uklighthousetour

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

A Shetland Adventure – part 7

Today has been about quality over quantity. When it comes to the lighthouse on North Havra, many would argue that quality is not quite the right term for it, but I would disagree.

The lighthouse on North Havra is particularly difficult to see and not easy to get to either. Many of the lighthouses in Shetland can at least be seen from somewhere, but this one is different. It’s position on the island means that there is only one place that you can see its light (not the tower) from and that’s only on a clear night.

North Havra was one of eleven islands to be visited by the boat that had been chartered, the Silver Swift, operated by Shetland Sea Adventures based at Hamnavoe. Hamnavoe was a fantastic place to sail from, mainly because we could gaze across at the beautiful Fugla Ness lighthouse. What a wonderful lighthouse that one is. We didn’t quite sail right past it on the way out, but it was still nice to see it from the sea.

After a couple of other islands we arrived at North Havra. Thankfully the sea was calm today and the boat was well set up for getting into (and out of) the tender. So it was a relatively easy hop onto the rocks to get onto the island. As soon as we were off of the rocks we were heading up a particularly steep slope. For an island that’s fairly small it’s rather hilly. I was, of course, on bonxie alert and sure enough there were a couple circling – although Bob initially tried to tell me that they were gulls. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the lighthouse. As expected, the structure is very similar to that at Point of the Pund. It’s a fairly basic GRP tower with a light on top. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rest of the group had decided to make the effort to go and see it too.

North Havra1

North Havra lighthouse

It turns out that the lighthouse really is hard to see from many angles. Even as we sailed around the island we couldn’t see if for quite a while. Once we were to the south of the island we could see it, but only until it disappeared behind another island.

A bit later, as the others were about to go onto another island, Bob pointed out Point of the Pund lighthouse, which we’d been to earlier in the week. On the way back into Hamnavoe Marina we got a closer view of Fugla Ness. It really is a beauty that one.

Fugla Ness

Fugla Ness lighthouse

So, the elusive North Havra was achieved and I am very pleased. Another success story from our Shetland Adventure. 🙂

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A Shetland Adventure – part 6

I’m clearly on a roll here in Shetland. Today has involved visits to three more of the smaller lights on Mainland and Yell.

On Monday’s boat trip we could see the lighthouse at Whitehill, near Vatsetter, on Yell from a distance. Today was the day that we were going to attempt to get even closer. It was an overcast morning with a bit of rain in the air, but you can never let that stop you. After all of yesterday’s rain I thought it might have topped up the bogs a bit just to make them a bit more hazardous.

We parked up at Vatsetter towards the end of the public road and set off across the field. Although we could see the lighthouse at the start of the walk I knew that it was further than it looked. The ground was boggy in places, but not too bad as long as you looked where you were walking. There were a few leaps across damp channels, but that was it really. We headed down towards the beach and decided to follow the coastal route, which clearly caused a little distress to the nearby arctic terns and oystercatchers, but I told them ‘we come in peace’ in the hope that it would make a difference – it didn’t. There were a couple of old ruins by the shore and the remains of an old wrecked boat lay on the stones nearby. The walk was interesting enough that it didn’t seem like long until we arrived at the lighthouse.

Whitehill shipwreck.JPG

The shoreline and wrecked boat near Vatsetter

Whitehills lighthouse is a flat-pack affair and it has the usual solar panels that accompany this kind of structure. One thing we noticed about the solar panels was that they had a thick sheet of perspex over them, which may be an indication of how wild it can get there. It was certainly rougher around the coast there today than it has been in recent days with the wind having moved around to the south east. It was nice to see the location of the old Whitehill tower, which can now be found (painted red) at the side of the road on the approach to Arbroath.

Whitehill

Whitehill lighthouse

On our way back to the car we went cross country a bit more until we spotted some bonxies, which are fast becoming the bane of my Shetland lighthouse bagging days. They didn’t appear to be too aggressive, but we made our way back towards the coast just to steer well clear of them. Once again the terns and oystercatchers “welcomed” us on the way back and only a little while later we were back at the car. I remember looking at the OS maps and the locations of some of the lighthouses in Shetland last year and thinking ‘how on Earth am I going to manage to get to all of them with the distances and terrain’, but over the last few days I’ve realised that not all of them are so inaccessible. I’m not going to lie, there are a few that instil a sense of dread in me at the thought of it, but not so many as there were last year.

After stopping for lunch in Mid Yell, we moved on to our next endeavour, reaching the Ness of Sound lighthouse. I’d seen this one a number of times as it is visible from the main road in Yell as you travel north. It sits on a ‘tied island’, also known as a tombolo, in Yell Sound. Fortunately the sun had come out during lunch time so we were greeted with a beautiful view after we parked up in a lay-by on the main road to the north of Ulsta. It was fairly steep walking down the track which passes alongside a house. It’s always a little unnerving walking so close to someone’s house, but it appeared to be deserted. A great location for a house, just a stone’s throw from the two strips of land that lead you over the the Ness of Sound. It is, in fact, a double tombolo because it has these two strips rather than just one. We opted for the stoney stretch to cross over to the island that’s not really an island. It was fairly steep walking up the grassy, bogginess on the other side, but fortunately not too far before Yell Sound opened up in front of us.

Ness of Sound

Ness of Sound

The lighthouse beckoned, as they so often do, so we wandered down to it. Again it was a flat-pack and most definitely one with stunning views. As we walked down a lone bonxie lingered around a short distance away, but he/she flew off before we reached the lighthouse. There were wonderful views from every side of this one and after a while I sat down with my dad on the rocks in front of the tower taking in the view, while Bob looked into the intriguing concrete “lava spill” (as we called it) on the rocks, which also contained some old rope leading down to the sea from the lighthouse. We could see all the way up to the Point of Fethaland today and I imagined it would have been a wonderful day to have been up there, but Ness of Sound was certainly not a bad alternative. We eventually dragged ourselves away and headed back.

Ness of Sound lighthouse

Ness of Sound lighthouse

Our final stop of the day with Firths Voe. We’d seen it from a distance on our last visit in November, but obviously wanted a closer view. We parked up at the side of the road and wandered down into a farmyard before passing through a couple of gates and then crossing a field down to the lighthouse. To me this is a very recognisable lighthouse. I think it is partly because the ruins of an old building sit behind it and that makes up part of its profile.

