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 🙂

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. 🙂

A single little Uist light

This morning we waved goodbye to Lewis and Harris after a great few days there, and hello to the Uists. This is my first time visiting this part of the Western Isles, excluding the brief visit to Weavers Point yesterday. A new place to explore!

During the research process for my book I had looked into access to the lights on the small islands of Gasay and Calvay on the approach to Lochboisdale. Calvay was obvious, it would require a chartered boat or you could get a good view from the ferries into and out of Lochboisdale. Gasay was a bit more involved and this morning we decided to investigate for ourselves.

Lochboisdale harbour with Gasay and Calvay lights in the distance

I was aware that Lochboisdale has fairly recently undergone a harbour development programme and my research suggested that the island of Gasay had become linked to South Uist as a result. Arriving in Lochboisdale we found this is exactly what had happened with the harbour development works completed in 2015.

Driving slowly around the harbour area we spotted a slope that looked like it would lead where we wanted to go. We parked up and set off. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a well trodden track leading up from the harbour. This track led up to a recently constructed cairn from which you had great views and could see the light from.

The cairn that marks where the path leads

Fortunately the track continued further until we reached a large gravelled area which gave some views looking back across the harbour.

Looking back at the harbour

This was where we had to go off piste and stomp our way through the heather. The island is peat moorland and there was evidence of peat being dug here in the past. This meant there were some banks to get up and down, but aside from that the walk wasn’t too bad – we’d both expected the ground to be a lot worse.

The light on Gasay and the heather we crossed to reach it

I was intrigued to see what the light looked like close up as it is so infrequently photographed. As you can see from the pictures it is one of the Northern Lighthouse Board‘s metal framework towers clad with white panels, except this light has the panels on the top level only and on one side there are no panels. It’s interesting to see another configuration of the white panels as they do differ on some of the flat-pack lighthouses.

As usual Joe the Drone had accompanied us and got some great images of the lighthouse, the island and the harbour too. These aerial images give a clearer view of Gasay as an island and the causeway that now connects it to Lochboisdale.

The aerial view showing the island more clearly

The Lochboisdale Harbour website suggests that a Phase 2 for the harbour development is being considered which could see the ferry terminal moved to the south side of Gasay. Whether this will impact on the position of the light on Gasay or not remains to be seen. Time will tell.

It may not be a big lighthouse, but Gasay was well worth a visit and also provided distant views of the Calvay light to the east. Hoping to get a bit of a closer look at that one later in the week. 🙂

The remote land lights of the Western Isles

With the wind shifting around to the north and the wind speed increasing it was touch and go as to whether or not we would make it out on the boat trip we had planned yesterday. Bob spoke to Seumas from Sea Harris the previous night and I was delighted when he confirmed that we would go ahead with the trip.

It was the first time I’ve been out on the water around the Western Isles visiting lighthouses for a couple of years and I must admit I had missed it’s wild ways and unpredictable nature, and also the boatmen who know it so well (well mainly Seumas as he has got me to near enough all of the offshore lights in the Western Isles).

Off we set from Scalpay and our first stop was one I was very excited about. Sgeir Ghlas is a bit different with the red top – and it’s one of those older towers introduced by the Northern Lighthouse Board around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries.

Sgeir Ghlas lighthouse

Landing on the island was fine as the sea was calm and the seaweed covering the rocks wasn’t too slippy. Being a very small and relatively flat piece of land it was only a short stroll to the lighthouse. It’s looking a little weather beaten, but apparently much better than when our skipper was last there. That time it didn’t have a door and there were birds nesting inside. It’s good to see that it now has both doors intact and reminds me of Rubh’an Eun on Bute which has also had a bit of improvement work done to it in recent years.

Bob flew Joe the Drone for a while and, as usual, got some great shots.

Sgeir Ghlas from above
Sgeir Ghlas with Sea Harris’s RIB Pabbay

Leaving the island behind we headed out into The Minch and then northwards along the east coast. The change in sea conditions became very obvious as soon as we were out of the shelter of Harris. Up the coast we passed Rubh Uisenis lighthouse which I had previously only seen from a great distance on the way to Eilean Glas lighthouse. We decided to first tackle Milaid Point lighthouse, which we all knew would be the trickiest of the day and come back to Rubh Uisenis.

