It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to spend some quality time on the Northumberland coast and one target for this trip was to get a closer look at Coquet Island, a mile off the coast of Amble. I was aware that only wardens were allowed to land on the island so the boat trip with Puffin Cruises seemed the best way to get as close as I could.
The trip also gave a really interesting insight into the history of the island’s lighthouse and the ownership in general. The island has been owned by the Duke of Northumberland since 1753 after changing hands between the church, and various local earls and others with titles over the centuries. When the lighthouse was originally being proposed on the island the Duke at that time stipulated that he wished for it to resemble a castle, hence the castellated tops to the towers of the structure.
There is evidence to suggest that the foundations of the lighthouse and some lower sections predate the lighthouse and are actually the foundations of what was a Benedictine monastery, which was completed in 1841. The lighthouse contains a sector light facing to the south, warning of the hazards of rocks lying just under the water between the south of the island and the mainland.
Although the island is no longer occupied throughout the winter months, it has a long history of occupation and a strong religious connection. Henry of Coquet, a Dane, wished to escape an arranged marriage after experiencing some sort of vision that told him to do so. Arriving in Tynemouth, he gained permission to build himself a small “cell” on Coquet island and lived there until his death in 1127. This is just one example of strange uses and habitation on the island. The Amble and District Local History website features a far more in depth history for anyone interested.
The restrictions on people landing on the island I had originally assumed was due to it being a site for nesting birds. It turns out it is instead that the island’s owner does not wish anyone to land on the island, with the exception of the RSPB wardens and Trinity House staff (though it was suggested that he’s not keen on the latter landing either, but the maintenance of the lighthouse is essential). As with the nearby Farne Islands, I expect that if Coquet was set up to accept visitors it would currently be closed due to Avian flu as its bird population has been very badly affected.
It was a good boat trip with very knowledgeable crew. I was quite nicely surprised at how close it actually got us to the island. It’s certainly worth doing the trip to get a closer look at the island and lighthouse. It’s also a great way to get a better look at the little light on the end of the pier in Amble.
We followed the boat trip with a visit to the beach to the south of Amble where we had great views across to Coquet 🙂
On Sunday we decided to make the most of the good weather and set off from St Abbs for Seahouses. My dad was keen to go and see the puffins, the Farne islands being best place for them in the area. Sadly last weekend due to the ongoing devastation avian flu is causing, they announced that there would be no landing on either Inner Farne or Staple Island. This was a shame as I’ve been wanting to take a closer look at their respective lighthouses, but the bird-focussed boat trip took us around both as well as close to Brownsman Island and Longstone too.
The Farne islands are quite a special place if you are into lighthouses. There is plenty of history with 7 lighthouses in total gracing these small islands over time. The oldest was introduced on Staple Island in 1776, 100 years after permission was first granted for lights to be built on the Farne islands. Prior to this attempts at lighting the islands for navigation were limited to two fire baskets on Inner Farne. The Great Storm of 1784 unfortunately claimed the Staple Island tower, and it is believed that a second tower was then constructed to replace it. The remains of what could well be one of these towers can still be seen on the island, although I am unable to find confirmation that this is definitely the case.
Fast forward eleven years and the first tower on Brownsman Island had been constructed. The remains of this tower are still visible as the tallest structure on the island.
In 1809 Trinity House built the lighthouse on Inner Farne, which is still in operation today. Just two years later this became the High Light after a lower light was added to warn ships away from the nearby Megstone island. This low light was removed in 1911 when the high lighthouse was automated.
Meanwhile there was navigational development on Brownsman Island too with the introduction of a new lighthouse and attached building in 1810. This tower shared the same design as the Inner Farne light and contained a revolving reflector which burned paraffin oil.
By 1825 it had become clear that the lighthouse on Brownstone wasn’t preventing shipwrecks and the decision was taken to construct a lighthouse on Longstone.
Today Longstone and Inner Farne are the only two lighthouses still operating on the islands. The trip was a good opportunity to see these two again. Landing on Staple Island and Inner Farne will wait for another time 🙂
With a day to get home from Preston, a bit of a detour en route felt necessary to clear up a few things lighthouse-related. I had yet to see a couple of the lights along the south coast of Cumbria, along the north bank of Morecambe Bay as well as the Walney Channel.
Living where I do in the far north of Scotland, and the vast amounts of time I have spent in areas with big, wave-battered cliffs, the relatively flat landscape and the resulting fast-moving tides of this area fascinates me. To me it somehow seems more dangerous than spending time on coastal routes in areas with more dramatic scenery, and this is all to do with those tides. To spend a second day in an area where lighthouse bagging is so impacted by the tide is a really interesting experience.
Before we get to that though, our first stop of the day was Ulverston. I’d stopped here briefly during my 2012 lighthouse tour and the reason any lighthouse bagger visits the town is surely for the Sir John Barrow Monument. Generally monuments aren’t lighthouses (although I can think of a few), but this one in Ulverston has a couple of interesting connections.
When it was built in 1850 its construction costs totalling £1,250 were mostly paid for by donations from the public. However, £100 was paid for by Trinity House (the lighthouse authority for England and Wales) and the reason for this was it would be used as a seamark. There are conflicting stories related to this with some sources stating that Trinity House contributed based on it it being a seamark alone – though the original plans included a room in the basement that would act as the ‘lighthouse keeper’s’ living quarters. Others suggest that the funds from Trinity House were given in case the tower ever needed to bear a light for navigation purposes, and another that the donation from Trinity House was to ensure that the tower would never bear a light. It is all rather confusing.
That is not the only link though between the monument and lighthouses. The tower design is based on that of John Smeaton’s Eddystone lighthouse, which can now be seen on Plymouth Hoe. So, in a way, when you visit it does feel a little like you are visiting a lighthouse. I should add at this point that you may well be wondering who Sir John Barrow was, which is exactly what I was asking too. Sir John Barrow was born and raised in Ulverston and went on to become an explorer, a writer and – perhaps most relevant – Second Secretary to the Admiralty for 41 years. He passed away two years before the monument was constructed.
It was a pretty hot morning actually and so the walk up Hoad Hill to the monument, especially given that Bob insisted on using the steepest paths, was a good way to work off the remnants of alcohol left in my system from the previous day. The views were great as you got higher though, with those looking out towards the sea being of most interest to me. Chapel Island stood out for me as this big rock in the middle of the sea. I have since discovered that it is possible to access it at low tides, but with real care and from the east bank of the River Leven.