Firths Voe1

Firths Voe lighthouse

We upset a few gulls and terns here and my dad was quick to point out that one of my “favourite” birds was flying over. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to bonxies, I don’t think you can really. I’d had enough of the “bonxie fear” today so it was lucky that there was only one and it flew off as quickly as it had arrived. What I like most about Firths Voe lighthouse is that it is still going strong when so many others of its kind have been replaced by flat-packs (not that I have anything against a flat-pack, of course). From memory, the last few of this kind that I had seen were the old Muckle Roe tower near Sumburgh Head and the former Sandaig Islands tower which is now in Glenelg. The latter two are no longer operational so it is fairly rare to see one of these still doing what it does best.

Firths Voe2

Firths Voe

The tide was out while we were there so we could walk around on the rocks and get views from the full 360 degrees. It looks wonderful from every angle. I was a little disturbed to see that the land and rocks on which the concrete base of the tower sits appears to be wearing away underneath and I hope this won’t continue or have any impact on the lighthouse. We also spotted a little pier nearby, which was presumably set up to serve the lighthouse from. It’s a beautiful place and although the tower is relatively new in terms of lighthouses, it is great to see that the last generation of Stevensons were successful at building long-lasting towers just as their ancestors had been. Once hundred and ten years down the line it’s standing proud, just as it should be.

Firths Voe3

Firths Voe from the seaward side

A great bagging day and definitely a few lighthouses to remember. 🙂

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A Shetland Adventure – part 5

Today’s instalment of the Shetland Adventure took us over to the west coast of Shetland Mainland, and the island of Muckle Roe. Muckle Roe is attached to the mainland by a bridge, which is helpful for achieving a visit to the lighthouse there.

We parked at the “car park”, a little lay-by at the side of the road and set off. I was delighted to see a signpost saying “Lighthouse 2km”, mainly because I knew it was a flat-pack lighthouse and I’ve never seen a signpost specifically guiding you to a flat-pack before!

Muckle Roe sign

The flat-pack lighthouse sign

Those 2km were a beautiful walk. We went a little awry initially on the walk and ended up losing the path, but we quickly found it again. The path near enough followed the coast along, with plenty of lovely views, particularly the one in the picture below. I thought that one of the rocks jutting out into the sea here looked like an alligator.

Muckle Roe coastline

One of the incredible views – can you spot the alligator rock?

There were lots of ups and downs and this way and that way as we went. At one point we came to a loch with a lovely little stream leading into the sea. It was a really interesting walk. After a while, when it looked like we still may have had miles and miles still to go, the lighthouse came into view, tucked down at the coast. It looked like we were nearly there until I got a bit closer and discovered that we still had to go a bit further inland to get out to the lighthouse. It wasn’t so far though and the old handrail posts reassuringly led us in the right direction.

The lighthouse is surrounded by an array of rocky outcrops and the cliffs in front of the tower are amazing. As my regular readers will know, I am rather partial to a flat-pack lighthouse and this was a standard one. As with so many of them though it is in part the location that makes them so worth visiting. Would I have wanted to miss out on seeing the great views I got on Muckle Roe this morning? No, I wouldn’t, and if it hadn’t have been for the lighthouse I would have been very unlikely to have gone there. This is what it’s really all about – well, that and the lighthouses too of course.

Muckle Roe from landward

Muckle Roe lighthouse

Knowing that a old lighthouse on Muckle Roe is now next to the car park at Sumburgh Head, I wish I had been able to see it in its original home. People talk a lot about the full-time lighthouse keepers – and very rightly so – but what a wonderful job the person responsible for looking after the old lighthouse here would have had. Take a flask of tea along and sit outside the tower, which was built as an automatic station, on a nice day (I have a wonderful imagination, can you tell?) and enjoy the beauty of it all. A wonderful thought.

Muckle Roe from coast

Looking up at the lighthouse

With the jagged coastline and land around it there are plenty of angles to see the lighthouse from. There was also an interesting little stone hut – or the remains of one – not far from the lighthouse. Not sure what that would have been for, but again a fantastic place to have a hut. Eventually it was time to head off and the walk back was straight forward with no wrong turns taken. The rain started just as we arrived back at the car so our visit was perfectly timed.

This afternoon we finally made it to the Shetland Museum & Archives, which we’d unsuccessfully attempted to visit in November. I knew that it contained the old light mechanism from Bressay lighthouse, which is exactly where I went as soon as I arrived. It is a catoptric mechanism, using mirrors to reflect light rather than glass, which was installed in the Bressay tower in 1940. When the light was automated in 1989 the mechanism was removed and, of course, it is now on display for all to see, which is wonderful. What is most wonderful though is that they have set it up so you can press a big yellow button and it turns as it would have done in the lighthouse.

Bressay mechanism

The old light mechanism from Bressay lighthouse

It was great to see this sort of light mechanism in action and because of the mirrors you also get to see yourself upside down as it spins! It’s fantastic what they have done with it. A real centrepiece to the Museum – or at least that’s what I think anyway. 🙂

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A Shetland Adventure – part 4

Well, what can I say about today except that it has involved possibly the best lighthouse-related walk I have ever done. We decided that today, when the wind was strong from the north, to walk to the most northerly point of Mainland Shetland, the Point of Fethaland. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? In fact it was incredible.

I was joined by Bob, my dad and our friend Mervyn, an island bagger. I was a little confused as to why Mervyn was interested in going to the Point of Fethaland as I just expected it to be a headland with no associated islands, but I was to find out exactly why Mervyn wanted to go there.

We parked up near the farm at Isbister and off we set. Once through the gate we had a choice of turning left or right. It turned out that a left turn would have taken us along a track all of the way, but we spotted cows up that way so turned right. Turning right meant we were taking the “off piste” route and we were wandering across fields and weaving our way over and around the wetter sections of grass before we rejoined the main track, which was basically a road. We spotted the island of Muckle Holm and its lighthouse off to the east on the way. The road petered out into more of a land rover track as we headed downhill and began to get the first views of the lighthouse and passed the old houses.