Milaid Point lighthouse is a flat-pack style and these are usually not the most interesting looking. This one is a bit different though and reminded me a little of the one on the Garvellachs which is also in a fantastic location. Milaid Point lighthouse is set down on the cliff with steps leading down to it from the cliff top. As a result it’s actually not so far above the sea. The view from the sea is great with the light, the steps and two old platforms, one of which was presumably where the previous lighthouse tower was located, and the skipper recalled there being some sort of radar station there at some point which probably explains the other platform.

Milaid Point lighthouse

It was fairly obvious that we weren’t going to be able to land near the lighthouse with the rise and fall of the swell so we sailed around the corner to the south to see if we could find somewhere to land and then walk up and along. Once we were in the tender we realised just how steep the cliffs in the area were. A couple of times we spotted sections we thought we might be able to make it up, but once we were in the small tender we realised just how steep it would be. Bob landed at one place and walked/scrambled up the sections of rock to see if it would be a suitable way up. He ended up descending back down one particular section, a flat slope, using a rope as it was so slippery. So that was not an option, but I was very grateful that he had tried to find a way that I could manage.

We took the tender back around to the rocks below the steps near the lighthouse, but we all agreed that it wasn’t going to be possible to land. It was a shame, but we’d got great views of it and Bob managed to fly Joe the Drone around it a bit too.

Milaid Point lighthouse from above

We’d spent longer than expected at Milaid Point and it was time to sail back down towards Rubh Uisenis lighthouse. Although there was a landing below the lighthouse here, again there was just too much swell. We anchored just to the south in a sheltered area and hopped into the tender to see if there was anywhere here that would make it slightly more accessible than Milaid Point.

Sailing back around to the landing area for a closer look we thought it was just too much of a risk with quite a significant rise and fall in the water level. We’d spotted a potential point around the corner and so went along to that. Thankfully we both managed to get ashore, but the hardest bit was to come. I am not a climber and never will be, or even a scrambler. I’ve just scrambled a bit on very few occasions when reaching a lighthouse requires it. I think the best way to describe the section of rocks we needed to climb up is with a picture so here is one.

Our route up the cliff

It was slow going getting up there, but we made it and then there was a short walk along to the lighthouse, although there was a hill in the way so we had to go over that. I was surprised not to be able to see the lighthouse once we reached the top of the hill, but it’s another one that’s set down a bit and so we had to walk a bit further before it came into view. Once we reached the top of the slope where the ground dropped down to the lighthouse the scrambling and uphill walk were forgotten. I know you are supposed to look up at lighthouses, but there’s always something special about looking down on them, particular when it’s one of these types of towers.

Looking down on Rubh Uisenis

These round white towers were introduced by the Northern Lighthouse Board to replace some of the older small lighthouses (like the one on Sgeir Ghlas shown above), but before they started to use the flat-pack type. The Shiants Isles in the background helped to make the view even more enjoyable. Also knowing that this was a place that very few people would have been added to my appreciation of it. Rubh Uisenis is believed to be the most remote land-based lighthouse in Britain with hours and hours of walking over hills and bog to endure if you attempt it from the land.

We wandered around for a while, down some of the steps, taking a look at the platform the old lighthouse (I assume) would have sat on. There is a wonderful picture online of the previous lighthouse located here.

Reaching Rubh Uisenis felt like a great achievement. It had seemed so inaccessible previously. I was very pleased, but I also realised we needed to get back down the rocks!

Bob had brought along his trusty rope and for the descent tied it around my waist and held on tight while I went down. We did this in three sections with me stopping on a ledge part way down, pulling the rope down and then waiting for Bob to come down to where I was before I carried on. It was pretty hard going, moreso because I was struggling at times to pull the rope to take the next step, but that was a good sign as if I’d fallen I would have been glad of the tension in the rope! I didn’t fall though and we made it safely back down and onto the boat. It’s fair to say I was very relieved and very happy!

Joe the Drone enjoyed Rubh Uisenis too

Again we’d spent longer there than planned. Whizzing on down the coast we sailed past Eilean Glas lighthouse which was looking just as wonderful as it did by land on Friday.

Eilean Glas from the sea

Onwards to North Uist and this next one marked my first visit to the Uists, and what a dignified one it was.

Weaver Point lighthouse

Weavers Point, or Weaver Point lighthouse, is another one that involved a fairly long walk across difficult terrain if approached by land so what better way to arrive than by boat, especially when there are some wonderful steps leading up the cliff. Quite a treat that was, especially after the last one!

