Taking a break from holidays on the west coast of Scotland, we decided to have a family holiday with my parents in the Scottish Borders this time. I gave my son the choice of whether we stayed in a house on a farm or in lighthouse cottages. Thankfully he gave the right answer and so St Abbs it was.
A few hours after arriving on Friday evening, there was a beautiful sunset, which surprised me as I’d not quite got my bearings and it appeared to me that the sun was setting in the north.
Of course I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see St Abbs Lighthouse flashing. The lens has now been covered by a big sheet here and the light source is now one of the LED “puddings”. So sadly no sweeping beam, but still a joy to see.
I took a closer look at the lighthouse and old foghorn yesterday in the glorious sunshine. The tiny tower was great to see close up and it’s always nice to see a foghorn still in situ. St Abbs has the benefit of being relatively close to Edinburgh, where the Northern Lighthouse Board has their head office, and this proximity without the need for a boat means the station has often been used in the past for testing new practices and technology.
What really makes St Abbs so special is the incredible coastline. I remembered it very fondly from my first visit back in 2012 when it was the first Scottish lighthouse I visited on my tour. That day was also particularly sunny and the tall cliffs were certainly a good introduction to Scotland’s coastal scenery.
I was also delighted to find yesterday morning that Barns Ness Lighthouse is visible from St Abbs too and out of the cottage window last night I spotted the flashing of the lighthouse on the Isle of May. The light from the wonderful tower on the Isle of May is very powerful and I enjoyed seeing just how bright it was from Arbroath in recent years. Seeing it from so far south though was excellent. Bass Rock is visible from here too, but the light is perhaps not strong enough to reach St Abbs.
This afternoon I’ve done plenty more exploring around the area. The aim was to check out the old jetty at Pettico Wick Harbour just down the road, which was reportedly built for landing supplies for the lighthouse. However, the coastal paths were a bit distracting. There’s only one way to describe the views and that is in pictures so here are a few.
Returning to the road, the view across Mire Loch, which I remembered so well from the first visit, was stunning. The loch is manmade, created around 1900 for leisure purposes.
There was a surprisingly good little path down to the old jetty. It quickly deteriorated though after rock falls in the area and you can clearly see that rocks underneath the jetty have been washed away. We passed a few warning signs on the way there. It’s a great little cove and the rock formations on the east side were very impressive.
Lured by the loch I decided we should take the loch side route back. This was an interesting little path, overgrown in some places and open in others, and even a small tree-lined stretch at one point.
At the end of the loch the path meets the main walking route to the lighthouse. Following this track, we took one last detour for a closer look at the old walled garden used by the lighthouse keepers and their families. It is all very overgrown now, but it’s a huge area in a sheltered spot.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the coming days bring here and whether it does actually ever rain at St Abbs! 🙂
There are the odd occasions when you spend some time in a place and plans just don’t work out as you’d hoped. Usually, in the case of visiting island lighthouses, this is due to the weather. This was certainly the case over the past week which we spent in South Uist.
The Western Isles islands of Lewis and Harris hold a special place in my heart, but the shores of the chain of islands comprising of North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay plus a multitude of smaller islands around them, were fairly unexplored. The area doesn’t boast the volume of lighthouses that the islands to the north do and most that can be found there I had visited last year, including Ushenish, Weavers Point and Gasay. There was one that remained though, Calvay. I’d seen it from the ferry last year as we left Lochboisdale, but seeing it from the ferry just wasn’t close enough and so it was part of the agenda for the week just gone.
As the week approached it was clear that the weather wasn’t got to play ball. With strong winds and wet weather forecast, it looked like we’d be lucky to get out on a boat trip at all. I was in regular contact with David from Uist Sea Tours and it only took a couple of days to realise that Friday was really going to be the only day a trip would be possible. It was no big problem as we occupied ourselves as tourists on the islands with the kids and met up with friends who had joined us for the week.
As Friday approached we got the final confirmation from David that we were good to go. The plan was to stick to Lochboisdale area and then creep up the east coast a little way and, if conditions allowed, to sail down to the island of Gighay to the south west of Eriskay. With the kids in tow it was decided that I would join for the beginning of the trip only, taking the kids along for a short ride out to Calvay and back.
There was still some swell about, remnants of a few days of strong winds, and so landing on the north side of the island looked like it might be a bit tricky. Although it would land us further from the lighthouse, we headed around to the south side where it seemed nice and calm. For this first venture onto the island (the others returned later) it was just my lighthouse pal John and I.
Landing on seaweed is never the nicest way to set a first foot on an island, but we managed it with some assistance from David. There aren’t many occasions when you hear someone say ‘Grab any part of me you need to’! Then it was making our way across the wet and dry rocks before we hit the heather. There are good things about heather, it’s really grippy underfoot, but it’s also very hard work to walk through. You can never really see where you are stepping and on occasionally there will be a hole hidden underneath and I ended up with a foot in a hole a few times, which would end with me having a ‘quick sit down’ two or three times.