First view of PoF

The first view of Point of Fethaland

I was surprised at the number of houses, but it turns out the area was once a busy area with a deep-sea fishing station. Sixty boats operated here in the late 19th and early 20th century. These boats were manned by seasonal workers who shared the lodges of which there are believed to have been up to 36. It’s hard to imagine now that it was once the busiest deep-sea fishing station in Shetland. We didn’t see another soul on our whole journey.

Old houses

Some of the ruins of old houses in the area

As we approached Fethaland it became clear why Mervyn was interested. Fethaland itself is an island, albeit only at certain tides or in particularly wild sea conditions. As we walked across the rock and stones that divide the mainland from Fethaland it was fascinating to see the huge rocks to the west with waves crashing while to our right was a pebble beach with calm water in the sheltered natural harbour. Once we crossed the rocks it was a fairly steep walk up the island. At one point we ended up walking along a sheep track which ran along the side of a steep hill. Due to the wind I found myself stopping every couple of minutes until the strongest gusts passed before continuing on. Otherwise I could imagine myself tumbling sideways down the slope. One final push up the hill took us to the lighthouse and an absolutely stunning landscape opened up before us. As we went up, Bob had been to the high point of the island and I saw him climbing rather precariously up onto some rocks – not ideal in strong wind, but when he showed me the resulting picture I understood why he’d been up there.

PoF3

Bob’s view from the precarious rocks

The lighthouse is fascinating. I’ve not seen one like it before. It has a concrete base with a GRP section, containing the lens, on top. The lens was spinning away in the lantern. The black panels on the outside of the tower make it look much more modern than it actually is – it was first lit in 1977. Mervyn was delighted to have made it to the lighthouse too and said that it was his favourite and was beautifully engineered. As a former professor of engineering that is quite a powerful statement. I was pleased to have been there with him and that he is very swiftly coming around to this lighthouse bagging concept.

PoF1

The unique Point of Fethaland lighthouse

From Point of Fethaland we could also see the island of Gruney to the north, which boasts a small lighthouse. With the wild winds the sea was looking pretty choppy, which added to the awe-inspiring atmosphere of the place. It’s truly beautiful and in a really special place.

PoF and Gruney

The lighthouse overlooks the island of Gruney

After we’d spent a reasonable length of time there we started our journey back. It was all going so well until Bob (our guide) decided to climb up a nearby hill and we ended up missing a gate and needing to climb over a fence. All was fine though and we all made it back safe and happy to have been to such a wonderful place. This was certainly one of those days when you are glad to be a lighthouse bagger. 🙂

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A Shetland Adventure – part 3

Today has been a long day with many hours spent on the Compass Rose run by Muckle Flugga Charters, but I was able to visit a lighthouse that I would otherwise never have reached. I waited on board while the others in the group did their islands. There were no easy landings today like we had yesterday on Linga and Vaila so I thought I would stay on the boat until we got to the island of Balta.

We passed the lighthouse on Balta before we landed so I could see that the terrain was very easy going and it would be a nice stroll across. Landing on the island was fine with just a very small clamber onto the rocks initially. Bob had very kindly offered to walk to the lighthouse with me before heading off for the high point. As expected the walk was straightforward with no obstacles at all. It was all rather pleasant really.

Balta Sound1

Balta Sound lighthouse viewed from the north

The lighthouse, as is common in Shetland, is a flat-pack, but it has not always been. The original tower that stood here was built in 1895 and designed by David Stevenson, the last generation of the lighthouse Stevensons. It was believed to have been one of the first concrete structures in Shetland. Having seen an old picture of it on Geograph, it looks a little different from others installed at that sort of time. While many of the other towers of that time were cast iron, it perhaps says a lot about the location and its exposure that it was constructed from concrete. I imagine it can get fairly wild there at times. This tower was demolished in 2003 and replaced with the flat-pack that stands there now. It’s a lovely calm place and I was delighted to have reached it as when you see them from the mainland or main islands they seem almost unreachable. It turns out they are not.

Balta Sound2

The lighthouse seen from the south east

It was a great trip and while I didn’t achieve much in the way of lighthouses it was good to chat with the others, see a bit more of the endless coastline of Shetland and also to get some bonus views of both Whitehill lighthouse near Vatsetter as well as the Uyeasound light, which we visited by land last year. The adventure has certainly continued. 🙂

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A Shetland Adventure – part 2

It’s been a great day in Shetland in terms of lighthouses. While the boat trip I was due to go on this morning to see Hoo Stack was cancelled it certainly hasn’t had any impact on the success of my day. Having plenty of the little lights in Shetland still to do we’d already decided that our contingency plan would be to walk to the Point of the Pund light, which we had looked into on our last visit, but not had enough time to fit in. My dad came along too and it was a really pleasant walk, probably in part because a lot of it is on tarmac road and then a land rover track. The little peninsula that the light sits on the end of is very picturesque and you can also see the Fugla Ness light (one of my favourites of its kind) from here. The Point of the Pund light was still on when we got there so we were able to see the red, white and green sectors in action. The tower is not like others I’ve seen before. It is really very basic, but something a bit different is always nice to see. It’s a tranquil location, or at least it was today.

Pund

Point of the Pund lighthouse

From here we decided to take a look at access to the Rova Head lighthouse. I was aware that getting out onto the peninsula was tricky with tall fences cutting it off. We were intrigued though to see whether it was possible to get around the fences where they met the coastline. As it turned out it was. I’m not going to say I enjoyed the walk to Rova Head. It involved a lot of things I’m not keen on, such as slippery rocks, angry birds (arctic terns in this case), long spongy grass where you can’t tell where you are putting your feet, etc. We made it to the lighthouse though and were lucky that we were there a few hours before high tide. Although it was a calm day today I can imagine it gets quite interesting there in rough conditions. Just before you get to the lighthouse there is a very narrow channel that runs through the rocks and you can hear the sea gushing about down there as you step over it. The lighthouse itself is an Ikea box, and a fairly standard one. While this one doesn’t look a significant structure it is, in fact, considered to be a major light due to its positioning and the important navigation role is plays. If the walk there had been slightly more enjoyable I may have appreciated it a little more. Definitely not one I will be rushing back to!