The steps at Weavers Point

Weaver Point lighthouse is another flat-pack structure and a fairly standard one, but it was good to see it up close and enjoy the surrounding scenery too. I’m looking forward to spending more time on the Uists in the coming days.

Weaver Point lighthouse

At this point I was feeling like I was hogging all of the boat time so it was Bob’s turn to enjoy a couple of islands he’d not been to before. In true goat fashion he was up and down both in no time at all.

By now the sun was going down, but there was one more stop for the day. We’ve sailed out of Leverburgh a number of times and so regularly passed the red and black Dubh Sgeir light. We were both keen to investigate it a bit more so we landed on the rocks and slowly (because I am not a goat like Bob) made our way towards the tower. When Bob says “use these steps” or “walk on the path” you can almost guarantee that what is in front of you in no way resembles steps or a path. At one point we found a large long and fairly flat rock which Bob likened it to Sauchiehall Street (one of Glasgow’s main shopping streets)!

The light on Dubh Sgeir

Dubh Sgeir is an interesting light and though there’s not much to it, it was nice to visit. As I said to Bob it felt like the the Western Isles’ answer to Barrel of Butter (which is in Scapa Flow, Orkney – take a look at this post from last year to see that one).

The sun was setting so it was time to head back to Scalpay. We had a bit of an added bonus on the way back with some common dolphins leaping out of the water alongside the boat. Normally I’m not so excited when you see the occasional dolphin or whale fin sticking out of the sea, but to see them swimming and jumping alongside us was great. They obviously wanted to celebrate my successful day. As did a few of the lighthouses we’d seen as they were flashing away as we returned to Scalpay – always a delight to see.

The dolphins celebrating with me

It had been a very long day, with 11 hours on the boat, but a really successful one. I’d reached a few lights that had been bothering me for quite some time and also been as close as it was safe to get to all of the lighthouses on and around Lewis and Harris. Another fantastic day to add to the bank of memories I have of the area.

I hope to do at least one more post during this trip, but the second boat trip we had planned has had a rather large spanner thrown in the works. Fingers crossed plan B or Plan C will come together! 🙂

The big lights of the Western Isles

I’ve spent many a day out getting to the lighthouses on small islands off the coast of the Western Isles, but this means that I’ve somewhat abandoned the lights on the main islands of Lewis and Harris. With the exception of Butt of Lewis I’d not visited them since my first trip to the Western Isles in 2014. It felt like a good time to rectify that.

Having seen Tiumpan Head flashing last night I was keen to get a bit closer to it again. We set off and as we headed out of Stornoway I spotted a ship with a particularly recognisable shape just off the coast. I’ve seen the Northern Lighthouse Board’s maintenance vessel Pharos on many of my trips out and about, and was fortunate enough to have a look around her in Oban last year. The first time I saw her was at Bell Rock back in 2012, which was actually one of my first lighthouse boat trips.

I obviously wanted to get a closer view today if I could. Looking at the map I thought we’d be able to get the best view from Swordale. Luckily there was a nice gate with a “no dogs” sign on it leading to a field where we could get some nice views across to it. A bit of a bonus, although I did get wet feet as I walked across a rather boggy part of the field. No pain, no gain!

The Northern Lighthouse Board’s vessel Pharos

A short time later we arrived at Tiumpan Head. Last time we were there it was misty and overcast and the one lasting memory was of dogs barking and barking the whole time. This time the dog barks were still there, but the weather was much better, albeit quite windy.

Tiumpan Head lighthouse

As well as the improved conditions my appreciation of the lighthouse was greater this time around. Much of the last few years of lighthouse visits has been spent dashing around like a headless chicken trying to do as much as possible in the limited time available. Now I find myself more and more spending longer at these places and enjoying them more, discovering more and letting them grow on me. In a message to a friend earlier I likened the lighthouses to people and how the more you see them and get to know them the more fond of them you become. Of course there are always exceptions!

The lighthouse tower at Tiumpan Head

The tower, which is maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board is looking great, but it was sad to see that part of the outer wall of the complex has fallen away. It made me think of the builders all those years ago when the lighthouse was built making these wonderful solid structures. It is rare, in my experience, to see the walls falling down.