The monument is really impressive and quite beautiful actually. It does have a lighthouse vibe about it, which probably has a lot to do with the original design inspiration. It is possible to climb the tower on certain days between Easter and October. A good sign that the tower is open is if the flag is flying, but it is well worth walking up even if it’s not.
Back down off the hill, it was time to head for some lighthouses with lights! The first of these was Rampside, a wonderful skinny little brick tower known locally as ‘The Needle’. This tower, built in 1875 to guide ships into Barrow-in-Furness, is the last remaining one of thirteen of this same type.
The lighthouse is really easy to spot, sitting just off the road at Rampside on the way to Roa Island. Though it is close to the road, it is another one to be careful near due to those tides. The tide was pretty low while we were there, but there were still little puddles of unknown depth around that you need to watch out for. The fact that it has a ladder up to the door also is a good indication that the sea can impact access to it.
It’s a sweet tower and with most of it being red brick I was imagining it wouldn’t really be a very useful daymark, but seeing it later on from a different angle, it really is quite noticeable. This is another one with great views across to Foulney, Roa, Piel and Walney islands.
Speaking of Foulney Island, this was the next destination. Thankfully the tide times worked in our favour that day as this one really is tidal. Foulney Island is a shingle spit (with some grass) that reaches out 2 miles into Morecambe Bay. It is a nature reserve and an important area for birds during nesting season so some areas of the spit are cordoned off at certain times of the year.
It wasn’t necessary to walk the full 2 miles to reach the lighthouse here and it is clearly visible from the parking area at the entrance to the island. The walk out here was initially a little wet with many (thankfully successful) attempt at avoiding get our feet wet in the muddy puddles presumably caused by the area being flooded at high tide. Then it was onto the shingle, which gets a bit tough going after a while. There are the remains of a 19th century stone causeway here, which was constructed to prevent the silting up of the Walney Channel. With the state of some sections of this causeway now though it would be more like boulder hopping to walk along it.
The lighthouse here is a funny thing, even I will admit that. It’s an oddly shaped white glass reinforced plastic tower, which is very much a different coloured version of the light at Cardiff Barrage. Probably understandably there’s not a lot of information out there about it.
This turned out to be an excellent area for Joe the Drone to stretch his blades and grab some great shots with the tidal sections of the islands all around exposed at that point. There are the remains of an old stone building just beyond the lighthouse. It’s not clear what purpose this would have served. Beyond that, although we didn’t venture that far, you can begin to see the first of many pile lights in the area just off the end of Foulney Island. It was one of these type of lights I was keen to see next.
In researching my book, one of the resources I’d used was the fantastic Online List of Lights website. The owner of this site aims to have a picture of every active aid to navigation listed in the Admiralty List of Lights. This is quite an undertaking as it is ever-changing and covers the whole world. I could, and have, spent hours scanning through this site taking a look at the lights of all shapes and sizes. It was on this site that I came across the Walney Channel West Pile light and you can see its entry here. It doesn’t look like much, but the little white hut on top of the pile structure was what caught my attention. It was time for me to take a look at it for myself.
Passing through Barrow-in-Furness we arrived on Walney Island and found somewhere relatively sensible to abandon the car in Biggar. The OS map showed a footpath running down to the east coast of the island from here and this was really straightforward to find, passing along a narrow grassy area between two fields. Initially the walk was easy enough once we got to the coast, heading north and then east. After a while it began to get a bit wetter underfoot and I was very grateful to have had my wellies available for this walk. Again, it’s another area that becomes flooded at high tide. We stuck to fence line though to try and avoid, as much as possible, the wettest areas. At one point we needed to cross a stream about a metre wide and Bob checked it out first to test how deep it was. Fortunately it wasn’t high enough to go over the top of our wellies so we carefully waded through it and then continued on our way.
Rounding the corner we spotted a whole range of pile lights ahead of us. Quickly recognising that, even at low tide, the land between us and any of these lights was pretty saturated in many places, we decided to send Joe in to investigate from the sky. It was unclear which light I was actually looking for here, which was the first sign that something had changed in terms of the light structure.
After inspecting both Joe’s photos and the grid reference against the map, I was a little sad to have to confess that this one was a lighthouse demotion. The light being investigated is now possibly the most unimpressive of all of them. Some have some very fancy coloured daymark triangles on them, but this one was just a pile structure with a light on a stick coming up out of the top.
It wasn’t the most exciting or joyful end to the day’s bagging, but to go to these places to check things out always feels worthwhile whatever the outcome is. It was also quite fun to wander around to which is really a big part of the adventure of lighthouse bagging.
This marked the final day of a week’s worth of lighthouse visits. It really was quite a week and one that saw me visit those lights I had left to see on the Isle of Man and in North West England, so I returned home with a nice sense of achievement having reached this goal and explored yet more of our amazing country’s (and the Manx) coastline. 🙂
Although the day I’m about to write about wasn’t all about the tidal island and not all about being tipsy either, I just couldn’t resist the title.
I arrived back on the ferry from the Isle of Man following the recent lighthouse bonanza over there, and was met by Bob at Heysham. I’d made some lighthouse plans for later that day and we had a little time to kill beforehand.
While in the area we decided to pay Hale Lighthouse a visit. I’d not been here since my 2012 tour and I felt I hadn’t really explored the area properly on that occasion. Hale Lighthouse was built in 1906, replacing an 1838 light in the same location. The light was introduced to help guide ships safely around Hale Head as they approached the Mersey. This area is renowned for its fast moving tides and the ever changing sandbanks that can sit just below the water level, a hidden danger to shipping.
When the original lighthouse here was built there was already a private bathing house in this location and with the introduction of the first lighthouse, this house was converted into the keepers cottage. This cottage was demolished shortly after the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1958 when the need for the light was no longer essential owing to the reduction in trade in the area and the use of that particular shipping channel.
The cottage has now been replaced with a new property and this, along with the lighthouse, is now in private ownership. There is plenty in the area to suggest that, although a public bridleway runs along here, visitors to the area aren’t necessarily welcome. However, you can see why this might be the case judging by the amount of graffiti on the wall to the seaward side of the lighthouse.
