A cloudy day on Mull

Contrary to what the title of this post suggests, we actually started yesterday in Oban with a short visit to Dunollie lighthouse. This little lighthouse, made up of a stone tower and lantern with gallery placed on top of it, is quite understated and that’s one of the things I like about it. I also like the fact that it’s still standing as actually, close up, it looks like it’s just made of a big pile of rocks – the sort of thing my 6-year-old might make, just on a larger scale. But standing it is and it has been for over 100 years.

Dunollie lighthouse

Joe the Drone had a little flight around the area.

Dunollie lighthouse from the seaward side

Meanwhile I spent a while at the nearby War Memorial to mark an early 2-minute silence for Remembrance Sunday.

War Memorial at Dunollie

We had a little time before we had to be at the ferry and I mentioned the old Northern Lighthouse Board houses on Pulpit Hill so we took a drive up to find them. I took a guess at which they were and the series of 5 large buildings with four front doors each seemed most likely. This has since been confirmed by my former keeper friend Ian. He actually stayed in one of them while off duty during his time serving on Skerryvore.

The old Northern Lighthouse Board buildings on Pulpit Hill

The houses were built to house the families of those keepers (and the keepers themselves when off duty) while they were based at some of the major rock stations off the west coast.

After taking a look at the buildings I contacted Ian again as I wasn’t sure how it had worked with the families. I knew the families of the keepers on Skerryvore, Dubh Artach, Barra Head and Hyskeir lived there, but I wasn’t sure if there were any others. Ian explained that initially each block was for each lighthouse, so Dubh Artach, Skerryvore, Ushenish, Barra Head and Lismore. The families of the Hyskeir keepers stayed in a separate house (Glenmore House) which is still on the other side of Pulpit Hill.

It changed when Lismore was automated in 1965 though and the Hyskeir families moved to the blocks. He added though that, as time passed and more of the lights were automated, the blocks began to house families and keepers from other lighthouses. Ian himself stayed in one of them while off duty from Pladda, for example. It was good to see these buildings and Ian has said before that it was quite a community up there with, I imagine, anything up to 20 families there at any one time.

It was time to hop on the ferry to Mull, which was thankfully very quiet. The sailing to Mull (or in fact a lot of sailings out of Oban) are always enjoyable as you pass a number of lights including Dunollie followed by Lismore and Lady Rock. It was good to see Lismore with the main island in the background thinking “I was there yesterday” and then looking over to Lady Rock thinking “I landed there last year”!

Lismore lighthouse with the island of Lismore to the right
Lismore lighthouse
Lady Rock lighthouse

Almost immediately Duart Point was next to us and to this one I thought “I’ll be there shortly – hopefully”. We weren’t sure how easy it would be to get to as we knew there was a big craggy Rock behind it and it wasn’t clear how easily we would get around that. There was only one way to find out.

We headed straight for Duart Castle, which is currently closed, but the car park is a good starting point for the walk to the Point. Bob had managed to find some directions on his GPS device for reaching a geocache very close to the lighthouse and this was a great help. I will try to include them as best I can here for anyone wanting to walk out to it.

The view from the approach road to Duart Castle

Walking back along the road we found the gate on the left just after a row of trees. Once through the gate (remembering to leave it as we found it, of course) I spotted another gate on the skyline at the top of the field as the instructions suggested.

Setting off for Duart Point
This gate marks the starting point from the road
Looking back at the second gate

Passing through that gate we turned left immediately and followed the fence and wall along. There are rough paths through the vegetation and I would actually recommend this time of year to visit if you can as the ferns have all died back exposing the grassy paths. I imagine they would be harder to see in Spring/Summer.

The landscape begins to open up – you want to head just to the right of the tree and then onwards between the two raised sections of ground

Where the wall ends the landscape opens up and we headed “straight on to the left” as Bob calls it (which basically means somewhere between straight on and left!) This route zigzags as you go downhill and once you are on a flatter section you have two options, you can either stay up high and view the tower from above first or continue around and down to the right. The tower is tucked away just to the left of the trees at the coast. As you go down you should then spot the tower as you follow the grassy track down.

Looking back up at the zig zag section
The final approach to the lighthouse

It was raining today so it was quite wet underfoot and a lot of the ground was covered in leaves, understandable as Autumn draws to a close. It was great to spot the tower through the threes and craggy rocks though. It’s a beautiful tower, originally built as a memorial of the Scottish author William Black who died in 1898 and always enjoyed Duart Point. The cost of the tower was partially covered by Black’s family and friends and there is a lovely plaque above the door explaining this.

Duart Point lighthouse

The only real indications of this being a lighthouse are the Northern Lighthouse Board plaque on the door and the modern little light and solar panel on top of the tower. There is a little platform nearby that looked like it may once have accommodated some sort of derrick.

The platform in front of the tower

The tower has enough variety in its shape to make pictures from every angle look quite different. My favourite view was of the lighthouse in the foreground with the big rock behind it.

A picturesque angle on Duart Point lighthouse

Another great angle was from the fence around the trees. This angle gave you a view of the Duart Point tower with Lismore to its left and Lady Rock to its right. It’s not often you get that kind of view.

A view of three lighthouses: Lismore in the distance, Duart Point and Lady Rock

Joe the Drone had come along and, although it was slightly wet, Bob thought he’d give him a fly anyway and he got a few great shots.

Duart Point from above
One of Joe’s great shots of Duart Point

Following the path back up we then wandered along to the top of the craggy rock to look down on the tower. This is an excellent angle on it, particularly if you want to get a better view of the lighting equipment. The viewpoint allowed us to get some Joe-type images without needing to use Joe. I would highly recommend including a stop here in your walk if you go (just be careful near the edge).

Duart Point lighthouse as seen from the top of the craggy rock
The lighting equipment on top of the William Black memorial

Annoyingly the weather started to clear up as we walked back, but we’d still enjoyed the visit to the light and the nice walk to get to it.

With no ferry leaving the island until after 4pm we had a few hours to kill. Unfortunately we didn’t have long enough for Bob to do a hill or for the walk out to Rubha nan Gall so we went for a drive. Mull seemed very unfamiliar to me, particularly the southern part, and it’s no surprise really as I worked out I’d only been once before (if you exclude the quick stop off at Ardmore Point from a chartered boat last year). It was beautiful to see it though, especially with the clearing skies and the sun eventually deciding to make an appearance.