John did a great job of navigating, heading off ahead and then advised as to whether we should continue on that route or head for a slightly easier looking track. We find a nice grassy route at one point, but then lost the benefit of the ground being fairly dry underfoot. The distance from the landing point to the lighthouse was relatively short, but it wasn’t easy going. We arrived to some lovely views across the entrance to Lochboisdale waters. The island is really best known for its castle (which is on a different tidal section of the island) and was one of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hiding places. The full story of his escapes on and around Calvay can be found here.
The existing lighthouse here was installed in 1985 and, along with its twin light on Gasay, was the first of the second generation of this type (a friend of mine who was on the trip refers to them as Stefansons – a combination of a link to the Stevenson lighthouse engineers, and the flat-pack style of the towers. The original ‘Stefanson’ was on Eilean nan Gabhar near Jura, but it has since been replaced making these two the oldest still in existence.
The structure is the Northern Lighthouse Board’s standard framework tower with white cladding – known as SPLATS (solar powered lattice aluminium tower). It is slightly different though in that it has no cladding on the ground level and a section on the first floor that is also unclad, on the landward side. These white cladding panels work wonders as daymarks and have certainly helped me to spot many a flat-pack lighthouse in the past.
The first lighthouse on Calvay was built in 1891 to a design of David A Stevenson with the assistance of his brother Charles. The light was installed following a request from the West Highland Commission that more aids to navigation be built to support trade in the area. The purpose of the lighthouse on Calvay specifically was to mark the entrance to Lochboisdale. Nothing there at present resembles the style of lighthouse he often designed, although he didn’t stick to the a standard design with examples of more unusual styles being Dunollie and Kyle Rhea lighthouses.
While there we noticed an old concrete pillar laying on its side on the ground in front of the light. I have since asked the boatman what purpose this served and whether it was somehow related to the stone platform just to the west of the light (which is shown as a shed here). It may well be that this pillar was part of the former lighthouse. He is going to look into it, but if any readers have further information about this then do get in touch here.
Keen not to hold everyone up for too long at the start of the day, we began the slow walk back to the pick-up point, which was easier than the drop-off, but still seaweed-covered. I think that was unavoidable really and John was a big help in getting me safely across the seaweed without slipping.
Just this evening, while looking back through some of the drone images we spotted a little jetty not far at all from the lighthouse. It’s quite tucked away, understandably given that its primary purpose is probably to allow vessels to land to maintain the lighthouse. The walk from it wouldn’t have been half as fun though!
Back on the main boat it was time for the kids and I to head back to dry land. We had some lovely reflection views of the light on Gasay en route back to the marina, which incidentally is where the starting point is for the short walk to Gasay lighthouse – made accessible without a boat since the new marina was built.
It may only have been a single lighthouse on this trip, but actually that was really the only one on the original itinerary that I’d not managed to get close to before so I’m happy. 🙂
I’m not really a morning person, but when there is something worth getting up at 2.45am for then I will do what needs to be done to make the most of an opportunity. Bob had managed to arrange a boat charter for us today from Burntisland for a bit more of an explore on the Firth of Forth. To ensure we could make the most of high tide it meant getting on board Calypso Marine’s RIB Alert at 5.30am (allowing a two-hour drive over from Ayrshire), before the sun had even risen. We had a bit of a laugh about how early it was with Stewart and Leanne who were taking us out and then climbed on board and off we went.
Setting off from Burntisland gave us a good opportunity to see how the west pier head light is looking after being struck by a ship and the lantern knocked off in January this year. Sadly it’s still not been repaired yet. However, at this point it was still quite dark so at least I got to see it in action.
It was great to be out on the water, heading west along the Forth, seeing lights flashing all around. Although mainly buoys it was good to see Oxcars Lighthouse operating and also see its red sector light too as we sailed away from it. Seeing the bridges too was also fantastic, with the incredible rail bridge, the road bridge (home to little Inch Garvie Lighthouse) and the new bridge, also known as Beamer Memorial Bridge (because the lighthouse on Beamer Rock was removed to make way for the bridge – I should add it’s not officially called that at all).
With the big chimney at Longannet edging closer I knew it wouldn’t be long until we arrived at Grangemouth, our first stop for the day. At the west of the entrance to the River Carron there is what looks like a very large cairn with a modern light and solar panel on top. This was significantly bigger than I expected it to be, but it wasn’t what I’d come for.
The main point of interest for me was the old lighthouse opposite, which is just outside to boundary of the Ineos complex. I’d known not to expect much here. There are a small number of pictures about of it from the past thirty or so years, including this one, and also a couple (here and an artist’s impression here)showing how it looked when it was operational. I had partly been expecting just a big piles of rocks so was nicely surprised to see that there was something that still vaguely resembled a lighthouse, though a derelict one.
It’s really sad to see the state it’s in now with parts of the walls fallen away and it just generally looking like a very unsafe structure. It’s devastating really how it’s been left to just gradually be destroyed now it no longer serves its purpose.
Very aware of our close proximity to the Ineos complex, Bob put Joe the Drone up and got some shots keeping clear of their boundaries.
After I’d been manhandled back on to the boat with a push from behind by Bob and a pull up from Leanne we were ready to continue our journey. I left Grangemouth Lighthouse behind, feeling very glad that I’d made it there and put in the effort. I wonder how many more generations of lighthouse baggers will be able to do so.