Getting around down here involved a little hop over a bit of fencing (we later found the actual way down), wandering around on some rocks, and then trying to avoid getting stuck in the mud just below the lighthouse. Our shoes didn’t thank us for that that bit!
With the big plans still ahead for the day it was time to get a shift on down towards the Wirral. Thankfully there was a little time to spare which allowed us to take a swing by Ellesmere Port. On my original 2012 lighthouse tour I’d not managed to get to this one and I recall reading that it was part of the National Waterways Museum, so I’d assumed that I could turn up there and get to see it. I am not sure to what extent it is a part of the museum, but the land it is on is now private with the building owned by a fire brigade union. Having done my research though I knew where we needed to go to get the best view of it and so it was a relatively straightforward visit.
This lighthouse, built in 1880, is also (rather confusingly to my mind) known as Whitby Lighthouse. The village of Whitby in the area has, in more recent years, merged with other neighbouring villages to form Ellesmere Port. There is a wonderfully detailed explanation around why the lighthouse was originally built and its relationship to the waterways in this area on the excellent Lighthouse Accommodation website.
There is a fantastic old picture on the Ships Nostalgia website showing the lighthouse when it marked the entrance to the Shropshire Union Docks and Canal. Sadly the introduction of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 meant the lighthouse became surplus to requirement after only 14 years.
It was time to head for the exciting afternoon we had planned. In my role as Events Coordinator for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers I’d come into contact with the owner of the lighthouse in Hoylake, which is now a private home. I’d made contact with him ahead of this trip and had also mentioned our intention of heading over to Hilbre Island while in the area. He very kindly offered to walk over to Hilbre with us and show us around the Hilbre Island Canoe Club’s base there, which seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
First though he (Charlie) had invited us to meet him at his home and, of course, I couldn’t resist the chance to take a look inside such a beautiful building and lighthouse. For a start the garden is just glorious and so well kept. To see the lighthouse towering out of the top of the very grand looking house makes for such a fantastic scene. Charlie explained to us which parts of the house would have been there when the lighthouse was operational and how the building was split into two with a shared access hall when it housed the keepers and their families.
Hoylake Lighthouse was originally the high light, working in partnership with a low light that has since been demolished. Charlie has a wonderful map on his wall showing the area and you can clearly see how these lights, which appear relatively inland, would have helped to guide ships. The navigation on the Wirral is particularly interesting as running through a series of lining up lights was necessary for safe passage.
The existing lighthouse was completed in 1866, replacing its predecessor which had been operating for just over 100 years by that point. The light was discontinued in 1886. When Charlie purchased the house he also inherited the old lighthouse log book which, as you can probably imagine, is a wonderful thick tome just full of history.
I won’t say too much about the house itself as it is a (beautifully decorated) private home, so I will skip ahead to the tower. It’s a really unique tower, very open and the type that those without a head for heights would really struggle with. There is no central column, just open space, and the spiral staircase is made up of fantastic lattice metal stairs which allow you to see right through them to the area both below and above. There is definitely nothing enclosed about this lighthouse tower.
Just below the lantern there is the usual small room where, these days, operational lighthouses would have a couple of boxes that keep the light going. Then it’s just a climb up a ladder to get to the lamp room. What a space that is! Again it’s very open and bright with 360 degree views. What amazed me most up the top though was the width of the gallery. The railings around the gallery are pretty low so you do need to be a bit careful, but it is such a wide space compared to those I have been to before that I was quite impressed. Again, it’s all about the space at Hoylake.
Charlie had very kindly carried his wonderful and heavy old binoculars up the stairs (no mean feat) and set them up so we could see a number of the other lighthouses in the area, including Talacre (Point of Ayr), Bidston and Leasowe, the latter of which could be seen quite clearly with the naked eye that day. We could also see across to Hilbre Island and this served as a reminder that we should probably start heading that way to ensure we caught the tides right.
Hilbre Island, or the Hilbre Islands (actually three tidal islands, with Hilbre being the biggest) sit just off the coast at Hoylake. Although it is recommended to go from West Kirby at low tide, Charlie said that walking from Hoylake was fine as long as you knew which way to go. The timing for Hilbre is key as there is plenty to see on the island and you definitely don’t want to be only just starting the walk back with the tide already coming in.
Considering it’s a small island it has a really interesting history. There’s a great piece on the Hilbre Island website that gives masses of information on various aspects of its past. My interest in visiting was largely a result of the light over there, but I got somewhat waylaid when Charlie showed us the Hilbre Island Canoe Club building. He is a member of the club and the building is full of a variety of pictures from past and present.
While Bob flew Joe the Drone around the island, Charlie showed me a photo album which gives a wonderful overview of the club’s past – oh, and the wine came out!
There was so much conversation about the Club and other topics that I almost forgot what I was there for, but we did eventually make it to the lighthouse. I’d had a couple of discussions before with my lighthouse pal John about whether or not the light on Hilbre met the criteria for inclusion in my book. As a result, my first priority was to check that it did and that it was actually big enough for a person to be able to get inside. As you will see from the picture, the door is considerably taller than me. There may not be room to swing a cat in there, but it could fit a person inside. I would give it a good go!
Around 1810, two wooden markers were installed at the north end of Hilbre to help guide ships into the Hilbre Swash at the entrance to the River Dee. In 1840 these were replaced by new markers on Little Eye (the middle of the three Hilbre Islands) and just offshore at Hoylake. After being replaced at some point they were eventually demolished during WWII to avoid the enemy using them as landmarks.
A navigation light, an acetylene gas-powered light on a lattice tower initially, was first introduced by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Authority in 1927 to mark the Hilbre Swash. It was later replaced by the existing steel structure and ownership of the light changed to Trinity House in 1973.
Close to the lighthouse is the old telegraph station, which was the second station on the island (the original was a wooden structure). This was one in a long chain of stations used to communicate messages from as far as Holyhead to Liverpool. A couple of other lighthouse locations were involved in this process, those being Great Orme and Bidston Hill. The telegraph station on Hilbre was completed in 1841 with the system continuing to be used until 1860.
We then had a great walk around the island.
Then it was back to the Canoe Club where I proceeded to gulp down another glass of wine. When you are on a tidal island you can’t be hanging around for too long sipping on a glass of wine! The walk back across to Hoylake was thankfully very refreshing. On arrival back at Charlie’s we discovered his lovely wife Ali was back so we popped in and I enjoyed even more wine.
