society website features an article stating that a light exhibited in Derbyhaven from 1650 was the first navigation light on the Isle of Man, the current breakwater light was not added until 1946, as confirmed by the date engraved above its door. It’s another very Manx-style harbour light, much the same as the Peel Castle Jetty light and the pair in Laxey.

The little lighthouse on Derbyhaven breakwater

I was quite sad to see that the lighthouse is now disused. I wasn’t aware that this was the case. I’ve done some research into when the lighthouse was replaced by the LED on a skinny tripod (not as catchy as ‘lantern on legs’, but you get the idea). It seems the new LED light was already in place in 2020 and I imagine it wasn’t long before that it was introduced. It’s a great shame. Of course the tower is still used as a daymark, but it would have been nice for the LED to at least been placed inside the lighthouse rather than separately.

The old and new Derbyhaven breakwater lights

Still, it was my final Manx lighthouse and I had reached it. Eventually bidding the Derbyhaven farewell, it was time to head back to Douglas and get ready to leave the island the following morning after what had been a brilliant five days doing one of my most favourite things. There is nothing like a good lighthouse bagging trip with likeminded people to really get you back into the swing! 🙂

The Great Manx Lighthouse Extravaganza – part four

The Calf of Man boat trip was always going to be the only ‘Will we? Won’t we?’ part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Isle of Man event. Almost as expected, the schedule for the trip needed to be changed just a couple of days before it started to allow the boat trip to take place on the calmest of the four days, which looked to be the Tuesday. It actually turned out rather well though and the saying ‘save the best ‘til last’ was very apt here.

Before we set off on the boat though there was a little time to pay Port Erin a visit. Every harbour village or town on the Isle of Man has its own charm and the pairings of lighthouses only adds to this. In Port Erin though it’s really extra special in my mind with two very unique lighthouses.

The Raglan Pier light is what I often refer to as ‘a lantern on legs’ but this one has plenty more character than your average one of this type.

Port Erin’s Raglan Pier Lighthouse

Funnily enough my ‘group hug a lighthouse’ really seemed to have taken off by this point and Stephen from Bidston instigated this one, which worked really rather well with the legs and being able to see people on the other side too.

The Raglan Pier Lighthouse hug in action

If this little one wasn’t quirky enough, someone noticed a couple of drawings on the lighthouse. Now, I’m not a supporter of graffiti in general but with Mr Bump on one of the River Avon lights the other day I do sometimes quite like a little drawing. This one had a little smiley face on it with the word ‘smile’ underneath. What was even better though was the snail, which was rather nicely drawn just underneath some text which read ‘Follow the snail too happiness’. I’ll ignore the rogue ‘o’ on ‘to’ here because it was a sweet little thing.

Grafitti on the Raglan Pier Lighthouse

I should say though that drawing on lighthouses isn’t advisable. They do belong to someone, whether it’s the Northern Lighthouse Board or Trinity House, or a port authority, council or even a private home, so they are best left alone.

We had a little while then to walk to the front light on the beach (the rear of this pair is a light on a stick). I chose the beach walk option rather than walking along the promenade.

The view from Port Erin beach including the Raglan Pier lighthouse and, in the distance, Milner’s Tower on Bradda Head

I really like all of the little Manx lighthouses, but this one is definitely my favourite. I worry about it though as it’s on a west-facing beach so the crazy storms will cause some big old waves in the area.

Port Erin Front light

This one had to have a group hug too, of course. It was actually getting to the point now where I didn’t even need to encourage people, someone else would quite often mention it.

The hug at the Port Erin Front light was a bit trickier with the steps

We had a little spare time before we needed to be in Port St Mary for the boat trip so we headed along through Cregneash – spotting the old radio signal station which was used, in part, for signalling with Chicken Rock Lighthouse and later housed some of its keepers.

At the end of this road is what they call The Parade where you look across the Sound to the Calf of Man. We’d been blessed with amazing weather and great visibility so the views from there were fabulous. There were lots of seals around and birds which the others loved seeing. There’s a great cafe here too, which I recalled having great soup served in a crusty roll at when we’d been to the island a few years ago.

Our first view of the day of the Calf of Man across Calf Sound

It was time for the excitement to begin. We met Steve and Rob in Port St Mary and set off on their boat (Port St Mary Calf of Man Boat). Their boat is the tender for the island and has been for many years, previously being run by Steve’s father Juan.

Our chariot arriving at Port St Mary

It was a beautiful ride along the coast to reach the Calf with an incredible stack and caves. The bird watchers among the group were amazed by the number of razorbills both on the rocks and in the air. In fact, we all were.

One of the incredible views from the boat, which can get in all the nooks and crannies!

Passing around Thousla Rock with its beacon, we arrived at Cow Harbour on the Calf of Man. This is when it became very obvious that the boat fits perfectly in the harbour here and we were soon on the slipway and heading up to meet the wardens.