With the rising sun in our eyes we began our return journey. Stewart and Leanne very kindly offered to sail us close to Inchgarvie Lighthouse on the way. It’s always seemed so small before, dwarfed by the infamous rail bridge, but when you get a closer look it is actually a good sized structure. It’s clearly had a bit of weathering over time but is still a perfect example of what I like to call a ‘lantern on legs’.
There was just time on the way back for Joe the Drone to take a quick flight around the very understated Oxcars Lighthouse.
I see Oxcars as the east coast’s equivalent of Skervuile near Jura on the west coast. Fairly little known, particularly outside of lighthouse circles, but still as much of a rock structure as the big ones like Skerryvore and Bell Rock – just not quite so far out to sea.
I’ve found in recent years that revisiting places does increase your appreciation of them. Yes, it’s nice to pick off all lighthouses in an area in one trip, but it’s only by going somewhere a few times you notice some of the smaller details and start to familiarise yourself with a place. Today was my fifth time out on the Forth, but the first time I’ve truly appreciated how unique it is. To be going underneath those three bridges with an array of variously shaped islands ahead of you, from the ship-shaped Inchmickery, to the relatively vast Inchkeith, to the very recognisable lump that is Bass Rock in the distance, the Forth is unique in possessing so many islands, particularly as it’s on the east coast. It’s also got plenty of interest for those into history (particularly military) and scientific study. With it’s close proximity to Edinburgh, it’s been used as a playground for many inventors throughout the years, from testing the strength of lighthouse lens, foghorn trials and even paint sampling to establish the best exterior paint to use in marine environments, there’s been a lot going on in the Forth for many years.
As we returned to Burntisland we had a clearer view of the damaged lighthouse.
After a coffee, freshly baked pain au chocolat and chat on board Stewart’s bigger boat, Pathfinder, we set off for Methil where I had some improvement work to do. Back in 2012 I was a lazy lighthouse bagger and if I couldn’t see a lighthouse very well I wouldn’t put in much effort. Methil was one of these. It isn’t actually very easy to see at all with so much of the harbour inaccessible to the general public. Last time I’d seen it from quite a distance so it was time to rectify that while in the area.
Parking up in an industrial area we set off on foot for the longest pier in the world (no, sorry, in Methil). We still hadn’t seen the light at this point and didn’t for some time to come. We wandered along a grassy mound and then down onto the pier which may have technically been closed to the public. This rule is clearly not abided by very often, although you can see why the rule has been made as one section of the pier in particular has been partially washed away.
Onwards we continued, and by this point I was wondering whether or not the lighthouse was still there at all as it still hadn’t come into view. Thankfully I spotted the top of the lantern over the sea wall a short while later and then there it was.
The tower is no longer operational as a lighthouse. It’s only function now seems to be to hold the solar panels for powering the replacement light on a stick which is just in front of the old structure.
After a few quick pictures and a short flight by Joe the Drone we set off back along the heavily weathered pier.
While doing some research into Grangemouth Lighthouse I’d come across some pictures of what seemed like an interesting structure worth closer inspection at Burnmouth. It meant a detour but, being the Lighthouse Detective I am, I just had to look into it. On the way there we happened to stop for lunch not far from Barns Ness so a bit of time there was required.
I never give Barns Ness the credit it deserves. I visited it on my 2012 tour and, although it was nice to see, the low lying land it’s on didn’t wow me in the same way many of the others did. As I mentioned above though, the more you visited a place the more you enjoy it (with a few exceptions, of course) and I did really enjoy seeing Barns Ness and wandering around a bit more this time.
There’s a flying exclusion zone in the area due to Torness Power Station so Bob wandered off along to beach to where he could legally fly Joe the Drone and get some nice distance shots of the lighthouse and landscape. I used the spare time very wisely, having a lie down on the grass next to the beach and enjoying the peace, fresh air, sunshine and sound of the sea. My spot also offered great views across to Bass Rock which, as always, was looking fantastic.
Half an hour down the road we made it to Burnmouth. Neither of us had been there before and it’s a beautiful little place. A real harbour, a fishing village as it should be. There were local men sitting around on the pier having a chat and some beautiful memorials to a local fishing disaster that occurred on 14th October 1881, where five boats carrying 24 local men were lost during a storm.
From the moment we parked up I was fairly confident the little structure at the end of the east pier wouldn’t qualify as a lighthouse. We walked along the pier and climbed the very high steps up to it. It’s certainly not the same structure as before as it’s now just a hollow round metal tube with a cap on top. What I imagine has happened is that the old light was redundant and in a bad state, so it was replaced with something similar that was never intended as a navigational light. Something similar has happened with the light structure in Cullen. I think it’s great to see as it often shows how much the community values these small but important little features in their community.
There may not have been an exciting new lighthouse in Burnmouth, but it’s a great place with a really lovely feel about it. Sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere different and change your focus a bit. Quite often you find the unexpected there 🙂
A week ago a brand new lighthouse trail was launched across Aberdeenshire, Moray, Orkney and Shetland. Light the North is a collection of 2.5 metre tall lighthouses designed/painted by artists, as well as a series of smaller lighthouses featuring designs from local schools.