A lone sheep on the banks of Loch na Keal on the west coast of Mull
The change on weather conditions was evident at a number of points
Looking back at Loch na Keal

After a fair wait at the terminal at Fishnish we boarded the ferry for the short crossing to Lochaline. By this point it was beginning to get dark and so I enjoyed the outline of the landscape as Bob drove us along to Corran. I always find Corran lighthouse just seems to suddenly appear when you aren’t expecting it and that was exactly what happened yesterday evening as we arrived suddenly at the Corran ferry at Ardgour. The joy of seeing lighthouses at night is, of course, seeing them in action. Corran is a good one as it has the red and green sectors which make for a more colourful view. This was another one I could look at and think “I was at the top of that tower last year”.

Corran lighthouse

Across the water I could also see the little Corran Narrows light flashing away and I remembered the unnecessarily tricky walk down to that one!

After crossing the channel on the Corran ferry we began the journey northwards and home. It had been great to get another weekend away this year, while we could. Who knows what the coming weeks and months will bring. Stay safe everyone and, if I don’t manage another post then have a restful Christmas time. Let’s hope 2021 can be an improvement upon this year. 🙂

Sunshine and calm seas in Argyll

Argyll is a beautiful part of Scotland, that’s for sure, and never moreso than in Autumn when it’s beautiful tree-lined roads and coastline completely change the colour of the landscape. It also helps when the sun is shining as it very much was yesterday.

We were due to visit Lismore and had a little time to kill so a stop off at Port Appin to see Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse seemed appropriate. It was high tide too, which would give a bit of a different perspective from the last time we were there when we walked out to the light at low tide. It’s very easy to fall in love with this area and the little lighthouse is an important part of the local landscape.

Sgeir Bhuidhe from the approach road to Port Appin

Die hard lighthouse fans will have heard of its rather amusing history, when it was painted to look like Mr Blobby as a protest by a member of the local community during the period when the Northern Lighthouse Board were looking to replace it with one of the IKEA flat-pack lights. I do love a flat-pack lighthouse, but even I would have been devastated by the loss of a lovely little tower if I’d lived in Port Appin at the time.

Thankfully a compromise was reached and a replacement modern round tower was installed, and it’s one of my favourite type too. There is so much to love about this one, including the fact that ‘Sgeir Bhuidhe’ translates as ‘Yellow Rocks’ due to the lichen growing on the rocks, which is evident in these pictures that Joe took. Yellow also happens to be my favourite colour.

Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse on the ‘yellow rocks’

Bob wandered off to find a point that would allow him to fly Joe without breaking any of the rules that apply to the use of drones. I knew he would get some excellent shots because it was a wonderful location anyway, but with the calm water and bright skies it seemed perfect.

Sunlight on the water at Sgeir Bhuidhe
Sgeir Bhuide from the south
Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse from above
Port Appin

Meanwhile I took a different route. Firstly I stopped off to revisit the old lighthouse lantern. Another arrangement made between the local community and Northern Lighthouse Board was that the lantern from the old tower could stay in the area and the community have installed some information boards inside it. These boards cover local history, biodiversity and the island of Lismore, which can be seen just across the water. More importantly though it has a panel about the lighthouse and it’s history. It’s really quite clever how they have done it.

The lantern from the previous Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse
The lighthouse exhibition in the old lantern

From here I took a walk along the road until I reached the pebble beach where I cut down to the sea. It was so incredibly calm with just the sound of the little waves lapping at the shoreline and the small birds singing from somewhere nearby. It’s such a calming place and somewhere that nature takes over and you can’t fail to be affected by it. I could have spent so much longer there and hope to sometime.

This time though there was a ferry to catch. I’d gazed across the water at Lismore and now it was time to go there. Lismore could be quite deceptive for any new lighthouse bagger. Lismore lighthouse must surely be on Lismore you might think, but in fact it’s on a smaller island, Eilean Musdile, just to the south west of Lismore itself. However, we still hoped we would find something of interest relating to the lighthouse at the Gaelic Heritage Centre.

Lismore was a new island for both of us and after the fairly short ferry crossing we headed towards the southern end of the island. After finding a suitable place to stop the car Bob set off to reach the island high point, which he managed to reach after negotiating the river, walls, fences and a row of cows just before the high point. Once he was back we set off to find the Heritage Centre. It’s a great building. Very modern and a nice contrast to the little blackhouse (if they call them that in these parts too) next door. The blackhouse is an exhibit now, kitted out as it would have been many years ago.

The blackhouse on Lismore

The Centre itself has a lot going for it. It contains a big room with the exhibition panels as well as a shop and a cafe. The exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the island, its history and many other aspects. I found the information about the flora and fauna quite interesting. Lismore is known as The Great Garden, which is how its Gaelic name Lios Mor translates. It is home to 200 species of wildflower and 18 species of butterfly, so it certainly lives up to its name.

Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre

Further around the exhibition we spotted some information about Lismore lighthouse and, interestingly, the old telescope from the lighthouse, which is engraved with ‘Lismore Lighthouse (Signalmen)’. A special little artefact. There was also a lovely lighthouse design by the local children on one of the windows.

The children’s lighthouse design on the window

Standing outside on the balcony in the sunshine, we ate lunch before continuing to explore a bit more of the island. Heading up to the arrival point for those travelling on the foot passenger only ferry from Port Appin, we were able to get more views of Sgeir Bhuidhe lighthouse. Before concluding our visit to the island and heading back to the ferry, we even managed to buy a Danish pastry from the little phone box!

The view from Lismore towards Port Appin

The phone box with with cake

It had been a fantastic day, very much helped by the weather. It’s good to be out and enjoy the outdoors while we can as we don’t know when that might need to stop again. One more post for this weekend to come 🙂

Return to Rubh Re

Those regular readers with a good memory may well recall that the last of my posts signed off by saying it was likely to be the last of the year, although I was hopeful of being able to fit something in. Ever the opportunist, when Bob suggested a weekend away while the kids stayed home with his mum there was no way I was going to turn it down.

But where to go? As always Bob had an idea and it was to travel down to Oban where we would base ourselves for exploring a couple of places. “But Rubh Re is nowhere near Oban” I hear you say, and you would be correct, although it is still in Scotland and still on the west coast. The draw over to this part was two-fold: Joe the Drone had never been there, and the Gairloch Museum (home to the old Rubh Re lighthouse lens) had moved into a new building – a former nuclear bunker, so I’ve been informed – which had only opened last year.