I had arranged to stop off at Bidston Lighthouse that evening to collect something and poor Stephen and Mandy ended up waiting very patiently for our arrival only for me to turn up a little worse for wear. As far as I could tell they didn’t seem to mind too much though and very kindly gave me coffee. The visit to Bidston was actually very well timed as it is currently one of four lighthouses currently lit up with beautiful moving light designs by Hendrick’s Gin, which seems like a wonderful image to leave you with at the end of this long and crazy day 🙂
As mentioned in my last post, the Association of Lighthouse Keepers‘ Isle of Man event was over, but I still had one more task to do before I left the island. I’d arrived on the Isle of Man with five lighthouses left to get a close look at. With the lights in Ramsey and Laxey now visited, it just left the slightly trickier Derbyhaven light to reach. The only reason Derbyhaven Lighthouse can be difficult to reach is that it is on a tidal breakwater that was built to allow shelter for Derbyhaven Bay. More on that later though.
With low tide predicted to be around 4.30pm there were plenty of hours to play with before heading to Derbyhaven. I’d agreed to spend the day with John, Steve and Lianne as they continued their trig-bagging adventures. They had three in mind and it didn’t get off to a great start with the first trig surrounded by cows and calves. After satisfying ourselves with seeing it from a distance, not wanting to disturb the cows if they were going to get funny, we set off for the next one. Parking near the entrance to the beach at Sartfield near Jurby we set off heading south and it quickly became clear that a bit of a climb up the grassy bank was required to reach the trig here. I was quite happy at this point to sit on the empty beach and just enjoy the sights and sounds (while also dealing with emails relating to the second Isle of Man trip which was starting just a few days later), and let the others get on with it.
Cronk ny Arrey Laa was the final trig pillar on the list for the day and it was a great walk up to it from the nearest road. The views from the top of this hill were superb and it is clearly frequently visited as the large cairn at the top is surrounded by some clear little paths that allow you to enjoy the view from every single angle.
After lunch in Kirk Michael it was time to head for Derbyhaven. We stopped at a little grassy area and parked up and it seemed like the tide was low enough to walk across without getting wet feet. It’s always a bit of a worry with walking on tidal sections of a beach as you never know how soft the sand might be, but thankfully it was okay here and I didn’t at one point wish I had my wellies with me, which is always a good sign. We took a slight detour on the way out to avoid the worst of the puddles that remained, but it was all quite straightforward.
The breakwater is much bigger than it appears from the shore, but it does have a very handy slipway leading up to it. It’s actually a really impressive structure. I’ve done a little research about the light and the pier in the general. When it was constructed in 1842-3 it was built, at a cost of £3,524 on the solid foundations of the North Rock. This, presumably, would have helped no end in the construction process. Originally the plan had been to build a larger breakwater like the one in Plymouth which would only leave gaps for ships to pass through on either side, but the smaller design was chosen instead.
While we walked along the breakwater John said that it looked like the breakwater could do with a bit of pointing as there are gaps between each of the large stones. I’ve since found an IOMToday article from 2020 though that suggests that instead of pointing the breakwater, which is in need of repair, ‘there are now plans to drill some 4,000 holes into the blocks to anchor steel reinforcing mesh and then entomb the carefully-crafted stone blocks in a ’concrete overcoat’.’ This seems a real shame to me as it looks great close up.
Though the Manx Electric Railway Society website features an article stating that a light exhibited in Derbyhaven from 1650 was the first navigation light on the Isle of Man, the current breakwater light was not added until 1946, as confirmed by the date engraved above its door. It’s another very Manx-style harbour light, much the same as the Peel Castle Jetty light and the pair in Laxey.
I was quite sad to see that the lighthouse is now disused. I wasn’t aware that this was the case. I’ve done some research into when the lighthouse was replaced by the LED on a skinny tripod (not as catchy as ‘lantern on legs’, but you get the idea). It seems the new LED light was already in place in 2020 and I imagine it wasn’t long before that it was introduced. It’s a great shame. Of course the tower is still used as a daymark, but it would have been nice for the LED to at least been placed inside the lighthouse rather than separately.
Still, it was my final Manx lighthouse and I had reached it. Eventually bidding the Derbyhaven farewell, it was time to head back to Douglas and get ready to leave the island the following morning after what had been a brilliant five days doing one of my most favourite things. There is nothing like a good lighthouse bagging trip with likeminded people to really get you back into the swing! 🙂
The Calf of Man boat trip was always going to be the only ‘Will we? Won’t we?’ part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Isle of Man event. Almost as expected, the schedule for the trip needed to be changed just a couple of days before it started to allow the boat trip to take place on the calmest of the four days, which looked to be the Tuesday. It actually turned out rather well though and the saying ‘save the best ‘til last’ was very apt here.
Before we set off on the boat though there was a little time to pay Port Erin a visit. Every harbour village or town on the Isle of Man has its own charm and the pairings of lighthouses only adds to this. In Port Erin though it’s really extra special in my mind with two very unique lighthouses.
The Raglan Pier light is what I often refer to as ‘a lantern on legs’ but this one has plenty more character than your average one of this type.
Funnily enough my ‘group hug a lighthouse’ really seemed to have taken off by this point and Stephen from Bidston instigated this one, which worked really rather well with the legs and being able to see people on the other side too.
If this little one wasn’t quirky enough, someone noticed a couple of drawings on the lighthouse. Now, I’m not a supporter of graffiti in general but with Mr Bump on one of the River Avon lights the other day I do sometimes quite like a little drawing. This one had a little smiley face on it with the word ‘smile’ underneath. What was even better though was the snail, which was rather nicely drawn just underneath some text which read ‘Follow the snail too happiness’. I’ll ignore the rogue ‘o’ on ‘to’ here because it was a sweet little thing.
I should say though that drawing on lighthouses isn’t advisable. They do belong to someone, whether it’s the Northern Lighthouse Board or Trinity House, or a port authority, council or even a private home, so they are best left alone.
We had a little while then to walk to the front light on the beach (the rear of this pair is a light on a stick). I chose the beach walk option rather than walking along the promenade.
I really like all of the little Manx lighthouses, but this one is definitely my favourite. I worry about it though as it’s on a west-facing beach so the crazy storms will cause some big old waves in the area.
