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

Getting serious with some January bagging

Happy New Year to you! I’m not sure I’ve managed to say that in a blog post before with the key reason being that bagging season for me doesn’t usually start until at least March. Winter isn’t always conducive to enjoyable lighthouse visits, although last weekend’s trip to Northern Ireland is evidence that it’s not necessarily the case.

Feeling the need to continue the brilliance of last year, and fill some gaps in pictures required for my book (see this earlier post for details of this), a little time in the Islay and Jura area was required. It’s very much been uncharted territory for me so far.  It’s also not the easiest area for visiting lighthouses as some of the lights aren’t so easy to access, being either on rocks in the middle of the water or involving a long distance walk on very rough or boggy terrain.


Ardrishaig lighthouse

There is a plan to address this later in the week – more on that in a couple of days, all being well. Before that though, today has been a day of “glimpsing” the lights, almost in preparation.

Travelling from Ayrshire to Kennacraig to catch the ferry, we stopped on the west bank of Loch Fyne at Minard. From here the black and white Sgeir an Eirionnaich (or Paddy Rock) light can be spotted. From such a distance there’s not a lot to say about it, except that one day I hope to get a little closer! Continuing the journey south, we gave the lighthouse in Ardrishaig a quick wave as we passed.

McArthur's Head

McArthur’s Head lighthouse

We weren’t sure what it would be possible to see from the ferry between Kennacraig and Port Askaig, more specifically the section to the south of the Sound of Jura. I braved the elements and stepped outside with the zoom lens in tow. At first I spotted a white tower in the distance and, checking the map, established that it must have been Skervuile. I was actually on the look out for the Na Cuiltean light at the time, not expecting to see Skervuile, so that was a bonus. I’m really looking forward to seeing Skervuile close up (fingers crossed it will happen this week). Scanning the coast, I finally caught sight of the Na Cuiltean lighthouse, another one to get closer to. It’s not a huge tower anyway, but even if it had been it would have been dwarfed by the incredible Paps of Jura in the background. What an island Jura looks to be from the sea!

I’d had my eye on McArthur’s Head between views of the two lighthouses to the north. I had a few minutes to go back inside and warm up a bit, before it was time to head out again on the approach to the Sound of Islay. Although I’d never seen it in person before, the lighthouse and its surrounding wall at McArthur’s Head are very recognisable. It was wonderful to pass it and see it from a number of different angles with more detail of the landscape emerging with every moment.

Carraig Mhor

Carraig Mhor lighthouse

The final lighthouse of the journey was Carraig Mhor just to the south of Port Asking. There was no need for a zoom lens for this one. The small, but perfectly formed tower would not even be worth attempting to visit from the island itself, but the very surroundings that make it so inaccessible from land is exactly what makes it such a picturesque view from the sea. The lighthouse is nestled there quite happily with its own jetty.

I’d just started to make my way back inside again when I remembered there was one left to see – Carragh an t-Sruith on Jura. We weren’t particularly close to it, but it was visible and yet another one for later in the week – hopefully. As I said, it’s been a glimpsing day with hopefully better views and clearer pictures to come. 🙂

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The beautiful island of Fidra

As mentioned in my previous post, we were informed of a fairly last minute boat trip that was headed for Fidra on Wednesday. Fidra is one of those islands that, although it is fairly close to the mainland, isn’t so easy to get to. During bird nesting season landing on the island isn’t really allowed, meaning boat operators just won’t take you there. It is the same for Bass Rock, which is even more of a challenge to land on. Obviously as soon as the nesting season is over the weather starts to turn, so you just need to hope for a good weather window in autumn or winter in order to get to these places.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock from North Berwick

When we arrived at North Berwick and managed to jump into a newly vacated parking space on the sea front, we had wonderful views over to Bass Rock with its immediately identifiable shape and lighthouse. The sky was blue, but there was a fair wind coming from the west, which we thought wouldn’t have much of an impact on the Firth of Forth, but it certainly does!

We found our fellow passengers and the boat, Braveheart, where the skipper informed us we would need our waterproofs for the crossing. Always nice to hear! He was definitely not wrong though. While it wasn’t a particularly bad ride it was bumpy at times with a lot of splashing. Two of our party had taken up the most unfortunate positions at the back of the boat. You may recall in older television comedies where it was clear that buckets of water were being thrown at people to resemble being in a boat on choppy seas. Well that was what it was like. It was good fun though.

Fidra arch

The natural arch

As we approached the island the conditions became much calmer and by the time we pulled in alongside the jetty it was positively calm. Landing on the jetty was easy, much easier than many other landings. A couple of members of the group wandered off over to the tidal section of the island (the South Dog) while the rest of us followed the route of the old tracks leading up to the lighthouse, passing the ruins of the old 12th/13th century chapel. There is a wonderful natural arch in the rock to the right as you walk up. It’s not a big island, but it’s stunning. I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful, possibly because it isn’t particularly remote. I always felt that islands that took a long time to get to were often the most beautif


Fidra lighthouse and the old cable drum

As the highest point of the island is to the east of the lighthouse, once you’ve landed on the island it’s not possible to see the lighthouse. It was only after a few minutes of walking up the old tracks that it came into view. Just after passing through the wall that surrounds the compound, we saw the old cable drum that was used to haul the carts up from the jetty to the lighthouse. We also spotted one of the wheels from a cart on our way back down too.