Tiumpan Head lighthouse was the damaged section of wall

After I’d finished wandering around and taking some pictures, we drove west and discovered what looked remarkably like an old lighthouse building alongside a little slipway at Portnaguran. I got in touch with a friend who is knowledgeable on the history of the Northern Lighthouse Board and he agreed that it most likely was related to the lighthouse and used as an equipment or materials store coming in from, or going out by, boat from the slipway. I also checked with my friend and he confirmed that the grey colour of the quoins were what the Northern Lighthouse Board used before they introduced the yellow/beige colour, which goes by many names. These discoveries teach you that you really do need to keep your eyes open as you never know what you might discover.

The old Tiumpan Head store and slipway in Portnaguran

On the way to our next destination, we stopped by to check access to Arnish Point lighthouse for a friend of mine who plans to visit it next year. We found the road that we’d driven up 6 years ago and decided against going up there this time due to the large puddles/potholes on it. Thankfully it looked like access would still be fine, but we decided against the 1km walk to the lighthouse today as we had somewhere else to be. We did find a nice vantage point on the way out of the industrial estate though that offered wonderful views of the lighthouse and all the way over to where the Pharos was anchored.

Arnish Point lighthouse and the Pharos in the distance

Our final destination of the day, and by chance we arrived there later than planned, was Eilean Glas on Scalpay. This one is so often photographed and you can really see why. For a start everyone loves a red and white lighthouse, and when it is located here with panoramic vistas in every direction what is not to like?

I had read a few days earlier that the improvement works to the cottages at Eilean Glas were now forging ahead and that a new guidebook about the lighthouse had just been published. The sign near the parking area also mentioned tea and coffee being available – there aren’t many lighthouses where you can get that!

The track out to the lighthouse is fantastic. Last time we visited we didn’t realise there was a track and so took the coastal route, which was nice but a bit more challenging – especially at 6 months pregnant! There’s obviously a considerable amount of work gone into the track and signposting. It certainly makes it a much more accessible place than it probably was previously.

The track that leads to the lighthouse

With the sun going down we had that wonderful warm glow on the lighthouse and we are both now converted to the idea of visiting lighthouses at sunset. Fortunately we weren’t there too late to see the lady who is coordinating the effort to renovate the cottages. Once we’d bought a copy of the guidebook and a cup of tea we got chatting to her about the work going on there. The work actually began in 1983 so the effort is as old as I am, but it’s been a little stop/start since then. The current push is sounding positive though and let’s hope it continues.

There’s a lot to see there and, as always, this is best shown in picture form, so here are a few from today.

Eilean Glas lighthouse
The old Eilean Glas lighthouse – one of the oldest in Scotland
Some of the more recently installed windows

Bob had taken Joe the Drone along with us, although we weren’t sure if it would be too windy to use it. He decided to give it a go anyway and Joe seemed to cope fine with any gusts. He had to come back down briefly as it began to rain, but the shower didn’t last long and he was back up again in no time. Often when you are taking pictures of something you can see if it’s going to make for a particularly good image. It’s slightly different with the drone though as you really just put it up, fly around and see what looks good once you are up there.

At first the drone was struggling with automatically flying in a circle around the lighthouse as the brightness of the white bands were causing the drone to lose its focus. After trying a few different angles, Bob flew it around the seaward side on the south east, looking back towards the lighthouse. Looking at the picture on the screen we knew that this was the angle it had to be taken from with the mountains of Harris in the background. Here are a few of Joe’s pictures.

My favourite picture of the day

I heard earlier today that a friend had shared some of Joe’s pictures from the Butt of Lewis yesterday with one of his friends. One of the comments that came back was that it was interesting how the lighthouse dominates when seen from the ground, but some of the drone images make it look so small in comparison to the landscape surrounding it. It is so true and one of the joys of the drone images is that it reminds you that no matter how big or tall manmade structures are, nature will always dwarf them. I think that’s a nice note to end on today. More to come tomorrow… 🙂

A Western Isles adventure begins

Today was the first day of a new adventure in the Western Isles. With our son now at school, we called upon Bob’s mum to take the childcare wheel while Bob and I have a week away exploring even more of the lighthouses and islands in the area. This will be our sixth week-long break over here and I’ve grown very fond on the Western Isles since I first visited in 2014. Many a day has been spent on the water here and there is no place like it.