Rova Head

Rova Head lighthouse

After stopping off for lunch in Lerwick with the kids and my parents, we were off again. This time on a boat trip to the islands of Linga and Vaila off of Walls. While neither island is home to a lighthouse, there was the nearby Vaila Sound/Rams Head light that I had not seen before. I was hopeful that speaking nicely to the skipper would get us a chance to sail around to see it quickly. Before we even left Bob had spoken to them and they were more than happy to get us around there. But first there were islands! On these trips my priority is usually lighthouses, or islands with lighthouses, so I tend to miss out on quite a few – often due to rather awkward looking landings. The two today though had perfect landing points, a pontoon on Linga and a pier on Vaila, so it would have been rude not to. Linga is a small island, but there is evidence that people did live there once with a couple of houses in various states of ruin and a newer building which suggests that not so long ago (and maybe even still) someone went or goes there.

Linga

Remains of an old house on Linga

Moving on to Vaila, a significantly bigger island. What can I say about it apart from that it is fascinating. We weren’t there long enough for me to explore the island fully, I imagine that would take at least a day. I stayed around the harbour area while the others went to the island high point and some other hill and a trig point. There is a beautiful little bridge crossing a narrow little river that obviously comes down from higher ground on the island. When you think of Shetland you imagine wild, remote terrain with any evidence of delicate flora and fauna long since blown away. This part of Vaila though is evidence that the small, delicate and beautiful can live and thrive here. On the small banks of the little river were some small yellow flowers, not the type of harsh plant you would expect, but one so small and dainty. If I were a flower person I might be able to tell you what they were, but unfortunately I am not. I’d happened to be in contact with a friend of mine who lives in Shetland while I was there and he gave me a call while I wandered around and he explained that when he was a child he used to live on the island while his father was a boatman for the estate. He clearly has a real fondness for the place and I can quite imagine what a wonderful place it would be to live as a child.

Vaila

A beautiful scene on Vaila

Just a short distance back towards the pier I noticed a gate with a sign saying ‘Ham Garden Centenary 1913-2013’. I’d heard mention of there being a graveyard on the island  so I made my way in. What I found there was completely unexpected with well-maintained grassy paths leading in various directions through this garden. Since I was young I have always loved the story ‘The Secret Garden’ and it is the garden in the story that I love most about it. In this garden on Vaila I imagined that I was in the secret garden. I made it to the real ‘secret garden’ section and just after entering the tree lined paths I spotted two stones on the ground with the names Effie and Olga on them. Just next to these stones was a stone pug with wings. It turns out that someone who used to live on the island owned two pugs and she buried them there when they died. Hence the stone pug. Further on there were more gravestones, for people this time. Passing beyond these there was a dark section of the path covered by overhanging trees which even I had to bend down to walk through. Beyond that was an old gate and as I headed back towards the harbour through the final part of the garden I’d not been through I spotted a variety of plants you wouldn’t expect to find there. It was a fascinating place. Needless to say, I was glad I’d spent some time there.

Vaila garden

Ham Garden on Vaila

Once we were all back on the boat we headed straight for the lighthouse. The Vaila Sound lighthouse (also known as White Ness or Ram’s Head) was looking good from the sea today. Apparently the walk out to it isn’t too bad, so perhaps I will attempt that at some point for a closer look. It’s another flat-pack structure and when you see it from the sea it looks fairly majestic sitting up on the rocks. As with a lot of these locations that used to have the white cast iron towers, there is evidence of some form of liquid, possibly acid, being thrown down the rocks. This was the case here too. I was pleased that a few of the others on the boat took an interest as well, even though lighthouses aren’t their primary (or even secondary) focus. I was reminded by one of the members of the group that he referred to the flat-pack towers as “Steffanson” lighthouses, partly due to the Swedish link with them looking like some sort of Ikea invention, but also referencing the Stevenson link with most of the larger Scottish lighthouses.

Vaila Sound

Vaila Sound lighthouse

It was a good, fun day and hopefully there is plenty more of that to come! 🙂

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A Shetland Adventure – part 1

I have added “part 1” to the title of this post with a fairly high level of confidence. We are in Shetland for two weeks with various chartered boat trips organised to take us to some of the more difficult to reach islands and, most importantly for me, lighthouses. It is Shetland though and in Shetland the weather dictates most things – particularly boats, although many of the scheduled ferries (and their crew) are pretty hardy. So, I am hopeful that by being here for two weeks I will manage to achieve at least a few new lighthouses.

Now, back to the beginning. Last night we set off from Aberdeen on board the MV Hrossey. I wolfed down my dinner a little too fast in order to be able to head outside as soon as we set off. My aim was to get a closer view of the lighthouse on the end of the north pier. The pier is closed to the public so the best views I’d managed to get of it in the past were from the other side of the harbour and from the beach to the north of the pier. This was a much more successful attempt though and while I was still taking pictures of the lighthouse when some dolphins appeared. My dad, who was standing next to me at the time, later asked me if I had taken any pictures of the dolphins. I, of course, hadn’t as I was too busy concentrating on the lighthouse and only caught a brief glimpse of the dolphins before they disappeared.

Aberdeen North Pier

Aberdeen North Pier lighthouse

Happy with the views of the north pier light, I then thought I’d take a wander to the back of the boat to see how the south breakwater light was looking. Getting to the bottom of the steps I realised that at the point we were probably as close as we were going to get to it. Dashing across to the other side of the boat I caught a few pictures just in time. It was interesting to see it from that angle as it features a set of four lights all in the line. As if it didn’t look odd enough from the land, it looked even more strange from the sea. Well worth the dash to get closer to it though. I always thought Girdle Ness was fairly close to the south breakwater, but the tower seemed fairly distant from the ferry, so certainly not the best view of that one.

Aberdeen South Breakwater

Aberdeen South Breakwater lighthouse

If I hadn’t been quite so tired last night then I may have been tempted to get up early to see what lights I could spot as we travelled up towards Lerwick, but it was just not going to happen. I enjoy my sleep too much and dealing with young children on little sleep never makes for a pleasant day. So I woke in Lerwick like most normal people would.