Why is this happening, you may ask. Well it’s all for an excellent cause, Clan Cancer Support. Clan provides free support to those with cancer across the geographical area mentioned above. The outcome of the trail is that the lighthouses will be auctioned off in mid-November, raising funds for the charity.
The trail has an associated app, which features a map showing you where the lighthouses are, details about each lighthouse and also lets you collect the lighthouses by entering the individual code found on the plinth of each model. Trail maps with a suggested donation of £3 are available in various locations, or you can take a look at the website to find out more.
Anyone who knows me well will know that I can’t resist a list, especially when it is lighthouse-related. It worked out rather well us being in Shetland for the start as I was able to see those based there. Then travelling back via Aberdeen we followed the coast, picking off more as we went.
It’s great fun and I’m hoping to get a chance to see some more before the trail finishes at the end of October.
Here are some of the models I bagged over the past week. 🙂
It’s been the final full day in Shetland today, ending a 10-day period of absolute perfection in terms of achieving everything I wanted to. With only three days of no boat trips, plus an extra day for me to spend with the family, there was just enough time to get to the land-based lights I had left to visit.
After the visit to Peerie Bard, home to Mousa Lighthouse, yesterday I have now visited all of the modern flat-pack (SPLAT) lighthouses in Scotland. There are a few I’ve not been close enough to touch yet, but have seen at very close range.
There was one, however, that had been mentioned to me and I’d not included on my list: Head of Mula. This one was built of the same aluminium framework as the flat-packs, but if didn’t have the white cladding on it, which to me is an open structure and therefore not meeting the criteria for inclusion on my list.
I mentioned Head of Mula to my lighthouse pal John and he was keen to see it. I thought it was definitely worth going along to check it out too, given that I am such a fan of the flat-pack type. It looked to be only a short walk from the ferry terminal on Unst. I wasn’t wrong. It is very easily accessed by following the main road north of the terminal for a short distance and then taking a right turn at a track heading uphill.
The track was great and after just a few minutes we spotted the top of the light just above an old wall ahead.
Beyond the lighthouse there were the remains of abandoned houses and it was really quite strange to be seeing such old buildings against the backdrop of a relatively new light structure.
The tower was exactly as had been described to me. This was where it got tricky though as the debate was then on as to whether or not it did qualify for my list. Is it possibly for someone to be enclosed within it? Not really. Someone could certainly step inside the frame, but they would still be completely exposed to the elements and visible to anyone on the outside. Therefore it doesn’t meet the criteria, but here is where the challenge has always been for me in preparing a definitive list of lighthouses.
I always wanted my list to be objective and based entirely on what did or didn’t meet the criteria. I am well aware that one lighthouse may mean a lot to one person and very little to another. I’ve seen plenty of subjective lighthouse lists for Scotland out there and they usually feature the biggest and most impressive of the Stevenson lighthouses, often leaving out the smaller lights that (in my option) are just as enjoyable to visit – if not more so in some cases – as the large ones.
For me one of the big appeals of the flat-pack lighthouses has always been the beautiful places they take you to. Often places rarely explored by the masses and this too is the case at Head of Mula. The views here are fantastic, particular looking south/south east towards the Loch of Heogland and Holm of Heogland close in and then beyond to Fetlar.
Looking west over Bluemull Sound was also excellent and the ferry moving back and forth between Yell and Unst was a regular reminder that civilisation was just down the track.
The light at Head of Mula has everything going for it that most flat-pack lighthouses have, except the white cladding. We jokingly referred to it all day as the ‘naked flat-pack’ due to its lack of white cladding “clothes”.
Thinking about my list, there are some lighthouses on there that I would be more than happy not to visit again, usually due to their location, but I’d happily stroll back up to Head of Mula again. This is where I feel a little envious of those who have their own personal list and can add/take away anything they please. From the point of view of The British Lighthouse Trail though, I need to be less subjective and not adjust it to become a list of lighthouses I personally think people should visit – although I do think that would make an excellent list.
The final decision on Head of Mula then? I’m going to have to say that the jury is still out. In terms of meeting the definition it’s a no. But if I think it’s important that people get to hear about it and visit it then absolutely yes. If any readers have any thoughts on this then do feel free to share these below in the comments.
Back to Shetland though and, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the past 10 days have really been made so successful by the crew on the two boats we have used. Kevin, Michael and Alan on Lysander and the wonderful aluminium tender were exceptional. Magnie and John on the Papa Stour and Ve Skerries trip were more than happy to get us wherever we wanted to go too. It makes such a difference to have boat crew who enjoy their time out with the baggers. It was a real pleasure to spend time with them all.
That’s it for another trip. I’m not sure where the next one will be yet, but I shall be sure to take my followers on here along wherever it is and report back. 🙂
Today was my last day of my boat trips in Shetland and it marked one final success, achieving everything I had intended to during this trip. In fact, today was a success with an extra bonus too.
On the way back to Lerwick yesterday evening we took a quick look at the Loofa Baa light. Bob and I had seen it on a previous trip two years ago, but not so close and we had always wondered whether or not it met my criteria for a lighthouse. At the time of my last distant look at it I was right at the final proof of my book and so it was excluded based on the likelihood of it having only external access. We agreed we would go out first thing today in the tender to have a closer look.