Arriving in the sunshine we decided it would be best to head for the lighthouse first. The road out to the lighthouse has some fairly scary sections, but thankfully there was no unwelcoming signs or people saying it was a private road (as has been the case for many people before). I believe a change in ownership of the lighthouse cottages has helped with that!

Approaching Rubh Re lighthouse

Rubh Re is actually a fair distance from Gairloch, which we drove through on the way there. I always thought it was ‘just up the road and round the corner’ kind of distance, but the road is fairly long and goes through a few outlying villages first. It’s absolutely worth it though as, when the lighthouse comes into view it certainly is a beautiful thing to behold. To me Rubh Re lighthouse is quite distinctive and it is so often photographed from this particular angle and you can see why.

The popular angle on Rubh Re lighthouse

It was quiet there today and although we saw another car in the parking area a short distance before the lighthouse, there were no other people to be seen. As we were leaving we spotted the owner of the cottages hanging out his horizontal washing – or “lighthouse washing” as I like to call it, which must almost always be horizontal with the wind in these coastal areas.

Looking back at Rubh Re lighthouse from the north

Close to the lighthouse gate there is a sign with a little information about the lighthouse and it also directs you to follow the path to see the old jetty that was used for bringing in supplies when the lighthouse was manned. I decided to take a stroll along that way as I’d not noticed it before. It was a nice little walk in the sunshine, passing a few sheep on the way.

The path to the lighthouse jetty

The jetty is looking very good considering it’s probably not used much now. The old mechanisms have obviously gone now, but the little set of steps and the main platform are still very much intact. Tucked away around a corner it seemed like it would be quite a good landing area, but apparently that was not the case. At Gairloch Museum I listened to some accounts from a former keeper and the large rock that sits near the landing caused problems for getting a boat in. I imagine if there was a lot of swell and movement there would be a risk of striking the rock.

Arriving at the jetty
Rubh Re jetty
The landing area and the hazardous rocks

Bob had stayed back at the lighthouse flying Joe about and caught up with me as I was heading back from the jetty. He’d managed to get some great shots of the lighthouse in the sunshine. 

Rubh Re from the south
The view of Rubh Re from the west

Rubh Re and the access road

Unfortunately the sun was hiding behind a long strip of a cloud by the time he got to the jetty so the pictures weren’t so colourful. I called them “moody’. I like to think there’s at least one word for every occasion.

The lighthouse jetty and Rubh Re lighthouse
A closer view of the Rubh Re jetty and lighthouse

Leaving the lighthouse behind (but only because we couldn’t take it with us), we headed back to Gairloch and the Museum. It was a delight to see the old Rubh Re foghorn now has pride of place right outside. It turns out it was only put into position about a month ago. It’s an interesting foghorn with a wheel that opens it up. As it said in the Museum, fog wasn’t a regular occurrence at Rubh Re.

The old Rubh Re foghorn outside Gairloch Museum

When you enter the Museum now you are immediately in the shop and much to my delight, I spotted a copy of my book on the shelf. That’s always great to see – books for sale in the right places. And this is certainly the right place for it as I spotted the massive lens from Rubh Re lighthouse behind the ticket desk immediately. Once one of the ladies who works at the Museum found out they have my lighthouse book for sale she very kindly showed us her favourite angle on the lens, which is actually from the window close to the entrance. She was right, it was a great viewpoint.

The Rubh Re lens shining above the Museum ticket desk

The lens dominates the ground floor of the exhibition and is surrounded by a bit more information about the lighthouse. There’s a real focus on the human side and the keepers with details of each one listed on a screen which tells you where they were from, their previous occupation, how long they were at Rubh Re, where else they served and when they left the service. It was sad to see that three of the keepers died during service with one falling to his death off the cliffs after 6 months of working at Rubh Re.

The Rubh Re lens in all its glory

There are a range of other items removed from the lighthouse after automation on display including the old clockwork mechanism that worked with the lens. It’s a great tribute to the lighthouse and those who worked in it.

The Rubh Re exhibition at Gairloch Heritage Museum

The rest of the Museum is focussed on other aspects of the local area, such as day to day life and crafting, the geology and (Bob’s favourite bit) Gruinard Island which was used for testing anthrax and was out of bounds until 1990 when they were certain it was safe for people to go back to. They tested this by putting sheep on the island and thankfully they survived. It is still often referred to as Anthrax Island.

I couldn’t leave the Museum without a little memento (or three). They had a booklet about the road to Rubh Re which looked interesting. I spotted a copy of a recently released book about the village of Scoraig which had a few snippets of information about Cailleach Head lighthouse. It’s a fascinating place anyway so the book came away with us too and it will be nice to read a bit more about its history and the people who lived there. Finally, I spotted a mug with the Rubh Re lens on it – need I say more…We finished the day with a great drive through Torridon. A nice end to a good day of examining things a little more closely.

More to come over the weekend. 🙂

The lesser known lights

Our recent break in Suffolk had come to an end and it was time to head home, as suggested by my last post – which was due to be the final one for the year. Always wanting to get the most out of these trips though there was something that needed to be cleared up and this took us to Hawkcraig Point in Aberdour on the east coast of Scotland.

The last time I visited Hawkcraig Point was two years ago when I was entering the last few months of preparing the content for my book. I had a list of lighthouses I needed to check out to ensure they met the criteria for inclusion, and the two towers here were on that list. On the last visit we discovered that the rear of the two lights had internal access through a door on the side. However, there were no visible signs of an entrance on the front tower. Returning home I looked into it and discovered some aerial images that seemed to suggest there was a hatch on the top of the front lighthouse and so it made it onto the final list for the book.

Hawkcraig Point front and rear lights

Now that we were equipped with Joe the Drone though it was time to check it for ourselves. While I kept the kids entertained by walking to each of the lighthouses and then up the nearby steps which gave great views across the Firth of Forth (Oxcars lighthouse was clearly visible), Bob sent Joe up to investigate. It very quickly became clear that there is indeed a hatch on top of the tower which allows access to the light itself.