This morning we set off early and quickly realised how cold it was. The sky had obviously been beautifully clear overnight leading to layers of frost on the trees. Very unexpected for September.

A chilly start

The first lighthouse we spotted today was Loch Eriboll. This little flat-pack lighthouse may not be much to look at, but I think it’s quite special and I’ve enjoyed a couple of great walks out there. As it was still early the light was on and I was pleasantly surprised to see it’s flash was a lovely warm white light rather than the harsh LEDs so often used these days. I am always intrigued by Loch Eriboll lighthouse as it seems like such an unlikely location for a light, bit I suppose if you consider that the loch is the only large safe haven to the west of Scrabster for ships passing along the north coast then it makes a lot of sense. 

Loch Eriboll lighthouse

With a little time to spare before we needed to be in Ullapool for the ferry we swung into Rhue, just to get a view of the lighthouse there, which always looks good against the surrounding landscape.

Rhue lighthouse from land

We were grateful that the weather was calm and dry today as it meant our crossing on the ferry was much more enjoyable. We’d chosen to sit outside to avoid the extra risk that comes with being around people indoors these days. It was lovely to pass Rhue lighthouse again and then Cailleach Head lighthouse too and remember our walk out to that one last year in glorious weather. I’d been reliably informed that the Northern Lighthouse Board’s technicians had been out at the lighthouse just yesterday to fix a fence that had been damaged by livestock. What a varied job they must have!

Rhue lighthouse from the sea

After catching a glimpse of Tiumpan Head as we approached the Western Isles we were greeted, as always, by the small but perfectly formed Arnish Point lighthouse. It always reminds me that I am arriving at a place which I have so many wonderful memories of. Lots of laughs, friendships made and masses of fresh air.

Arnish Point lighthouse

As soon as we arrived we checked into our self-catering cottage. By this time I had already started to wonder whether or not it would be possible to see Tiumpan Head lighthouse flashing from the house and it didn’t take me long to discover that I had a problem with seeing it, if indeed I could, from the upstairs windows due to them being so high. Ever the resourceful one, Bob grabbed a chair for me to stand on and I discovered that, yes, peering out to the left you could make out the lighthouse tower in the distance. That was an added bonus I’d not expected, as were the freshly-baked scones the owner’s wife had made for us and the range of local goodies in the fridge too!

After Bob had popped up a hill (spotting the Flannans Islands in the distance from the top) we headed north in time to see the sun going down at Butt of Lewis. I’ve been to the Butt of Lewis a number of times, probably every time I’ve been to the Western Isles, but it’s always been a bit windy, wild and sometimes wet so we’ve never spent very long there. On previous trips the good weather days have been reserved for boat trips to exciting offshore islands and lighthouses. So in today’s calm conditions it was lovely to wander around a bit more and enjoy spending the extra time there. The parking area next to the lighthouse has clearly had some work done to it recently with new kerbs and some picnic benches. The setting sun always casts such wonderful colours over everything and it was no exception here. As with all lighthouses it is always best shown in pictures so here are a few.

Butt of Lewis lighthouse

The latest addition to the family, Joe the Drone, has also made the effort to join us and with there being barely any wind it wasn’t long before he was up and away capturing some fantastic images. I should thank Bob for his very important role in getting them. Here are a few of Joe’s pictures.

It was beginning to get cold as the sun was making its final descent below the horizon so I hopped into the car and waited for the light to come on. Sometimes the sun seems to set so quickly, but it all took a little longer at Butt of Lewis. I was a little disappointed to find that it’s just the back-up lights in operation at the moment as they don’t give the same effect, but it was still good to see it working.

The back-up light in action at Butt of Lewis

As we drove along the road away from the Butt of Lewis I kept my eyes on the horizon to the north east as we had been able to see the hills around Cape Wrath on the way out to the lighthouse. I thought I caught a glimpse of what could have been Cape Wrath lighthouse flashing. I mentioned it to Bob and he pulled over and confirmed that there definitely was a flashing light over that way. That was good to see.

On the way back to the cottage this evening I spotted Tiumpan Head flashing with it’s modern bright white on/off light and I wondered if I would be able to see it from the window at the cottage after all. I am delighted to confirm that I can. 🙂

A weekend in North East Scotland – part two

Having been to Peterhead on Saturday I had pointed out to Bob the lighthouse at the end of the South Breakwater. He asked if it was possible to get out onto the breakwater and I told him it wasn’t. I did, however, feel the need to do some research into access as these things can change. It seems that in recent years the owners of the breakwater closed it to fishermen and the locals who frequently fished there had been campaigning to have it opened again.

