Being from the Isle of Wight, I spent many years paying very little attention to the fantastic lighthouses it has to offer. That was, of course, before my bagging days and I try to make up for it now when I do spend time on the island.
On Thursday morning in Newport it looked like the sun was trying to break through the clouds and there might be a blue sky opportunity at St Catherine’s Oratory, which I had not been to for a while. As we approached the car park in Blackgang it became clear that not only were blue skies unlikely, but we may struggle to find the Oratory in the heavy fog that had nestled happily over the highest points of the island. At the gate we met a lady and her son who were just returning to the car park after an unsuccessful attempt at reaching the Oratory. We told them that’s where we were heading and they could follow us, which they did. Unfortunately I’d left Bob’s GPS device at the hotel so we couldn’t use that method, but on the plus side we had my dad who is an Oratory regular and knew that we needed to find the hedgerow and then the gate. From there we had no trouble and arrived at the Pepperpot, as it is known locally, shortly after.
Seeing the Oratory in the mist perfectly illustrates why it just wasn’t a particularly good location for an aid to navigation. As soon as that mist comes down there’s no chance of seeing a light. Standing inside the Oratory and looking up you could see the moisture moving about in the air. It’s a great place to stand, even though there is very little to see. The Oratory is incredibly old, dating back to 1328 when Walter de Godeton was ordered by the church to build a beacon after he’d been caught stealing wine from a ship wrecked in the area. There is, of course, doubt over the use of the tower all those centuries ago and in the centuries that followed and whether or not they recognised the problems caused by the fog at times. If they had then the message clearly was not passed on as work on a new lighthouse, the Salt Pot, a short distance away began in 1785. Realising that it was perhaps not the best location, the tower was never finished. Leaving the others at the Oratory for a bit, I took a stroll with my dad to see the unfinished lighthouse.
We made it back down to the car park with no trouble, which is not to say that the mist had cleared as it certainly hadn’t. While down that way we decided to pay a brief visit to St Catherine’s lighthouse. We’d not been there since our wedding in 2013 so it was nice to take the kids down and let them see it. In complete contrast to the fog we’d encountered up on the hill, it was beautiful and clear there. Obviously the perfect location for a lighthouse! Well, maybe not quite as even this tower was shortened in 1875, less than 40 years after it was built, due to problems with fog.
St Catherine’s lighthouse is stunning and a wonderfully unique shape. There’s a lot of detail to it. Sadly, I have heard that they will be removing the lens from the tower next year, which will be such a great loss. Seeing it slowly revolving all day every day as it does is so special. Hopefully the visitor centre will be able to keep hold of at least some of it so it is still around to be gazed at for years to come.
So, that was our St Catherine’s experience. Very varied, but definitely an enjoyable morning returning to a couple of old haunts 🙂
In yesterday’s post I explained the plan for this week, and we built upon the success of the first day with another great day in Jersey today.
We started out the day with five more lighthouses to visit and one to view from the island, Demie de Pas, which is on the approach to St Helier.
Before we got started on those though we were keen to head back to both La Corbiere and Noirmont Point lighthouses to see them when the tide was in. Being tidal, it adds an extra element of enjoyment to these islands to see them when they aren’t accessible on foot. La Corbiere was our first stop and as it magically appeared at the end of the road (as mentioned in yesterday’s post) I simply had to greet it with a jolly “Morning!” If it wasn’t magical enough at low tide it is even more enchanting when it can’t be reached. They say that often people want what they can’t have and this can certainly be applied to visiting lighthouses too.
Noirmont Point is equally wonderful at high tide. You would never know that it was possible to access it and keep your feet dry. This may be why the Wikipedia entry for the tower says that the lighthouse can be accessed by wading! I can confirm that wading is definitely not necessary. One thing that possibly shattered the illusion of the island being unreachable was the fact that there was a fisherman out on the rock. He was obviously set up for the morning and would head back over at lunch time. Good for him!
We had planned to head straight to St Catherine’s to see the light on the end of the pier. As we passed back through St Helier we quickly stopped off so I could see the old St Catherine’s lighthouse, which is now located outside the entrance to Jersey Maritime Museum. It’s wonderful what they have done with it. One of the plates on the side of the lighthouse best explains its new purpose:
“Apart from the five years of German occupation this light, from St Catherine’s breakwater, shone brightly for over one hundred years to warn seamen of danger. Today, it stands as a monument to those islanders who died in concentration camps far from their island home. A symbol of remembrance and a beacon of hope for the future.”