The Cow Harbour supply boat storage

The Calf of Man is looked after during the Spring, Summer and Autumn by a number of wardens and we were guided across the island with them. The weather was still fantastic and the views across the island and around the coast were idyllic.

The view down to the harbour with wild sheep, Thousla Rock and the Isle of Man beyond

There is almost a little community at the island’s bird observatory with a few buildings that the wardens stay in during their time on the island.

Approaching the Bird Observatory

Not too far after the Bird Observatory we began seeing the top of one of the old lighthouses and then suddenly there was the view that makes the Calf of Man such a special place for those of us with an interest in lighthouses.

The three lighthouses on the Calf of Man

With three lighthouses so close together plus a rock lighthouse visible not far offshore, the question as to why there are so many of them is a valid one. Well, it all came about due to the hazard Chicken Rock presented to shipping. The two oldest towers on the island first shone in 1819 and aimed, by working as leading lights flashing in unison, to guide vessels clear of the rock. They are stunning buildings and clearly incredibly well-built, it’s just a great shame they are no longer being maintained.

The old Low Light on the Calf of Man with Chicken Rock visible offshore

As is so often the case though, with older towers at higher elevations, they are routinely obscured by fog and in bad weather. This is the case in a number of other locations, St Catherine’s Oratory on the Isle of Wight and the original tower on Little Cumbrae immediately come to mind as two other examples. The solution to this, as decided by the Northern Lighthouse Board, was to build a tower on Chicken Rock itself. By that point they would have had both Bell Rock and Skerryvore lighthouses under their belts so the prospect may not have been quite so terrifying to them.

Calf of Man Old Low Lighthouse

Chicken Rock Lighthouse was completed in 1875 and operated successfully until 1960 when it was damaged by fire. At this point the decision was taken to automate Chicken Rock Lighthouse and also to build a more powerful lighthouse on the Calf of Man – hence the third tower.

The modern Calf of Man Lighthouse

This light was first exhibited in 1968 as the very last of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s manned stations to be built. A 2005 review of aids to navigation concluded that this modern light should be discontinued and Chicken Rock Lighthouse upgraded. The lighthouse was decommissioned two years later.

The sheltered courtyard within the 1968 lighthouse complex

It was this 1960s lighthouse that I had managed to arrange access to for this trip. Sadly, for health and safety reasons, we weren’t able to go up into the light tower, but we could still have a wander around the hallways, peering into the old bedrooms, kitchen and the engine room. The accommodation here is still used at times. When we visited a team of people fixing the dry stone walls on the island were staying there.

One of the basic, but completely functional bedrooms in the modern lighthouse

Some of the old foghorn equipment can still be seen close to the old low lighthouse as well and the views from this area were just stunning. We – or the boatman, in fact – couldn’t have chosen a better day.

The old foghorn equipment (looks like a brass band to me) on the Calf of Man

The buildings attached to the old high lighthouse is sadly not looking as well as its low counterpart, but the tower itself is still just as wonderful nonetheless.

Calf of Man High Lighthouse. The missing roof on the accommodation can be seen behind

Then there was THE view!

All four lighthouses in one shot

There wasn’t much time to hang around as there was the highlight of the day (or so we hoped) still to visit and another group were waiting back in Port St Mary for their turn. The walk back to The Cow landing was just amazing and the view of Calf Sound as you head down the final stretch towards the landing is just beautiful. I could easily look at that view for hours.

Returning to Cow Harbour

With a quick swap over, we were off again with all our fingers crossed that we would make it out to see the wonderful Chicken Rock Lighthouse close up. One of the boatman had said they’d been out in that area that morning and it had been pretty choppy so it was definitely a case of being on tenterhooks. As we rounded the corner below the lighthouses on the Calf though, we spotted Chicken Rock Lighthouse in a lovely gap between the island and a stack.

Chicken Rock Lighthouse coming into view

From that point we only got closer and closer and closer. I’m fact, I was very very pleasantly surprised to find just how close Steve was able to take the boat to the tower.

Chicken Rock Lighthouse

It must have been a lower tide as the rock was visible and the landing steps were just there, begging to be landed on. Though this visit was never going to be for landing, but we got as close as we could have done without landing.

Chicken Rock – close enough to touch, nearly

We did two laps of the lighthouse, both close in and further out, with the latter round giving some incredible views of the four lighthouses in the reverse view of what I had been taking a picture of less than an hour before.

Chicken Rock Lighthouse and the Calf of Man lights beyond

It was such a pleasure to see Chicken Rock Lighthouse so close and on a really nice day too when the sun was shining on the tower. I always find with these unpainted granite towers, like Skerryvore and Ardnamurchan, you really need to see them with the sun on them to really appreciate just how beautiful they are. It’s silhouette wasn’t too shabby either!

Chicken Rock Lighthouse in silhouette

Once we were all satisfied that we’d got exactly what we wanted from the visit – and then some – we started our journey back to Port St Mary. There was even more glorious rock formations to be seen on the coast of the Calf of Man as we sailed by.

