uklighthousetour

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

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
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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… 🙂

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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. 🙂

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Taking a closer look at Loch Ryan and Killantringan

It’s the final day of the holiday before the journey home and I couldn’t let it pass without a lighthouse or two. Loch Ryan and Killantringan lighthouses featured in my original tour, but I’d not been back since. I’d learnt that it was possible to get better views of them than I’d previously had and now with Joe the Drone (yes, he has a name and I thought I’d use it as I think he may receive regular mentions in the future) as part of the tools available to us it seemed like a good time to pay them a revisit.

In my previously cautious way (and I am still cautious sometimes) I’d contented myself with the view of Loch Ryan lighthouse from the road. The signs saying “Danger” and “Keep out” were enough to put me off attempting anything more. The lighthouse is at the back of what appears to be an abandoned area of wasteland. Parking at the car park we went down onto the beach and quickly came to the burn (or stream) that crossed the beach, heading down into the sea. It was deeper than it looked in places, but we managed to navigate our way across and I was glad of the extra platform I have on my walking boots, and their waterproof features too!

Loch Ryan lighthouse and the burn

From here it was a short walk along the shoreline to the lighthouse. Although it’s quite a substantial tower there are no associated cottages next to it or within the compound. It is clear that its purpose is limited to navigating ships safely into and out of Loch Ryan by its basic layout and lack of the little decorative details that you find on many other Scottish lights – particularly those designed by Alan Stevenson as this one was.

Loch Ryan lighthouse

It was a nice stroll along the shore though and Joe the Drone managed to capture some great images too. As we left I noticed a sign warning that large waves often occurred on the beach there up to 30 minutes after a ferry had passed. Luckily we didn’t need to worry about that!

Loch Ryan lighthouse

The revisit to Killantringan was partially inspired by the fact that Bob hadn’t been there before and also that my lighthouse accomplice John had sent a picture of it taken from an entirely different angle than I’d seen it from before, one from which you could see the old foghorn which I hadn’t realised was there before. When I’d been there previously it was a matter of driving up, parking, walking up to the lighthouse, taking some pictures and then going back to the car. There is no way to get around the outside of the wall so there seemed nowhere else to go.

Killantringan lighthouse in the mist

As we approached the lighthouse a thick sea mist had appeared and it was looking unlikely that Joe the Drone would get a spin at this one. I quickly took a few pictures and we retreated to the car park to assess the situation. Thankfully the mist cleared and we set off with Joe flying above our heads. While Bob was working with Joe I set off along the coastal path, part of the Southern Upland Way, to get the panoramic view of the lighthouse, foghorn and the fantastic cliffs surrounding them.

Killantringan lighthouse with the foghorn coming into view

A benefit of visiting at low tide as we did was that the remains of the bow of MV Craigantlet could be seen. The cargo ship was en route from Belfast to Liverpool when it was wrecked in February 1982 and thankfully the crew were saved after the keeper at Killantringan lighthouse raised the alarm.

Killantringan foghorn and lighthouse with the bow of the MV Craigantlet visible

Funnily enough, as the foghorn really started to come into view I heard the deep boom of a ship’s foghorn out to sea, an indication that it was still foggy out there at sea. It seemed like perfect timing and I enjoyed the views for a little longer before heading back to the car, not quite in time to miss the rain though! Joe had also done well and captured some nice shots, particularly closer in on the foghorn.

Killantringan lighthouse and foghorn from the sky

It was great to get back to these two and really explore their surrounding areas a bit more. It’s so easy to not make the most of these places when you are on a time limit with plenty more still to go on your list. It was good to be able to spend more time there without these constraints.

These lighthouses are the final two of this holiday. It’s been a long wait for them, but completely worth it. I’ve spent time with treasured family and friends, laughed a lot, got plenty of fresh air and exercise, and been to places I will never forget. 🙂

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A Bute-iful day!

It’s not often I use a pun in the titles of these posts, but it was too good an opportunity to miss today. It really has been a beautiful day and a good portion of our lighthouse antics took place on the Isle of Bute.

