It’s been some time since my last lighthouse extravaganza – too long. It was definitely time to make up for it with a good old bagging session. It’s difficult these days to find an area that will allow me to visit more than one or two lighthouses I’ve not seen before.
I’d not been looking forward to visiting the lights along the south side of the Bristol Channel and River Severn. The structures are all a bit odd, a far cry from the majestic towers many would expect from a lighthouse, and I didn’t expect access to be particularly easy. A week on the Isle of Wight with grandparents looking after the kids allowed a day away though to have a good go at getting to some of the 13 I had left in the region.
I am really keen to point out here that I was really wrong to pre-judge the area in the way I did. Yes, the towers aren’t the most thrilling, but if all lighthouses looked exactly the same this would be a much more boring hobby. Access was also not an issue as the Severn Way is a massive help, you just need to know the right places to join the Severn Way to get to the lights.
The journey began (after the ferry) with a 2 and a half hour drive to Watchet. As you enter Watchet the sign reads ‘Ancient port of 1000 years’, which is quite a claim, but is certainly does have some history based around it’s harbour, which was turned into a marina in 2000 after centuries of being integral in the import and export of goods, including iron ore, paper, kelp, flour and gypsum. When you park up in the car park near the marina you are welcomed by an amazing mural charting historical periods from prehistory and the dinosaurs right up to modern day and space exploration.
The lighthouse in Watchet sits at the end of the breakwater and, as with many pier lights, is a point of interest for holiday-makers to reach. The small tower dates back to 1862 during the peak of Watchet’s role as a major exporter. At the time there were about 1,100 ship movements each year and the pier and breakwater had just been constructed. The tower was designed by James Abernathy – who won the design contract over, amazingly, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who also submitted a tender – and built by Hennet, Spinks and Else of Bridgewater at a cost of £75. The light now exhibits a fixed green light and boasts a nice little plaque which was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2012 to mark its 150th birthday.
Though it would have been nice to have spent more time exploring Watchet (there’s a Maritime Museum too), more lighthouses beckoned and the next was the Round Tower in Burnham-on-Sea. I’d been to Burnham-on-Sea before and visited the very popular low light on the beach and its high light, but hadn’t been aware at the time of the Round Tower Lighthouse. My research informed me that it was now a guest house and it looked like it wasn’t easy/possible to actually get close enough to touch – unless you were staying there, or course.
The best view of the tower is from the neighbouring graveyard (or, in fact, from one particular spot in the nearby car park). At the front of the building though there is a sign showing the Round Tower Lighthouse as part of the Burnham Heritage Trail. The sign takes you to this link: http://www.captureburnham.co.uk/heritage-trail/round-tower-lighthouse which gives plenty of detail of the history of the tower and it’s really quite sweet beginnings.
Joe the Drone took the opportunity to dust off his blades and went for a fly about and got some great shots from above.
Bidding Burnham adieu, it was time to head for the River Avon. I’d come across the three lights along the north bank of the Avon during research for my book and I wasn’t massively enthralled by them and access looked like it might be a bit tricky. I’d done my various map investigations though and found what seemed like a reasonable way to get to Fir Tree with Upper and Lower Horseshoe looking a bit more of a challenge. Finding somewhere to park in Sea Mills, we set off for the river, easily spotting the footpath heading down through the trees to the river bank. Passing under the bridge meant we were then on the right side of the railway line and the Fir Tree light came into view as soon as we reached the river. Upper and Lower Horseshoe could also be seen further downstream, but whether it was possible to get to them along the bank was something that needed more investigation. First though it was time to take a look at Fir Tree. It’s a very basic structure as the picture shows and I’ve certainly not got much to say about it, but it was a reminder that lights really only need to be functional to fulfil their purpose, especially when they are only lighting a fairly small area as this one is.
It seemed like there was a path that continued on along the river and I was pleased to find that it went all the way to the Upper Horseshoe light and, even better, beyond!
Upper Horseshoe isn’t much beside a pretty thick pole with a light on top and a ladder to one side which is covered towards the top. However, this was actually my favourite of the three, which (of course) had nothing to do with the fact it had Mr Bump from the Mr Men books drawn on it. It was just a better looking light and, rather interestingly, it had a long ladder leading up the embankment next to it and Joe the Drone later confirmed that the ladder led straight up to the railway line, which seemed like a very unwise return route on the way back.
The third light, Lower Horseshoe was also easy enough to get to by continuing along the small path. This one also had a ladder that went up towards the rail tracks. It was a bigger version of the Fir Tree light.
Looking back towards the first two lights it became clear why two of them were called Upper Horseshoe and Lower Horseshoe. They are located on a horseshoe shaped section of the river and later, when Joe the Drone went for a fly he wasn’t legally able to fly high enough (within the drone flight height limit) to capture the whole horseshoe.
It’s a very quiet area with the occasional train going past and as much as I expected to not enjoy it, I must say it was actually my favourite part of the day. Sometimes the fun in getting to these odd lights makes them much more memorable and enjoyable than one you can drive straight to.
On the way back, passing underneath the bridge again in the opposite direction I spotted another Mr Bump painted on the side of it. I’ve no idea why he appears in two places here, I’m quite glad he does.
Heading further east now and to the River Severn, the next destination was the very interesting box on a pole that is the Sheppardine front light. This one is super easy to access from the very end of Shepperdine Road where there is a parking area and the road comes out straight onto the Severn Way. It’s just a short walk east along the river then to reach the tower. The rear of the range lights – a tall pole with lights and day mark – can be seen nearby too. This is another really unique one and makes you wonder what they were thinking when they designed it. It has a radar on top too so the box room may well need extra equipment inside and the pole that it sits on top of gives it the extra elevation it needs.
I had just pointed out how good access to the bridleways were in the area when Bob suggested we try an alternative approach to the Fishinghouse Front light to the directions in my book. The light is actually very close to what is marked as an access route on the map, but the signs on the gates when we arrived there indicated that passing through here wasn’t going to be so easy. In the end we resorted to the directions in my book, which meant a longer walk, but quite a nice one.
The Fishinghouse light is another one of a pair of leading lights and, again, the rear light is a tall pole with lights in a field nearby. The front light is slightly unimpressive, but I’d say the walk to this one from Berkeley Power Station was what made it enjoyable.
Aware that it would be time to start heading back soon, we decided to leave the two Berkeley Pill lights for next time and instead take a quick look at the old lighthouse lantern at Sharpness Docks. I’ve not managed to get confirmation, but I suspect it was one of the old lanterns from one of the Berkeley Pill lights as the lanterns were changed on these at some point. The old lantern now sits just behind a fence and is looking in a sorry state, especially as the nearby green area is filled with nautical paraphernalia including an old buoy.
While in the area we spotted Light Vessel 23, which was built in 1960 and originally served under the name Planet at the Bar station in Liverpool Bay. After being sold to Trinity House in 1972 she served on a number of other stations before she retired in 1989. She came to Sharpness Docks in 2016.
It was time to head back to Southampton at the end of a day that felt a little bit like the old times with multiple lighthouses in a day. As mentioned already, this was a far more enjoyable day than I’d imagined it would be. There are still some more to do, but I don’t see them as the hurdle I used to 🙂