This one had to have a group hug too, of course. It was actually getting to the point now where I didn’t even need to encourage people, someone else would quite often mention it.
We had a little spare time before we needed to be in Port St Mary for the boat trip so we headed along through Cregneash – spotting the old radio signal station which was used, in part, for signalling with Chicken Rock Lighthouse and later housed some of its keepers.
At the end of this road is what they call The Parade where you look across the Sound to the Calf of Man. We’d been blessed with amazing weather and great visibility so the views from there were fabulous. There were lots of seals around and birds which the others loved seeing. There’s a great cafe here too, which I recalled having great soup served in a crusty roll at when we’d been to the island a few years ago.
It was time for the excitement to begin. We met Steve and Rob in Port St Mary and set off on their boat (Port St Mary Calf of Man Boat). Their boat is the tender for the island and has been for many years, previously being run by Steve’s father Juan.
It was a beautiful ride along the coast to reach the Calf with an incredible stack and caves. The bird watchers among the group were amazed by the number of razorbills both on the rocks and in the air. In fact, we all were.
Passing around Thousla Rock with its beacon, we arrived at Cow Harbour on the Calf of Man. This is when it became very obvious that the boat fits perfectly in the harbour here and we were soon on the slipway and heading up to meet the wardens.
The Calf of Man is looked after during the Spring, Summer and Autumn by a number of wardens and we were guided across the island with them. The weather was still fantastic and the views across the island and around the coast were idyllic.
There is almost a little community at the island’s bird observatory with a few buildings that the wardens stay in during their time on the island.
Not too far after the Bird Observatory we began seeing the top of one of the old lighthouses and then suddenly there was the view that makes the Calf of Man such a special place for those of us with an interest in lighthouses.
With three lighthouses so close together plus a rock lighthouse visible not far offshore, the question as to why there are so many of them is a valid one. Well, it all came about due to the hazard Chicken Rock presented to shipping. The two oldest towers on the island first shone in 1819 and aimed, by working as leading lights flashing in unison, to guide vessels clear of the rock. They are stunning buildings and clearly incredibly well-built, it’s just a great shame they are no longer being maintained.
As is so often the case though, with older towers at higher elevations, they are routinely obscured by fog and in bad weather. This is the case in a number of other locations, St Catherine’s Oratory on the Isle of Wight and the original tower on Little Cumbrae immediately come to mind as two other examples. The solution to this, as decided by the Northern Lighthouse Board, was to build a tower on Chicken Rock itself. By that point they would have had both Bell Rock and Skerryvore lighthouses under their belts so the prospect may not have been quite so terrifying to them.
Chicken Rock Lighthouse was completed in 1875 and operated successfully until 1960 when it was damaged by fire. At this point the decision was taken to automate Chicken Rock Lighthouse and also to build a more powerful lighthouse on the Calf of Man – hence the third tower.
This light was first exhibited in 1968 as the very last of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s manned stations to be built. A 2005 review of aids to navigation concluded that this modern light should be discontinued and Chicken Rock Lighthouse upgraded. The lighthouse was decommissioned two years later.
It was this 1960s lighthouse that I had managed to arrange access to for this trip. Sadly, for health and safety reasons, we weren’t able to go up into the light tower, but we could still have a wander around the hallways, peering into the old bedrooms, kitchen and the engine room. The accommodation here is still used at times. When we visited a team of people fixing the dry stone walls on the island were staying there.
Some of the old foghorn equipment can still be seen close to the old low lighthouse as well and the views from this area were just stunning. We – or the boatman, in fact – couldn’t have chosen a better day.
The buildings attached to the old high lighthouse is sadly not looking as well as its low counterpart, but the tower itself is still just as wonderful nonetheless.
Then there was THE view!
There wasn’t much time to hang around as there was the highlight of the day (or so we hoped) still to visit and another group were waiting back in Port St Mary for their turn. The walk back to The Cow landing was just amazing and the view of Calf Sound as you head down the final stretch towards the landing is just beautiful. I could easily look at that view for hours.
With a quick swap over, we were off again with all our fingers crossed that we would make it out to see the wonderful Chicken Rock Lighthouse close up. One of the boatman had said they’d been out in that area that morning and it had been pretty choppy so it was definitely a case of being on tenterhooks. As we rounded the corner below the lighthouses on the Calf though, we spotted Chicken Rock Lighthouse in a lovely gap between the island and a stack.
From that point we only got closer and closer and closer. I’m fact, I was very very pleasantly surprised to find just how close Steve was able to take the boat to the tower.
It must have been a lower tide as the rock was visible and the landing steps were just there, begging to be landed on. Though this visit was never going to be for landing, but we got as close as we could have done without landing.
We did two laps of the lighthouse, both close in and further out, with the latter round giving some incredible views of the four lighthouses in the reverse view of what I had been taking a picture of less than an hour before.
It was such a pleasure to see Chicken Rock Lighthouse so close and on a really nice day too when the sun was shining on the tower. I always find with these unpainted granite towers, like Skerryvore and Ardnamurchan, you really need to see them with the sun on them to really appreciate just how beautiful they are. It’s silhouette wasn’t too shabby either!
Once we were all satisfied that we’d got exactly what we wanted from the visit – and then some – we started our journey back to Port St Mary. There was even more glorious rock formations to be seen on the coast of the Calf of Man as we sailed by.
Disembarking at Port St Mary, I had a chance to properly visit the Isle of Man’s newest little lighthouse. The small tower at the end of Alfred Pier, or the Outer Breakwater, was installed in 2018. Its predecessor was washed away and it had temporarily been replaced by a light on a stick. Interestingly, although the tower is built to the shape of a traditional lighthouse, it appears that the light itself is just a modern LED with solar panels mounted on top of what would be the lantern.
The second light at Port St Mary also needed a revisit so I headed to that one too before retiring to the pub for a much-needed drink. This one had, rather unfortunately, been branded ‘the silo’ by one of the other group members.
Finishing up the day a couple of hours later, waiting on the shoreline for the second group to arrive back was a really great end to the official Association of Lighthouse Keepers event, which saw us visit (or at least see) every Manx lighthouse. It was an excellent adventure with a really great bunch of people whose company I enjoyed immensely.
