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… 🙂

2017 bagging season begins!

Those who have seen some of my earlier posts (or even looked at the list of months that I have added posts on here) will know that , for me, there is such a thing as “lighthouse-bagging season”. Of course it’s possible to enjoy them just as much in winter, but the dark mornings and evenings aren’t conducive to a good bagging day.

Whenever the clocks change I’m glad of the lighter evenings and how much more of a day you get to enjoy the outdoors. So it’s no surprise that a few weekends ago we set off to visit a total of 10 new lighthouses and a revisit to a few others too. Due to a review of lighthouses we conducted over the winter, we were able to find some more to keep us going (more on this and the definition of ‘lighthouse’ in a future post).

Nairn lighthouse

So, that weekend the stretch we covered was on the north east coast between Nairn and Gourdon, just to the south of Inverbervie. Our first stop was Nairn East Pier where I got my feet wet. The design of the pier (which is narrower at the end) means that every now and then a larger wave washes over the top, which is exactly what happened as I approached. It would have happened on the way back too had I not been more prepared for it by then. The lighthouse itself has your typical lighthouse base, but is now topped with a “light on a stick” as I refer to them. I’ve not been able to find out any of the history of the lighthouse itself. The pier that it sits on offers some great views across one of the town’s sandy beaches to the east and towards the Black Isle to the north west.

The two lighthouse at Burghead

Our next stop was the small town of Burghead where the sturdy-based lighthouse sits on the North Pier. The small lamp looks tiny in comparison to the big, white base. I was nicely surprised to see a squat little structure that also meets my requirements right at the end of the pier. It’s essentially just a cupboard with a light in it. It’s a great short stroll along the pier and a sample of the fantastic rock that adorns this coastline can be seen at the entrance.

Lossiemouth south pier lighthouse

There isn’t a huge amount to be said about the lighthouse on Lossiemouth south pier, except that it gets less and less interesting the further up it you look. It sits on a concrete base with a metal base to the main structure. Out of this metal comes an arrangement not dissimilar to an electricity pylon with a balcony on top. On top of that are a few contraptions on a post including the light. There are some lighthouses that just don’t inspire you (even I will admit that) and this is certainly one of them!

Findochty lighthouse

The little gold lighthouse on the end of the breakwater at Findochty had a bit more character to it – partly because of it’s colour. There’s not a lot to it, just a lamp room with a door that sits at the top of a spiral staircase. Having done some research into this, now disused, structure I discovered that it is usually painted gold for the summer months and white for the winter. The minutes of the local Community Council meetings towards the end of last year suggest that the intention   was that it would be painted white, as per this schedule, at some point, but clearly that hadn’t happened, so I suspect it will remain gold for now. I quite like it that colour – it makes it more memorable. We also spotted a dolphin out to sea just before we left, which is always nice.

Portsoy lighthouse

Portsoy is a very pretty little village which sits between the neighbouring villages of Cullen and Whitehills (both of which I visited on day 13 of my original lighthouse tour). While it shares some similarities with the two, Portsoy seems to have its own little charm. The small, white lamp room of the lighthouse sits on top of a private building. It’s possible to get views of the structure from a range of angles though thanks to the cosy little harbour. A beautiful, artistic metal dolphin sits across the other side of the harbour, which adds to the picturesque scene.

Peterhead north.JPG
Peterhead harbour north lighthouse


I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to our final stop for the day, Peterhead. My main memory of it last time was my stay at the campsite and the creepy old men who were also staying there when they only lived a few miles along the road. This time though we were searching the more built-up harbour area for a couple of, what I thought would be, less obvious lighthouses. We were just about to enter the pier that reaches out to the north of the harbour, heading towards the lighthouse near its end when we spotted a lighthouse just at the side of the road. Unlike many of the others we’d seen that day, this looked like a “proper” lighthouse with the stone base and lamp room integrated. After stopping for pictures we continued along the pier and through the various fishing-related buildings to where we were expecting a lighthouse to be. There was, it turned out, nothing to be seen there (apart from a view across to the second lighthouse) and further research has explained the relocation of the north harbour lighthouse. In April 2015 an application was submitted to Aberdeenshire Council to make alterations to the harbour at Peterhead, including the dismantling and re-erection of the lighthouse to its new location. The application states that: “It was proposed the lighthouse would have the masonry moved on a block by block basis after each block had been marked and recorded for position and then erected in the new location.” The application then goes on to say that the lighthouse had already been removed by the point the application was submitted without authorisation. It is noted in the document that the new/proposed location of the lighthouse would make it more accessible for the public, which it certainly is. I would have been quite happy to not have had to go searching around the numerous fishy buildings there and seen fish guts being dumped!

Peterhead south.JPG
Peterhead harbour south lighthouse

The second lighthouse in Peterhead harbour was much easier to find, being located just in front of the Peterhead Port Authority building. It’s basically the twin of the relocated structure, but isn’t looking quite as rejuvenated as it’s partner (presumably they gave the north harbour lighthouse a bit of a clean when the moved it!)

Our weekend of bagging new lighthouse continued, but more on that in the next post. 🙂