uklighthousetour

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

The grand finale in South Wales

Yesterday’s post was all about the excitement of visiting Flatholm last Sunday morning. This post is a continuation of the day, and the conclusion of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM weekend.

Leaving Cardiff Barrage behind we had a few hours to spare before we needed to be at Nash Point, so we thought Porthcawl would be a suitable place for lunch and a visit to the lighthouse on the end of the breakwater. We’d been warned that there was an Elvis convention in Porthcawl that weekend, but we had no problems getting around and sadly didn’t see any Elvis impersonators during our time there.

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Porthcawl lighthouse

Porthcawl lighthouse, like so many others, has taken a fair old battering in its time. The reason I mention this specifically for this lighthouse is that almost all of the pictures you see online of Porthcawl lighthouse have a big wave smashing against the breakwater. There are just some lighthouses that become well-known for being wave-washed. I suppose it’s harder to get pictures of Skerryvore, Bishop Rock or any of the other rock lighthouses in a storm!

The lighthouse is in a poor state, considering it is still operational. One of the glass pains in the lantern is half gone – probably due to those big waves – and local “artists” have been carving their artwork (well, their names mostly) into the black section towards the bottom. It has also, rather oddly, had white instructions telling people to take their rubbish home with them painted onto this lower black section. I suppose it makes the message noticeable if nothing else. It is a shame as it has a lot of history, including only being converted to electricity in 1997.

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Nash Point lighthouse

Our final lighthouse visit of the weekend was Nash Point. I have a rather amusing picture of myself at Nash Point from a previous visit when the lighthouse was closed and I am looking sad next to the ‘lighthouse closed’ sign. This time we knew we’d definitely be getting in though as tours had been organised for us as members of the ALK. Half of our group were a bit rebellious and went off ahead while a few of us waited for the tour to start, and I’m glad I did. We started at a map showing the local area and our tour guide, whose name I failed to catch, explained the hazards of the sand bar to the west of Nash Point. As we arrived the tide was dropping so we were able to see the sandbar clearly. He also explained how the shifting sands in the area from north to south meant that over time the warning effect of the two lighthouses as range lights (including the tower now without its lantern a short distance away) was no longer working. With the lights in line it was no longer giving the necessary warning in the right place, hence why the second light was discontinued.

We left the ground floor and started to make our way up the tower. We stopped at each level including the wedding room and overflow wedding room! The most fascinating room on our way up, though, was the room that now houses the old optic. It was great to see the inside of the optic without having to peer through it. There were three bulbs inside, including the back-up light and a smaller bulb used in the event of power failure so the light then required less electricity. One member of our party had actually been in the lighthouse when they had moved the optic down from the lantern. She said it was amazing to watch.

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The light inside Nash Point

Literally the high point was inside the lantern, although it was definitely less inspiring than that of Flatholm as obviously the optic had been removed. In its place was an octagonal mechanism with rectangular optic-esque panels on six of the eight sides, as well as an emergency light on top. The views out of the windows were great and on a clear day, or that morning, you could see quite clearly across to Somerset and North Devon, including Foreland Point lighthouse.

We were left in the lamp room to make our way down in our own time. Once we got back to the bottom we met up with our tour guide again who offered us an opportunity to go inside the old foghorn station. By this point our party had dwindled to just three. As the tour guide said, since the foghorn was taken out of service very few people go into the station and, as a result, it is not as well-maintained as the lighthouse. The equipment is very much still there though, aside from a few very minor items that actually play a major role – the foghorn cannot function without them. The removal of them was all part of the closure of the station.