The event may have been over, but I still had one more objective before I could even think about leaving Manx soil! More on that coming very soon… 🙂
Two years ago I was due to go on an event to the Isle of Man organised by the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (which sort of means me as I’m their Events Coordinator). Then the pandemic began and it was put on hold. Another year went by without being able to hold the trip and so I was delighted to finally be able to go ahead with it this year alongside 21 other lighthouse fans.
Today we set off for Point of Ayre, the most northerly tip of the island. We’d prearranged to meet the Northern Lighthouse Board’s Retained Lighthouse Keeper, Fred Fox, here and after the safety briefing off we went with little groups heading up while others explored the surrounding area. There is plenty to see here with not only wonderful views of the main lighthouse, but also the old foghorn tower and little Winkie on the shingle. The geology of the island is worrying, but also fascinating. A lot of the coastline is being eroded and much of this eroded material is being washed up the island and gathering at Point of Ayre, meaning both lights here sit further inland now than they previously did.
Then it was my turn to go up the tower! Point of Ayre was a fairly brutal lighthouse to kick off with as it has a lot of steps to get to the top, but when you get there you are greeted by stunning views from every single angle. There is sea in almost every direction you look and where there isn’t sea it’s just land that stretches for miles and miles. The Isle of Man has a remarkably small population when you compare it to the much smaller Isle of Wight, and our coach driver explained that this is due to the Manx Government’s restrictions on building on a lot of the land there. As a result it has a much more vast and open feel about it.
The lens in Point of Ayre Lighthouse is wonderful and I was so pleased to hear that the Northern Lighthouse Board plan to retain it. In recent years they have been replacing the lenses with smaller, more energy efficient lights (more on that later) so hearing that this one is due to be kept in action was very welcome news.
After finishing up in the tower I took a quick stroll down to see the Winkie lighthouse and old foghorn tower.
As always my zany ways always kick in somehow during a lighthouse visit. This time I was speaking to our coach driver whose wife is related to John Kermode, a former NLB lighthouse keeper. I recalled him being in the picture at Sule Skerry holding a small wind measuring device and was trying to find the picture online. Strangely a Google image search brought up a picture of a group of us from the West Coast Adventure in 2019 with our arms around Rona Lighthouse. I showed this to a few of the others and Stephen from Bidston Lighthouse suggested we should do the same at Point of Ayre Lighthouse. By the time I got back down the tower there weren’t so many people left as they’d headed back to the coach, but there were thankfully enough for me to recreate the Rona moment there. Many thanks to Christa, Joanna, Dave, Katka, Margaret, Kristy, Debbie and Paul for humouring me with this!
Back on the coach it was time for some lunch in Ramsey. Well, for me that meant eating lunch whilst walking to the two small harbour lighthouses. I started this trip with five lighthouses left to visit on the island and the two in Ramsay were on that list so I was adamant I had to do them first before anything else. It was a windy old walk up the south pier, but with good company you can make light of these things and there was the usual jovial moans about people getting in each other’s pictures.
The light on the end of the north breakwater is only a short distance from the south pier as the crow flies, but it’s not quite as quick as it sounds getting between the two. It is necessary to head back inland and then cross the river over the swing bridge before heading back towards the harbour entrance.
It was a really nice walk though and we’d been joking on the way about who was going to touch the lighthouse first, my lighthouse pal John or me. We had a bit of a race, which he won, but he did wait for me so we could touch it at the same time, so I couldn’t complain really.
The view from the north breakwater light is actually even better as you have the south pier in the foreground backed by Ramsey and then beyond a great hilly landscape.
After a cup of tea we were back on the coach and headed for the most surprising part of the day. It wasn’t surprising in that it didn’t go as expected, more that I’d never given Maughold Head Lighthouse much credit. It’s not so easy to see, although there are fantastic views of it just before you enter Maughold village, and to spot the tower there is really only one space you can see it much closer and then is just off the approach road to the lighthouse. As it sits right on the edge of the cliff I wasn’t expecting there to be much there beyond a staircase going down to it and then just a lighthouse tower. On the face of it, that’s what it was, but it was also such an incredible place and one of those where everything just works so well together. The beautifully simple tower, that first glimpse of it as you start down the steps, the incredible cliffs around it and just the general feel of the place. It was glorious and I think we were all quite amazed by it and really just keen to spend as much time there as we could. Even standing in the base of the tower chatting to the other members was just really enjoyable and relaxed. There is definitely something about Maughold Head.
I mentioned previously that many of the lighthouse lenses across the UK are now being replaced by modern lights and Maughold is one of these. Around 2017 a new pair of modern LED lights were installed and the massive lens was covered with cloth, which it still is to this day. I’m going to assume that this may be because it would be incredibly difficult to remove the lens from the site with the staircase leading up outside, but I bet it’s a stunning lens. It was very warm in the lamp room today and after I pointed this out Fred recalled how it often felt like a sauna in summer when he used to be up there cleaning the lens, which must have been unbearable I should think.
I eventually managed to drag myself away from the lighthouse and marvelled at it one more time from a nice little area near the top of the steps. It’s a place that I could quite happily waste hours just enjoying, but it was time to start heading back to the coach.
Once back in Douglas and with a full stomach I decided to take a stroll towards the town’s two lighthouses, namely Battery Pier and Douglas Head. Both had been beckoning me since my arrival on the island and although the whole group will be visiting on Monday it seemed like a nice time to see them as the sun was getting low in the sky. It was a nice walk and I strolled along Battery Pier first to get a good look at it bathed in the beautiful yellow light of the setting sun. It’s such a great spot with a wonderful little platform behind it which gives you some excellent views out to sea and also across to Douglas.
I’d already decided not to walk all the way to Douglas Head, but thought I’d just take a quick look from a slight distance. What I hadn’t expected was the stunning view of it I got. All I can do to describe it really is just to share the picture.
It was just glorious and a really perfect way to finish a truly excellent day out with friends 🙂
As well as being something really handy to refer back to if I’m wondering when I visited a particular lighthouse, this blog has brought me into contact with some really helpful folk. Earlier this month I heard from a follower who had previously contacted me about access to the lighthouse on the south pier in Heysham, which I had previously only seen from the ferry to the Isle of Man.
I’d been informed by this follower in late 2020 that it was no longer possible to view the lighthouse from the north side of the harbour as the road had been blocked off. Fast forward 17 months to early April this year and he very kindly sent me an email saying that he’d found another way to get to it.
