The Great Manx Lighthouse Extravaganza – part one

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

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

Point of Ayre Lighthouse

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

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

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

Inside the Point of Ayre lens

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

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

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

Craziness at Point of Ayre Lighthouse

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

Ramsey South Pier Lighthouse

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

The swing bridge in Ramsey

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

Ramsey North Breakwater Lighthouse

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

The view south from Ramsey’s north pier

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

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

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

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

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

Saying a very fond farewell to Maughold Head Lighthouse

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

Battery Pier Lighthouse in Douglas

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

Douglas Head Lighthouse

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

Discovering Manx lighthouses – and beacons

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

Heysham harbour lighthouse
Heysham harbour lighthouse

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

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

Douglas Head lighthouse
Douglas Head lighthouse

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

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

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

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

Maughold Head lighthouse
Maughold Head lighthouse

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

Langness lighthouse
Langness lighthouse

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

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

Isle of Walney lighthouse
Isle of Walney lighthouse

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

Hodbarrow Point old lighthouse
Hodbarrow Point old lighthouse

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

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