The need to get to Scotland that night had obviously not been at the forefront of our minds as we were among the last to leave Nash Point. But leave we did, eventually, and what a weekend it had been! I met so many people who share my interest in lighthouses – most people think it is odd, although friends and family definitely notice them a lot more now than they used to. But to spend time with people who have the same level of appreciation was wonderful. Of course, I will be attending again in the future, mostly because I am now part of their events team, but also because it makes for a thoroughly good weekend. Chatting away to someone about lighthouses without them only half-listening or looking at you a bit strangely is brilliant. And if you have any interest at all in lighthouses, beacons, lights on sticks, flat pack lighthouses, etc. then you should absolutely join the ALK. You will not regret it! 🙂

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Top speed to Flatholm!

Not wanting to spend the final day of our Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM weekend relaxing or preparing for a long drive back to Scotland, we threw ourselves head first into more lighthouse bagging last Sunday. The weekend had already been a success (see my previous posts for more details of that), but the highlight – perhaps nestled happily alongside Caldey Island in first place – was going to be a trip to Flatholm. The trip had been organised by the ALK and a lot of hard work had gone into planning it.

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The light on Cardiff Bay Barrage

We were to head out on Bay Island Voyages RIBs from Cardiff Bay Barrage. We arrived in plenty of time, which meant we were able to watch the barrage in action. The barrage was opened in 1999 and was developed as a measure to deal with the extreme tidal range. It’s been fantastic for the area. For me though, it was the green structure on the end of the pier to the north of the entrance to the barrage that grabbed my attention. There appears to be very little information available about it. It obviously pales in comparison with the lighthouse we were about to see, but I’m glad we spotted it and took a closer look after we returned to the barrage that day.

Anyway, back to Flatholm. Once we had all settled onto the boats we were off. Although I say that, it was actually a fairly slow process getting out of the bay with having to go through the barrage, but it was significantly quicker than it would have been if the barrage wasn’t there and we needed to wait for tides to change! Once we were out the other side though our skipper wasted no time in getting us over to the island.

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Flatholm lighthouse – and an old gun

Fortunately we were the first boatload to arrive so we were sent on our way to the lighthouse with our guide, Peter – the key holder! We immediately headed inside and had a wander about the old bedrooms and the battery room. Obviously having not been used for many years, since the lighthouse was automated in 1988, it has a disheveled look about it. Peter then led the way up the tower with us in tow. The lamp room is stunning, as they always are when fitted with a “proper” lens. What was equally stunning though were the views from the tower – particularly the landscape of the island. Aside from having a very beautiful lighthouse, Flatholm is filled with remnants and relics of times gone by. From the sea there looks to be very little there, but it hides a great deal. There is far too much history to cover here, more details can be found on the Cardiff Harbour Authority website. I found the old gun batteries, in particular, fascinating and the old guns can still be found laying about on the island.

After leaving the lighthouse (and bagging the island high point), we paid a short visit to the old foghorn building. We weren’t able to get inside as the roof on the main building is unsafe, but we were informed that there were plans to replace the roof and allow access in future. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that funding has been secured that will preserve and improve what’s there (including the foghorn station) while bringing more visitors across the short stretch of water from Cardiff. Great news for Flatholm, although I much prefer a tourist-free island personally!

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The foghorn station on Flatholm

We had hoped to get a bit closer to Monkstone lighthouse on the return journey back to Cardiff, but unfortunately we needed to make sure we were back in time for our barrage slot, so that’ll keep for another time. What will also keep for another time (the next day or so, hopefully) is the rest of our lighthouse bagging antics that day.

It was a great morning on Flatholm. The landscape is very different from Caldey, which is one of things I most enjoy about bagging lighthouses. The variety of places it takes you to, and often in short spaces of time, is wondrous. If you’ve not already taken up the hobby then it comes highly recommended! 🙂

 

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Dashing about on calming Caldey

Those who have been following my blog over the last few days will know that we spent the weekend in South Wales at the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM in Cardiff. During the planning for the weekend I was aware that Saturday morning was free and, feeling ambitious, I proposed heading over to Caldey Island for the morning, and Bob agreed – not entirely knowing at the time just how long it takes to get from Cardiff to the boat at Tenby. I looked at the timings and then considered them again numerous times. Would we really have enough time?! The difficulty was that it didn’t seem possible to find out what time the first boat left Tenby in advance. A couple of days before I called the number I found online and the recorded message said that the boats would run from 10am. We would be fine, I thought.