I have been aware of Rubh’an Eun lighthouse on the southern point of Bute for a long time and knew it involved a walk. It wasn’t one I was desperate to get to, but with it being a “proper” little lighthouse of a style I am rather partial to it did hold a fair amount of appeal. I’d heard from my friend John that the path to the lighthouse was a little narrow in places, that he’d seen a cow pat and then almost fallen into a gully. It all sounded a little dramatic and so Bob and I decided to invite him along for round two in the hope that it would make for a more enjoyable and less frightening day!

We had an early start this morning to make sure we could get across to Bute before the ferries got busy. The sun was shining and the sea was so calm that we all wished we were going out on a smaller boat hopping from one island to another. The journey to Kilchattan Bay, the starting point for the walk, was picturesque and when we arrived we began to realise that this wasn’t another one of our remote walks during which we would see no one else.

One of many views from the walk, with Little Cumbrae in the distance

Maybe it was the weather, but the walk was stunning and it was great to take in the surrounding views especially over towards Little Cumbrae. The walk makes up part of the West Island Way and is really varied with easy grassy sections, parts where you need to navigate around or over rocks, some slightly overgrown foliage and muddy stretches especially after the recent period of heavy rain.

One of the interesting natural features on the walk

For most of the walk John had been up front, but as we rounded a corner he hung back and let me go first in order to let me see the lighthouse without others in the way. That first view you get of the lighthouse is beautiful – or it certainly was today anyway. The tower must have undergone a fairly recent makeover as it was nicely painted with the only remnants of its previous rust colour appearing near the very bottom of the tower. John said it was a vast improvement on his first visit when it looked in a poor state and the door was open.

Rubh’an Eun lighthouse comes into view

There were two people near the lighthouse as we approached, but thankfully they wandered off as we approached leaving us with plenty of time to explore before we were disturbed again. It really is a wonderful landscape and one which can only really be described to a certain degree by pictures so here are a few angles – including one from Bob’s drone which buzzed around while we explored.

Rubh’an Eun lighthouse

I won’t be forgetting this visit in a hurry and I’d be more than happy to go back again in future. It well and truly gets my seal of approval and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a good walk on a nice path with a hint of being in the middle of nowhere, but not too remote.

One of Bob’s aerial images of Rubh’an Eun lighthouse

Leaving behind this impressive island we made for Ravenrock Point for the second day in a row. We wanted John to see the structure here and give his opinion on whether it was worthy of lighthouse status. I was pleased to have gone back as yesterday I’d been so focussed on the lighthouse that I’d not noticed the nice little cove and beach area just to the north of it. I’ve included a picture of the cove here, but one of the lighthouse can be found in yesterday’s post.

The cove at Ravenrock Point

Having seen Toward lighthouse from various angles and numerous times over the past week it was time to finally pay it a visit. Bob hadn’t been to this one before which was even more reason to go. I really like this tower and I enjoyed seeing it the first time on my 2012 lighthouse tour. It was very interesting to be back there today, eight years later, with the extra knowledge and experience I have gained. I am still fond of it and imagine it is a great little place to live.

Toward lighthouse and foghorn

I paid more attention to the foghorn and its church-like building today than I ever had before. There’s not much to the actual horn itself so the building seems quite oversized – unless, of course, it was used for something else. As we wandered around on the rocks Bob spotted the old jetty that would have been used for servicing the lighthouse.

An aerial view at Toward

Heading north from Toward we had some time to kill before the fish and chip shop in Dunoon opened so we stopped in a small lay-by off of the main road to see the Perch beacon, which we had spotted from the boat last weekend. Bob had intended to send the drone out to get some closer images of the beacon, but the local oystercatchers kicked up a fuss and so that effort was abandoned. A little further up the road we glanced at the beacon on The Gantocks.

A poor quality image of Perch beacon was the best I could get

Arriving back just in time for fish and chips from Anselmo’s – which quite deservedly has great reviews – we made our way to the seafront and ended the day enjoying our dinner from a bench with views across the water to Cloch lighthouse. It’s days like this that you feel very lucky to be able to experience these places and to do so alongside family and friends makes it extra special. 🙂

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Revisiting the Lady and the not so Little Cumbrae

Whilst it’s true that I do spend a lot of my lighthouse time trying to get to those I’ve not seen before it is always nice to be able to say “yes!” to an opportunity for a revisit, especially if it is revisiting two places that I enjoyed so much the first time around: Lady Isle and Little Cumbrae.