The ‘drinking dragon’, or the Burroo, at the south end of the Calf of Man

Disembarking at Port St Mary, I had a chance to properly visit the Isle of Man’s newest little lighthouse. The small tower at the end of Alfred Pier, or the Outer Breakwater, was installed in 2018. Its predecessor was washed away and it had temporarily been replaced by a light on a stick. Interestingly, although the tower is built to the shape of a traditional lighthouse, it appears that the light itself is just a modern LED with solar panels mounted on top of what would be the lantern.

The relatively new Port St Mary Alfred Pier light

The second light at Port St Mary also needed a revisit so I headed to that one too before retiring to the pub for a much-needed drink. This one had, rather unfortunately, been branded ‘the silo’ by one of the other group members.

The lighthouse on the Inner Pier in Port St Mary

Finishing up the day a couple of hours later, waiting on the shoreline for the second group to arrive back was a really great end to the official Association of Lighthouse Keepers event, which saw us visit (or at least see) every Manx lighthouse. It was an excellent adventure with a really great bunch of people whose company I enjoyed immensely.

The event may have been over, but I still had one more objective before I could even think about leaving Manx soil! More on that coming very soon… 🙂

The Great Manx Lighthouse Extravaganza – part three

Monday was a busy day on the Isle of Man for day three of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers event. We started off at Langness Lighthouse with visits inside the tower, courtesy of the Northern Lighthouse Board and their Retained Lighthouse Keeper for the island. I’ve always liked Langness and it’s really been the landscape that surrounds it tied in with the lighthouse that makes it so special. Seeing these places when the sea is relatively calm and there’s no strong wind really gives you the feeling that it must be wonderful there all the time, and of course that’s not the case. Storms at Langness, which is a relatively narrow peninsula, must make it a particularly unpleasant place to be. The access road to the lighthouse sustained some damage over the winter and it’s easy to see why as the sea isn’t so far away on either side of the road.

The sea can be seen here on either side of the narrow section of the Langness peninsula

The lighthouse though looks fantastic and its location enabled us to see Chicken Rock Lighthouse in the distance sticking out of the sea to the west. There is a lot of sea around Langness and there are some beautiful geos in the area with clear evidence of the sea’s wild ways. It would be a great place to wander around and the former lighthouse cottages are now available as holiday lets so would make an excellent base for doing some exploring of the area.

Langness Lighthouse

The lighthouse was quite surprising, with a lot more ladders to the top than I’d expected. It was particularly interesting looking around with Stephen from Bidston Lighthouse as this lighthouse was built just seven years after his own lighthouse. There were some great discussions at the top of the tower about many aspects of the building, including the acoustics in the lantern room which are really noticeable in some towers. I always remember spending quite a bit of time at the top of Bressay Lighthouse in Shetland being fascinated by how the acoustics changed if you took a small step back or forwards.

The views from the top of the tower were, as expected, stunning. Sea for miles, but also the view back inland was wonderful with plenty of green fields, the golf course and the Herring Tower. The sun was thinking about coming out at that point too which always helps.

Looking west from the top of the tower

Before leaving Langness I took a wander over to the old foghorn. It looks like a new bridge to the foghorn has been installed since I was last there in 2015. It’s always great to see foghorns still in situ even if they are now silent.

The foghorn at Langness

From here I stopped briefly at the Herring Tower before returning to the minibus. The Herring Tower is great. The entrance is still there and an internal spiral staircase leading up the inside of the walls is still visible.

The Herring Tower in Langness

Before heading to Castletown we paid a brief visit to Derbyhaven to get some long-distance views of the little lighthouse on the end of Derbyhaven breakwater, which can only be accessed at low tide. That is my one remaining Isle of Man light left to get close to. Watch this space!

Looking across to Derbyhaven Breakwater

Castletown was our lunch stop for the day and, of course, we had to walk to the two harbour lighthouses here. The New Pier lighthouse, the most southerly of the two, was much bigger than I remembered it being, but it’s actually quite a unique shape compared to many of the others on the island.

The smaller Irish Quay light is much more like we’d been getting used to and as I was approaching the pier I passed my lighthouse pal John who said, ‘Now that is definitely a Sarah-sized lighthouse’.

The Castletown pier lights

I sat in the town square to eat lunch with another ALK member, Ed, who has cycled around the coastline of England and Wales, including some islands, visiting lighthouses to raise funds for a MS charity. His website The Beacon Bike is well worth checking out. We chatted in the sunshine before it was time to go back to the minibus. We then had a quick visit to the large item store belonging to the Manx Museum. We were met by Nicola who was so welcoming and showed us into the store. The main reason for this visit was to see the former Chicken Rock lens which we very quickly spotted when we went in. It was quite a bit smaller than many of us had expected, being what a few in the group felt was a fourth order lens.

