uklighthousetour

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

West Coast Adventure: day one

As mentioned in my previous post, we had positioned ourselves in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland in preparation for a sail with North Coast Seatours up to Kylesku. Yesterday was the first day of the trip and what a day it was.

Heading out in considerably calmer conditions that we had expected, our first intended stop was to be possibly the highlight of the trip. Sanda, off of the Mull of Kintyre, has become a very difficult island to access for reasons I won’t go into. While it has never been easy to get to, it has become one of those places that those in both the lighthouse and island bagging communities alike dream of getting to. With the conditions as they were it was looking hopeful that our attempt would be a successful one.

On the approach to Sanda

I think we had all anticipated landing at the north of the island followed by a walk down to the lighthouse at the south end. As it turned out the conditions were perfect for landing right next to the lighthouse, which was fantastic as you immediately get the views before you even leave the boat. The jetty there was fine to land on and then the shortest of strolls took us to the base of the lowest tower. Sanda lighthouse is breathtaking. It really is unlike any other with the two brick towers containing the staircases that would take the keepers up to the third and final tower, one much more in-keeping with the standard Northern Lighthouse Board tower. When I saw the towers I was reminded of a friend of mine, a former keeper who served on Sanda, and how he said he never liked Sanda as you had to climb three towers to get to the top. I’d never thought of it like that and it makes sense, although I can certainly forgive Alan Stevenson for that as it is such an incredible structure.

The three towers of Sanda lighthouse

The natural landscape around the lighthouse is equally impressive with the elephant-shaped rock next to it, it’s trunk reaching out towards the lighthouse. The views of Sanda lighthouse are impressive from every conceivable angle. I particularly liked looking up from the base of the bottom tower where you could see all three towers looming large above you. The best view though is from the top of the hill on the opposite side of the little bay we landed at. This spot offers the ultimate view of both the lighthouse and the elephant rock. The best way to describe it really is to include a picture.

The best view of Sanda lighthouse

The old keepers building and store rooms are looking a little worse for wear now, but still make up an important part of the scene. We eventually dragged ourselves away and back into the boat.

Our journey is, in general, taking us north so we needed to sail around the Mull of Kintyre, which for a lighthouse bagger like me is never a problem. We caught sight of the more modern foghorn first, which I’d never realised was there. A short while later the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse came into view. The height of the cliffs there dwarfs the lighthouse, but it was fantastic to see from the sea. It’s not something I ever thought I would see. It takes some effort to get there by land, but is worth it.

Mull of Kintyre

Onwards we went. After some short visits to islands for others we arrived at our next stop: McArthur’s Head. In our Islay trip in January we’d landed at McArthur’s Head and walked up the amazing steps to the tower and fortunately the conditions allowed us to do exactly the same this time. It wasn’t as calm, but once we were in the tender approaching the little landing area we were fine to step off. Last time we had stunning views from above the lighthouse and again we were rewarded with a very picturesque landscape, albeit very different from the one we had last time. I imagine it is one of those places from which the views are constantly changing. It is a really enjoyable place to be and a good opportunity to show other non-lighthouse people how great it can be. After Sanda and McArthur’s Head I’m pretty certain that they are converted now.

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

Our destination was Jura, so of course we couldn’t possibly have arrived at Craighouse without passing by both Na Cuiltean and Eilean Nan Gabhar lighthouses (more on the latter tomorrow). As the sun was going down by this point it was nice to see these two in the yellowish light, which made a difference to last time.

Na Cuiltean lighthouse

We ended the day in the Jura Hotel having dinner while routinely gazing out of the window while waiting for Eilean Nan Gabhar’s light to come on – and come on it did and a short while later we also spotted the light of Skervuile flashing away in the distance.

A truly fantastic day and one I can guarantee I will never forget 🙂

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The incredible lights of Islay and Jura

What a day! In this lighthouse bagging game you experience some days where, at the end, all you can do is throw yourself onto the sofa and say “wow, did that really happen?”. Today was definitely one of those days.