When I visited Shetland for a couple of days last November our first stop was Sumburgh Head. There’s something about that place that seems to draw me in every time I arrive. Of course that was where we went as soon as we left the ferry. I spotted the beautiful Bressay tower across the water as we headed south (more on that one later) and also the flat-pack Mousa light. It was great to see how much the kids enjoyed wandering about at Sumburgh Head, even starting from the car park where the old Muckle Roe tower is now located.

Muckle Roe old

The old Muckle Roe light with Sumburgh Head in the background

Strangely enough the weather was very different for us today (a chilly wind and plenty of cloud about) than it was in November last year when the sun was rising wonderfully. I strolled around the outside of the buildings looking for any new angles to take pictures from. After that I joined the rest of my family in the exhibition room and gift shop. I was pleased to see that my son was thoroughly enjoying repeatedly pressing the button that set off a recording of the foghorn. Apparently most children who visit are petrified of it. Sumburgh has a nice feel about it and its location always draws you to it as it’s so easy to get to from the airport or ferry (if you have a car of course).

Sumburgh Head

Sumburgh Head lighthouse

Returning to Lerwick for the afternoon we had a quick lunch before we were due to re-board the MV Hrossey. Our arrival nicely coincided with the Lerwick RNLI Harbour Day and Northlink Ferries had organised a cruise around the islands of Bressay and Noss. Weather permitting the ferry was due to be joined by the Lifeboat, which I knew my little boy would love. Of course, I also had in the back of my mind that it would mean passing fairly close to Bressay lighthouse so I booked us all tickets to go on the cruise.

For some reason I’d expected us to set off heading south east and catching the Bressay lighthouse within the first 20 minutes or so. When the captain announced over the tannoy system that we would be heading north first it took a while for my brain to catch up and I suddenly realised that we may be sailing quite close to the Rova Head lighthouse very early in the trip. By the time I realised this, I dashed (again) to a window just in time to see the lighthouse, a flat-pack type, right outside. As the view through the window wasn’t very clear I knew I needed to go outside so I did a bit more dashing. My dashing came to a halt before I’d made it to the door though. You know how there are those scenes in cartoons where characters get stuck behind people or a person and just cannot get past, well that is exactly what happened here. I got stuck behind a very slow-moving person and then went to take a short cut only to get stuck behind a couple of people who had just come in from outside and were standing aside to let the slow person past. I eventually made it out just in time to see Rova Head getting smaller and smaller. I did get some pictures of it in the distance, but I’d not even had time to grab the camera and the zoom lens. Some of the pictures were nice though as the Lifeboat was passing between our boat and Rova Head. So I can’t really complain too much.

Rova Head and Lifeboat

The Lifeboat passing Rova Head

We arranged to go up to the bridge where the kids showed no interest in the captain’s chair or anything like that. They just wanted to enjoy the uninterrupted views of the Lifeboat bouncing about from the panoramic windows.

As the ferry began to follow the south coast of Bressay I went outside with the camera poised ready to see the lighthouse. I’m quite fond of this one having enjoyed spending time inside it last year. It’s a lovely little tower. It slowly came into view after some frankly astonishing coastal scenery. While everyone else was busy taking pictures of the Lifeboat running very close alongside us, I had my camera trained on the lighthouse. There were a few opportunities to get pictures of both the lighthouse and Lifeboat at the same time, which was nice, but the highlight was being able to see the lighthouse from this angle. As we turned the corner the natural arch very close to the tower came into view. It’s such an impressive section of the coast. It’s a shame the tower no longer contains an operational light as we may well have been able to see it from our accommodation, which looks down over Lerwick. The boat trip around Bressay was a fairly last minute addition to our schedule, but I’m pleased we did it. I’m just kicking myself a bit for not thinking of Rova Head sooner.

Bressay lighthouse

Bressay lighthouse and the natural arch

So, a positive start to the trip and let’s hope it continues in that way. We have already begun discussing back up plans to get to some of the smaller lighthouses on the mainland if boat trips aren’t running. Being on holiday with my parents, who have been looking forward to seeing the kids for months, we are lucky to be able to have a little bit of free time to go off and enjoy walks and trips that we couldn’t do very easily at all with the kids.

Hopefully more to come tomorrow! 🙂

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The mad plan: Shetland – part three

Today was the last official day of the mad plan (we do now have the Clyde trip organised for tomorrow), but it was also the day where the mad plan caught up with me. It has indeed been a mad week: eight ferries, one boat trip, four flights, and – most importantly – over 20 lighthouses not including the distance bags. No wonder I’m tired.

Anyway, another factor contributing to my tiredness today was Bob’s insistence that we get the 7.10am ferry across to Whalsay. I obviously didn’t mind visiting the lighthouses, but did it have to be so early a start! His reasoning was that it would then allow us time to visit some more on Mainland Shetland before flying back to Aberdeen. How could I argue?! So, a 5.20am alarm call it was.

Off we set in the dark (I know, there are so many things wrong with this) and made the first ferry. Due to the irrepressible southerly winds we have experienced in Shetland over the last couple of days the ferry was departing from Vidlin, which meant a potential sighting of the light on Wether Holm on the way to Whalsay. Sadly, this was not to be as the ferry took a different route. The crossing was a little splashy in places, but not too bad. Not only did we have an early start, but our time was restricted on the island to 1 hour and 25 minutes (not by ferries necessarily, but by Bob – the man is relentless). So, 85 minutes to visit two lighthouses and hopefully allow him time to get to the island high point. Fortunately, Whalsay isn’t too big and the lighthouses aren’t too many miles apart.

Symbister Ness

Symbister Ness lighthouse

Our first stop was Symbister Ness on the south west coast of the island. Brian had very helpfully informed us that it was just on the other side of the quarry, which we skirted around. If anyone reading this is thinking that Bob is cruel then you’ll be pleased to know that he got wet feet on the way to the lighthouse (mine are still dry)! It was quite wet underfoot in places, but in general was straightforward. The lighthouse is one of the delightful IKEA types, which replaced a more traditional looking structure (more on the original a bit later). It was a nice vantage point for watching the waves crashing on the smaller islands in the area and on the rocks just below the lighthouse. Having spent just long enough there to take some pictures, we needed to return to the car in order to stick to the schedule.

