The lesser known lights

Our recent break in Suffolk had come to an end and it was time to head home, as suggested by my last post – which was due to be the final one for the year. Always wanting to get the most out of these trips though there was something that needed to be cleared up and this took us to Hawkcraig Point in Aberdour on the east coast of Scotland.

The last time I visited Hawkcraig Point was two years ago when I was entering the last few months of preparing the content for my book. I had a list of lighthouses I needed to check out to ensure they met the criteria for inclusion, and the two towers here were on that list. On the last visit we discovered that the rear of the two lights had internal access through a door on the side. However, there were no visible signs of an entrance on the front tower. Returning home I looked into it and discovered some aerial images that seemed to suggest there was a hatch on the top of the front lighthouse and so it made it onto the final list for the book.

Hawkcraig Point front and rear lights

Now that we were equipped with Joe the Drone though it was time to check it for ourselves. While I kept the kids entertained by walking to each of the lighthouses and then up the nearby steps which gave great views across the Firth of Forth (Oxcars lighthouse was clearly visible), Bob sent Joe up to investigate. It very quickly became clear that there is indeed a hatch on top of the tower which allows access to the light itself.

Hawkcraig Point from above

The lights at Hawkcraig Point remain a bit of a mystery to me as there is really no information about them online, even basic information such as when they were first introduced. Much of the history of this particular area centres on HMS Tarlair, a Royal Navy facility that was used to research and develop hydrophones to listen out for any enemy submarines in the area during the First World War. There are still remnants of this base, such as the remains of the old pier and foundations of a couple of buildings.

Hawkcraig Point rear lighthouse

Information about the lighthouses here is very scarce. This is something I am coming across more and more frequently as I look into the smaller lighthouses, particularly in Scotland, and I find it frustrating and feel the urge to be more proactive about uncovering whatever history there might be out there.

Hawkcraig Point

Bob made the error, much to my delight, of asking if there was anywhere else I wanted to go as we continued our journey home. After seeing three screw pile lighthouses during the week and my suggestion was Tayport to see the Pile lighthouse as I knew, with Joe, we could get a closer look at it – or at least better pictures of it. That was exactly what we did.

I was left with child management duties (directing them to run around benches and trees, and taking a look at a nearby large pond) while Bob and Joe got to work. There were a fair amount of birds about and Bob was keen not to disturb them too much so he got some pictures and then left the birds alone. It’s fair to say the Pile lighthouse has seen better days, but it is also looking remarkably good considering it’s not been in use for around 60 years.

Tayport Pile lighthouse

The tower was introduced in 1848 to replace the front of the two lighthouses along the coast of Tayport. It’s essentially a wooden box with a lantern (or the remains of one) on top and it stands on timber stilts which are screwed into the sea bed, hence the name ‘screw pile’.

The Tayport Pile light from above

Much like Hawkcraig, there’s not a lot on information available about this one, and perhaps the most valuable information comes from comments on Facebook posts in more modern times. It had been suggested that the lighthouse was never manned and instead someone would just travel out by boat each evening to turn the light on and then back again in the morning. There were numerous comments though from those who live or lived in the area confirming that it was in fact manned and had 24 hour cover. One particular person explained that the tower had initially contained a candle in a prism, but had later been converted to oil and paraffin. They added that there was a bell that rung from the tower too in the event of fog. The lighthouse marked the entrance channel for Tayport harbour and aided ships in avoiding the sand banks that lie to the south of the tower.

The lighthouse has also been known as the Larick Beacon, but locally it’s the Pile Light

A report on the Canmore website states that though the condition of the Pile Lighthouse does not look so good it is structurally still quite sound, although it will need some work done to prevent it from deteriorating to the point of being at risk of collapse.

A cropped version of the picture above of the Pile lighthouse in Tayport

An interesting morning and the weather had been kind too. That honestly is it for now with no more sneaky posts appearing for a little while. Hopefully it’s not too long before more adventures can happen though. 🙂

Wonderful Fife and the Isle of May

Last weekend we spent a few days in Edinburgh in the lead up to a talk about my book at the National Library of Scotland. Of course, we can never miss an opportunity to take in some lighthouses and, following the disappointment of not being able to get out to the Isle of May recently, we decided a day trip there should be a priority. We had the kids with us this time, which brings its own challenges, but also adds to the enjoyment.

On the way from Edinburgh to Anstruther we decided to stop off in Tayport for a re-visit to the lights there. Although we had pictures of them, I couldn’t recall the previous visit so well. After parking up on the approach road to the lighthouses, I jumped out of the car with my son and we set off. It’s very rare that we take the kids on our true “bagging days” when we visit multiple lighthouses in one day. They only usually join us for the odd bigger tower.

Both land based Tayport lighthouses are, unfortunately, within private gardens (although I imagine the owners don’t see this as unfortunate). The first tower we reached was the discontinued low lighthouse. It’s seen slightly better days but is definitely still standing. It’s really quite old, in fact both towers are, dating back to 1823 so almost 200 years ago. Above the door of the cottage there is a plaque saying ‘1823 Erected by the Corporation of the Trinity House Dundee William Nicoll Esquire Master’.

Tayport Low
Tayport Low lighthouse

Further on, we went and spotted the operational high light. A much more slender tower this one. As it’s still active the tower is looking a little better maintained than the low light. The cottage that’s next to it is rather lovely and, combined with the lighthouse, makes for a rather pleasant view.