My lighthouse accomplice, John, had been very keen to get to Lady Isle to see its wonderfully unique lighthouse for a long time and had organised a trip in May, which of course had to be postponed. He’d spoken to the boatman at the weekend who had said that Monday (today) was looking suitable. I told John that I would be happy to go along if there was space with boat companies limiting numbers due to social distancing. Fortunately I was given the thumbs up and this morning we departed Fairlie on board Black Magic, an open RIB operated by C&C Marine. This was the boat that I’d previously visited Lady Isle on so we knew he had been there before and could get us onto the island as long as conditions allowed. Along for the ride too were Steve and Lianne who had driven for 5 hours to make it up just for this boat trip. They are fantastic company and such a lovely couple.

Lady Isle with its daymark and lighthouse

It took us about 90 minutes to reach Lady Isle and was a pretty comfortable journey – or at least it was for Lianne and I who sat on the nice comfy seat while the men bounced about a lot on the sides of the boat. As we approached the island the skipper had a look around at the area we’d landed at previously, but feeling it was just too bumpy we pulled back and moved in closer to the day mark on the east of the island. This was a good area to slide down on to the rocks without getting wet feet. Thankfully it hadn’t rained for a while so the rocks were nice and dry for walking over. What wasn’t so easy to walk over was the grass on the island itself, which was particularly long but nothing compared to what was to come later that day!

Lady Isle lighthouse

Lady Isle lighthouse really is very special and, as Lianne pointed out, it’s nice to have the island to yourself. I find that’s often one of the wonderful things about visiting these lights on islands that require a chartered boat. For the period you are there it almost feels like its your own little space. While we were there I sent a picture over to Bob of the island and it turned out the family were down at the seafront in Troon and spotted our boat approaching the island.

Lady Isle lighthouse with its external spiral staircase

There was genuine excitement amongst the group at managing to get there and land and I was pleased for John as, not only was it his final lighthouse in the area, but he had been very worried about whether or not we would make it and if it would be a wasted trip for Steve and Lianne. It certainly wasn’t and we all eventually returned to the boat. Getting back on the boat for Lianne and I with our short legs was rather amusing, but we managed it with a lot of help from the others!

One island simply wasn’t enough though and our second stop for the day was Little Cumbrae, which was a new island for Steve and Lianne. We weren’t sure, due to the wind direction, whether we would be able to land at the pier on the west side of the island, closest to two of the lighthouses, but the crew managed to get us in and it was lovely to follow the old tracks and steps up to the two more modern lighthouses.

Little Cumbrae lighthouse taken from the steps up from the pier

Cumbrae Elbow is the active light that now operates on the island and presumably it works quite nicely alongside Rubh’an Eun on Bute to guide vessels through the channel between the two islands. Next to this light is the old engine room for the foghorn which still contains the machinery, although it’s not looking anywhere near its best. I usually love the smell of these rooms, but with broken windows and open doors the smells seems to have gone in this one.

Cumbrae Elbow lighthouse

Exploring the old keepers’ cottages for the older lighthouse was again rather sad as the buildings have so much potential and could make incredible homes. There are signs that some improvements were made, but it is still in a bad way.

Inside the old foghorn engine room

Having both been to the island before, John and I knew there was a way to get into the tower and we thought this was through one of the cottages, but it became clear that it wasn’t and we eventually found the entrance around the side. One benefit of not remembering where we needed to go though was that John was able to show us a really nice carving of a lighthouse above one of the windows on the outside of the building. It seemed like such a nice little touch, but a bit odd that it was above a window when normally these things would be over doors.

Little Cumbrae lighthouse

After eventually finding the entrance to the tower (and Steve who had already happened upon it) we set off up the tower. Not much had changed up there, but the views were still fantastic and it was just nice to be there again and enjoy the feeling of being at the top of a lighthouse.

With what looked to be a patch of rain approaching we decided to retreat to one of the cottages to eat lunch. We were going to head straight off from the lighthouse after lunch, but another building caught our attention and so we spent some more time exploring that and, in trying to establish what was at the far end of the building, John managed to find the old foghorn lying in the long grass!