Suther Ness

Suther Ness lighthouse

Suther Ness was our next destination. Again, Brian had offered his advice on where to park and we made sure not to leave the car in anybody’s way. Suther Ness sits in a stunning location, similar to Ness of Sound on Yell, on a small almost-island that is connected to Whalsay by a narrow strip of land. The sun was rising as we walked out to the lighthouse and who can resist that golden glow? We could also see the light on Wether Holm from here so we felt we hadn’t entirely missed out on that one. The original lighthouse at Suther Ness now stands in the car park outside the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh. The team at the Museum are doing fabulous work to give a home to the disused lights and optics. The current tower at Suther Ness is also a flat-pack IKEA. After two days in Shetland I had not managed to see any of this type at close range, so felt the need to make up for it today!

Wether holm

Wether Holm lighthouse

Again, sticking to the schedule we dashed back to the car and I encouraged Bob to make an attempt on the island high point as he’s not got a lot out of the past week in terms of hills. That good wife move almost backfired though as he only had a very short period of time to bag the hill before we needed to get back to the ferry, which meant he had to rush, so perhaps not as enjoyable for him as it could have been. But he got the hill done and we made it back to the ferry and just about squeezed on. We were particularly pleased to find that the ferry was taking its usual route back to Vidlin, which would take us past Wether Holm. We got fairly close too, so a nice end to our very brief visit to the island. I imagine there is plenty more to see there, but the other attractions will need to wait for another time.

Old Symbister Ness

The old Symbister Ness lighthouse

I mentioned earlier the former lighthouse at Symbister Ness. Well, unlike the Suther Ness light, this one has ended up in a more unconventional location – in somebody’s garden in Collafirth on Shetland Mainland. We simply had to stop by and see it. It is very much out of place, but makes you smile when you see it. It felt a little weird taking pictures of someone’s garden, but I’m sure they must be used to it. I mean, you don’t put something like that in your garden and expect people to ignore it, surely! It’s great to see it as you head north on the main road. I have informed Bob that I would like one in our garden, so I shall eagerly await Christmas…

The main aim of the trip to Shetland was to gather some pictures of its lighthouses and we all know variety is the spice of life. I had seen very distant pictures of the two Shetland Council-owned lights in West Burrafirth. From a distance they just looked liked a box with a small light coming from them. I really knew very little about them, except that they were 2 metres tall so I suspected they had doors and were probably a bit more substantial than they appeared online. These lights would definitely offer the variety I required so we headed for West Burrafirth and the inner light first.

West burrafirth inner

West Burrafirth inner light

Spotting it from the ferry terminal initially we then knew exactly where we had to go. It was a short walk to the lighthouse (Bob still managed to get his foot wet for the third time though) and I can confirm that it is indeed bigger than it looks. It’s still essentially a box with a light sticking out of it, but there’s more to it than that. Firstly, it is actually a building, roughcasting and everything! Secondly, the light is really quite interesting. If you look into the tube sticking out of the hole (I’m really selling it here, aren’t I?!) you can see the different sector colours. It’s all a little bit modern and you just never know it could revolutionise lighthouse technology in the future – probably not, but it’s a clever idea. I have decided to name this type a “light box” – it’s an affectionate term.

West burrafirth outer

West Burrafirth outer light

I’m not going to say I enjoyed visiting the West Burrafirth outer light as much as that would be a lie. This was where my mood really went downhill. I can only blame lack of sleep and food and I have since apologised to Bob for his having to put up with me. Anyway, this walk was slightly longer with a bit more up and down, but we got there. You may be interested to know that this one is slightly different to the inner lighthouse. The light doesn’t stick out of the structure, it is set in slightly. The door also has a wider pane of glass! Really, there’s not much to say about them, but I can’t recall having seen any like this before.

It was finally time for a quick lunch and we decided, on the way south, to stop off at Port Arthur to check out access to the Point of the Pund light. We found the gate and start of the footpath, but decided we didn’t have time for the walk today, so we abandoned a visit. We’ll be back for that one, but good to get an idea of the starting point.

So that was really it for today and we are now back on the mainland. With it being such a clear evening we were able to clearly see Fair Isle and the islands of Orkney on the flight back. What a time we had on Shetland. It was exhausting, but so worth it. We achieved so much more than I expected and that is, in no small part, due to Brian. I must also mention Bob’s massive contribution to the trip: all of the miles of driving, the wet feet and putting up with me. Finally, thanks to Bob’s mum for having the kids and enabling us to have such a mad week.

One more post to come tomorrow following our Clyde trip and there is a chance that will be it for this year, but what a year it’s been! 🙂

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The mad plan: Shetland – part two

A second day of lighthouse bagging in Shetland today, but how could we really have followed the success of yesterday? Well, the truth is we probably couldn’t, but that wasn’t going to stop us, so we ventured out into the wind and rain this morning to meet Brian not far from the ferry to Yell. Today has felt a bit like the grand tour of Shetland, although this morning’s weather was really not in our favour when it came to spotting lighthouses on the numerous small islands that surround Mainland, Yell and Unst. Our ultimate aim today was to reach the very top of Unst for a glimpse of the lighthouse that seems to magically sit on the rock that is Muckle Flugga, making it the most northerly of all British lighthouses.

With a little while to wait until the ferry to Yell, we drove into Mossbank and had a brief look at Firths Voe lighthouse from the end of the road. We’d seen it flashing (or occulting really) as we’d driven up the main road to the south west. We didn’t have time this morning to walk to it, but we will return at some point as it’s an easy one to get to.

Uyeasound

Uyeasound lighthouse

Once on Yell and driving north along the road that follows the west coast, Brian was informing us of all of the lights we would be able to see in Yell Sound if there wasn’t so much mist about. It was one of those mornings where you know it’s no use looking for something that’s any distance away. We were just hopeful that it might clear at some point. On the road north we saw the Ness of Sound lighthouse, which looks fantastic. A great little walk to do some day soon, but we were keen to get to Unst so continued the journey.