With a ferry booked from Heysham for the forthcoming Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ Isle of Man event, it seemed the perfect opportunity to check out the route for myself. Thanks to his excellent directions it was easy enough, approaching from close to the holiday park to the south of the harbour, first using a footpath from the end of Money Close Lane to reach the coast and then heading north, following the sea wall around the outside of Heysham Power Station.
On the way there I spotted an old pier ahead looking like it had seen far better days. Towards the end of what remained of this pier was a small round tower with an access door. Obviously this kind of structure on the end of an old pier is always going to pique my interest. I did some research and discovered that it’s actually an old fog signal tower. In my experience, this is quite an unusual location for a fog signal. The old breakwater was part of the original harbour which opened in September 1904.
The South Pier light soon came into view, the top of its lantern appearing above the upper level of the sea wall. I was really pleased to see it looking in considerably better nick than when I’d viewed it before and in others’ pictures. This occasionally happens and it really does make you feel very grateful to the local harbour authorities who, in most cases, are responsible for these smaller harbour lights.
It’s clearly a well trodden route for locals. It may not be the most picturesque (although the power station buildings are quite colourful in comparison to most others – I feel like I’m rather unwillingly beginning to bag power stations after this one and the recent Bristol Channel and River Severn outing), but it’s great to have had a closer look at this small but important tower. Many thanks go to Howard who considerably reduced the time it took me to find it with his very clear directions 🙂
I’m not really a morning person, but when there is something worth getting up at 2.45am for then I will do what needs to be done to make the most of an opportunity. Bob had managed to arrange a boat charter for us today from Burntisland for a bit more of an explore on the Firth of Forth. To ensure we could make the most of high tide it meant getting on board Calypso Marine’s RIB Alert at 5.30am (allowing a two-hour drive over from Ayrshire), before the sun had even risen. We had a bit of a laugh about how early it was with Stewart and Leanne who were taking us out and then climbed on board and off we went.
Setting off from Burntisland gave us a good opportunity to see how the west pier head light is looking after being struck by a ship and the lantern knocked off in January this year. Sadly it’s still not been repaired yet. However, at this point it was still quite dark so at least I got to see it in action.
It was great to be out on the water, heading west along the Forth, seeing lights flashing all around. Although mainly buoys it was good to see Oxcars Lighthouse operating and also see its red sector light too as we sailed away from it. Seeing the bridges too was also fantastic, with the incredible rail bridge, the road bridge (home to little Inch Garvie Lighthouse) and the new bridge, also known as Beamer Memorial Bridge (because the lighthouse on Beamer Rock was removed to make way for the bridge – I should add it’s not officially called that at all).
With the big chimney at Longannet edging closer I knew it wouldn’t be long until we arrived at Grangemouth, our first stop for the day. At the west of the entrance to the River Carron there is what looks like a very large cairn with a modern light and solar panel on top. This was significantly bigger than I expected it to be, but it wasn’t what I’d come for.
The main point of interest for me was the old lighthouse opposite, which is just outside to boundary of the Ineos complex. I’d known not to expect much here. There are a small number of pictures about of it from the past thirty or so years, including this one, and also a couple (here and an artist’s impression here)showing how it looked when it was operational. I had partly been expecting just a big piles of rocks so was nicely surprised to see that there was something that still vaguely resembled a lighthouse, though a derelict one.
It’s really sad to see the state it’s in now with parts of the walls fallen away and it just generally looking like a very unsafe structure. It’s devastating really how it’s been left to just gradually be destroyed now it no longer serves its purpose.
Very aware of our close proximity to the Ineos complex, Bob put Joe the Drone up and got some shots keeping clear of their boundaries.
After I’d been manhandled back on to the boat with a push from behind by Bob and a pull up from Leanne we were ready to continue our journey. I left Grangemouth Lighthouse behind, feeling very glad that I’d made it there and put in the effort. I wonder how many more generations of lighthouse baggers will be able to do so.
With the rising sun in our eyes we began our return journey. Stewart and Leanne very kindly offered to sail us close to Inchgarvie Lighthouse on the way. It’s always seemed so small before, dwarfed by the infamous rail bridge, but when you get a closer look it is actually a good sized structure. It’s clearly had a bit of weathering over time but is still a perfect example of what I like to call a ‘lantern on legs’.
There was just time on the way back for Joe the Drone to take a quick flight around the very understated Oxcars Lighthouse.
I see Oxcars as the east coast’s equivalent of Skervuile near Jura on the west coast. Fairly little known, particularly outside of lighthouse circles, but still as much of a rock structure as the big ones like Skerryvore and Bell Rock – just not quite so far out to sea.
I’ve found in recent years that revisiting places does increase your appreciation of them. Yes, it’s nice to pick off all lighthouses in an area in one trip, but it’s only by going somewhere a few times you notice some of the smaller details and start to familiarise yourself with a place. Today was my fifth time out on the Forth, but the first time I’ve truly appreciated how unique it is. To be going underneath those three bridges with an array of variously shaped islands ahead of you, from the ship-shaped Inchmickery, to the relatively vast Inchkeith, to the very recognisable lump that is Bass Rock in the distance, the Forth is unique in possessing so many islands, particularly as it’s on the east coast. It’s also got plenty of interest for those into history (particularly military) and scientific study. With it’s close proximity to Edinburgh, it’s been used as a playground for many inventors throughout the years, from testing the strength of lighthouse lens, foghorn trials and even paint sampling to establish the best exterior paint to use in marine environments, there’s been a lot going on in the Forth for many years.
As we returned to Burntisland we had a clearer view of the damaged lighthouse.
After a coffee, freshly baked pain au chocolat and chat on board Stewart’s bigger boat, Pathfinder, we set off for Methil where I had some improvement work to do. Back in 2012 I was a lazy lighthouse bagger and if I couldn’t see a lighthouse very well I wouldn’t put in much effort. Methil was one of these. It isn’t actually very easy to see at all with so much of the harbour inaccessible to the general public. Last time I’d seen it from quite a distance so it was time to rectify that while in the area.
Parking up in an industrial area we set off on foot for the longest pier in the world (no, sorry, in Methil). We still hadn’t seen the light at this point and didn’t for some time to come. We wandered along a grassy mound and then down onto the pier which may have technically been closed to the public. This rule is clearly not abided by very often, although you can see why the rule has been made as one section of the pier in particular has been partially washed away.