It felt worthy of being checked out so on Sunday morning we headed back north from Aberdeen to take a look. In Peterhead we easily found the entrance to the south breakwater and it was clear immediately that access would not be possible. The gates were closed and locked and a sign advised that the breakwater was currently closed due to Covid-19. It was still possible to see and take some distant pictures of it from the gate though.

Peterhead South Breakwater lighthouse

Just back a little way along the road there was a parking area, which also gave some good distant views of it.

The entrance to Peterhead’s Harbour of Refuge

While there isn’t a huge amount to say about the lighthouse itself which was introduced in 1906, the south breakwater as well as the north were a large part of Peterhead’s Harbour of Refuge. The harbour was built from the late 1800s through to the mid-1900s. Much of the manual labour carried out in the area was undertaken by convicts at the local HMP Peterhead. At that time this was the only prison in Scotland to include hard labour for prisoners. It has been suggested online that the prison was actually built here to provide labour for the new harbour. It’s an interesting history and has added to my appreciation of an area that I’d previously not thought much of.

The view from Peterhead towards Buchanness lighthouse

On the way to Peterhead that morning it was absolutely essential that I visit Boddam, home to Buchanness lighthouse. This lighthouse was one of my favourites on my original tour and I am still very fond of it. Although I’d been over to the island before and inside the gate I’d, rather foolishly, not taken the opportunity to walk around the outside of the wall where there is a well-trodden path. It’s a fascinating little island with lots of points of lighthouse history interest. These are always better shown in pictures, so here are a few.

It’s clear that the island receives quite a battering at times with nature trying to destroy anything man made that lies in its path, but to me that adds to the beauty. I’d love to spend more time there and I planted the seed of the idea after my visit by mentioning the keepers’ cottages are holiday accommodation and looking up the price. One day…

Buchanness lighthouse

The rest of the day was lighthouse-free – or at least that’s what I thought. Bob had suggested that Stonehaven had a nice beach for the kids to play at so we headed down that way. As soon as we arrived it became very apparent that it was busy and we drove around the car park looking for a space to no avail. However we did find something else of great interest, a model lighthouse. I jumped out of the car to take a closer look while Bob continued the search for a parking space. The statue was fantastic, made of steel with such great attention to detail. It features a foghorn, birds flying around the lantern and even a tiny padlock on the door.

I looked into the statue a little more later that day and discovered that it was actually one of a number of steel statues that had been installed by an anonymous individual along the town’s coast since 2006. The lighthouse, installed in 2016, apparently also features keepers inside reading the paper and watching TV. I didn’t notice them so will need to go back for a closer look sometime. Among the other statues are a seal, a trawler and – most recently – a bi-plane. Earlier this year the artist was revealed as a local retired fisherman who had been building and installing the statues in private. It’s a wonderful story and you can read more about it here.

Stonehaven’s little lighthouse

Later that evening I was delighted when Bob suggested visiting Girdle Ness lighthouse at sunset. After a takeaway dinner in the hotel room we flung the kids in the car and set off. It was great to see the lights starting to come on and the green light from the north pier lighthouse was flashing away as were the lights from the south pier. We also spotted the front of the Torry range lights in action – the road is currently closed so we couldn’t see the rear light.

Aberdeen North Pier lighthouse
Aberdeen South Breakwater lighthouse

Then we got to her majesty, Girdle Ness. She does look, in my opinion, a bit like the queen piece from Chess with her decorative features. Initially we drove around to the furthest point and hopped out to see the foghorn and I took some pictures of the tower.

Girdle Ness lighthouse
Girdle Ness foghorn

On the way back around (the road to the south of the lighthouse is currently closed due to the harbour extension) we stopped briefly near the gate to the lighthouse complex. The signs there were very clear – no one was allowed in and I had heard that this could be very strictly enforced. My luck was in though as a young couple wandered out and the man told me that I could go in and have a closer look. He explained that one of the residents there doesn’t like people going in, but I got this chap’s permission so in I popped. It’s probably not something I would recommend to the general passerby without permission though.