Hawkcraig Point from above

The lights at Hawkcraig Point remain a bit of a mystery to me as there is really no information about them online, even basic information such as when they were first introduced. Much of the history of this particular area centres on HMS Tarlair, a Royal Navy facility that was used to research and develop hydrophones to listen out for any enemy submarines in the area during the First World War. There are still remnants of this base, such as the remains of the old pier and foundations of a couple of buildings.

Hawkcraig Point rear lighthouse

Information about the lighthouses here is very scarce. This is something I am coming across more and more frequently as I look into the smaller lighthouses, particularly in Scotland, and I find it frustrating and feel the urge to be more proactive about uncovering whatever history there might be out there.

Hawkcraig Point

Bob made the error, much to my delight, of asking if there was anywhere else I wanted to go as we continued our journey home. After seeing three screw pile lighthouses during the week and my suggestion was Tayport to see the Pile lighthouse as I knew, with Joe, we could get a closer look at it – or at least better pictures of it. That was exactly what we did.

I was left with child management duties (directing them to run around benches and trees, and taking a look at a nearby large pond) while Bob and Joe got to work. There were a fair amount of birds about and Bob was keen not to disturb them too much so he got some pictures and then left the birds alone. It’s fair to say the Pile lighthouse has seen better days, but it is also looking remarkably good considering it’s not been in use for around 60 years.

Tayport Pile lighthouse

The tower was introduced in 1848 to replace the front of the two lighthouses along the coast of Tayport. It’s essentially a wooden box with a lantern (or the remains of one) on top and it stands on timber stilts which are screwed into the sea bed, hence the name ‘screw pile’.

The Tayport Pile light from above

Much like Hawkcraig, there’s not a lot on information available about this one, and perhaps the most valuable information comes from comments on Facebook posts in more modern times. It had been suggested that the lighthouse was never manned and instead someone would just travel out by boat each evening to turn the light on and then back again in the morning. There were numerous comments though from those who live or lived in the area confirming that it was in fact manned and had 24 hour cover. One particular person explained that the tower had initially contained a candle in a prism, but had later been converted to oil and paraffin. They added that there was a bell that rung from the tower too in the event of fog. The lighthouse marked the entrance channel for Tayport harbour and aided ships in avoiding the sand banks that lie to the south of the tower.

The lighthouse has also been known as the Larick Beacon, but locally it’s the Pile Light

A report on the Canmore website states that though the condition of the Pile Lighthouse does not look so good it is structurally still quite sound, although it will need some work done to prevent it from deteriorating to the point of being at risk of collapse.

A cropped version of the picture above of the Pile lighthouse in Tayport

An interesting morning and the weather had been kind too. That honestly is it for now with no more sneaky posts appearing for a little while. Hopefully it’s not too long before more adventures can happen though. 🙂

A lighthouse adventure in Essex

After our short boat trip out to see Gunfleet lighthouse on Tuesday morning it seemed a good opportunity to revisit some of the Essex lighthouses – and introduce Bob and Joe the Drone to them as well.

Back in 2012 the Naze Tower had been my first stop on my lighthouse tour and I’d not been back since. Some may argue that the Naze Tower might not have been a lit aid to navigation, but it also may have been – and, more importantly, it’s a lovely place to visit.

The Naze Tower

Due to Covid-19 the tower is currently closed, but that didn’t matter as the sun was shining and it was dry. My lighthouse pal John had joined us and we were all pleased to be able to spot Gunfleet lighthouse in the far distance having been closer to it that very morning.

The Naze Tower is quite impressive and is clearly very well looked after. The beautiful brickwork is looking excellent when you consider that the tower was built in 1720. The tower had been somewhat neglected in the past, but the owners did some extensive renovation and, in 2004, it opened to the public for the first time. Presumably it needed, and will continue to need, some repairs and maintenance done on it – it is 300 years old after all.

When it does reopen, hopefully next year, you can see it’s 8 floors which feature an art gallery with exhibitions, and a museum about the tower and surrounding area. On top of that, quite literally, you get the panoramic views.

Joe took to the sky and, as usual, captured the glorious coastline. Seeing this coastline is always tinged with a little bit of sadness though as it really does suffer from erosion. There is evidence on the beach here that some measures have been taken to try to reduce the erosion in the area as you can see in the picture below.

The sea defences were clear in one of Joe’s shots
The view from above looking towards the south

There’s a lovely little tea room nearby too and we chose to have lunch outside on a bench before waving goodbye to John and continuing on our way.

Harwich awaited our arrival and this is quite a special place for those with any maritime interest. It is where Trinity House monitor their lighthouses from – as well as the Northern Lighthouse Board lights during evenings and weekends. Trinity House also has a depot and buoy yard here. It has its own two old lighthouses, a Light Vessel you can (under normal circumstances) look around, the Lifeboat Museum and an array of other points of interest that make up the town’s Maritime Heritage Trail. In addition we were able to see three more light vessels anchored off shore in the area.

Harwich High Light and the Harwich Town Buoy at the start of the Maritime Heritage Trail
Light Vessel 18 which is usually open to visitors

The two lighthouses here are no longer active and haven’t been since 1863 when they were replaced by the two Dovercourt lights (more on those in a bit). The low light has housed the Maritime Museum since 1980 and the high light is now run by Harwich Society as a local interest museum.

Harwich High Light

The existing towers replaced the town’s original leading lights. All of these lights were intended to work in pairs to guide ships safely into the harbour.

Harwich Low Light with the High Light visible in the background

Joe had a little fly around the area too, which is actually how we realised the light vessels were offshore.

An aerial view of Harwich’s harbour area with the three light vessels visible
The lighthouses in Harwich

Harwich is a fascinating place and it would be nice to spend some more time here getting stuck into the maritime history.

Just a short drive to the south we found the two Dovercourt lighthouses. On my original tour I’d seen these two at low tide and with high tide now approaching it was interesting to see the bottom of the outer light under water and the rapidly heightening waves splashing around the base of the inner light.

The lighthouses at Dovercourt

As mentioned, these lighthouses were introduced in 1863 to replace the Harwich lights. At the time they were built they were believed to have been fairly revolutionary in that they were of the new screw pile design and were prefabricated. A ‘causeway’ was introduced between the two lighthouses which can be walked with care at low tide.