It’s our final day on Islay and Bob had been in touch with Gus and Rebecca from Islay Sea Adventures in the lead up to our visit to Islay to sort out a trip taking in some of the lighthouses in the Sounds of Jura and Islay. Gus had said that Friday looked to be the best day for it, so this morning we arrived at Port Ellen and spent a while throwing on even more layers in preparation for a RIB trip in January (mental!). You can’t imagine my delight at seeing a beautiful covered RIB gliding into port. Covered RIBs are my favourite!

carraig fhada

Port Ellen/Carraig Fhada lighthouse

Before we’d even got on the boat, Gus offered us a cup of tea and we chatted to Gregor who was helping him out on the boat while Gus went for the hot drinks. A short time later, and with tea firmly in hand, we set off and Gus offered to sail around the Carraig Fhada/Port Ellen lighthouse on the way out. It was great to see a bit more detail from the sides you can’t see from the land. We asked Gus if the walkway is covered at high tide and he said that it can be, and that a man and his son were washed away trying to reach the lighthouse about 100 years ago. Regardless of that, it really is a lovely tower, and the sentiment behind its history is wonderful (more details of this can be found on the Canmore website). I would be quite happy to have a lighthouse built for me (preferably while I’m still alive). With the cost of the recent trips though, I don’t think Bob would be very willing to oblige!

Back on the waves, or lack of I should say, off we went again. A short time later we passed a few small islands and spotted a couple of sea eagles closer than I’ve ever seen them before. They are very impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be get too close!

Eilean a Chuirn was destination number 1. I really like this kind of lighthouse, although I’m not entirely sure why it needs so many doors – perhaps so they can access it in high winds and which door they use depends on the wind direction. That sounds like the only plausible reasoning and would be my guess anyway. It’s a lot like the Waternish light on Skye. Gus explained that the large concrete block next to the lighthouse was part of the pulley system used for moving supplies from the landing point to the lighthouse.

eilean a chuirn

Eilean a Chuirn lighthouse

After a quick wave to McArthur’s Head, more on that one to follow, we went onwards to Na Cuiltean, which I’d seen from a distance from the ferry on Wednesday. It’s basically a solid platform with one level of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s flat pack arrangement on top. The base of the structure clearly takes a bit of a battering at times. One side of the base is almost completely covered in a layer of green algae and birds are obviously very fond of the rock it sits on!

na cuiltean

Na Cuiltean lighthouse

I was very excited about the next one. Skervuile isn’t really that far from land, but the land it is close to is very remote and fairly inaccessible, which makes seeing this one a bit of a challenge. I’d seen it as a small white pencil of a thing in the distance from the ferry. As we approached it was getting bigger and bigger and yet there still seemed to be some distance to go. It reminded me of a term I’d heard from Christian Nock who walked around the coastline of mainland UK: “lighthouse syndrome”. Anyone who has ever walked any distance to a lighthouse will know the feeling. You see the lighthouse and think “Great, I’m nearly there” and an hour later you are still walking towards it. Well, the approach to Skervuile was a little like that, except it wasn’t an hour. We did eventually get there though and I was very surprised to see the rock below it exposed. All of the pictures I’d remembered of it were at high tide where the sea completely surrounds the base of the tower. With the tide fairly low, the small landing platforms were also exposed. As with all rock lighthouses, I stood staring at it thinking “wow, I have no idea how they built that, but I’m so glad they did”!

skervuile

Skervuile lighthouse

Eilean nan Gabhar was next on the agenda as we sailed back down the Sound of Jura. This one is a fairly standard flat pack, except it’s a flat pack with those Paps in the background from certain angles! I’ve become a little obsessed with getting pictures of lighthouses with the Paps of Jura in the background. The joy of it being that it is very easily done in the Islay/Jura area. I believe the term “commanding the landscape” is very apt as that is exactly what the Paps do – well, until you stick a lighthouse in front of them, of course!

