uklighthousetour

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

The missing light: Egypt Point

I was informed by a regular, and probably the most eagle-eyed, reader that I had missed a blog post covering a lighthouse I had visited last week. He is indeed correct. I confess, I visited Egypt Point lighthouse without writing about it here. Now there are times when I quickly stop off at a lighthouse and don’t mention it on here, but as a fan of the little lights I do now feel it would be wrong of me not to promote them whenever I get an opportunity.

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Egypt Point lighthouse

My first intentional visit to Egypt Point lighthouse was in August last year, which seems crazy as I am from the Isle of Wight and lived in Cowes itself for a couple of years. As I said in that earlier post, I’d passed the lighthouse here numerous times in the days before I became seriously interested in lighthouses, and not paid it any attention.

Egypt Point lighthouse is unique, there isn’t another one like it (as far as I recall). It can be found on the most northerly point of the Isle of Wight at the side of Egypt Esplanade, at the bottom of Egypt Hill. All very Egyptian you may be thinking. Well, it turns out that the “Egypt” in Egypt Point apparently takes it name from the fact that a colony of gypsies lived in the area in the sixteenth century. That’s another thing I’d not questioned before.

Egypt Point plaque

The plaque on the base of the tower

The tower is actually quite old, 122 years old to be precise, although you wouldn’t think it. It was built by Trinity House and, in 1969, the original lantern was removed and replaced by a new light powered by electricity. The old lantern can now be found at Hurst Castle as part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers Museum. The added bonus of going to Hurst Castle to see the lantern is that you can see three lighthouses, plus the old Nab Tower lighthouse.

The light at Egypt Point was switched off for good in 1989 and, in 2007, ownership passed over to the Isle of Wight Council after a couple of local councillors campaigned for it to be kept. Just last month it was reported that Cowes Town Council are being urged by Cowes Heritage to take over maintenance of the tower.

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This has to be among the easiest lighthouses to get to with it being right at the side of the road. Only the double yellow lines are there to stop you parking right next to it. Let’s hope it gets the care and attention it needs so people can just carrying on walking straight past it with only the occasional lighthouse bagger stopping to enjoy its existence.

Egypt Point

Oh, and while I’m confessing, I did briefly see St Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight last week too, but that was so brief I didn’t even get a picture. 🙂

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Return to the Needles

It was a little over seven years ago that I last got a closer view of the Needles lighthouse off of the most westerly point of the Isle of Wight, the island I still consider to be home in many respects. It’s the sort of place you never lose a connection with, which I suppose could be said for any place where you were born and brought up.

The is a picture on the wall at home of the Needles, taken back in 2012, and so it’s a lighthouse that my son, in particular, is quite familiar with. He’d mentioned it a few times since we had arrived on the Isle of Wight earlier this week so we thought we’d take a drive out there to see if the boat trips that take you close to the lighthouse were running.

Needles

The picture of the Needles on the wall at home

The chairlift was clearly moving when we arrived so we were hopeful of getting out in a boat. We asked the lady at the kiosk and she said that they were due to start running the trips soon so we quickly bought tickets and rushed off towards the chairlift. On the way down to the beach my little boy asked if we were going to go inside the lighthouse and I had to break it to him that we weren’t. His response was “But I want to go inside” and all I could say back to that was: “So do I”!

We hopped off of the chairlift and looked across at the boat rolling about in the sea with a couple of men on board. The kids were quite content throwing stones into the sea so we thought we would wait there to see if the boat started to move.

Needles distant

The Needles seen in the distance from the beach

Unfortunately that plan was scuppered when the chairlift operators announced that they would shortly be closing the chairlift for technical reasons and that those who had tickets should make their way back up. We reluctantly followed these instructions, but decided we would go for lunch and try again later. It was slightly irritating to hear as we were heading to the cafe that the chairlift had re-opened, but you can’t dwell on these things.

A little while later we checked with the chairlift staff who reported that the boats were indeed due to start running very soon. Back on the chairlifts we went and wandered on over to the little jetty which the boat was moving about quite a bit at the end of. Last time we’d taken the RIB, but fortunately the only option today was the slower boat. I say fortunately as there appeared to be a fair amount of swell once you got out past the lighthouse, and the RIB takes you right around to the other side of the Needles.