Dovercourt Inner lighthouse

The lights were decommissioned in 1917 when buoy markers were installed to mark the approach to Harwich and since then have been through a period of restoration in the 1980s. Recent investigations have found that further restoration work is required to secure their future and it looks like this is in hand, which is always good to hear.

Dovercourt Outer lighthouse

They are quite unique structures and it was good to also see them from a different angle with the help of Joe the Drone.

Dovercourt Inner light from the seaward side
Dovercourt Outer lighthouse from above

Yet another day of doing a little more exploring and revisiting had come to an end. A very good day it had been and with it also being the last planned lighthouse trip of the year I was glad it had been a success and undertaken with great company.

Let’s hope even a little lighthouse visit can occur at some point before the year is out. Finger crossed 🙂

Catching Gunfleet just in time

A key target for this trip was to attempt to get out on a boat for a closer look at Gunfleet lighthouse. After spotting it in the distance during my first visit to the Naze Tower, it had always felt so out of reach, but I like to think that these things are never really out of reach. You just need to find a way of getting there so I did some research and found a boat company, Sophie Lea Charters based in Brightlingsea, who were willing to take us out. 

I’d originally selected Wednesday as the day of the trip but having spoken to the boatman on Monday evening it was looking like Wednesday wouldn’t be possible. However, he did say an early trip on Tuesday would be an option. You have to jump at these chances when they come, don’t you? I’d also invited my lighthouse partner in crime John to join us, but the early start meant he deprived himself of a few hours’ sleep in order to arrive on time for the trip.

We found Sleeping Beauty in his van when we arrived at the car park and once we were all ready, we had a nice stroll around the harbour area, which seemed picturesque. Thankfully the rain had stopped and we could enjoy the views while we waited for the boat to arrive.

The boat arrives

Once Lee arrived with the boat and we’d hopped on board we were warned that we wouldn’t be able to get very close to the lighthouse as it sits on Gunfleet Sands, the very sandbank it was designed to make mariners aware of. This reminded me of something an island/hill-bagging friend said to me last year, that lighthouses were built to warn boats to stay away from them so by trying to get as close as we can to them goes against their intended purpose. Gunfleet was a perfect reminder of this, and in this case Gunfleet wins as the tide was low. Waiting for high tide that day wasn’t an option due to worsening conditions as the day went on and attempting to get around the east side of the sandbank would also not have been wise given the increasing wind and swell.

John pointed out a nearby faux lighthouse, Batemans Tower, which is actually a memorial. Historic England’s website suggests that the tower, when built, was actually intended to be used as a lighthouse, but the port plans in the area never materialised.

Bateman’s Tower

The trip out was good and we passed the Gunfleet Sands wind farm. It was the first time I’d sailed close to an offshore wind farm and I think we were all impressed, even those who aren’t normally so keen on wind turbines!

Passing the wind farm – apologies for the wonky horizon!

It seemed to be a while before the lighthouse came into view, but eventually we spotted it. It has a fairly distinctive shape now without the lantern on top. There’s a lovely postcard online (towards the bottom of the page) showing how it looked when it was an active lighthouse marking the sandbank. It’s actually a really interesting tower – and the sole surviving screw pile lighthouse in the area with the other few lost over the years. The whole idea of building a lighthouse on a sandbank sounds a little bit mad, but it clearly worked for a long time, although gradually these structures are being lost to the sea as time passes and they are no longer maintained. The latest casualty is the Wyre light that guided ships safely into Fleetwood on the Lancashire coast which has now almost completely collapsed. 

Gunfleet was an active lighthouse, operated by Trinity House, from 1850 until 1921 as a manned station. It lies six miles off the coast of Frinton-on-Sea. It must have been a rather interesting place of work, almost like a rock station but with less space. There’s a great page online showing a few pictures from inside the tower in 2005 when a couple of chaps visited, which can be seen here.

Edging closer to Gunfleet lighthouse

There’s another interesting tale from Gunfleet’s history, which perhaps explains a little why it wasn’t in such a bad state internally in 2005. In 1974, it was partially renovated by the team behind the Dutch Radio Atlantis (to be broadcast as Radio Dolphin from Gunfleet lighthouse). After much of the equipment was installed representatives from the police, Home Office and Trinity House visited and demanded to be allowed into the tower. Eventually the broadcasters relented and were arrested with all of their equipment being removed from the tower before they had managed to get it up and running. A full account of this story can be found here.

With the lighthouse now looking clearer Lee stopped the boat and informed us that it was as close as he could go as we didn’t have much water depth to play with. Although we weren’t as close as we would have liked to have been, we were able to enjoy a bit more of a broader view. As we began to take our pictures a wonderful ray of sunlight shone through the clouds to the left of the lighthouse which was great to see.

The lovely scene that greeted us near Gunfleet

In the meantime Bob launched Joe the Drone with my assistance (I’ve got rather good at helping with take offs and landings on boats, I must admit) and flew him towards the lighthouse. The wind had picked up by this point and Bob kept a close eye on how Joe was managing with the conditions. Always a bit worrying when the drone is flying over a massive expanse of water. Thankfully Joe made it out towards the lighthouse and got some excellent pictures, showing us more of the detail we couldn’t see from the distance we were at.

Gunfleet lighthouse from above
My favourite of Joe the Drone’s shots
A cropped version of Joe’s picture showing a bit more detail

John took these great pictures of the lighthouse with the wind turbines in the background haze, which I thought made for really interesting images.

Gunfleet lighthouse (picture: John Best)
A closer view with the wind farm in the background (picture: John Best)

We admired the lighthouse for a while and enjoyed the view as it changed again with the lovely orange sky as the sun began to break through even more of the cloud. Joe arrived safely back on the boat and we began our return journey, watching the lighthouse getting smaller and smaller.

The beautiful orange sky at Gunfleet lighthouse

We passed even closer to the wind turbines on the way back and John also pointed out the buoy that has now replaced Gunfleet lighthouse and marks one end of the sands.

Taking a closer look at the wind farm on the return journey

It had been a really good little boat ride and to get out and see something that most people take little or no interest in was pretty special. Gunfleet lighthouse had always felt like a tricky one and in a way it still is as it has that element of not being able to get close to it. At least with rock lighthouses they are on a rock that you can either sail close to or, if you’re lucky, even land on, but this is something else. But the trip was worth it, that’s for sure.