The old lens from Chicken Rock Lighthouse

There was also a lot of the lighting mechanism and the lens from Douglas Head Lighthouse too! In fact there was a lot there. Nicola explained they have been trying only to take ownership of items or photos from only the Isle of Man and that space really prohibits them from displaying more in the museum itself. However, they are keen for the store to be available for the public to see and so they are happy to show people around upon request, just as they did for us. There is a real variety in there, from chairs and grandfather clocks, to old motorbikes, musical instruments, old fire engines and even an old night soil cart, which actually I never even knew existed until yesterday.

Some of the Douglas Head collection of artefacts at the Max Museum’s large item store

We could easily have spent hours at the large item store, but our final lighthouse of the day was calling, Douglas Head. We were dropped off at the top of Douglas Head and made our way down to the lighthouse. Unlike all of the other major lighthouses on the main island, there is no road access to Douglas Head, but although both options for walking to the lighthouse involve going down (and, more importantly, coming back up a series of steps it is not a long walk.

When you reach Douglas Head you can tell this would have been a station that keepers and their families probably enjoyed living at. There’s this wonderfully sheltered courtyard with all the buildings contained within it. They probably had a fantastic little community here and with its close proximity to Douglas itself and the wonderful rocks and tiny stoney beaches nearby it would have been a real hit for everyone I should imagine. Our coach driver showed me an old picture in which you could see a swimming pool area and I imagine this was heaven for the kids based at the lighthouse as it was for him.

The calm – on this day anyway – cove next to Douglas Head Lighthouse

The cottages here are now available as holiday lets and we were fortunate that the cottages weren’t occupied at that point so we had a good wander around outside the buildings. Between monitoring the groups going up the lighthouse in small numbers, I took a quick walk down to the old boat landing area. It may seem surprising that a lighthouse so close to a major town has a boat landing area, but the lack of road access would have meant that any large deliveries of items needed to be brought in by boat. This may in fact still be the case as there is no helipad here either. The landing area certainly doesn’t look in such a bad state compared to many of the others I have encountered, although there was a particularly dodgy-looking ladder there.

The boat landing area at Douglas Head Lighthouse

Finally it was my turn to explore inside the tower. The only problem with being the responsible adult on these trips is that you need to make sure everyone else gets a chance to go up and no random member of the public just turns up and climbs the tower. Then again, being in the last group to go up there are usually only a few left at that point so it’s easier to avoid getting people in your pictures when you don’t want them to be there.

The staircase inside Douglas Head Lighthouse

The tower is so well kept, both inside and outside. In fact the inside of all four of the main Manx lighthouses we’d visited were really well looked after by Fred, who I saw when I got to the top of the tower. The light here has been modernised with four of the “pudding” LED lights now installed. I also pointed out the dark filter used across the panes of glass on the landward side of the lantern. Fred wasn’t entirely sure, but suspected that when the character of the light had changed at some point, which meant it flashed more often, someone complained about the light shining across to Douglas more than it previously had, so this measure was to address that.

The light source now inside Douglas Head with the filter on some of the windows are visible here too

I always have, and probably always will, harp on about the views from the top of lighthouses, and Douglas Head Lighthouse is another one I will happily harp on about. Normally it’s the sea, the rocks or the coastline that I enjoy seeing and I did again. However, in this instance, the views back across towards Douglas were also very impressive and made a nice change.

Looking towards Douglas from the top of the tower

It was time to say goodbye to Fred and thank him for bearing with us, our questions and our general desire to hang about at the top of a lighthouse. From here we wandered back towards Douglas, hoping to get a closer look at the Battery Pier Lighthouse for some members of the group. Sadly the pier was closed off because a fuel boat was in refilling. It was still a nice walk back though as it got into early evening 🙂

Douglas Head Lighthouse

The Great Manx Lighthouse Extravaganza – part two

Day two of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers event on the Isle of Man was all about the island’s little lights, and most importantly two new ones for me. These were to be found in Laxey. I’d visited on a previous occasion, but hadn’t been down to the harbour. It turns out I’d missed a real treat last time as the harbour here is wonderful. Before arriving at the piers though we were delighted to see replicas of the lighthouses in Laxey on the village’s new bridge. This bridge was built following the collapse of its predecessor in December 2015 followed a period of torrential rain and flooding. The collapse resulted in a double-decker bus ending up in the river. This new bridge was built to withstand the extra strain caused by flooding in the future. It’s a really lovely spot, with very picturesque views looking both out towards the harbour entrance and back inland too.

One of the replica lighthouses on the new Laxey bridge

Further on we arrived at the first of the two lighthouses, the pier light. In its own wonderful little way it has great character about it, and I am really rather fond of these little dumpy lights that are unique to the Isle of Man – or certainly I’ve not seen any exactly like them before elsewhere.