Needles getting closer

Closing in on the Needles

It was quite a pleasant little cruise and a real pleasure to see the lighthouse again. The tower, at 31 metres, has got some height to it, but it appears slightly dwarfed almost by the actual “Needles” between it and the island. I sometimes think the helipads on top of the towers take away from the beauty of the structure, but what they take away in beauty they make up for in the “bring it on” exterior. The metal bars sticking out from around the helipad appear almost as arms spread wide, saying “Throw whatever you can at me. I can withstand anything”. I usually picture lighthouses as females. It’s just something I do, often singing “Isn’t She Lovely” at them, but I would struggle to do so with these rock lights boasting helipads. That’s possibly a little old-fashioned (and also quite strange) of me to think of it like that, but there you go.

Needles lighthouse

Needles lighthouse

The colour on the tower wasn’t as vivid today as it was when I’d seen it before against brilliant blue skies, but it’s nice to have different views each time you visit. We also had to contend with kids this time and while one of them held on to his seat the whole time and only moved when he was helped, the smaller one wanted to run free along the benches or lay on them singing away to herself. A natural at this boat malarkey she is, which is scary and encouraging in equal measure.

Needles and lighthouse

Looking back at the lighthouse

Once back on dry land and at the top of the cliff, the little man was repeatedly informing us that he didn’t have a Needles lighthouse toy – there was clearly a Needles lighthouse gap in his toy box! He chose, rather than a toy, a little ornament depicting the Needles lighthouse and the stacks. We also read up a bit in the shop, via an information panel on the wall, on the old lighthouse that was built upon the headland above the Needles in 1785. As is so often the case, this old lighthouse was frequently obscured by sea mist and therefore did not serve its purpose, hence the replacement tower being built at a lower level.

Today was a reminder of the variety of experiences you have when visiting lighthouses is your favourite thing to do. Some days are about the big adventure, hopping (or cautiously stepping in my case) onto and off of boats a number of times. Other days are for the enjoyment of the little ones when you take a step back, hold your hand out towards the lighthouse and say “kids, this is what it’s all about.” 🙂

Kids at Needles

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A lighthouse morning on the Diamond Isle

Being from the Isle of Wight, I spent many years paying very little attention to the fantastic lighthouses it has to offer. That was, of course, before my bagging days and I try to make up for it now when I do spend time on the island.

On Thursday morning in Newport it looked like the sun was trying to break through the clouds and there might be a blue sky opportunity at St Catherine’s Oratory, which I had not been to for a while. As we approached the car park in Blackgang it became clear that not only were blue skies unlikely, but we may struggle to find the Oratory in the heavy fog that had nestled happily over the highest points of the island. At the gate we met a lady and her son who were just returning to the car park after an unsuccessful attempt at reaching the Oratory. We told them that’s where we were heading and they could follow us, which they did. Unfortunately I’d left Bob’s GPS device at the hotel so we couldn’t use that method, but on the plus side we had my dad who is an Oratory regular and knew that we needed to find the hedgerow and then the gate. From there we had no trouble and arrived at the Pepperpot, as it is known locally, shortly after.

Oratory

St Catherine’s Oratory

Seeing the Oratory in the mist perfectly illustrates why it just wasn’t a particularly good location for an aid to navigation. As soon as that mist comes down there’s no chance of seeing a light. Standing inside the Oratory and looking up you could see the moisture moving about in the air. It’s a great place to stand, even though there is very little to see. The Oratory is incredibly old, dating back to 1328 when Walter de Godeton was ordered by the church to build a beacon after he’d been caught stealing wine from a ship wrecked in the area. There is, of course, doubt over the use of the tower all those centuries ago and in the centuries that followed and whether or not they recognised the problems caused by the fog at times. If they had then the message clearly was not passed on as work on a new lighthouse, the Salt Pot, a short distance away began in 1785. Realising that it was perhaps not the best location, the tower was never finished. Leaving the others at the Oratory for a bit, I took a stroll with my dad to see the unfinished lighthouse.

Salt pot

The unfinished Salt Pot

We made it back down to the car park with no trouble, which is not to say that the mist had cleared as it certainly hadn’t. While down that way we decided to pay a brief visit to St Catherine’s lighthouse. We’d not been there since our wedding in 2013 so it was nice to take the kids down and let them see it. In complete contrast to the fog we’d encountered up on the hill, it was beautiful and clear there. Obviously the perfect location for a lighthouse! Well, maybe not quite as even this tower was shortened in 1875, less than 40 years after it was built, due to problems with fog.