The old Little Cumbrae foghorn

Realising that we were running short on time for making it across the island we set off up the hill, which seemed steeper than I remember it being last time. The path on the approach to the hill was very overgrown in places, but it was still clear enough that we could find our way through. We’d already decided that we wouldn’t attempt to reach the remains of the oldest of the three lighthouses on Little Cumbrae which is close to the highest point on the island. The grass and ferns were already becoming difficult enough to get through to even consider battling our way through even less tamed terrain. We could see it from the path though.

The old lighthouse on the summit of Little Cumbrae

In most places the path was relatively obvious, but a couple of times we were met with what seemed to be a dead end, but Steve and John managed to guide us through. Some of the ferns were ridiculously long with some reaching up higher than mine and Lianne’s heads. It seemed an almost unrecognisable place compared to my last visit and the path seemed to go on for such a long time, leading at least two of us to say that Little Cumbrae wasn’t so little after all.

We were all very pleased when we spotted the top of the castle on the little tidal island near the pier that we were aiming for. The boatmen were there waiting for our arrival – thankfully only 5 minutes after the agreed time – and a couple of other men there who had camped on the island overnight had said they’d been across the island and attempted to resurrect the path a bit. During the recent Covid-19 lockdown there have obviously been fewer people visiting the island and stomping down the path and so nature has started to reclaim the island again.

The castle on the small tidal island off of Little Cumbrae

Once back on the boat it was a short little journey back across to Fairlie. It was an excellent day and a real pleasure to return to both of these islands. The company was great and the weather did hold out for us with the rain only starting as we were heading back to the marina. As Steve said a few times today while we were out – and I often say it on this blog – this type of day is what it’s all about. 🙂

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Pladda at last

After the success of yesterday’s adventure on Loch Long, the crew at Sea Clyde had reserved the best weather day this weekend for getting to the island of Pladda – and what a day it was!

We set off from Largs mid-morning – the fabulous four: Bob, John, Seumas and I – with skipper Dan and were pleased to hear that conditions we’re looking great for landing on the island, but there was a fair amount to see from the boat even before we got there.

After an unsuccessful attempt to see Kylie, the resident dolphin, we continued on our way towards Little Cumbrae. Hugging the coastline as we went to protect us from any swell, we sailed down the west side of the island, taking in the views of the two lighthouses (and of course the old lighthouse on the approach) while at the same time occasionally glimpsing across to Bute where Rubh’ an Eun lighthouse could be seen from a greater distance. This felt like a proper return to the islands, even if we were just bypassing them.

The old and modern lighthouses on Little Cumbrae

Onwards towards Arran we went and as we approached the small stretch of water between Arran and Holy Isle the skipper pointed out a submarine in the water ahead of us. Now I know I was there for the lighthouses, but to see a submarine in real life was very exciting. Needless to say Seumas was delighted too! There are restrictions on how close you can sail to these monstrous vessels, so it wasn’t like sailing straight past it at close range, but it was still great to see.

It wasn’t long until we were sailing down the west side of Holy Isle and, of course, there was the Holy Isle Inner lighthouse ahead of us. This little tower is in such a great location and seeing it reflected in the water with the land rising to the highest point of the island behind it was just beautiful. That really is the best angle to see this one from.

Holy Isle Inner lighthouse

Back out into the sea again and rounding a corner I heard the cry “lighthouse” from the back of the boat – Seumas has really taken to the role of lighthouse spotter. There ahead of us was Pladda with the fantastic two towers basking in the lovely sunshine.

An aerial view of Pladda

It’s always a pleasure to land onto a nice jetty rather than rock hopping. It feels a little like luxury. The jetty is actually looking a little worse for wear now with large cracks running down it. Still it held together under our combined weight and that’s the most important thing.

Arriving on Pladda

From the jetty it was a short uphill walk to the level grassy section of the island following a good, clear path which took us all the way to the lighthouse. The double towers are absolutely fantastic and, although the low light is no longer in operation it is still very well maintained on the outside.

One thing about Pladda lighthouse is that it’s not the easiest one to take a picture of, particularly if you want both towers in the same shot without one looking like it’s leaning toward the other. You can get some rather dramatic views from the courtyard though.

The two towers on Pladda and the old foghorn air compressors

While Bob was flying his drone and capturing various aerial views, the rest of us explored around the old foghorn and took a number of pictures of the foghorn looking out towards the beautiful lump that is Ailsa Craig.