One of the lovely views on the journey back

There was more lighthouse visiting later that day, but I shall save that for another post. 🙂

New routes in Norfolk

Following a day visiting the lights of Suffolk on Sunday, it’s was Norfolk’s turn yesterday. It’s another area I’ve been to a few times but covered very few of them in detail on here.

Gorleston-on-Sea was first up and I was happy to return to this one. On my 2012 tour I was in the habit of parking in any old car park and then walking to the lighthouse rather than parking as close as I could to it. That meant I spent a little longer wandering the streets of Gorleston that time.

Gorleston lighthouse

This time I spent a little more time seeking different angles and approaches rather than just close-ups of the tower. This theme continued for much of the day, but more on that later. I made a point of walking around the back of the tower this time and then strolling out along the pier, noticing the beach on the other side, which I’d not realised was there before.

Gorleston lighthouse from behind

Joe the Drone had a bit of a fly around and captured some excellent pictures as usual.

Gorleston lighthouse with the beach in the distance
Gorleston harbour from above

Northwards we went to Winterton-on-Sea. Last time I was there I got the feeling that visitors weren’t massively welcome with lots of private road signs in the area. So I then settled for a view above the houses in nearby roads. This time though we went for a different approach, this time from the beach and sand dunes. 

Winterton-on-Sea lighthouse across the dunes

I’m glad we did as it’s a much more enjoyable approach. While Bob flew Joe about over me like I was in some sort of action film, I wandered as close as I could get to the lighthouse, which wasn’t that close, but I found some higher ground and got some nice views from there.

Winterton lighthouse from the coast

Joe had got some great views too.

Winterton lighthouse from above, looking north
Winterton lighthouse from above, looking south
Winterton lighthouse from the east

Bob then suggested we try approaching from the nearby holiday camp area so we set off back over the dunes. This turned out to be a good idea as, although we still couldn’t get close enough to touch the lighthouse we got much closer than I’d been before. So I was happy with that – and it was nice to see the tower behind the coloured little houses too! Winterton lighthouse is actually available as a holiday let and Lighthouse Accommodation can provide more details about this.

Winterton lighthouse from the neighbouring holiday accommodation

On the subject of Lighthouse Accommodation, which is written and compiled by my lovely friend Joy, our next stop was Happisburgh lighthouse where Joy is a very active volunteer. As we arrived at the lighthouse the clouds cleared and blue sky and sunshine came out. It’s always been nice weather when I’ve visited Happisburgh. 

Happisburgh lighthouse
Approaching Happisburgh lighthouse

It was also nice and calm there today so the walk along the track to the lighthouse was very enjoyable as was the stroll around the wall. The lighthouse is currently closed because of the pandemic, but I would highly recommend going there once it opens again. It’s such a special place and you can see why the community work so hard to keep it running.

Happisburgh lighthouse from the entrance
Happisburgh lighthouse from the east

One more stop of the day and that was Cromer. The lighthouse here is at the end of a private road and the cottages here are let out by Rural Retreats. On other occasions we may have been tempted to drive up the road, but with Bob wanting to be there long enough to fly the drone I suggested we take the coastal route by walking from the town centre. It’s a great walk, although initially we weaved our way through the people in the town to ensure we kept our distance. Once we started walking along the promenade it was a bit easier and the views opened up. We reached the row of beach huts and Bob, who was in his usual position in front of me, spotted the steps leading up the cliff.

The sign that marks the start of the steps

I knew there would be quite a few steps and they were pretty tiring, but thankfully they changed direction enough to keep them a bit more interesting. Once at the top we took a left turn and followed the various paths along the coast. It wasn’t long before the lighthouse came into view, which is always encouraging! Bob, off in front again, found a narrow track leading from the path up to the lighthouse which went from a fair little path to quite a steep final section, but once at the top I was there and could enjoy views all around. 

Cromer lighthouse comes into view

There was a perfectly positioned helipad for Joe the Drone to borrow for take off.

Cromer lighthouse
Cromer lighthouse from the north
Cromer lighthouse from the west

I imagine Cromer lighthouse would probably have been quite a popular station to serve at as it looks fairly spacious judging by the size of the associated buildings and the width of the lighthouse. It was great to see the light on too. That’s always an added bonus.

Cromer lighthouse in action

On the walk back I enjoyed the occasional look back to the lighthouse as I took a slightly different route along the paths. The views down to the beach and pier were wonderful too with people’s reflections in the water.

Cromer beach and pier

Rather than taking the steps back down to the beach huts we followed the path down and came out in the town. More weaving between people ensued and we were soon back at the car.

A great day and I’m so glad I took the opportunity of suggesting the alternative routes at both Winterton and Cromer. The coastal route is near enough always more enjoyable. 🙂

Suffolk: the second round

In recent blog posts I’ve become very aware of how little credit and attention I gave each lighthouse as I was whizzing around so many – particularly in the early days of my 2012 tour when I only included one picture per post. The methods of posting on this blog then were somewhat different with me needing to send the text by email to a particular address and attach a picture to have that included at the end.

This week I am in East Anglia and, although I’ve seen a couple of these lighthouses a number of times they’ve not received the coverage they deserve on here. So I now want to rectify that.

Yesterday was a day for exploring the lighthouses of Suffolk and our first stop was Southwold. With grandparents living in the area, Southwold is a place I spent many a wonderful childhood holiday. Perhaps it was the lighthouse here, sitting proudly in amongst the houses, that contributed to my love of lighthouses. It’s hard to say, but I can certainly see that it might have been.

Southwold beach

With all the times I’ve seen the lighthouse here I’ve not yet managed to make it inside and yesterday was no exception. It may well be closed as it’s now out of season or it could well be the pandemic, but either way I had to satisfy myself with an external view, but what a lovely view it is. With this one, although I love to see it close-up, the best views are the glimpses you catch of it above and between the roofs and the houses as you walk around the area.

Southwold lighthouse

With very calm conditions Joe the Drone was able to get an outing too. Bob attracted a bit of interest from passers by, which he’s not used to in the more remote places we go to in Scotland! My favourite view of Joe’s was taken from above the sea looking down on the town with the lighthouse standing proud. It was also good to see how it looked facing south with the shape of the coastline.

Southwold lighthouse from above

Our second stop of the day was Pakefield, which we managed to catch between showers. The lighthouse here is no longer active with the squat tower now used as a Coastwatch station. Again, this is one you can visit under normal circumstances, but the virus is currently impacting on that. Pakefield is the only lighthouse I’m aware of that you access through a holiday park!