St Catherine's

St Catherine’s lighthouse

St Catherine’s lighthouse is stunning and a wonderfully unique shape. There’s a lot of detail to it. Sadly, I have heard that they will be removing the lens from the tower next year, which will be such a great loss. Seeing it slowly revolving all day every day as it does is so special. Hopefully the visitor centre will be able to keep hold of at least some of it so it is still around to be gazed at for years to come.

So, that was our St Catherine’s experience. Very varied, but definitely an enjoyable morning returning to a couple of old haunts 🙂

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A few random bags en route home

I’ve had a couple of short trips away recently, the Isle of Wight and Tiree, and the return journey on these trips has provided a perfect opportunity for some tidying up of lighthouses I still had to visit.

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The lighthouse at Egypt Point

I had been visiting family on the Isle of Wight last month and, during the process of finalising my lighthouse list, I discovered that the light at Egypt Point (the most northerly point of the Isle of Wight) qualified for inclusion. As is usually the case with places you have lived, you often pass by landmarks without taking much notice. I know that I’ve  been at Egypt Point a number of times, but that was long before my lighthouse definition was decided. So, my dad/chauffeur very kindly took a detour along the seafront and pulled over while he, my mum and aunt all watched me bag the lighthouse (a very kind lady who was walking her dog even paused while I took a picture of the lighthouse)! While the lighthouse is an unusual structure, it is not the most fascinating. Surprisingly, it’s actually quite old and the former lantern and optic is now on display in the Association of Lighthouse Keepers rooms at Hurst Castle. It was only a quick visit, but an important one, just to be confident that it can be ticked off of the list!

The second trip that allowed for more bagging was on the way back from Tiree (see my previous post for details of that very exciting weekend). Although we knew that travelling north on the A9 would be considerably quicker than the more scenic (and slow-moving) A82, Corran Narrows North East lighthouse beckoned. We’d looked it up on the map and wondered if it would be possible to see it from Corran itself, but when we got there it was clear that, with the new and beautiful homes being built along the coast, access would not be possible from there. Not what we were hoping for as the A82 north of Corran is lined with trees, which we didn’t fancy picking our way through.

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Corran Narrows North East lighthouse

We pulled over into a parking area north of Corran and, with both kids asleep, Bob went for a bit of a recce, heading straight down through the trees from where the car was parked. When he returned about 20 minutes later, he was able to report that that route certainly wasn’t the best. He described which point was the best to take from the main road and I set off. It was only after I’d attempted to get down by at least three routes and decided that I must have gone wrong somewhere that I found the lighthouse. It is a “flat-pack” type, but in a wonderful location. It is so close to the A82, but you wouldn’t really know it when standing there looking out over Corran Narrows. Bob had informed me that, to get back from the lighthouse, just head straight up to the road from behind the lighthouse. Amusingly, there was a well-cleared route up this way and, once I’d got back up, I discovered the best point to walk down from (for anyone interested, it’s at the first post to the south of the sharp corner sign)!

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The non-lighthouse at Dalmore

Further north we finally made a stop off at Dalmore Distillery – sadly not for a tour or taster, but to check out a potential lighthouse we had been meaning to take a look at for a while. On the end of what it known as Yankee Pier (apparently due to it being built by the American Navy during World World I). During my research I’d seen mention of the structure at the end of the pier being a lighthouse – or tower with a light on top, but I was unsure whether the tower was built for the sole purpose of being an aid to navigation or for another purpose. It was a nice walk out to and along the pier, which the kids seemed to enjoy too – probably because they had freedom from the confines of the car for a change! As we reached the end of the pier we asked a couple who were just leaving what they knew of the building, and they told us of the American war link. We both felt that the tower looked a little more military than lighthouse-y! I then spent most of the remainder of the journey home researching its history online and, although there was clearly evidence of a light on top (it is no longer there), there was nothing to suggest it had been built for such a purpose. After much deliberation I made the decision that it doesn’t qualify for the list, based on the aspect of my definition about the structure needing to be built to be an aid to maritime navigation.

Not the most enjoyable bags, but if it helps with ticking some more off… 🙂

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