Loofa Baa is used by larger vessels entering and leaving Lerwick harbour. It’s fairly understated in appearance, although it does feature that appealing combination of yellow and black paint. We sailed around the light and discovered that, although access to the light on top was entirely by external ladder, the top section did actually feature a door and therefore internal access. I always knew when having my book published that there may well be structures missed, but this is the first I’ve found over the past two years which isn’t too bad going.
It looks like access to the ladder on Loofa Baa is only possible at higher tides. We were there at low tide which meant there was no landing today, but both John and I managed to reach out of the tender and touch the tower with help from Mervyn and Alan, and that is a good enough bag for me given the circumstances.
With the southbound journey today we passed close by both Bressay and Twageo Point lighthouses on the way to our next lighthouse stop. It’s always good to see these structures from the angle from which they were intended to be used.
Peerie Bard off the east coast of Mousa island is a tricky little one to get to. With daily boats trips to Mousa itself when conditions allow during the summer, the RSPB insist that no one attempts to walk to Peerie Bard at low tide from the main island due to breeding birds or seals on the islands. We found a boatman willing to take us there and land so we went for it.
On the map it looked like there was a path marked across Peerie Bard going from a low lying section of the island. Four of us hopped into the tender and set off. As we neared the point at which it looked like the path started on the island, we spotted some landing-related ironmongery and a sloped rock leading up to them.
The slope was a little green and slimy so we needed to go carefully and then at the top there was a concrete path for a little way leading in the direction of the lighthouse. After the path it was just thick grass which was easy enough to walk on and just a few minutes later the top of the lighthouse came into sight.
We made it to the lighthouse and, rather oddly, my attention was drawn in the opposite direction to the fantastic rocks instead of the lighthouse. There are some overhanging rocks there and jutting rocks just off the coast. With the direction the sea was coming up at the island there were waves breaking on the rocks below.
Mousa Lighthouse is yet another flat-pack in a superb location. This structure replaced an older tower. The only remains of the old tower now is the foundation stone, which is broken up a bit.
Peerie Bard as an island surprised me. I’d imagined it to be very small, but it was much bigger. Having said that, when you see some of Joe the Drone’s aerial views you realise that it is small in comparison to its neighbours, hence the name Peerie Bard compared to nearby Muckle Bard. I quite like that the name includes ‘peerie’ rather than ‘little’ which is used in a lot of other places across Shetland.
I’d known that the trip would involve a trip around the coast at Sumburgh Head, but hadn’t expected much beyond seeing the lighthouse high up on a cliff. What I’d completely forgotten about was the old Muckle Roe Lighthouse just down the road from Sumburgh Head. Seeing it up there on the cliff made me more glad than ever that it had been relocated there. I can’t recall any of these old structures still in situ that are located on a cliff. This one would, of course, have been when it was in place on Muckle Roe originally. It was just so great to see it almost looking like it was still doing its job up there.
The route around Sumburgh Head was, as I’d expected, a bit rough with plenty of rocking and rolling, but fortunately I was able to still capture some images as we went. Again I was very pleasantly surprised at how stunning this one is from the sea. The cliffs and natural rock formations there are incredible and topped off with that wonderful tower and the old foghorn too… well, it was quite a special experience.
There were a few islands to do for a couple of the others round on the west side before we returned to the east. One of the reasons for taking the kids along today was so they could visit the broch on Mousa. In the interests of efficiency we were dropped off at an old pier next to the broch and the kids got to experience going on the tender. The big one was a little wary and the little one giggled all the way and said she loved the little boat. The broch was fascinating to see and we also took a closer look at a couple of the old buildings around. There wasn’t really time to explore properly or take it all in with the kids about, but it was still a great island to go to by a non-traditional method.
The rest of the journey back to Lerwick went very smoothly. We sailed fairly close to Bressay, which was good. It’s a beautiful lighthouse and superbly located too.
I’ve had some fantastic days out on the boats in Shetland over the past 10 days. It was above and beyond what I expected and I will leave Shetland after this visit with only 3 Shetland lighthouses left to do – Foula and the two on Fair Isle. This trip has far surpassed my expectations and I am hugely grateful to Mervyn for organising it all. Also to Bob for leaping onto these islands and helping us all to achieve what we want to do. The boatmen – Kevin, Alan and Michael – have been so brilliant. I cannot praise them enough. They are great company and so willing to help us on getting what we need.
A very memorable and massively enjoyable trip, and amazingly we have managed to sail the full length of Shetland (excluding Fair Isle) since we arrived, right from Muckle Flugga on that first day to Sumburgh Head on the last boat day for me today 🙂
It’s been another day onboard Lysander in Shetland today and it’s really starting to feel like home now. With Michael the fantastically knowledgeable and friendly skipper, and the equally knowledgeable and skilled tender skipper Alan, we have been in very good hands.
My first lighthouse stop of the day was Wether Holm. We were informed by Alan that ‘wether holm’ is the name given to islands where the sea gets shallower and breaks on the island. There are plenty of Wether Holms about in Shetland, but only one of them has a lighthouse. This is a flat-pack lighthouse and after we were dropped off it was just a quick stroll up to it. There were nice views across to Whalsay from the lighthouse including Suther Ness Lighthouse just across the water.