The different land levels around the lighthouse give a variety of perspectives on it. The large rock to the south of island, as one of the other group members said, almost seems as if it was placed there just for people to get a good view/take pictures of the lighthouse from. So often it’s the surroundings of the lighthouse that add to its appeal and that’s definitely the case with Fidra.


Fidra lighthouse from higher ground

The lighthouse here was designed and built under the leadership of Thomas and David A Stevenson. The light was established in 1885 and was automated in 1970. In 2009, along with lighthouse on Inchkeith and Elie Ness lighthouse, ownership of the light was transferred to Forth Ports.

After we left the lighthouse, we had a stroll around the old lighthouse garden, which is a fair size. It is covered with old puffin burrows so we had to tread carefully.

Fidra is a stunning island and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. A little gem in the Firth of Forth! 🙂


Islands and lighthouses – part 2

Eilean an Naoimh lighthouse

Eilean an Naoimh lighthouse

My crazy island and lighthouse-bagging week continued last week with a trip out to the Garvellachs. We were on a fishing boat that day, so it wasn’t so easy to land on many of the islands in this group. While Bob went off, I stayed on the boat. I did leave the boat on one of the islands though, Eileach an Naoimh, as it is home to a lighthouse. It may only be a “flat pack-style” structure, but it is actually in great surroundings. The walk to the lighthouse was a bit of a struggle for me with various terrains to cross and a few ups and downs. But we got there eventually. I wouldn’t say it was my favourite (I’m unlikely to say that about any “flat pack” lighthouse), but it was a good place to visit and there is a fair amount of history on the island too.

Fladda lighthouse

Fladda lighthouse

After the group had reached the high points on a few more islands, we stopped off at Fladda. We’d seen the lighthouse on the way out that morning and it was a welcome relief to visit an island, which didn’t involve leaping off or onto the boat at a very precise moment when the swell was just right! The island seemed very deserted, which meant we could wander freely around and get to the tower. By this point the rest of the group were very aware of my lighthouse fascination and a number of discussions took place about them. I think a few of these island and hill-baggers are developing their own fondness for lighthouses!

The Northern Lighthouse Board's vessel Pole Star

The Northern Lighthouse Board’s vessel Pole Star

I was delighted to discover that the following day one of the cancelled trips from the previous week would be going ahead. I’d been particularly excited about this one as it involved visiting a lighthouse that I thought I’d be unlikely ever to see in real life. I should have known better really as I probably would have said the same about North Rona, but Bob knew the right people to get us there! Dubh Artach is one of the iconic rock lighthouses of Britain and sits 18 miles south-west of Mull and the prospect of being able to see is close up was an opportunity I couldn’t miss (even if it did mean abandoning our little boy with his grandparents for another whole day). As the sea conditions had been very calm so far that week, we were all secretly hopeful that we’d be able to land on the rock and properly “bag” the lighthouse, but we were also aware that even when conditions were flat calm around Oban and some of the Inner Hebrides, it’s unlikely that it will be the same at Dubh Artach. As we left Oban that morning we spotted a boat that looked similar to the Northern Lighthouse Board’s Pharos ship, which we’d seen earlier in the week. I was able to get access to the web and discovered that it was another of their vessels, Pole Star. Apparently this one doesn’t spend as much time in Oban as Pharos, so we were fortunate to be able to see it.

Dubh Artach lighthouse

Dubh Artach lighthouse

On the way out Dubh Artach it was clear that the sea conditions were changing and the gentle, but increasing bumpiness was sending everyone else to sleep! When we got close, the crew from Coastal Connection prepared the dinghy and Bob and I got in with a couple of others. We spotted some steps leading up the lighthouse and there appeared to be a platform at the bottom, which looked like it could be a good spot to get off – except for the fact that it was covered in seaweed. While, at times, it seemed calm enough for us to approach, it was quickly changing and in no time the platform was submerged. We made a couple of attempts to get close enough and Bob managed to get a foot on the rock, but we had to pull back as the dinghy was at risk of tipping us out. I’d already made a decision not to attempt the landing and it seemed that the others were in agreement. We went back to the boat and others went for a closer look while we enjoyed the view from a safe distance. In the end we abandoned the attempt to land, but I was delighted that I’d been so close. Cameron, the skipper, took us for a spin around the lighthouse before we headed on to continue with the day’s agenda.

Our next island was Nave island, off of the north coast of Islay. While there were no lighthouses, it was a nice stroll up to the high point, with fantastic 360 degree views. We then landed on the beach on Oronsay. As Bob had already been to the high point and we’d both wandered along the Strand from Colonsay at low tide last year, we decided to have a walk along the white sandy beach instead. Our final island for the day was Colonsay. Again, we’d been here last year and had both successfully managed the high point and the lighthouse (which we saw again as we approached and left Scalasaig), so we spend the afternoon at the Colonsay Hotel in their beer garden! A great end to a great day!

Fingal's Cave on Staffa

Fingal’s Cave on Staffa

Just to complete the week, I went with my parents on a boat trip to Lunga – one of the Treshnish islands – and Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave. The puffins on Lunga were amazing. They are so used to people being around that they come very close. It would be easy to pass a few hours there. Fingal’s Cave was incredible and indescribable really. I don’t think any words can really describe it. Just go there and see for yourself! My dad also spotted a golden eagle on Staffa, following a sea eagle glimpse on the way to Lunga, so he was happy too!

We have more lighthouse visits to come this weekend, so another post is to follow! It’s definitely lighthouse-bagging season! 🙂

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