Pakefield lighthouse

Up went Joe again and captured some great images showing just how small the lighthouse looks in relation to its surroundings (unlike Southwold) and the beautiful coastline here that is so characteristic of the area.

Pakefield lighthouse from above

Three lighthouses awaited in Lowestoft. Rather greedy of Lowestoft, but you will not hear me complaining. The two lighthouses on the end of the north and south piers in Lowestoft can be easily seen from the south pier, but you can’t get close enough to either to be able to touch them. The north pier is closed completely to the public while a fence prevents you from getting to the south pier light.

Lowestoft North and South Pier lighthouses

However, we had Joe and we weren’t afraid to use him – between rain showers again.

Lowestoft South Pier lighthouse
Lowestoft North Pier lighthouse

It was fairly overcast, but still good to get a different angle on these two and see the harbour from above. The harbour is far bigger than I ever remember it being.

Lowestoft harbour

With one lighthouse to go we continued north. As the lighthouse appeared among the trees on the landward side of the car I pointed it out to Bob’s surprise. I don’t think he’d expected it to be there and it’s another one that’s not in a standard location. It is right next to a main road on the west side and slightly further inland than you would expect. We parked up and wandered up through Sparrow’s Nest Gardens to get to it. This was rather good as I’d remembered the area being quite picturesque and filled with trees on my previous visit, but that time I’d parked to the north and so missed most of the nicest bit.

Lowestoft lighthouse

We strolled up the steps to the south of the lighthouse, which I think gives the best land-based views of the tower. From almost every other angle the lighthouse is obscured by trees. There is currently some work going on here with scaffolding covering the two buildings, which detracts a bit from the loveliness of it, but of course that’s only temporary.

We followed the steps up to the road, passing the lighthouse complex and then strolled back into the Gardens. We were delighted to see some fairly tame squirrels running about across the paths and on the grass.

A squirrel at Sparrow’s Nest Gardens

That kept the kids and I entertained for a while as Bob went to the car to pick up Joe for his final flight of the day. From above you can really see how well surrounded the tower is by trees, and you also get an idea of just how big Lowestoft is, which amazed me.

Lowestoft from above
Lowestoft lighthouse from above

It had been a lovely day of revisiting a few old friends, now with my greater appreciation of these structures and their wonderful surroundings. It’s nice to do these things at a slower pace every now and then. 🙂

The stunning Canna and Sanday

I am posting this from the community shop on the island of Canna, one of Scotland’s Small Isles to the south west of the southern point of Skye. That in itself says a lot about the island. The community shop is the only place on the island where visitors can access WiFi and there is very patchy mobile phone signal. To some that may be a reason not to visit, but my opinion is that it adds to the charm. As a result, Canna has been able to retain that traditional community feel where no one needs to lock their doors, and everyone helps and supports each other. The community shop is open 24 hours a day and works on an honesty box system where customers write down what they bought and how much they paid.

The logo for the Community Shop on Canna

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, the island is unique in that the National Trust will sometimes do calls for new residents on the island and people must apply. The school on the island has not been open for some years now as the teacher and all primary aged pupils moved away.

Canna – or its neighbour Sanday, which it is attached to by a bridge – boasts a little lighthouse and this was a key reason for choosing to visit the island. Bob had also never been here, so he was keen to get to the island’s high point. The trip had originally been planned for Easter and we had booked accommodation in the West Caravan run by Canna Campsite. Due to the pandemic, we had to postpone our visit and we re-booked for the October half term holiday in the hope that we would be able to travel. The announcement by the Scottish Government last week meant that we were still able to travel thankfully. 

We had a stroll along the beach at Chanonry Point on the way to Mallaig. It was the first time I’d been to Chanonry Point since my 2012 tour and there were the usual dolphin spotters about. It was nice to approach it from the road end this time as last time I’d walked to it along the beach from the campsite to the east. 

Chanonry Point lighthouse

It also meant I got to see the old pier, which I assume was built for servicing the lighthouse.

The pier at Chanonry Point

After an overnight stay in Fort William we arrived in Mallaig. Another point I should highlight about Canna before I continue is that it is not allowed for non-residents to bring vehicles over to the island, so we struggled on board with our masses of luggage and food supplies.

The ferry journey was good with very few other passengers on it and everyone keeping their distance. The best part, of course, was seeing Canna lighthouse on the approach to the island. I do enjoy seeing these types of towers and it made me look forward to the walk to it even more – although it seemed like quite a long way!

Canna lighthouse from the sea

After we’d had our bags collected by the campsite owner to take along to the caravan, we set off along the road passing the shop, the post office and a few houses on the way. The day was so calm and there were beautiful views all around.

The view shortly after arrival on Canna

I had two aims for my visit to Canna. The first was to reach the lighthouse and the second was to find a point on the island from which I would be able to see Hyskeir lighthouse flashing at night. Hyskeir is around 6 miles off of Canna and the lighthouse and island it sits on are one of my favourite places. My visit there a few years ago (that blog post doesn’t give it enough credit) was fantastic. It wasn’t long after we arrived at the caravan that Bob called ‘I don’t think you’ll need to go far to see Hyskeir flashing’. Looking out of the big living room window of the caravan I could see Hyskeir there on it’s low lying island, visible just above the bridge across the Sanday. I’ve since noticed that the caravan may be one of the only houses/places to stay on the island from which you’d be able to see it without going outside. So lucky! You can probably guess what I spent the evening doing that first night – oh, ok and the second evening!

A distant view of Hyskeir lighthouse shining in the sun

After a showery day yesterday we decided today would be the best day to walk out to Canna lighthouse. The wind was still strong as it had been yesterday, but it was dry and sunny. We wrapped up in our numerous layers and set off. The puddles were still full this morning, which occupied the kids for the first half an hour of the walk. We’d been to the high point of Sanday on our first day here so we knew where we had to go. The track continued all the way along to the church and disappeared just before the six wildly spinning wind turbines.

The church on Sanday

From this point we became a bit more wary. The lady who owns the caravan had told us that there were some cows out towards the lighthouse and one of them had been a pet last year and so could be a little bit too approachable. We aren’t keen on cows and are very aware of the risks of coming across them when they have calves. We were on our guard and, as we reached the off piste and sometimes boggy section, Bob navigated us across higher ground to give us good vantage points as we went to help with spotting the cows before we reached them.