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Saundersfoot lighthouse

We got up super early on Saturday morning to allow plenty of time to get across to Tenby. Our journey was going well so we stopped off in Saundersfoot briefly to visit the lighthouse on the end of the pier. It’s not the most inspiring, and I actually preferred the “pretend” lighthouse inside the harbour, but we’ve been there now and you never really know what to expect until you’ve been there.

Arriving in Tenby there appeared to be little in the way of activity. It was then that we were informed that the boat wouldn’t be leaving until 10.30am (I probably could have found that out if I’d phoned the number again that morning), eating even further into the precious time we had to bag the lighthouse (and the island high point for Bob).

However, the coastline at Tenby is actually quite interesting to wander around, with the tidal St Catherine’s island just off of the beach, the old Tenby Castle and the very modern Lifeboat Station. While we waited for the boat a couple of ladies waiting behind us informed us that the boats had been cancelled the day before and it became very clear as time went by that a number of people must have been waiting to get over to the island, as they just kept on coming!

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The old Priory on Caldey Island

We were the first passengers on the boat and it was a very pleasant ride across to the island. The sun and blue skies were out in preparation for some wonderful picture opportunities. Once we were on the island we hurtled off ahead, stopping occasionally to take pictures. The island is stunning, not in the rugged way that most of the islands we visit are (partly because they are in Scotland), but in the same way as the Isles of Scilly (Tresco to be more precise). The island seemed very quiet and peaceful as we walked up the main road that took us to the lighthouse. Aside from a man in a van giving a lady a lift into the village we saw nobody else on the way there. The village is perfectly picturesque with the monastery sitting above it. A little further on there is the old Priory, possibly the most beautiful view on the island (excluding the coastline and the lighthouse, of course). There is a large pond bordered by trees in front of the Priory, and it would be easy to forget at this point that you are in Carmarthen Bay just off of the Bristol Channel. If someone passed you there and greeted you in Italian or Spanish it wouldn’t seem at all odd. There’s something quite Mediterranean about the island.

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Caldey Island lighthouse

Not long after passing the Priory I spotted the top of the lighthouse appearing. As the lamp room came into view the optic sparkled as the sunlight shone through it. It is one of those towers that looks amazing from every angle – or at least it does when the sun is shining! The lighthouse is still in operation, and has been under the control of Trinity House since it was built in 1829. It was rather late to the old electricity game, being the last of Trinity House’s lighthouses to begin using mains electricity when it was converted in 1997. It’s a great tower, made even better by its location. If we hadn’t been so short on time then I would have happily wandered around the area enjoying the isolation and tranquility. But the need to get back to the boat was there in the back of our minds, so Bob ran off to the island high point (contrary to what it reported online, the actual high point is not where the lighthouse is located) while I started the journey back down the road.

Upon returning to the village it seemed like an entirely different place to the one I had passed through only a short time before. Everything was open, people were milling around and it suddenly felt more like the tourist destination that it is during Summer days (excluding Sundays when the boats don’t run). There were too many people about in my opinion (again, I’m used to smaller Scottish islands on my lighthouse bagging trips) and I had a deadline. Arriving back at the pier just as the boat was leaving I waited around in the sunshine and a short time later Bob turned up. We were privileged to have the boat to ourselves on the way back – although there were still plenty of people heading in the other direction.

I am pleased to report that we did indeed make it back in time for the start of the ALK AGM and even managed to fit in a cup of tea and chats with a number of people before the meeting started. We had about 1 hour on the island in total. A very enjoyable day, and Caldey is certainly somewhere I would like to re-visit at some point to explore a bit more. I made it to the lighthouse though and that was the aim this time so all is well 🙂

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