Girdle Ness lighthouse from the entrance to the courtyard

It was great to see the tower so close, take a picture of it’s plaque and see those lovely details a bit closer. It looked like there were a couple of lights on inside the tower, but I chose not to knock to see if anyone was in.

Girdle Ness lighthouse from below

I felt the need for a different angle on the tower, to capture the colours over the sea. We stopped at a parking area nearby and I strolled up alongside a wall and high fence to try and get a good vantage point with the sun setting behind my back. The high fence is linked to the harbour redevelopment and is currently home to a visitor centre where you can learn all about the work going on. Could be interesting.

Looking over the harbour extension materials

I just wanted a quick view of the tower from the foghorn again as it was growing increasingly dark. When I’d initially looked at it from that angle it looked like the little emergency LED light was flashing instead of the main light source, but this time it was clear that the main light (or sealed beam lamp array) was rotating nicely. I was very excited and could have stayed for another half an hour at least, but was aware that I had a waiting husband and children in the car so we set off.

Girdle Ness lighthouse in action

I’m glad we did though as we found a road heading south from Aberdeen and I was able to get out of the car and see the lighthouse in fully fleshed action from afar. I am useless as taking pictures at night so the resulting images aren’t so good, but I will include one anyway. It was beautiful to see it flashing and the wonderful reflection of the light on the water. A beautiful way to finish a lovely day, which was full of nice surprises. 🙂

Girdle Ness lighthouse flashing from a distance

A weekend in North East Scotland – part one

Many of the trips I go on are well planned out weeks in advance, but every now and then it’s good to embrace the joy that comes with a spontaneous decision. Since having kids my definition of “spontaneous” has changed a bit and now means we’ll do something tomorrow rather than immediately. Well, that was what occurred on Friday when deciding how we should spend our son’s birthday weekend, especially as there was no school early the following week either.

Our boy is a big fan of Premier Inns and thankfully Bob had been to a couple recently and felt confident that their Covid measures were good enough for us all to go and stay. The destination, Aberdeen, was decided on Friday morning and the hotel booked.

This wasn’t due to be a lighthouse trip at all, with the exception being Rattray Head so Joe the Drone could come along too. In fact, aside from that we had nothing planned, but I managed to do quite well out of it!

Leaving home on Saturday, we headed straight for Rattray Head (a 5+ hour drive) and hoped to time it right for getting there at low tide. We arrived about 50 minutes before low tide and it was very clear that the low tide was going to be nowhere near low enough, at 1.74 metres, for us to get anywhere near the lighthouse – something to do at a future during a low spring tide instead.

Not so low tide at Rattray Head

It was also windy and it was touch and go as to whether Joe the Drone would manage to get up and not get destroyed by filling with sand during take off and landing. The little portable helipad went down and off Joe went. Bob spent a little while establishing the wind conditions before capturing some aerials shots and footage.

Rattray Head from above

I was intrigued by the fact that the dome on top of the lighthouse looked white as I’d thought it was black. Looking at other images online it became clear, to me at least, that it was just reaching the end of nesting season for birds. I assume it will wash off with the winter weather. I shall leave it at that!

The “white” dome on Rattray Head lighthouse

Rattray Head is a popular lighthouse, frequently visited and photographed, and I’m always a champion of the more obscure and less popular lights so I’d not paid much attention to it before beyond visiting it and finding out some key facts. It is an interesting one though. I always thought the access issue was an interesting one as it’s not so far out, but really tricky to actually reach, most often requiring the Northern Lighthouse Board staff to take a boat or later a tractor.

Rattray Head lighthouse

What I hadn’t realised, and perhaps foolishly, was that it used to have a foghorn standing on the stone base, next to the upper section of the lighthouse tower. I imagine the keepers there weren’t keen on the fog with the horn being in such close proximity to the tower! There’s a great picture online (originally from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses) showing the foghorn in situ.

With our destination being Aberdeen and needing to pass through Peterhead anyway it would have been rude not to have stopped to see the twin harbour lights. I’d previously paid them a quick visit so they needed a little more time. The last time I was in the area I didn’t recall seeing the plaque on the side of the old North Harbour lighthouse, which contains some history. The plaque explains how the two lights were introduced by Thomas Stevenson in 1848 following a number of herring vessels being lost. It was believed that this was due to a lack of guiding lights in the area. Thomas Stevenson was also the founder of the Holophotal lens (prisms above and below the light source to reflect the light outwards) for use in lighthouses and these two towers became the first to have them installed.