The memorial was unveiled in November 1996. It really has been beautifully done. The shiny granite of the memorial panels reflect the lighthouse really nicely, which adds to the effect of the whole arrangement. Such a thoughtful idea.
Having missed our turn-off for the elusive A6 towards St Catherine’s, we decided to carry on around the south coast to see the La Greve d’Azette and Mont Ube lights. My research had highlighted that this would be a fairly easy task and it was. La Greve d’Azette sits happily at the side of the main coastal road and we used the nearby M&S car park to visit it. The tower actually begins on the beach, which was a perfect excuse for a short stroll on the sand. The tower has a spiral staircase and a daymark panel too. It’s not the most astounding tower by any stretch of the imagination, but when it is so easy to visit you really can’t complain! A little further along the road we stopped at the car park to get a distant view of Demie De Pas lighthouse. It was too far to get a decent view really, but the best we could manage (or so I thought – more on that to come).
Mont Ube was a little more tricky, but mainly due to a road closure. I was surprised how long it took us at actually see this one as it’s at the side of a road. We were actually on the small road itself and almost at the light before I spotted it. It is very much the twin of La Greve d’Azette minus the spiral staircase and daymark panel. It turned out that if you approached this one from the north or east it would be very much visible from further away.
Our next stop was Gorey. My research told me that there was a light at the end of the pier and that is had a small “room” at the bottom within the lower framework section of the structure. As we approached Gorey and spotted the pier we both became sceptical of its status. We wandered along the pier and found that this small “room” has now been removed. This does mean that it no longer makes my list of lighthouses. You can see how it looked previously on the incredibly useful Lighthouse Directory website.
What I thought would be our final lighthouse of the day was the modern light on the end of the breakwater at St Catherine’s. This one was very straightforward. It’s a fairly long breakwater and as we walked along we noticed how similar it looked to the Gorey structure. I braced myself for another disappointment, but this one was fine with the “room” very much still there. There are a few steps at the side of the lighthouse, which lead up to the point where the old lighthouse was located. The history of the lighthouse is celebrated locally with an interpretive panel at its entrance detailing its construction. It seemed like a quiet little village, but I imagine it could get quite busy in the summer months.
With the completion of the Jersey lighthouses, we considered what to do next. As ever Bob was looking to make things happen and was determined to find a boatman to take us closer to Demie de Pas lighthouse. We headed back to St Helier for lunch and managed to get hold of Dan from Jersey Seafaris who offer chartered RIB trips. Dan was massively helpful and we arranged to meet him later in the afternoon to head out for a quick trip.
St Helier harbour is huge and we ended up walking the full length of it to get to their boat, a 12-seater RIB. The sea was nice and calm and within ten minutes we were at Demie de Pas! I’d seen some pictures of it online and I was concerned that the top section of the structure did not feature a door, which would mean it would not make my list. We circled around the light, which is much more significant than you would guess from the island. We finally spotted the door in amongst the solar panels and I am not ashamed to say that I was very pleased. Honestly, I am getting a bit ridiculous about doors on lighthouses now! It’s a really impressive tower and Dan informed us that it takes a real battering in its location.
Dan offered to take us for a quick spin over to Noirmont Point before we went back in. Of course we couldn’t resist. It was fantastic to see it from another angle where it looks even more imposing. Jersey really does have an impressive coastline and perfect settings for its lovely lighthouses. One thing that had been bothering me since yesterday was whether Noirmont Point met my lighthouse criteria as the tower itself was not built for the purpose of being a lighthouse. Having seen it from the sea though, we have now got a picture or two showing a door on the smaller white structure on top of the tower (I can only apologise for the door obsession!) I was, of course, delighted to find this. I was even considering adjusting my definition slightly so that Noirmont Point could be included!
On our way back from the boat we paid a quick visit to the Jersey Maritime Museum. It was only open for another hour so it was a bit of a whizz around, but it’s a brilliant museum. It’s really interactive. There are occasional lighthouse-related exhibits, including a model of La Corbiere next to a small Fresnel lens (the man at the museum didn’t know where it had come from). There were some paintings from a renowned local 19th century artist (Philip John Ouless) of both La Corbiere and the old St Catherine’s lighthouse in its position at the end of the breakwater. We learnt a lot at the museum, including the translation of “demie”, as in Demie de Pas. A demie is an offshore rock not visible until half tide!
So, that’s the Jersey lighthouses complete for me! A really successful two days and we’re back to Ayrshire tomorrow. We’re managing to arrange a trip along the Clyde on Wednesday with the kids and Bob’s mum. That will take in the four lighthouses on the Clyde (weather permitting). Then Friday it’s on to Shetland. Great fun! 🙂