After we left the island Joe the Drone went for a fly and got some great aerial shots of the island and surrounding area.
Next we landed on Inner Holm of Skaw. There’s no lighthouse here, but we were told that there were stories suggesting there was a human skull to be found near the cairn on the island. This intrigued us all so we took the opportunity to have a hunt for it, and with success too. Lying under a flat round rock close to the cairn were indeed bones. There was part of a skull, a jawbone still with some teeth in it and a few other bones too. It was very strange. Bob pointed out that there was a chapel marked on the map and when we looked back towards the cairn there was evidence of rows of stones that could well have been the walls of the old chapel. Our skipper looked into it a bit more and was informed that the remains are actually believed to be of the monk who built the chapel there.
Onto my second new lighthouse of the day, Muckle Skerry. We’d considered landing on this one two years ago, but it had been raining and – given my experience of it today – I’m glad we didn’t. It’s a skerry so it’s rock really and although it looks from a distance like it has some nice grass on top it’s really just flora and fauna that thrives in wet environments combined with an occasional hard bit of soil and then random rocks in and around it all.
It took us a little while to pick where we would land. The side of the island looked like any landing there would involve a scramble up rocks that looked green and potentially very slippery. We made our way around the island on the tender coming across another potential landing area where there turned out to be too many rocks just under the water. We then found a deeper section which got us onto some barnacle-covered rocks followed by a short section of slippy rock and then it was rock hopping all the way up to the mixed terrain described above.
Muckle Skerry Lighthouse is another flat-pack and this time without a fence around it. There are great views all around which always make the less straightforward landings more worthwhile. It’s certainly somewhere you would struggle to land without the near perfect conditions we had today. We were very fortunate with sea conditions today.
Joe was launched from the boat and caught some pictures which hopefully illustrate the tricky terrain of this one.
We were bound for Out Skerries next. There are so many islands within this group that it wasn’t surprising that to save time we all dispersed a bit. Skipper Michael and I were dropped off on Bound Skerry, home to Out Skerries Lighthouse. Michael had never landed on the island before so we left the big boat moored up on the main island and Alan took us across.
Although I’d been to Out Skerries Lighthouse before it was really nice to visit it with someone who was really looking forward to getting there. We had the island to ourselves for some time before the others arrived and we took a stroll around the rocks, getting as far to the east as possible so Michael could reach the most easterly he’s ever been in Shetland. One particular view from the highest point of the island was excellent with the lighthouse in the foreground and the shore station on neighbouring Grunay beyond.
On a calm day it’s very hard to imagine how wild it must get there. Today is just seemed so tranquil and serene. For a while I sat at the base of the lighthouse and just enjoyed being there – that was until Bob came and asked me to move so I didn’t get in Joe the Drone’s pictures! However, I can’t complain as he did get some superb images. The blue sky appeared too!
A few hours – and a number of islands – later we arrived at Hoo Stack. John as well as Alan the boatman were keen to land here and I went ashore too, but stayed down on the rocks. I’d already been to this lighthouse back in 2019 and with the swell picking up I didn’t want to slow anyone down. The swell had picked up a fair amount by this point so landing wasn’t so easy, but we all did it and stayed dry, and John and Alan were happy.
It’s been a long day, but another successful one. Mervyn has now set foot in one way or another on over 100 islands so far and I just have one lighthouse left to achieve my personal goal for this trip. That one is lined up for tomorrow. All fingers are crossed 🙂
It’s been some day today and certainly varied, taking in two very different lighthouses in extremely different settings. It is the day I have been waiting for, to make it to the remote and challenging Ve Skerries Lighthouse.
Leaving from Aith this morning, we set off for Papa Stour with our skipper Magnus Scott and John Anderson from Simmer Dim Charters. All four of us baggers on board had something of interest on this island that’s not so easy to get to, with one ferry a day in each direction only three days a week. For me, or course, it was a lighthouse – or, as I call it, a lightbox.
Upon arrival at the island Bob and John set off for the island high point and trig pillar while Mervyn and I took a stroll along the road, discovering quite a lot about the island community. For a start they have a great ferry terminal with tea and coffee making facilities, a book swap, a nice seating area and toilets.
There aren’t many houses on the island and those that are there are scattered alongside the road that runs from the pier to the airport landing strip. There’s a Primary School which has been closed now for around 8 years and the population of the island is just 6. A small community, but a really wonderful one which embraces its island and its history. This is very clear to see throughout Papa Stour.
There is a wonderful ‘stofa’, an old Norwegian-style house made from carved wood. This was built in the place of a former stofa, but part of the build project was to allow younger people to learn the traditional skills of Norwegian building. It is really quite beautiful to see how well-constructed it is.
We also took a look inside the Kirk, which is perfect for a small community. The building features a stained glass window that was designed and made by the locals to commemorate the lives of the four men from Papa who lost their lives during the Great War. It also contains a prayer tree which people can hang messages on explaining who they are praying for. There is also a small room with local history information and some locally made products for sale.
From the Kirk we walked around to East Biggings and then began the attempt to reach the lighthouse. It had been visible nearly all the way around the road, but we’d not spotted a clear way to reach it. On our return journey we found a gate and followed the edge of a field down towards Housa Voe. Through one more gate and another field and we were there.