Laxey Pier Lighthouse

As at Point of Ayre yesterday, I had to get a picture of the others in the group hugging the lighthouse. However, this time I had the opposite problem to yesterday when I didn’t have enough people. Today I had a lot around so there was no need for the spreading out of arms. It was, as always, just a bit of fun.

The group “measuring” Laxey pier lighthouse

Though the little lighthouse on the breakwater in Laxey looks fairly close, just like those in Ramsey, it involves quite a walk to get to it and today’s was far more of a challenging walk than we’d had the day before getting between the two Ramsey lights. Firstly we needed to head back to the new bridge and from here cross the river and this was where it got a bit tiring. There are a series of steps, of very varying heights, contouring up the side of the hill. Some of these steps were almost too high for my little legs to manage and by the time I got to the top I think we were all glad of the break.

The view of Laxey harbour on the way to the breakwater light

A short walk from here though rewarded us with some glorious views looking down on the harbour entrance, Laxey beach and the coastline beyond. It was such a wonderful spot and you can see why they have put a bench up there as it would be an excellent place to spend some time just enjoying the view and taking it all in, all along this short grassy section.

The view from above Laxey harbour

What goes up must come down they say, and so it was to get onto Laxey breakwater. A track leading down, again contouring, with a handrail on one side was ready and waiting for our descent to the bottom where the entrance to the breakwater. We were immediately greeted by a duck and we let him wander past before proceeding to the light.

The welcome party on Laxey breakwater

They really are such sweet towers. At one point I stood in the doorway, which had a rather ginormous step up to it. The door, however, was less than ginormous with John referring to it as a ‘Sarah-sized lighthouse’. I’m not sure I could live in it for any length of time, but I’d give it a go. Although it was a fairly windy day, it was still quite calm, but I imagine it’s entirely different during wild weather from the west with waves breaking over the breakwater and pier. Today though it was fantastic. Just milling around at a lighthouse with friends is a great feeling. We are all there for the same reason and just enjoying taking in the scenery.

The Laxey breakwater light

A member of the group pointed out Snaefell, the highest hill on the Isle of Man, in the distance which gives a good idea of just how clear it was.

Laxey harbour as seen from the breakwater with Snaefell visible above the pier

It was time to head back up the hill to the coach as Peel was beckoning for the afternoon. We had plenty of time in Peel so very few of the group were in a hurry to see the lighthouses immediately here and lunch took priority. With full bellies – as the portions were huge, but excellent – we eventually set off in the direction of Peel Castle and the lighthouses. These two are significantly easier to get to simply by walking along the short pier and the large breakwater opposite the castle.

The breakwater and Castle Jetty lighthouses in Peel

The Castle Jetty Lighthouse is very similar to those in Laxey and, in fact, really interesting colours with very pale beige to match some of the other harbour buildings and then there are the green bands. It’s also the only lighthouse I’m aware of that has, what look like, traffic lights on it. The fellow ALK member I was with suggested that it is likely to be related to the tides and whether or not it is possible to gain access to the harbour. I’d noticed one or two others of these smaller harbour lights are showing signs of damage to the glass around the light which this one also has.

Peel Castle Jetty Lighthouse

The lighthouse on the end of the breakwater had been in view the whole time and it was time to head to it. Breakwater walks generally are longer, but in a way they are also better as you get so many different vantage points on the harbour, village or town as you walk along them. Peel breakwater was no exception.

Strangely this lighthouse, unlike in Ramsey and Laxey, was not a twin of the Castle Jetty light. It actually has a Cornish feel about it – a little like St Ives’ most modern harbour light without the gallery. It was a wonderful point for some gorgeous views across Peel, to the castle with the hills beyond, and far out to sea.

The view from the breakwater towards the castle and hills

I was keen to visit a locally-based ALK member and she suggested taking a look at the nearby cathedral after I left. Although it’s not lighthouse-related, I felt it worth including a few nice pictures here of the gardens surrounding the cathedral in Peel.

Plenty more to come tomorrow 🙂

The Great Manx Lighthouse Extravaganza – part one

Two years ago I was due to go on an event to the Isle of Man organised by the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (which sort of means me as I’m their Events Coordinator). Then the pandemic began and it was put on hold. Another year went by without being able to hold the trip and so I was delighted to finally be able to go ahead with it this year alongside 21 other lighthouse fans.

Today we set off for Point of Ayre, the most northerly tip of the island. We’d prearranged to meet the Northern Lighthouse Board’s Retained Lighthouse Keeper, Fred Fox, here and after the safety briefing off we went with little groups heading up while others explored the surrounding area. There is plenty to see here with not only wonderful views of the main lighthouse, but also the old foghorn tower and little Winkie on the shingle. The geology of the island is worrying, but also fascinating. A lot of the coastline is being eroded and much of this eroded material is being washed up the island and gathering at Point of Ayre, meaning both lights here sit further inland now than they previously did.