One of the views on the way to the lighthouse

We found them eventually, in a small gully area – presumably sheltering from the wind to the south west of the lighthouse. We crept past as fast as we could and made our way up the other side. Checking back every now and then to make sure we weren’t being followed, we slowly began to let our guard down on the final stretch to the lighthouse.

The final approach to the lighthouse

These lighthouses are always in such beautiful locations. I think of Eigg lighthouse on Eilean Chathastail in particular. They look great with the extra platforms and, at this one, the platform made the perfect spot for a picnic. Here it was also possible to walk underneath the platform which I’d not been able to do before. Just down from the lighthouse is the landing area for the lighthouse with an old derrick. Here are a few pictures of the lighthouse.

Canna lighthouse
An engraving on the stone under the lighthouse platform
Looking back on the return journey

Once we were satisfied that we had spent enough time there and eaten enough to get us through the return journey we set off. Considering the location of the cows on the southern side of the island on our walk out, Bob suggested we take the more direct route along the north coast on the way back. This turned out quite well with no sign of the cows and we got back to the ‘Gate of Safety’, as we called it, a lot quicker. From here it wasn’t long before we were back on the track near the wind turbines and church again, and then the walk was straightforward.

One of the views on the walk back along the north side of the island

It had been a great walk and we were amazed at how well our six-year-old had coped with it. He was still managing to find enough energy to run up to and jump into the puddles as we neared the caravan! It had also been fantastic to see another new lighthouse and explore Canna and Sanday. There are so many reasons I would recommend Canna as a perfect holiday destination. Firstly, it’s a great place to ‘get away from it all’ as they say. Secondly, it is beautiful – it is the lowest lying of the Small Isles and therefore much easier to get around and explore. Which relates to the third reason to visit, which is that there is so much to see here as demonstrated by the fact that my son says he wants to stay forever and explore all of the tidal islands, hills, and other points of interest. There is a fantastic sea stack over on the east coast which we saw yesterday. Finally, if you are into lighthouses, the walk out to Canna lighthouse is great, if a little challenging in places, and getting to see the lighthouse on Hyskeir flashing is such a treat.

Another one of my favourite views on Canna

We have another two evenings left here, and I intend to make the most of seeing that beautiful Hyskeir flashing out of the window as the dark descends. 🙂

Western Isles: the final light

It’s been just over seven years since I visited my first lighthouse in the Western Isles and it’s taken six week-long trips there to have got as close as I possibly could to all 23 of the lights. The map below from my book shows where they all are. I’ve physically touched 20 of them and have been close to three others. Those are Milaid Point, Gasker and, today’s light Calvay.

Lighthouses of the Western Isles

This morning it was time to leave the Western Isles. We’d previously booked the ferry from Lochmaddy on North Uist to Uig on Skye. Once we became aware that we couldn’t get out on a chartered boat though, I suggested we change the booking to go out from Lochboisdale instead so we could at least pass Calvay and it’s little light as we left. With the booking changed, we poised ourselves on the outside deck of the ferry for departure.

The view from the ferry towards Gasay island

While we waited we could see the lights on both Gasay, which we visited on Sunday, and Calvay. By the time we set off the lights had gone out for the day. It was good to pass by Gasay having been there a few days ago and to see some of the rocks we had wandered about on submerged.

Gasay lighthouse

A little further on was Calvay. The light on Calvay is a twin of the one on Gasay and has the important role of guiding vessels safely into and out of Lochboisdale.

Calvay and its lighthouse with South Uist behind

Calvay is a relatively small island, but it has some history. In the 13th century a castle was built on a tidal section of the island and later Bonnie Prince Charlie used the castle, now in ruins, to hide.

A Wikipedia entry for Calvay castle states that the island also has a lighthouse built by David Alan Stevenson in 1891, which is very clearly no longer the case. That does, however, suggest that it was the small white towers, like Sgeir Ghlas which I visited on Saturday, that stood here previously. I notice there is no mention of Gasay lighthouse on the Northern Lighthouse Board’s Stevenson’s engineers list, which suggests that the light on Gasay came later.

Calvay lighthouse

It may have just been a fleeting glance at Calvay’s little light, but hopefully at some point I will get to take a closer look.

So that’s me having visited all of the lighthouses in this area. I’ve had to try harder and been more persistent here than I have in any other region of the UK. I’ve had some fantastic days out with highlights being: visiting the unnerving Sula Sgeir and the beautiful North Rona on my very first visit to the Western Isles; walking up to Barra Head lighthouse and the incredible views from that most southerly point of the Outer Hebrides; two stunning days in a row wearing short sleeves in the sunshine when visiting the Flannans Isles and the Monach Islands followed by Haskeir lighthouse; to this trip where I reached some of the most remote lights.

Me at North Rona, 6 months pregnant, in 2014

I know I have three left I can improve upon and hopefully the opportunity will arise one day. I now feel more confident about landing on Gasker having had my little scrambling episode to get to Rubh Uisenis. I’d like to land at Milaid Point when conditions allow and visit Calvay when boats are back up and running again. Until then I will enjoy my wonderful memories of this stunning part of the country.

At Barra Head lighthouse in 2018

Before I finish this post I wanted to return to the topic of COVID-19 as mentioned in yesterday’s post. The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the trips we have managed this year. While we have enjoyed the trips, they are not the same as they were pre-COVID.

In terms of visiting lighthouses using chartered boats we are now going alone or with one or two friends rather than with 10 or more others as we have done in the past. This, of course, increases the cost significantly.

In addition, we always book self-catering accommodation where we know we’ll not be mixing with others. Our choice in accommodation is also dictated by the cancellation policies as we realise that short notice cancellations may be required to ensure we comply with the government’s regulations. We don’t eat out, instead cooking dinner for ourselves at the accommodation or getting a takeaway. This trip has been the first where we have used public transport (the ferry) and we sat outside for the crossing with face masks on, and fortunately today’s crossing was very quiet so we sat indoors away from others with our face masks on for the entirety of the journey. Some of these things aren’t enjoyable, but the opportunity to visit these lighthouses, get outdoors and have a change of scene more than makes up for it. 🙂