Onwards we continued, and by this point I was wondering whether or not the lighthouse was still there at all as it still hadn’t come into view. Thankfully I spotted the top of the lantern over the sea wall a short while later and then there it was.
The tower is no longer operational as a lighthouse. It’s only function now seems to be to hold the solar panels for powering the replacement light on a stick which is just in front of the old structure.
After a few quick pictures and a short flight by Joe the Drone we set off back along the heavily weathered pier.
While doing some research into Grangemouth Lighthouse I’d come across some pictures of what seemed like an interesting structure worth closer inspection at Burnmouth. It meant a detour but, being the Lighthouse Detective I am, I just had to look into it. On the way there we happened to stop for lunch not far from Barns Ness so a bit of time there was required.
I never give Barns Ness the credit it deserves. I visited it on my 2012 tour and, although it was nice to see, the low lying land it’s on didn’t wow me in the same way many of the others did. As I mentioned above though, the more you visited a place the more you enjoy it (with a few exceptions, of course) and I did really enjoy seeing Barns Ness and wandering around a bit more this time.
There’s a flying exclusion zone in the area due to Torness Power Station so Bob wandered off along to beach to where he could legally fly Joe the Drone and get some nice distance shots of the lighthouse and landscape. I used the spare time very wisely, having a lie down on the grass next to the beach and enjoying the peace, fresh air, sunshine and sound of the sea. My spot also offered great views across to Bass Rock which, as always, was looking fantastic.
Half an hour down the road we made it to Burnmouth. Neither of us had been there before and it’s a beautiful little place. A real harbour, a fishing village as it should be. There were local men sitting around on the pier having a chat and some beautiful memorials to a local fishing disaster that occurred on 14th October 1881, where five boats carrying 24 local men were lost during a storm.
From the moment we parked up I was fairly confident the little structure at the end of the east pier wouldn’t qualify as a lighthouse. We walked along the pier and climbed the very high steps up to it. It’s certainly not the same structure as before as it’s now just a hollow round metal tube with a cap on top. What I imagine has happened is that the old light was redundant and in a bad state, so it was replaced with something similar that was never intended as a navigational light. Something similar has happened with the light structure in Cullen. I think it’s great to see as it often shows how much the community values these small but important little features in their community.
There may not have been an exciting new lighthouse in Burnmouth, but it’s a great place with a really lovely feel about it. Sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere different and change your focus a bit. Quite often you find the unexpected there 🙂
It’s been the final full day in Shetland today, ending a 10-day period of absolute perfection in terms of achieving everything I wanted to. With only three days of no boat trips, plus an extra day for me to spend with the family, there was just enough time to get to the land-based lights I had left to visit.
After the visit to Peerie Bard, home to Mousa Lighthouse, yesterday I have now visited all of the modern flat-pack (SPLAT) lighthouses in Scotland. There are a few I’ve not been close enough to touch yet, but have seen at very close range.
There was one, however, that had been mentioned to me and I’d not included on my list: Head of Mula. This one was built of the same aluminium framework as the flat-packs, but if didn’t have the white cladding on it, which to me is an open structure and therefore not meeting the criteria for inclusion on my list.
I mentioned Head of Mula to my lighthouse pal John and he was keen to see it. I thought it was definitely worth going along to check it out too, given that I am such a fan of the flat-pack type. It looked to be only a short walk from the ferry terminal on Unst. I wasn’t wrong. It is very easily accessed by following the main road north of the terminal for a short distance and then taking a right turn at a track heading uphill.
The track was great and after just a few minutes we spotted the top of the light just above an old wall ahead.
Beyond the lighthouse there were the remains of abandoned houses and it was really quite strange to be seeing such old buildings against the backdrop of a relatively new light structure.
The tower was exactly as had been described to me. This was where it got tricky though as the debate was then on as to whether or not it did qualify for my list. Is it possibly for someone to be enclosed within it? Not really. Someone could certainly step inside the frame, but they would still be completely exposed to the elements and visible to anyone on the outside. Therefore it doesn’t meet the criteria, but here is where the challenge has always been for me in preparing a definitive list of lighthouses.
I always wanted my list to be objective and based entirely on what did or didn’t meet the criteria. I am well aware that one lighthouse may mean a lot to one person and very little to another. I’ve seen plenty of subjective lighthouse lists for Scotland out there and they usually feature the biggest and most impressive of the Stevenson lighthouses, often leaving out the smaller lights that (in my option) are just as enjoyable to visit – if not more so in some cases – as the large ones.
For me one of the big appeals of the flat-pack lighthouses has always been the beautiful places they take you to. Often places rarely explored by the masses and this too is the case at Head of Mula. The views here are fantastic, particular looking south/south east towards the Loch of Heogland and Holm of Heogland close in and then beyond to Fetlar.
Looking west over Bluemull Sound was also excellent and the ferry moving back and forth between Yell and Unst was a regular reminder that civilisation was just down the track.
The light at Head of Mula has everything going for it that most flat-pack lighthouses have, except the white cladding. We jokingly referred to it all day as the ‘naked flat-pack’ due to its lack of white cladding “clothes”.
Thinking about my list, there are some lighthouses on there that I would be more than happy not to visit again, usually due to their location, but I’d happily stroll back up to Head of Mula again. This is where I feel a little envious of those who have their own personal list and can add/take away anything they please. From the point of view of The British Lighthouse Trail though, I need to be less subjective and not adjust it to become a list of lighthouses I personally think people should visit – although I do think that would make an excellent list.
The final decision on Head of Mula then? I’m going to have to say that the jury is still out. In terms of meeting the definition it’s a no. But if I think it’s important that people get to hear about it and visit it then absolutely yes. If any readers have any thoughts on this then do feel free to share these below in the comments.
Back to Shetland though and, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the past 10 days have really been made so successful by the crew on the two boats we have used. Kevin, Michael and Alan on Lysander and the wonderful aluminium tender were exceptional. Magnie and John on the Papa Stour and Ve Skerries trip were more than happy to get us wherever we wanted to go too. It makes such a difference to have boat crew who enjoy their time out with the baggers. It was a real pleasure to spend time with them all.
That’s it for another trip. I’m not sure where the next one will be yet, but I shall be sure to take my followers on here along wherever it is and report back. 🙂