Tayport High.JPG
Tayport High lighthouse

After we had returned to the car, we went for a drive around the harbour to see if we could get a closer view of the pile light just off of the coast. The pier seemed to be the perfect place, although an even closer view some time wouldn’t go amiss. The tower is not looking well these days. This tower replaced the Tayport Low light in 1848, but itself was turned off in the 1960s. I imagine it’s unlikely anyone will adopt it, but it would definitely need more than a little TLC.

Tayport Pile
Tayport Pile lighthouse

Onwards we travelled to Anstruther and, of course, there is the harbour lighthouse there. Another one that is no longer active. This one has been replaced by lights on a stick. We got some good views of both the tower and the stick with the lights on as we departed on board the May Princess, bound for the Isle of May.

Anstruther
Anstruther lighthouse and lights on stick

We’d been warned that it was a bit choppy out on the sea that day and to keep hold of the kids. It wasn’s so bad though, although we anticipated it would be worse on the way back as we sailed into the wind. It was all rather pleasant really to have the slower approach this time. The last time we went over we took the RIB, which is much faster, but you can’t get a cup of tea on board! Approaching the island from the direction we did was fantastic as we had some wonderful views of all three lighthouses as well as one of the old foghorns. To make it even better, there were signs the sun was trying to come out too!

Isle of May lights
All three lighthouses on the Isle of May

We landed safely on the island and were given the briefing by the warden who lives there from March to November. The most important aspect of this talk though was that he said to gather at the big lighthouse at 4pm and he would open it up for us! Super exciting, but it did mean that we needed to get a move on to be there in time.

We gave our son the option of where to go first and he chose the south foghorn so we went straight for it, making our well-rehearsed foghorn noises all of the way. The sun really had come out by this point and in every direction we were treated to wonderful views. Our son loved the foghorn and decided it was his home, but fortunately he was happy to carry on along the coastal path. I am discovering more and more how your enjoyment of places increases when you go there for a second time and the Isle of May is a perfect example of that. As we wove our way around the coast on the well-trodden path, we were getting ever closer to the island’s piece de resistance, the operational tower which watches over the whole island.

Isle of May foghorn
The foghorn at the south of the Isle of May

Before we got there though I stopped with my son at the helipad so we could spin around pretending to be helicopters. Beyond here, I wanted to take some time to get a closer look at the oldest lighthouse. The little white box of a tower was believed to have been the first lighthouse in Scotland. Since it was introduced it has been reduced in height by around two thirds. When I’d been to the island previously I’d obviously not given it my full attention so it was good to finally see it close-up.

Isle of May old
The old lighthouse on the Isle of May

The active lighthouse on the island was just across the path from here. It’s a fantastic building, very majestic with its castellated walls.

Isle of May
Isle of May’s active lighthouse

I had about 10 minutes before the tour of the lighthouse was due to start and I was keen to go down and see the old low lighthouse. I didn’t want to have to rush once inside the main lighthouse tower and we had to be back to get on the boat at 5pm. I dashed down to the lighthouse and took some photographs. It’s a much more typical Northern Lighthouse Board tower, although it is now discontinued. I find it interesting that the tower here has the small windows in the lantern. The buildings are cordoned off due to the wardens living there at this time of year. It must be a great place to stay and being able to see the active light flashing every night would be incredible.

Isle of May low
The low lighthouse on the Isle of May

I arrived back up at the main lighthouse a few minutes before the wardens turned up to open the door. Our two-year-old daughter has clearly caught the lighthouse bug early as she was the first in and even climbed to the top (well, until we got to the steep ladder) – with a little help from Bob. Our son followed on just behind – the bug is strong in him too! As the light mechanism in the tower was moving, we weren’t able to get right up to the top, but we could go out on the balcony. This is really the best angle to see the island from, stretched out below you on all sides with, of course, even more views of the other towers.

isle-of-may-internal.jpg
The staircase in the Isle of May lighthouse

It’s an absolutely fascinating island and the only issue I have with it is that you don’t get to spend long enough there. Like Stroma, the two times I have been there I have obviously prioritised the lighthouses and then not had time to fit in a stroll along any of the other paths. But then I find I can’t go there without going to the lighthouses! Not a bad predicament really.

It was time to head back down to the boat and we waved goodbye to the lighthouses as we sailed back towards Anstruther. Fortunately, the sea had calmed down, although there were still some rocky bits every now and then which our daughter loved.

Once back at Anstruther, we decided that while we were in the area we should head up the coast a short distance to see Fife Ness lighthouse. I hadn’t been there since my original tour in 2012 and Bob had never been. It is one that I’ve looked at a lot in recent months as it’s an unusual structure, essentially just half a lamp room with a flat roof and a single storey building on the back. I took our little boy with me again to walk around the coastal path that takes you around it. As much as it bothered me when considering certain aspects of my book, I really like it. It’s quite a substantial lamp room and it contains a proper lens too, which is becoming more and more rare.

Fife Ness
Fife Ness lighthouse

Stopping off in Anstruther again for dinner, I strolled along to a car park just beyond the Lifeboat Station to see if I could spot the Isle of May light flashing. I was confident that I would as I could clearly see it from North Berwick as the sun was starting to rise last December. Sure enough, there it was flashing away. On the way back we spotted the small light at Elie Ness flashing too, another one that I was able to see from North Berwick last year. There’s something about seeing lighthouses (or should I say their lights) by night. It’s when they are supposed to be seen. All in all, a really good day and we returned to Edinburgh ready for a good night’s sleep 🙂