Point of Ayre Lighthouse

Then it was my turn to go up the tower! Point of Ayre was a fairly brutal lighthouse to kick off with as it has a lot of steps to get to the top, but when you get there you are greeted by stunning views from every single angle. There is sea in almost every direction you look and where there isn’t sea it’s just land that stretches for miles and miles. The Isle of Man has a remarkably small population when you compare it to the much smaller Isle of Wight, and our coach driver explained that this is due to the Manx Government’s restrictions on building on a lot of the land there. As a result it has a much more vast and open feel about it.

The view north from the top of Point of Ayre Lighthouse…
…and looking south

The lens in Point of Ayre Lighthouse is wonderful and I was so pleased to hear that the Northern Lighthouse Board plan to retain it. In recent years they have been replacing the lenses with smaller, more energy efficient lights (more on that later) so hearing that this one is due to be kept in action was very welcome news.

Inside the Point of Ayre lens

After finishing up in the tower I took a quick stroll down to see the Winkie lighthouse and old foghorn tower.

The Winkie backed by the old foghorn tower and Point of Ayre Lighthouse

As always my zany ways always kick in somehow during a lighthouse visit. This time I was speaking to our coach driver whose wife is related to John Kermode, a former NLB lighthouse keeper. I recalled him being in the picture at Sule Skerry holding a small wind measuring device and was trying to find the picture online. Strangely a Google image search brought up a picture of a group of us from the West Coast Adventure in 2019 with our arms around Rona Lighthouse. I showed this to a few of the others and Stephen from Bidston Lighthouse suggested we should do the same at Point of Ayre Lighthouse. By the time I got back down the tower there weren’t so many people left as they’d headed back to the coach, but there were thankfully enough for me to recreate the Rona moment there. Many thanks to Christa, Joanna, Dave, Katka, Margaret, Kristy, Debbie and Paul for humouring me with this!

Craziness at Point of Ayre Lighthouse

Back on the coach it was time for some lunch in Ramsey. Well, for me that meant eating lunch whilst walking to the two small harbour lighthouses. I started this trip with five lighthouses left to visit on the island and the two in Ramsay were on that list so I was adamant I had to do them first before anything else. It was a windy old walk up the south pier, but with good company you can make light of these things and there was the usual jovial moans about people getting in each other’s pictures.

Ramsey South Pier Lighthouse

The light on the end of the north breakwater is only a short distance from the south pier as the crow flies, but it’s not quite as quick as it sounds getting between the two. It is necessary to head back inland and then cross the river over the swing bridge before heading back towards the harbour entrance.

The swing bridge in Ramsey

It was a really nice walk though and we’d been joking on the way about who was going to touch the lighthouse first, my lighthouse pal John or me. We had a bit of a race, which he won, but he did wait for me so we could touch it at the same time, so I couldn’t complain really.

Ramsey North Breakwater Lighthouse

The view from the north breakwater light is actually even better as you have the south pier in the foreground backed by Ramsey and then beyond a great hilly landscape.

The view south from Ramsey’s north pier

After a cup of tea we were back on the coach and headed for the most surprising part of the day. It wasn’t surprising in that it didn’t go as expected, more that I’d never given Maughold Head Lighthouse much credit. It’s not so easy to see, although there are fantastic views of it just before you enter Maughold village, and to spot the tower there is really only one space you can see it much closer and then is just off the approach road to the lighthouse. As it sits right on the edge of the cliff I wasn’t expecting there to be much there beyond a staircase going down to it and then just a lighthouse tower. On the face of it, that’s what it was, but it was also such an incredible place and one of those where everything just works so well together. The beautifully simple tower, that first glimpse of it as you start down the steps, the incredible cliffs around it and just the general feel of the place. It was glorious and I think we were all quite amazed by it and really just keen to spend as much time there as we could. Even standing in the base of the tower chatting to the other members was just really enjoyable and relaxed. There is definitely something about Maughold Head.

The wonderful staircase at Maughold Head
The view south from the top of Maughold Head Lighthouse

I mentioned previously that many of the lighthouse lenses across the UK are now being replaced by modern lights and Maughold is one of these. Around 2017 a new pair of modern LED lights were installed and the massive lens was covered with cloth, which it still is to this day. I’m going to assume that this may be because it would be incredibly difficult to remove the lens from the site with the staircase leading up outside, but I bet it’s a stunning lens. It was very warm in the lamp room today and after I pointed this out Fred recalled how it often felt like a sauna in summer when he used to be up there cleaning the lens, which must have been unbearable I should think.

The new lights in Maughold Head Lighthouse with some of the cloth covering the old lens visible on the right

I eventually managed to drag myself away from the lighthouse and marvelled at it one more time from a nice little area near the top of the steps. It’s a place that I could quite happily waste hours just enjoying, but it was time to start heading back to the coach.