Looking out towards Ailsa Craig from the Pladda foghorn

In our next attempt to get a good view of the two towers I suggested the best area might be down near the rocks to which John replied that it would, but it would be a bit of a “jaump” (which I believe is a combination of “jump” and “jaunt”!?) He was right, although I wouldn’t have jumped it! There was another spot a bit closer next to the solar panels that I thought could be a good angle so we made our way around there, wading through the thick grass. This was a slightly better viewpoint, but still not quite right. John did find a ladder though that went down to the lower level. He went down, but decided not to walk too far as the birds were getting a bit stressed.

The Pladda towers, taken from the solar panels

We did a quick selfie using the drone (a “dronie” I believe it is called) and then explored the old gardens a bit. It was here that we discovered the best angle for getting both towers in the one picture and although it did mean upsetting a few birds we tried not to disturb them too much.

The two towers on Pladda seen from the garden

We trekked across the long grass towards the highest point on the island, which gave some excellent views towards the lighthouse (minus the little tower, which is obscured at that angle) with Ailsa Craig sitting quietly in the middle of the sea in the distance.

The view from the highest point on Pladda

It was then time to head back to the boat where we found Bob and Seumas playing on a small section of rocky beach. Seumas had built a lighthouse in the water and was throwing rocks (or asteroids) into the water surrounding it. That was his favourite part of the day!

Hopping back on the boat we took a quick spin around to see the lighthouses and foghorn from the sea, which again gave another interesting angle.

Pladda lighthouse towers and foghorn from the sea

Then the return journey began. This time we sailed up the east side of Holy Isle to get a nice view of the Pillar Rock lighthouse, which lived up to my expectations in terms of views. The steep slopes behind it looked a little frightening and Bob pointing out one of the crevasses up near the high point added to this.

Holy Isle Pillar Rock lighthouse

There was still no sign of Kylie the dolphin on the way back, but arriving back in Largs I think we all agreed that it had been a very successful and enjoyable day out. Pladda has most certainly moved up a number of places in my favourite lighthouses list. It’s such a great island with its unique two tower arrangement. Days like this really is what it’s all about. 🙂

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A spin up Loch Long

After the visits to Hestan island and some of the lights on the Rhins of Galloway last weekend, we had a great week in Dumfries and Galloway, including a fishing trip during which my son and I both caught our first fish. We also spent yesterday afternoon on the beach at Southerness. The location, of course, was based on there being a lighthouse there. I’m not sure I’ve spent quite so long at one lighthouse before as we did yesterday, but it was great to see it with the tide out as the previous visit had been at high tide.

Southerness lighthouse

Bob took the opportunity to play with his drone again and got some great images of the lighthouse from above.

Southerness lighthouse from above

We are now based over in Troon, staying with Bob’s mum. There have always been a few tricky lighthouses to get to in the area and so, with childcare on hand, we headed out today from Largs with Sea Clyde. We took along our little boy, Seumas, and my lighthouse friend John. Our destination for today was Loch Long, with a couple of others thrown in on the way there and back.

Regardless of how many times you see a lighthouse from land it is always different seeing it from the sea. After all they were made to be seen from the sea as John pointed out. On the way out today we sailed close to Cloch lighthouse and stopped for a while for some pictures. It looked a popular spot for fishing and it was good to see the foghorn in more detail too as the view is limited from the road. 

Cloch lighthouse

Bob had his first attempt at launching the drone from a boat and landing it back down, which scary and amusing in equal measure. After a slightly stressful first attempt at taking off he then got on fine. Landing it back on the boat was very entertaining with the drone ending up giving John’s arm a firm hug!

An aerial view of Cloch lighthouse

Our next light was Ravenrock Point on the west bank of Loch Long. Due to social distancing guidance, Sea Clyde weren’t able to take along a dinghy to help with landings so we didn’t expect to be able to land at any of the lights today. The crew, John and Dan, took a look at how deep the water was around the lighthouse, but it wasn’t possible for us to land there. However it’s not too bad as this one is next to the road anyway so can be visited by land at another time. It looks like an interesting one to get a closer view of.