I would never say that these little lightboxes are anywhere near the most impressive, but they certainly do the job. The one here at Housa Voe is a similar type of structure to the two at West Burrafirth. It’s essentially a small square dry dashed building with a door at the back and a directional sector light shining out the front. There’s little more to it than that, but you can see when you step into the path of the light that it does it’s job very effectively. I had some fun for a few minutes walking back and forth in front of it and watching the red light change to white and then to green. This light is owned by Shetland Islands Council, which sort of explains its appearance. Clearly its purpose is to guide vessels safely into Housa Voe.
It was nice to introduce Mervyn to this type as well as they are very rarely visited. I’m not sure he was particularly impressed, but he pretended to be which was good of him. This is one of the delights of lighthouse bagging, discovering new places above and beyond just looking at the lighthouse.
We left the lightbox behind and headed for the ferry terminal for a nice cup of tea. Even the waiting room is a trove of historical treasures relating to Papa Stour.
Once we were all back we set off to a few islands off of Papa Stour before we began to head north west towards a little collection of rocks called Ve Skerries. I’m not sure how well known Ve Skerries is in lighthouse circles. When you are as into lighthouses as I am you sort of lose any sense of what others do or don’t know. Anyway, for those who don’t know, Ve Skerries is a collection of very small islands/large rocks off the west coast of Mainland Shetland. They mark the most south westerly point of St Magnus Bay. On a clear day you can just make out the lighthouse in the distance from Eshaness. It is renowned for being a very dangerous area for ships with numerous wrecks occurring there. The most recent of which was the Corelleira in 2019 though thankfully there has been no loss of life there since the Ben Doran wrecked in 1930.
The sail out to Ve Skerries was actually not too bad at all and it was very encouraging to see hardly any swell around the islands. A fairly rare occurrence I think. I climbed into the tender with Bob and John and we set off to land on Ormal, the lighthouse island. We found somewhere to land and getting out of the boat was easy enough, but then the challenge began. Although the Ve Skerries are low-lying that doesn’t mean they are flat. The island is made up of tidal sections of rock and near enough all of these rocks seem to be jagged with no flat, horizontal edges. While some were covered in barnacles there was plenty of seaweed and slimy stuff about. Bob lent me his micro spikes which certainly made moving over the rocks much easier. It was a long section of rocks to cross though before we got to the helipad. Now whenever I think about Ve Skerries I remember those rocks and just have to laugh. It was quite an experience.
Relief set in when I finally got to the helipad which has a nice walkway across to the base of the lighthouse. There was a little stoney area down some steps from the helipad and John Anderson said it’s possible to find bits of ballast from the ships wrecked on the Skerries sometimes. I did have a look around, but couldn’t see anything.
Of course, we couldn’t have gone to Ve Skerries on a calm day without Joe the Drone coming along.
The lighthouse on Ve Skerries was first lit in 1979, built mainly to aid the large vessels moving around the area going to and from Sullom Voe. The wrecking of the Elinor Viking in December 1977 was also a deciding factor for the lighthouse which was already being spoken of at that point. After the lighthouse was built it received an award for its design and construction, and has very recently been granted listed status. It is a very unique structure, a real modern day rock lighthouse.
Getting back to the boat was slightly easier than the way we’d gone onto the island. However when I got towards the boat one of my feet slipped on some seaweed and my right foot ended up in the sea. Fortunately it was just my foot and I was able to get back into the boat safely before we had a quick stop in the very sheltered little harbour on North Isle, which was a great spot for watching the seals flopping on the rocks and swimming around.
Reaching Ve Skerries Lighthouse felt like a great achievement. It is not frequently visited and probably for good reason.
Today was a great reminder to me of why I love doing this so much. That combination of straightforward, understated lighthouse trips and heading out into the wild extremes and creeping about over slippery rocks. Lighthouse bagging like this isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for me – even if I do get a wet foot every now and then! 🙂
Contrary to what yesterday’s post suggested, today didn’t turn out to be as exciting as I’d mentioned (that’s now planned for tomorrow – fingers crossed). However, it did feature some success: the completion of the ‘walkable from the main islands of Shetland lighthouses’. This doesn’t actually sound like much of an achievement, but given that they aren’t necessarily the easiest or shortest of walks (see the recent Bagi Stack post for the most extreme example) it’s quite a good milestone. This completion took place at ‘the light with many names’, also known as Vaila Sound, Ram’s Head or Whites Ness Lighthouse – whichever takes your fancy. To be a bit more specific, the lighthouse is officially known as Vaila Sound Lighthouse by the Northern Lighthouse Board. It is located on Ram’s Head which is a part of the Whites Ness circular walk. Hence how it ends up with so many names.
Vaila Sound Lighthouse very much reminds me of this wonderful post I saw last year, which includes a beautiful sketch of the lighthouse – not a style that is very often sketched I’m sure! This is one of the Solar Powered Lattice Aluminium Towers and they grow on me more and more every time I see a new one. This is particularly the case when they involve a great and not too challenging walk. A couple I know through the Association of Lighthouse Keepers moved to Shetland last year and they have visited Vaila Sound Lighthouse a couple of times so we enlisted one of them, who I named Tour Guide Andrew, to lead the way.
