Whilst it’s true that I do spend a lot of my lighthouse time trying to get to those I’ve not seen before it is always nice to be able to say “yes!” to an opportunity for a revisit, especially if it is revisiting two places that I enjoyed so much the first time around: Lady Isle and Little Cumbrae.
My lighthouse accomplice, John, had been very keen to get to Lady Isle to see its wonderfully unique lighthouse for a long time and had organised a trip in May, which of course had to be postponed. He’d spoken to the boatman at the weekend who had said that Monday (today) was looking suitable. I told John that I would be happy to go along if there was space with boat companies limiting numbers due to social distancing. Fortunately I was given the thumbs up and this morning we departed Fairlie on board Black Magic, an open RIB operated by C&C Marine. This was the boat that I’d previously visited Lady Isle on so we knew he had been there before and could get us onto the island as long as conditions allowed. Along for the ride too were Steve and Lianne who had driven for 5 hours to make it up just for this boat trip. They are fantastic company and such a lovely couple.
It took us about 90 minutes to reach Lady Isle and was a pretty comfortable journey – or at least it was for Lianne and I who sat on the nice comfy seat while the men bounced about a lot on the sides of the boat. As we approached the island the skipper had a look around at the area we’d landed at previously, but feeling it was just too bumpy we pulled back and moved in closer to the day mark on the east of the island. This was a good area to slide down on to the rocks without getting wet feet. Thankfully it hadn’t rained for a while so the rocks were nice and dry for walking over. What wasn’t so easy to walk over was the grass on the island itself, which was particularly long but nothing compared to what was to come later that day!
Lady Isle lighthouse really is very special and, as Lianne pointed out, it’s nice to have the island to yourself. I find that’s often one of the wonderful things about visiting these lights on islands that require a chartered boat. For the period you are there it almost feels like its your own little space. While we were there I sent a picture over to Bob of the island and it turned out the family were down at the seafront in Troon and spotted our boat approaching the island.
There was genuine excitement amongst the group at managing to get there and land and I was pleased for John as, not only was it his final lighthouse in the area, but he had been very worried about whether or not we would make it and if it would be a wasted trip for Steve and Lianne. It certainly wasn’t and we all eventually returned to the boat. Getting back on the boat for Lianne and I with our short legs was rather amusing, but we managed it with a lot of help from the others!
One island simply wasn’t enough though and our second stop for the day was Little Cumbrae, which was a new island for Steve and Lianne. We weren’t sure, due to the wind direction, whether we would be able to land at the pier on the west side of the island, closest to two of the lighthouses, but the crew managed to get us in and it was lovely to follow the old tracks and steps up to the two more modern lighthouses.
Cumbrae Elbow is the active light that now operates on the island and presumably it works quite nicely alongside Rubh’an Eun on Bute to guide vessels through the channel between the two islands. Next to this light is the old engine room for the foghorn which still contains the machinery, although it’s not looking anywhere near its best. I usually love the smell of these rooms, but with broken windows and open doors the smells seems to have gone in this one.
Exploring the old keepers’ cottages for the older lighthouse was again rather sad as the buildings have so much potential and could make incredible homes. There are signs that some improvements were made, but it is still in a bad way.
Having both been to the island before, John and I knew there was a way to get into the tower and we thought this was through one of the cottages, but it became clear that it wasn’t and we eventually found the entrance around the side. One benefit of not remembering where we needed to go though was that John was able to show us a really nice carving of a lighthouse above one of the windows on the outside of the building. It seemed like such a nice little touch, but a bit odd that it was above a window when normally these things would be over doors.
After eventually finding the entrance to the tower (and Steve who had already happened upon it) we set off up the tower. Not much had changed up there, but the views were still fantastic and it was just nice to be there again and enjoy the feeling of being at the top of a lighthouse.
With what looked to be a patch of rain approaching we decided to retreat to one of the cottages to eat lunch. We were going to head straight off from the lighthouse after lunch, but another building caught our attention and so we spent some more time exploring that and, in trying to establish what was at the far end of the building, John managed to find the old foghorn lying in the long grass!
Realising that we were running short on time for making it across the island we set off up the hill, which seemed steeper than I remember it being last time. The path on the approach to the hill was very overgrown in places, but it was still clear enough that we could find our way through. We’d already decided that we wouldn’t attempt to reach the remains of the oldest of the three lighthouses on Little Cumbrae which is close to the highest point on the island. The grass and ferns were already becoming difficult enough to get through to even consider battling our way through even less tamed terrain. We could see it from the path though.
In most places the path was relatively obvious, but a couple of times we were met with what seemed to be a dead end, but Steve and John managed to guide us through. Some of the ferns were ridiculously long with some reaching up higher than mine and Lianne’s heads. It seemed an almost unrecognisable place compared to my last visit and the path seemed to go on for such a long time, leading at least two of us to say that Little Cumbrae wasn’t so little after all.
We were all very pleased when we spotted the top of the castle on the little tidal island near the pier that we were aiming for. The boatmen were there waiting for our arrival – thankfully only 5 minutes after the agreed time – and a couple of other men there who had camped on the island overnight had said they’d been across the island and attempted to resurrect the path a bit. During the recent Covid-19 lockdown there have obviously been fewer people visiting the island and stomping down the path and so nature has started to reclaim the island again.
Once back on the boat it was a short little journey back across to Fairlie. It was an excellent day and a real pleasure to return to both of these islands. The company was great and the weather did hold out for us with the rain only starting as we were heading back to the marina. As Steve said a few times today while we were out – and I often say it on this blog – this type of day is what it’s all about. 🙂