eilean nan gabhar

Eilean nan Gabhar lighthouse

Another wave to McArthur’s Head as we entered the Sound of Islay. The ferry had given us a very good view of Carraig Mhor, to the south of Port Askaig, on Wednesday, but this was an opportunity to get even closer. Not landing close (although that would have been possible, but was not a priority for today). With the reduced elevation compared to the ferry, and the calm sea conditions it was also a good chance to catch some nice reflection shots. Love a reflection! It still looked from our closer angle like it would be quite difficult to access by land.

carraig mhor

Carraig Mhor lighthouse

From the ferry on Wednesday, I’d quickly caught the little lighthouse, Carragh an t-Sruith on the west coast of Jura. Very similar in appearance to Eilean a Chuirn, this one looks to be a nice little walk from the landing point for the ferry across the short stretch from Islay. Must put that on my “to do” list.

carragh an t-sruith

Carragh an t-Sruith lighthouse

Ruvaal hadn’t been part of the original plan, but I asked Bob this morning if we would be going that far. I think he sensed from my tone that I wanted to go there. We asked Gus nicely and he was more than happy to add it on. On the way there he told us about the couple who own the lighthouse and how they manage being such a long way from a road. The majority of their journeys to Port Askaig are done by small boat. They do have a quad bike to drive across the difficult terrain, but Gus explained that the land they cross is mostly mud. He had once driven up there on the quad once with a passenger and saw a big puddle, which he thought he could get through. As it turned out, a pole had blown down in the wind and had been removed along with its base, leaving a gaping chasm (my words, not his). So, Gus ended up stuck in this gaping chasm with water almost up the seating level in the quad. Fortunately he was able to get them out and back on the track. The challenges they must face seem endless to me and it would take a certain type of person to be able to live (or enjoy life) there. As much as I love lighthouses, I would need to draw the line when it comes to choosing which one to live in, and Ruvaal falls below this line! Having said that, the lighthouse is beautiful. Incredibly slender! If I were a lighthouse, I would want to look like Ruvaal. It was lovely to sail around it and see the side with the windows too. Maybe I could live there – perhaps – just for a few days.

ruvaal

Ruvaal lighthouse

mcarthur's head1

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

We had purposely saved McArthur’s Head for the way back. We’d rather cheekily asked Gus if he thought it might be possible for us to go ashore there and climb those glorious steps. He explained that it is not possible to land at low tide, he’d once been stranded in a nearby cave due to the tide going down. To maximise our chances of landing, he suggested saving it until the end of our trip when the tide would be in. He wasn’t wrong and I may have squealed a little (just a little) when he said that he’d get us in! We hopped ashore and made for the steps. I approached the steps thinking that there weren’t that many and it would be easy enough. About 10 or so steps from the top I changed my mind. It’s a long way up! But it was so worth it. The lighthouse, while not unlike a number of others in the area, was stunning and the extra effort you put into getting to it adds to the enjoyment. My favourite views though were from the end of the path beyond the lighthouse looking back at it with Jura in the background. Just beautiful. Gus told us that the lighthouse was painted last year and they flew in 2.5 tonnes of paint for the job. I imagine at least half of this paint was used on the wall rather than the tower itself. The wall is so long that I didn’t even realise we were inside it! McArthur’s Head now holds the record for the most number of hugs it has had from me (3). I even enjoyed walking back down the steps. I can’t decide though whether the lighthouse looks better from the land or from the sea. It is just an all-round wonderful lighthouse and I want to go back already!

mcarthur's head2

McArthur’s Head from the sea

Heading back to Port Ellen, the sea eagles were out in force again, being wound up by some gulls. Gus had told us about a group of stags he’d seen swimming between islands near Eilean a Chuirn the other day. By some wonderful chance, we spotted one in the water as we passed. Gus did a very quick and very sharp turn in the RIB to enable us to see the deer swimming at close range. After it arrived on the island it looked back at us briefly before wandering off onto the island.

A wonderful and very successful day. Certainly one never to be forgotten. 🙂

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