Ravenrock Point lighthouse

Further up the loch we stopped at Carraig nan Ron, or Dog Rock, and the water was nice and deep around this small rock which allowed them to get the boat right up to it. It was also dry and covered in barnacles so perfect for stepping onto. Seumas stayed safely in the boat with his camera, taking pictures of us as we visited the light. It was great to be back out and stepping onto these little islands again. There wasn’t much to the lighthouse, just a white column with the light sticking up from the top, but it had a little door and the rock was big enough to get some nice angles on it.

Carraig nan Ron (Dog Rock) lighthouse

We’d sailed past Coulport where nuclear warheads are stored and loaded onto submarines. As we sailed away from Dog Rock, John pointed out that from one particular angle the rock and lighthouse looked a little like a submarine. On the way back down the loch later in the trip we noticed the rock could be accessed from the mainland at low tide – although I wouldn’t want to advise anyone to get to it that way through the huge expanse of forest!

Carraig nan Ron in Loch Long

Our final disembarkation for this trip was Cnap Point, which turned out to be rather an adventure in itself. The easiest place to land was slightly to the south of the lighthouse which meant finding a route through the foliage and undergrowth to get the the lighthouse. Seumas stayed on the boat again this time while the three of us went ashore. Once we were past the rocks we found ourselves having, as I called it, “a nice forest walk”. It’s fair to say that Argyll Forest Park is very much a forest. Bob went off ahead to find a suitable route. At one point we lost track of where he had gone and John suggested we head down towards the coast to assess the route that way rather than continuing through the forest. It turned out to be a very good move as we heard Bob shout out a few times closer to the lighthouse. It turned out he’d walked into a wasp nest on the final approach to the lighthouse and had a battle with the wasps. Avoiding the same fate, John and I took the coastal route and arrived safely at the tower. It’s the same type of structure as Dog Rock, but with even better views around it. This light is the front in a range setup and the rear light – a framework tower with brightly coloured panels – was easy enough to see from a short distance.

Cnap Point lighthouse

The return walk was slightly less dramatic, thankfully, and once back on the boat we sailed further around to see both range lights from the sea. There aren’t many lighthouses you can see surrounded by trees and Argyll is fairly unique in that way, along with the Glenelg area in the Highlands.

The Cnap Point front and rear range lights

On the way back to Largs we passed The Gantocks and The Perch beacons in the Firth of Clyde. Although they are not officially lighthouses in my book, they are still interesting structures.

The Gantocks beacon

Our final lighthouse of the day was Toward Point. I’d only seen this one once previously from the land and so it was good to see it from the sea, even if John did refer to the foghorn as looking like a car exhaust. The foghorn building itself is quite interesting. Although it lacks the majesty of many of the bigger towers, it’s still a nice one.

Toward Point lighthouse

So that was my first boat trip of the year, which is strange to say in August. Normally by now most of my boat trips would have been and gone, but it’s certainly good to be back on the sea again. 🙂

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A paddle to Hestan Island

This post feels like it’s been such a long time coming. After months of no new lighthouses, no travelling and cancelled trips today was the day I’d been waiting for.

We had originally booked 10 days in Shetland over this period, but with the ferry journeys cancelled for us we decided to chance it and book a week’s stay at a cottage near Lockerbie with a good cancellation policy. Thankfully restrictions were lifted enough to enable the trip to happen.

One of the key lighthouses I wanted to get to while in Dumfries and Galloway was on Hestan Island. Hestan Island is accessible at low tide from Almorness Point and so, in preparation for the trip, I looked at the days with the lowest tide during our stay in the area, which happened to be the first morning when it would be 0.93 metres at 10.18am. This meant an early start, meeting at 8.15am to allow us to begin our walk, returning from the island at the lowest tide.

The forecast was looking grim to say the least with heavy rain on the agenda, but we must always continue when the opportunity is there. The opportunity was even more appealing as we were to be joined by my wonderful lighthouse partner in crime, John, and a couple of lighthouse friends who share our enjoyment of islands and lighthouse, Steve and Lianne. There was no way this could be missed.

As we approached Palnackie, just to the north of Almorness Point the rain stopped and the cloud began to look like it was clearing. We parked up, met the others and all set off (with my dad along too) in our waterproofs. It turned out the waterproofs weren’t needed as the grey clouds continued to clear and the sun and blue sky even came out at a few points.

