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 ūüôā

Douglas Head Lighthouse

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. ūüôā