Arriving just in time for the ferry, we made the short crossing and decided to take a break from the car at Uyeasound to see the lighthouse there. Brian, having been to the lighthouse numerous times and not fancying the short walk in the wind and rain, very sensibly decided to watch us from the car. Uyeasound lighthouse isn’t your usual style of lighthouse, which is interesting for me! There are a few of this type dotted around Shetland and they are more substantial than they look when you are close up. It’s a really easy walk to the lighthouse and on a nice day it could be part of a really pleasant stroll along the beach.

Flugga shore station

Muckle Flugga shore station

Continuing our journey to the very north we were very much still in the mist. Brian wasn’t convinced we would see Muckle Flugga, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity if the weather cleared a bit as the forecast was predicting. As we neared Burrafirth there was no sign of improvement so Brian suggested we stop by the old shore station for Muckle Flugga. The shore station itself is in a great location with wonderful views of the coastal landscape of the area. The old boat shed is still very much there and it gave a really good idea of how the boats were launched and where the keepers began the final leg of the journey to “The Flugga”. Part of the cottages has been converted into the Hermaness Visitors Centre, although that is closed at this time of year. Another of the cottages is self-catering accommodation. Just beyond the main building is the helipad. It would be a wonderful place to depart from for getting to the lighthouse, although Brian’s undertaking of that journey on so many occasions in the past has considerably dampened his enjoyment of it.

So, it was time to see if we were going to have any luck seeing the lighthouse itself from beyond Saxa Vord. Once we were up there it became clear very quickly that the low cloud simply wasn’t going to allow it. We decided to stay in the area though and try again in a little while – we weren’t so easily discouraged.

Brian suggested heading out to Holm of Skaw to see the most northerly house and I, of course, quickly pointed out that I recalled there being a lighthouse (the flat-pack IKEA type) out that way, which Brian confirmed was correct. On the approach to the most northerly house we could see the lighthouse in the distance. Interestingly, we learned from Brian that the dangers around the Holm of Skaw were originally covered by a red sector light within the Muckle Flugga lighthouse compound. The small building that housed this light is still there today, but the light was discontinued when Holm of Skaw lighthouse was introduced. Brian also informed us that Muckle Flugga was originally known as North Unst lighthouse.

After another quick and unsuccessful attempt at seeing The Flugga we decided to give the weather a little longer to sort itself out while we went for lunch. It was one of the most productive lunches I’ve ever experienced while we quizzed Brian, with mapping set up, for details of access to the lighthouses and the best viewpoints to see them from if they were a little more tricky to get to. Invaluable stuff, this. He really does know everything there is to know about Shetland and its lighthouses!

Flugga

Our view of Muckle Flugga lighthouse

Now, it was obvious that the sky had cleared by the time we left the very nice Final Checkout Cafe, so we went for a third and final attempt on The Flugga. As we got closer we were all feeling a lot more confident – I may have clapped with excitement at one point, something I do very rarely! Then when I spotted her (sorry, the lighthouse) as we came over the rise I might have squealed “There she is!” – something I do slightly more often, but not frequently! It was still a little misty, but the lighthouse was very definitely there between the two rising slopes. It wasn’t a view for getting stunning or detailed pictures, but I had seen it – or as Brian so eloquently put it, “eyeballed” The Flugga! I was, of course, very happy about this, particularly as we had tried and failed the first two times. You always appreciate things much more when you don’t succeed straight away, as was very much the case with the Flannans and the Monachs (I was getting quite used to our annual holidays to the Western Isles while we waited for the perfect conditions to get to them).

Satisfied, we began our journey back down the islands. On the way, and as a result of improved visibility, we were able to see the Balta Sound lighthouse, the light on Little Holm, Mio Ness lighthouse and The Rumble light beacon. A much more interesting return journey.

Eshaness2

Eshaness lighthouse this evening

We travelled straight back in order to see the final lighthouse that Brian had offered to show us: Eshaness. It’s a fair old drive out to Eshaness, but we were rewarded towards the end of the journey by views of the light flashing away, inviting us to continue on over and pay a visit. Brian informed us that once the light was on there would be no access to the lamp room. I was fine with that. With regularly visiting lighthouses, so often you are there during the day and don’t get to witness the light in action, so it was a great opportunity to do just that.

We sat with Brian for a while as he showed us pictures he has of Muckle Flugga, Ve Skerries (which you can often see at Eshaness flashing at night, but not today unfortunately), Out Skerries, Sule Skerry, Cape Wrath and the Flannans, among others. The pictures are fascinating and some have great stories to accompany them. While we were there a couple who run a lighthouse museum on Lake Erie in the USA joined us for a little while. After that we spent a while taking pictures of the lighthouse from outside before saying a very fond farewell to Eshaness. It was a wonderful end to another lighthouse-filled day. We have more time here tomorrow before our flight leaves so you can expect one more Shetland post coming very soon.

me and brian

Me with Brian

Leaving Eshaness also meant that it was time to say goodbye to Brian who had proven to be the most valuable of lighthouse tour guides there could possibly be. His experience and knowledge combined took his “tour” far beyond your average look around a place. He knows these lighthouses inside out and clearly has a real enjoyment of and enthusiasm for them. He’s also incredibly modest: I told him earlier that he was so helpful and great company too and his response was “I’m just me”. I will definitely be maintaining regular contact with Brian in the future. We’ve got a good new friend there! 🙂

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The mad plan: Shetland – part one

The mad plan for this week was introduced in my post from Sunday. We successfully completed the Jersey part of the week, and today the second half began: Shetland!

I’ve struggled a little with Shetland recently. Having never been there I was getting to the point with my lighthouse list where it felt like everything was miles apart with massively long walks to each of them. The reason for coming to Shetland for three days was to take pictures of some of its lighthouses, but after the first day it has already become one of my most exciting trips to date.

After just a couple of hours sleep last night and an early flight from Aberdeen to Sumburgh, I wasn’t quite bouncing off of the walls with excitement. That soon changed though as we spotted the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head flashing away as we came in to land. The start of our time here was also enhanced by meeting up with Brian who, in his “retirement”, carries out maintenance work on 37 lighthouses across Shetland. I had come into contact with Brian through my membership of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers and Ian Duff who joined us for the Skerryvore trip earier this year. Brian and Ian have known each other for many years and worked together in a number of lighthouses. Brian had very kindly offered to act as our tour guide for seeing some of the major lights, and he suggested heading straight to Sumburgh Head. I was, of course, delighted with this suggestion.