Part of the first section of the track

The walk to the sea was great. A clear track all the way and interesting enough to make it feel like it wasn’t onerous. It became muddier towards the end, evidence of the recent heavy rainfall.

Our first view of the lighthouse, which can just about be seen in the far distance

We arrived at the coast, a nice beach, and caught our first glimpse of the lighthouse in the distance. Changing into our wellies, applying Skin So Soft to put the flies off and removing a layer of clothing, we then set off from the beach across the, sometimes sticky, sand to reach the “wet” section. I say the wet section as it is never fully clear of water.

Enjoying time with friends

Thankfully Bob had visited last year and knew the best place to cross the water. After giving us instructions to walk sideways, facing the current, if we felt it was getting too strong we set off. Never before have I paddled in water that deep to see a lighthouse, but it was great fun. The water level was higher than we had expected, although we crossed around 45 minutes before low tide. We put this down to the amount of rain we’d had overnight and that morning. The pebble section beyond it was harder to walk on, but we were rewarded with some fantastic views of the island ahead of us.

Paddling to the island

There is a holiday home on the island and the owners were clearly there as their dog jumped around barking in welcome at us. Once on the island we set off to the right of the house and up toward the high point. I’m not really a fan of walking uphill and John echoed my thoughts when he said “Is he [Bob] taking us to the high point?” He was, but it turned out that was the most direct route to the lighthouse. I must also give him extra credit as the views from the top were stunning, especially down towards the lighthouse and then back across the way we had come.

Looking back from the island

Of course, after we’d reached the highest point we then had to go back down the other side and, throwing our hoods up to avoid the circling gulls doing their business on our hair, we set off straight for the lighthouse.

The rather grubby lighthouse

The lighthouse is a flat-pack (or IKEA) style, but what is worthy of note is that it is a three tier flat-pack and these are fairly rare – the only others that we could remember between us being on Hoo Stack and Shillay in the Monach Isles. This one is not pretty-looking and is quite dirty. As we approached we spotted the lack of a door. It would have been rude not to have stepped inside and so we did. The hatch up to the next level of the tower was sadly padlocked so we had to settle for viewing the ground floor level only, but we had made it and all thoroughly enjoyed the walk there. I think the lack of lighthouse visits in recent months added to this enjoyment and we were all relieved that we could be back out there and doing something we love.

Hestan Island lighthouse

I still strongly feel, and I said this today, that I often enjoy the journey getting to these flat-pack lighthouses more than I do the bigger lights. Their remote and challenging locations often make for some much more memorable moments, especially compared to driving to a car park next to a lighthouse wall and wandering around for a while.

Being up against the tide meant we couldn’t stay long so we began our return journey. We were all expecting the tide to have dropped further on the way back, but there appeared to be little change apart from the final section where we now had to move fast to avoid getting stuck in the sand.

Celebrating with Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers for a moment we enjoyed the views back to the island before continuing our walk back.

Looking back towards the island

These few hours going to and from Hestan Island were fantastic and sharing it with some brilliant friends and family made for a very special occasion. I will remember it for a long time to come and it was a perfect way to start a rather late bagging season this year. 🙂

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The Duncansby foghorn returns

Last weekend I had a phone call from a friend on the North Coast to say that he was at John O’Groats and a foghorn had just been delivered there. It seemed like a rather unusual event and yesterday he called again with more information. We had already planned to head over there today anyway, but this gave me a little more to work with during the visit.

En route we called in at Dunnet Head lighthouse. We arrived just after 10am and I was surprised to see the light still on, but I was glad it was. Although it no longer houses the original lens, I watched the lights rotating for a little longer than I normally would, knowing that at some point in the near future it will be replaced.

dunnet head

Dunnet Head lighthouse at 10am – with the light still on

 

I also wanted to make the most of being in the lighthouse complex. It’s not open to the public so often and we have been speaking to the current owner on a number of occasions in recent months so we have been able to take a look around the cottages and other buildings too. He is selling the cottages and engine room and had offered me a lovely picture of Bressay lighthouse in Shetland, which I’d recognised and liked when we had first looked around. It’s a beautiful painting. He’d also thrown in a picture of some Norwegian lighthouses too.