Saying a very fond farewell to Maughold Head Lighthouse

Once back in Douglas and with a full stomach I decided to take a stroll towards the town’s two lighthouses, namely Battery Pier and Douglas Head. Both had been beckoning me since my arrival on the island and although the whole group will be visiting on Monday it seemed like a nice time to see them as the sun was getting low in the sky. It was a nice walk and I strolled along Battery Pier first to get a good look at it bathed in the beautiful yellow light of the setting sun. It’s such a great spot with a wonderful little platform behind it which gives you some excellent views out to sea and also across to Douglas.

Battery Pier Lighthouse in Douglas

I’d already decided not to walk all the way to Douglas Head, but thought I’d just take a quick look from a slight distance. What I hadn’t expected was the stunning view of it I got. All I can do to describe it really is just to share the picture.

Douglas Head Lighthouse

It was just glorious and a really perfect way to finish a truly excellent day out with friends 🙂

Discovering Manx lighthouses – and beacons

In my previous post on the Calf of Man, I said I would share details of our visit to the Isle of Man mainland, and so I shall!

Heysham harbour lighthouse
Heysham harbour lighthouse

We set off for the Isle of Man on the ferry from Heysham. One benefit of going from here was that I could get a closer look at the lighthouse on the jetty in Heysham harbour. We’d previously seen it from a distance, so I managed to get a closer look. I was about to get some pictures of it once we were past the jetty, but I got waylaid by a man asking me about my camera. I still managed to get pictures from the closest view I had of it though, so I was happy.

As we arrived at Douglas harbour, we saw one of the nine lighthouses we were to visit on the Isle of Man, which sits just to the south of the ferry port. As the Isle of Man is covered by the Northern Lighthouse Board, many of its lighthouses are similar in style to those in Scotland (Stevenson-esque, some might say). In Douglas harbour they also have one of the many lighthouse-looking beacons that the island features.

Douglas Head lighthouse
Douglas Head lighthouse

After the Calf of Man, the Douglas harbour lighthouse was the first we visited. This lighthouse was built in 1892 by the Northern Lighthouse Board who had taken over control of the previous lighthouse, but had decided it was not fit for purpose in a visit report dated 1890. It’s another of the Stevenson’s majestic structures with a pretty scary drop on the south side. Apparently it attracted a large amount of tourists in the early years, with people popping in to visit while it was manned. So much so, in fact, that they had to restrict visiting hours. I imagine being a lighthouse-bagger back in those days would have been a lot more enjoyable as you could get inside them all – although travel wasn’t quite so easy. We can’t have it all!

We headed up to the high point of the island, which Seumas walked to from the mountain railway. We then drove north to Point of Ayre to see the two lighthouses on the most northerly point. The large Point of Ayre lighthouse is beautiful with its perfectly painted red and white tower.

The two lighthouses and foghorn at Point of Ayre
The two lighthouses and foghorn at Point of Ayre

We had some great blue skies, which helped too! The lighthouse was constructed in 1818, the same year as the oldest lights on the Calf of Man, but as it is still in operation it’s looking a lot better in comparison. Further towards the coast at the Point of Ayre is the lower lighthouse, also known as Winkie. After one shipwreck in the area in 1873, two in 1874 and another in 1888, the Northern Lighthouse Board set in motion plans for building a smaller lighthouse on the beach at the Point. This structure (and it’s matching foghorn) was built in 1890 and it turns out that it’s quite a nice little stroll along the path from the foghorn to the lighthouse for an 11-month old!

Maughold Head lighthouse
Maughold Head lighthouse

Our final lighthouse for that day was Maughold Head. This is a relatively new lighthouse in comparison to the others on the island, as it was built in 1914. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t have been one there earlier as a number of ships were wrecked in the area. Even after it was built it has seen its fair share of tragedy with a shipwreck just a year after it was built (although the crew managed to make it to land at Maughold Head and all survived) and, in 1947, an RAF Spitfire hit the lightkeepers cottages in dense fog and caused a great deal of damage. Although it was possible to get a nice view of the lighthouse from the top of the cliff above it, the grounds of the lighthouse and cottages are now private property.

Langness lighthouse
Langness lighthouse

Our final lighthouse of the trip was Langness, which we visited on our last day on the island. It sits on the end of a peninsula on the south east point. It was a fairly choppy day, so we were able to get a glimpse of how rough it can be off of the coast there. This lighthouse was built in 1880 and was the last on the Isle of Man to be automated in 1996. It’s a nice, out of the way location with a really attractive lighthouse and we were able to walk out to the foghorn too.

It was great to have visited all of the Manx lighthouses and see all of the interesting beacons that litter the piers of the main towns as well.

Isle of Walney lighthouse
Isle of Walney lighthouse

We decided to use the opportunity, once back on mainland UK, to visit a couple of lighthouses I had either missed or not got very close to on our way home. The first of the two stops was Walney Island, where the lighthouse sits on the edge of a nature reserve. It took us longer to reach the lighthouse here than we thought it would. We parked up and skirted around the reserve, only to find that the land surrounding the lighthouse was privately owned so we couldn’t get as close as we’d hoped.