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Sumburgh Head lighthouse

Brian made arrangements with the Northern Lighthouse Board for us to go up the tower. The day was just getting better and better already! Throwing into the mix the fact that the sun was just rising made it even more amazing! The tower at Sumburgh Head is fairly short – one of the benefits of sitting on top of high cliffs, I suppose. This made it particularly pleasant to climb up. The optic and light must be turned off before anyone goes up there. It is a massive optic and, partnered with the views from the tower, made for a really special experience. He also showed us how the foghorn equipment worked and we got to witness him starting the engines, which he routinely does just to keep them up and running.

It didn’t take us long to realise that Brian is an absolutely master of his trade. He knows everything about Shetland’s lighthouses as well as so many others. There are only a few he hasn’t been too, and by all accounts it sounds like he was often specifically chosen to address problems with the lights across Scotland. He’s served in some of the most impressive including Sule Skerry, Skerryvore, Chicken Rock and Ardnamurchan and has stories to tell about them all. Watching him doing anything within the lighthouse at Sumburgh as well as the foghorn was fascinating. His attention to detail and his knowledge are outstanding. Definitely the right person to have around if anything goes wrong!

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The old Muckle Roe lighthouse with Sumburgh Head in the background

From Sumburgh we headed back down the road and stopped at the old Muckle Roe light which welcomes visitors to Sumburgh Head at the main parking area. Brian had already informed me that he and a colleague had re-built the tower in its current location – no mean feat considering most of the detail necessary to assist with building it had long gone. As if the day wasn’t exciting enough, we were able to get inside this little tower and climb to the top where we saw the small optic, more great views and got to spend some time in one of these lovely structures that I’d never had the opportunity to get inside before. I felt very privileged, especially as Brian had taken the time to show just the two of us around.

After lunch we hopped over on the very short ferry crossing to Bressay. As well as continuing to work for the Northern Lighthouse Board, Brian also does some work for the Shetland Amenities Trust who own both the old Muckle Roe light at Sumburgh and the old lighthouse at Bressay as well as the associated buildings. As soon as you arrive at Bressay lighthouse you know you are somewhere very special. I don’t even know where to begin in describing the coastline around it, and then with the lighthouse standing tall above it… There are really no words. If the geo and surrounding rocks next to the lighthouse weren’t enough, the tower itself stands not far away at all from a natural arch (known as the “Giant’s Knee” by the keepers). It’s places like Bressay that remind me of why I enjoy lighthouses so much. To actually explain why I enjoy them is tough – just go to Bressay and you will find out for yourself!

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Bressay lighthouse

Brian had warned us that the lamp room was now completely empty (the old optic can be seen in the Shetland Museum and Archives) and I was expecting to feel sad about it once we reached the top, but I felt anything but. Firstly, they’ve raised the floor level slightly making it exactly the perfect size of room for someone of my short stature. The views from every single angle are awe-inspiring and the acoustics inside are fascinating!

Standing around in the lamp room at Bressay was a brilliant opportunity to hear lots more of Brian’s stories from his days travelling the lights of Scotland. One question I asked which prompted numerous stories was “what do you think really happened to the keepers who missing from the Flannans?” He said that there is something very strange about the Flannans lighthouse and recalled various occurrences of things happening that made no sense. Some of the stories he told were particularly creepy, such as one of the keepers seeing a man in a storeroom and when he returned to Brian was clearly frightened. When they went back to the room there was no one there and the keeper pointed to the spot he’d seen this man and it was within a small area that always felt considerably colder than the rest of the room. Brian also felt like he was being watched sometimes when no one else was around. By this point I definitely wasn’t smiling anymore! There was one really funny story though when one of the keepers was outside the lighthouse on a very misty day and saw three man emerging from the mist and he thought it was the missing men. It turned out to be three fishermen from the Channel Islands who had landed on the island and wandered up to the lighthouse. We laughed about it, but it would have been pretty scary for him!

Anyway, I digress (very easy to do with Brian’s stories). We eventually pulled ourselves away from the lighthouse and took a drive up to the island high point in the hire car, as you do! It was quite bumpy and the road wasn’t really suitable for a Micra, but it’s still intact.

Before we left Brian for the day he had a look through my list and shared his knowledge of the best way(s) to access the lighthouses he regularly visits. There is no end to his knowledge!

Twageos

Twageos Point lighthouse

We decided to finish the day with a couple of stops off at some of the smaller lighthouses. Being in the Lerwick area anyway, the structure at Twageos Point was just begging us to visit. It turned out to be a very simple visit – the lighthouse basically has its own gate and a well-trodden path leading to it. In comparison with the lights we’d already seen that day it wasn’t the most amazing, but it has its own charm and was obviously built to be functional above anything else.

With just a short time left before the sun was due to go down, we obviously felt the need to cram in another lighthouse.

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Fugla Ness lighthouse

We opted for Fugla Ness based on it being fairly easy to access and not too far from where we were. The walk out there was a combination of easy grassy sections and big old boulders. Bob rushed off ahead with all of the abilities of a mountain goat to then have to wait for me to catch him up (or came back and accompany me along). As soon as I saw this one from the road I knew I loved it! The surrounding scenery probably helps, but it really is a beauty, sitting there on its own little grass and rock peninsula. I think I might just take that one home. I will let the picture speak for itself.

On top of the lighthouses we’ve visited, we also had distance glimpses of a number of other lights today, including Mousa, Hoo Stack and Moul of Eswick. We’ve seen the islands of Foula and Fair Isle too. So many islands still to do here…

I am hoping this post goes some way in conveying just how much I have enjoyed today. All of the smiling and fun of the day (and probably the lack of sleep last night) is catching up with me! We have another day lined up with Brian tomorrow. More on that tomorrow evening! 🙂

I should also note that, in my last blog post, I mentioned that we would be going on a RIB ride along the Clyde to catch a few of the lights there. For technical reasons relating to the boat we weren’t able to do this on Wednesday. It has instead been postponed until Monday.

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