Peterhead North Harbour lighthouse

The North light was removed from its original location, and then relocated and refurbished by CHAP Construction Aberdeen, Stonecraft of Elgin and Peterhead Port Authority. Although it was discontinued as an aid to navigation around 2004 it still features a light, but a much more modern type.

The Peterhead North lighthouse with the modern sector light inside

The South entrance light sits in a rather less frequented area (unless you work with the Port Authority or RNLI). This one isn’t quite as well kept as the North light, but you can still see the resemblance between the two. An image of the light while it was operational can be found here.

Peterhead Harbour South lighthouse

It was an interesting day, discovering a bit more about some of the lights in the area. There was plenty more to come the following day… 🙂

Day trips to Strathy and Stoer

During our recent trip I’d got back into the habit of visiting lighthouses and, as they say, old habits die hard. With it being the first weekend back after the holiday it seemed like a good time to make the most of the sunshine and see some lighthouses at the same time.

Yesterday we visited a friend at Strathy Point lighthouse for the first time in a few months. With it being so close to home, we’d been thinking of dropping by for a while, but wanted to hold off as we knew there would be hoards of people (relatively) descending on the Point once lockdown restrictions were eased.

Strathy Point lighthouse

Joe the Drone had to come along too, of course, and with permission from our friend he got some great shots of the lighthouse.

Strathy Point lighthouse from the sky

I never get bored of Strathy Point, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed paddling in the small loch close to the lighthouse. Anyone who has been before will know that there is a model lighthouse in the loch. Apparently they were made by the lighthouse keepers and, when the light was automated one of the engineers took one of the models with them. At one point one of the residents put a solar powered light on top of the remaining tower, but that obviously didn’t last.

The loch and model lighthouse at Strathy Point

Today looked like it would be cloudy at home, but sunny and warm on the west coast. So it seemed sensible to go somewhere where the weather was good for the day. One of the benefits of living on the north coast, although it was a three hour drive each way. We chose Stoer as I’d not been there since my original tour in 2012, Bob hasn’t been for a while and there was a nice beach nearby for the kids to enjoy.

As we headed west the skies started to clear, the sun came out and so did the cars. As we got closer to the turn off for Achmelvich beach the traffic really picked up. Clearly many people were aware of the incredible beaches the area had to offer, as well as the beautiful mountain views.

Some of the Assynt mountains

We made it over to Stoer and parked up. After a picnic on the hill close to the lighthouse Bob went off with Joe the Drone – who managed to unearth a lone bonxie from nowhere as soon as it took off. After lunch we wandered up to the lighthouse and I handed over parenting duties to Bob while I wandered around the lighthouse.

Stoer Head lighthouse

It’s such a beautiful location and the coastline here is fascinating. It’s hard to appreciate from the land really, although starting the walk along to the Old Man of Stoer as I did on my last visit gives an extra wonderful angle. Last year on our west coast boat trip I was fascinated to see Stoer Head lighthouse from the sea and to get a better idea of the lie of the land around it.

The cove behind Stoer Head lighthouse

This was where Joe the Drone really came into his own as the aerial shots really showed the shape of the land to its full effect. That is what I’m finding I enjoy most about the drone pictures, is being able to see the shape of the land around these lighthouses. Just the little ins and outs and grass slopes leading down to the cliffs, looking like a green blanket has been laid over the top of the land. It’s wonderful to see – and I’m sure Bob will be very grateful to read that I appreciate his new toy!

Stoer Head from above

The lighthouse buildings have now been converted into holiday accommodation with an upstairs and a downstairs flat. It’s not the cheapest of place to stay, but the 360 degree views make it worth it, including (as they did today) over to the hills in Assynt, then Skye and even small sections of the Western Isles too. There was even a sheep nearby watching out over the sea.

The sheep enjoying the view at Stoer Head

The light in the tower has now been replaced with one of the LED “puddings”, so the lamp room looks fairly empty. It’s still such a beautiful complex throughout though and the buildings are looking really well maintained.

Stoer Head from the south

Waving goodbye to the lighthouse, we then stopped off at Stoer Bay, just around the corner from the busy Clachtoll beach, which the kids absolutely loved – to the point where our little girl thanked Bob for “making this beach”!

A couple of great days out. 🙂