There’s a great area for parking just up the hill from the start of the walk at Whiteness and then it’s following a farm track signposted ‘Coastal walk’ for the first part. This track felt like luxury after some of the recent walks.
After passing a couple of buildings it’s not long before you get some stunning views of Vaila Sound and the island of Linga.
Beyond the mast the track continues and you begin to get views of the island of Vaila itself, which I have very fond memories of visiting a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful island with a really interesting little garden to explore.
The track then ends at a farm gate and we walked through the field a short way, ending up closer to the coastline. The views looking back towards Walls from here with the yellow flowers in the foreground were excellent.
We then arrived at an area of old ruined houses near the shoreline. One of them didn’t look as old as the rest and I thought ‘what an amazing location to live’, but of course it’s relative remoteness would have its drawbacks.
From here we then took a short walk along the small, pebbly beach and took a look at the little stone jetty beyond it.
From here the terrain gets a bit more undulating and after a stile, there is some uphill followed by downhill, but the uphills are so worth it for the views from the top.
A little more up and down later and the lighthouse suddenly comes into sight – and what a sight it is.
Bob set about preparing Joe the Drone while Andrew, John and I made our way towards the lighthouse.
Unlike Hillswick and Bagi Stack lighthouses, this one is set fairly low down near the water and so it was possible to stand on the rocks behind it and get a great view of it against the serene waters of the Sound.
While we were gazing at the lighthouse a little fishing catamaran sailed past and honked its horn at us. It’s not often you get an opportunity to see a boat moving near one of these little lights so it was a perfect picture opportunity.
The rocky terrain in front of the lighthouse is lovely and the jagged rocks compared to the calm waters in the area were a striking, but great contrast. I imagine it’s not always so calm!
It was possible to see the old boat landing area nearby and it looks like a little leap may be required to get from the flat landing area to the surrounding rocks to avoid wet feet!
Joe the drone, as ever, got some super scenic shots from above, including this one, which I absolutely love. Little did I realise at that point what was around the corner!
Sometimes you come across a view that just makes you say ‘wow’ (or in my case ‘wowzers!’) and the fabulous promontory of Green Head was a perfect example of that – and yes, I did indeed say ‘wowzers’ out loud when I first saw it.
As you walk further around the coast you see more and more of the promontory and realise it’s actually joined to the Whites Ness peninsula by a narrow section of land.
From here we headed inland across a slightly boggy section of land before returning to the field we passed through and then onto the track.
This felt like a stroll in the park in comparison to some of the other recent walks to see lights. If there is anyone who happens to be in the Shetland area who isn’t sure about whether or not to visit a flat-pack lighthouse then this one is a great one to start with. It has many of the benefits of a flat-pack lighthouse – with the main one being that it’s in a stunning location – but without the tough walk. Just brilliant, and a really enjoyable way to get those ‘walkable lights’ done.
I should also mention here that I went on a short trip to Sumburgh Head Lighthouse this morning with my kids. They were delighted to see the Light the North Shetland map lighthouse on display here and, of course, had a wonderful time pressing the button in the museum that blasts out a foghorn’s bellow. I’m not sure the museum staff were so delighted!
Another great day in Shetland, but what will tomorrow bring…! 🙂
The wind had dropped for us in Shetland overnight and, although we knew it may be a while before the sea recovered from 48 hours of strong wind, we decided to head out on Lysander again today and see what we could achieve.
Today’s trip started off at Ulsta on Yell and the agenda featured a number of islands including Lunna Holm which I’d been keen to get to for a while.
A few islands were visited and we got a closer look at the light on Rumble too. The tide in the area made it a very rocky little detour.
A little while later we arrived at Lunna Holm. There was still plenty of movement in the water, but it didn’t prevent us landing thankfully. It‘s a nice little island and we wandered up towards the high point and then cut across in the direction of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse on Lunna Holm dates back to 1985 and it was introduced to mark the south eastern approaches to Sullom Voe during the hours of darkness. The foundations were prepared in the first half of 1985 and by the end of that year the structure was complete and the light operational.
The lighthouse, which is still the original 1985 tower, and it’s surrounding fence look like they could do with some attention so I was pleased to find that, in June this year, the Northern Lighthouse Board put out a tender for full refurbishment of the lighthouse. This is due to include not only a refurb of the tower and concrete base, but also replacement of the lighting system and the fence that surrounds the structure.
One of the crew on board informed us that a former inter-island ferries, The Earls, ran aground on Lunna Holm back in the 1980s, which may well have occurred before the lighthouse was installed.
The island reminded me a lot of Cava in Scapa Flow, Orkney. The lighthouse is the same type, the island has a similar sort of layout (for want of a better word), and the grassy terrain was the same. I always see Shetland and Orkney as being completely different, but there are definitely some similarities in certain areas, which geographically makes sense due to their relatively close proximity.
Joe the Drone went for a spin while we were there too.
It was just the single lighthouse for me today, but I was happy. After a couple of busy walking days I was more than willing to spend a day on the boat and I even managed to fit in a nap, lying on the comfy seat, while the others ticked off another 6 islands in one go.
Tomorrow has the potential to be a very exciting day and I cannot wait! 🙂