bressay painting

The oil painting of Bressay lighthouse

Onwards we went to John O’Groats, but of course we couldn’t go there without a quick visit to Duncansby Head itself. It was cold and windy, as it always is there, but the beautiful views are always worth it.

duncansby lighthouse

Duncansby Head lighthouse

This time it was even better as the two towers on Muckle Skerry, the largest of the Pentland Skerries, were visible and anchored just off of the island was the Northern Lighthouse Board’s maintenance vessel Pharos. Stroma lighthouse was also visible from here.

pharos and pentland skerries

Not the greatest picture by any means, but good enough to make out the Pharos and the two towers on Muckle Skerry – hopefully

John O’Groats beckoned and, as expected, there was the foghorn under the arch next to the ice cream shop (which was closed). I’d expected it to be red like the others I’d seen, but it wasn’t. This was explained a little later on in the day. It looks like it needs a fair amount of work, and this is exactly what it is getting. We met the friend who told me about it in the local cafe and afterwards I stopped off at Seaview Hotel at John O’Groats to speak to the man behind the whole project.

foghorn

The old Duncansby Head foghorn

So here is the story behind the foghorn since it was removed. Back in the early 2000s (if the man at the hotel remembers correctly), the Northern Lighthouse Board had the old keepers’ accommodation at the lighthouse demolished as well as the foghorn. Everything was destined for landfill, but members of the community clearly spoke nicely to the demolition guys and it was agreed that the foghorn itself would be left and has since been living on the land of one of the local residents. While it was there it was damaged by a digger and a slightly rough job was made of welding the pieces back on. What this meant was that when the work began on it recently to remove the paint and clean it up, these pieces fell off and can now be seen laying inside the horn. They will be welded back on properly in due course.

inside foghorn

Looking inside the foghorn

The foghorn has been placed in its current location to enable it to be re-painted without being too exposed if it rains. It was quite amusing to see the interest it generates. While we were there the children were enjoying booming into it with their best foghorn sounds. As we headed back to the car after lunch another family were doing the same – it was the dad who started it in their case too!

foghorn and sign

The foghorn’s current home

There are now big plans in John O’Groats, led by the John O’Groats Development Trust, to improve an area behind the First and Last House, which marks the beginning of a walk along the coast to Duncansby Head. The foghorn was included in the plans for this area along with a memorial to those who lost their lives in two shipping disasters in the area. The first is the trawler George Robb which was lost with all 12 of its crew in December 1959. Also lost during this incident was a land-based coastguard officer who died on the way to the scene. The second wreck to be remembered is the Cyprus-registered cargo ship, Cemfjord, which sank in the Pentland Firth in January 2015 with the loss of eight lives. The memorial will feature the names of all of those who lost their lives in these tragedies and their names will be displayed facing the direction in which the ships went down. It sounds like it will be a very touching way of remembering these 21 men who came to such a terrible end in the area.

There will be a memorial event for those lost on the George Robb on 6th December this year at Duncansby Head lighthouse, exactly 60 years to the day since the boat went down. I plan to go along to this event (which is at 2pm if anyone who is interested reads this) and will hopefully also meet up with Ian, my lighthouse keeper friend, who served at Duncansby back in the 80s. He and his family were very much a part of the community when they lived there and the man I spoke to this afternoon remembers him well. It will be nice to see Ian back with that community.

Once restored, the foghorn will be accompanied by an interpretive panel, which will explain where the foghorn came from, how it worked and its history. Interestingly, the father of the man I spoke to this afternoon has recordings of the foghorns at Duncansby, Stroma and Pentland Skerries and the idea of running some power to the area has been suggested so that buttons can be installed on the base of the foghorn to allow people to hear what the horns sounded like. It sounds like a wonderful idea to me and I hope it happens. They hope to have the area tidied up and the memorial and foghorn installed by Easter next year.

There is plenty more in the pipeline for John O’Groats too including: the improvement of the coastal path to Duncansby Head in general; the renovation of an old nearby mill to accommodate a hub for the local community to meet and socialise; a children’s play park; and, eventually, a golf course.

It’s all rather exciting and I look forward to seeing it all coming together. It’s fantastic to see a community really embracing and encouraging both their heritage and the number of tourists who visit the area. It’s very refreshing when so many people are keen to complain these days about increased tourism. 🙂

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