Hodbarrow Point old lighthouse
Hodbarrow Point old lighthouse

Our second stop on the way home was at Hodbarrow Point. I’d previously visited one of the lighthouses here, but had not seen the old one. The old tower has a very “old” look about it, with no roof and a round opening on the seaward side where the light would have been exhibited. We also spotted another similar ruin nearby, which I have since discovered was an old windmill in its day.

As mentioned two blog posts ago when I was a bit hasty in my next blog prediction, the next lighthouse visit will happen this weekend when we head off to St Tudwal’s East island, which will give us a fairly good view of the lighthouse on the West island, which we expect to sail close to. 🙂

Where can you see four lighthouses at the same time?

The four lighthouses
The four lighthouses

There aren’t a lot of places where you can see multiple lighthouses in one view. It’s possible to see a number of lighthouses in quite a short space of time, but not often you can get a picture of more than one or two at a time. This is what, for me, makes the Calf of Man a little bit more special.

In my last post, I said that my next lighthouse trip would be in Wales, but we made a fairly last minute decision to spend a few days on the Isle of Man. So, last week we spent some time on this island (more on the main island to follow in a separate post) and were fortunate enough to get over to the Calf of Man with Isle of Man Diving Charters on our first day there. We were lucky as high winds were predicted for the following two days and the boatman wasn’t even entertaining the thought of going out then. It was an early start for the three of us, but we arrived a little early and waiting around for quite some time before anyone else arrived. We were told the boat would be leaving at 8.30am so to be there at 8.15. We arrived at about 8.10 and saw no one for at least 20 minutes when others turned up and the boatman eventually arrived. This was our first experience of the Isle of Man’s laid-back attitude. If we hadn’t been so worried that it had been cancelled and we would miss the chance to go, we may have appreciated this apparent cultural phenomenon a little more.

The lower of the 1818 lighthouses
The lower of the 1818 lighthouses

The journey over to the Calf went well and once we’d set foot on dry land at Cow Harbour we set off towards the lighthouses, which happen to be in fairly close proximity to the island’s high point, so we were both happy. It was a nice walk along and we passed the house which contains accommodation for visitors and the wardens.

Not only does the island have three lighthouses, none of which are operational, but Chicken Rock lighthouse also sits a mile off of the island. This was the first of the lighthouses we spotted. There’s something very special about a rock lighthouse, they never disappoint. It wasn’t long after seeing Chicken Rock that the other three came into view.

The 1986 lighthouse
The 1986 lighthouse

The two similar-looking lighthouses on the island were build in 1818 by Robert Stevenson & Co. to work as a pair, guiding ships away from the dangerous Chicken Rock. In 1875, however, a lighthouse was built on Chicken Rock itself and the two lighthouses were decommissioned. The fourth lighthouse was built on the island in 1968 by the Northern Lighthouse Board and the lightkeepers lived in the lighthouse building until automation took place in 1995. This lighthouse was finally discontinued in 2007 when the Chicken Rock lighthouse was upgraded. The buildings of the original 1818 towers are still fairly intact (particularly the lower), although the glass of the lamp rooms has cracked in various places. The buildings within the 1968 lighthouse compound is, as Bob said, “very 1960s” and has quite a unique look about it, with the short octagonal tower perched on top of the building. It was quite interesting to see the old fog horn station near the lower lighthouse with, what looked like, an orchestra of trumpets sticking out of it.

The higher 1818 lighthouse
The higher 1818 lighthouse

After seeing all of the lighthouses as close as I could, my main aim then was to get a picture of the four lighthouses all at the same time and, fortunately, this meant heading to the island high point. We wandered on up and had lunch at the top, while Seumas had fun “walking” around the high point and finding what we thought was a wildlife camera, which clicked while he was standing in front of it. So, somewhere out there it’s likely that there is a picture of a small boy walking towards the camera on the high point of the Calf of Man! I imagine they’re not used to seeing that!

When we left the high point we headed back towards the lighthouses via a different route, which allowed us to get the ideal picture (see top of post).

Chicken Rock lighthouse
Chicken Rock lighthouse

In the lead-up to the boat trip and on the day itself we spoke to the boatman about possibly sailing around the Calf of Man and getting a bit closer to Chicken Rock lighthouse (if you don’t ask, you don’t get). When he came to pick us up from the Calf, he still didn’t sound entirely sure, but said we’d give it a go. I’m pleased we did as we managed to get nice and close, while also getting some views of the coastline around the Calf of Man and views of the three lighthouses from the sea. We were really grateful to him for getting us around there. I think the others on the boat enjoyed it too, even if it wasn’t what they’d expected to be doing. An added bonus all round!

It was a great half-day and once we’d arrived back on the mainland we went to a tea room with views across Calf Sound to the Calf of Man. More on the mainland of the Isle of Man coming soon 🙂