Last year I took on the role of Events Coordinator for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) as part of their wonderful and newly-formed events team. The key event in the ALK calendar is their AGM, which is a weekend of lighthouse-focussed activities as well as the meeting itself and a dinner. This year’s event took place last weekend and we based ourselves in Hull.
The fun began early for us on the Friday. We were due to be at Withernsea lighthouse that morning, but felt the need to cram in a few lighthouses on the way there. The real reason was that I needed a closer look at the two lights at Thorngumbald after my rather lazy visit last time! Of course we couldn’t pass through Paull without stopping to see the lighthouse there. As far as I could see it’s not changed significantly since my last visit. It’s a private residence now, and a rather nice one too – if you could cope with living in a building that is said to be haunted! This lighthouse was built in 1836, but switched off in 1870 when the sand banks in the area had moved to such an extent that the two lights at Thorngumbald were introduced.
The pictures of the Thorngumbald lights from my first visit to the area I had described as “Where’s Wally” as they were taken from a fair distance away. But I was prepared this time for reaching them. The only hurdle came when the area that you would normally drive along to park was being dug up. So we ended up parking near a gate with a sign that said “No parking” on it. The alternative would have been walking from Fort Paull, but that was closed so we really had no choice. Anyway, it was a nice stroll along to the lighthouses. They are in a pretty bad way.
Both lighthouses are listed buildings, but are in desperate need of some love and attention these days. The low light, interestingly, used to be moveable to adjust the line of the leading lights as the sand banks altered. You can still see the remains of the tracks, but it’s not moveable now. The lights are both still operational, but you wouldn’t think it to look at them.
Onwards we went for our first official stop of the day: Withernsea lighthouse. Although Withernsea is open to the public I’d not managed to get inside before so I was looking forward to this one. While we waited for the lighthouse to be opened we popped into the little art gallery at the back, which contains locally produced art work. There’s some great work in there. It’s really interesting seeing the different ways people depict local scenes. The lighthouse building looks quite big from the outside, but when you get inside you realise just how big it is. Once inside, everywhere you look there is something to see. From the entrance area and shop to the local history and Kay Kendall museum to the cafe right at the back… and that’s without even entering the lighthouse tower itself.
The tower is beautiful with the spiral staircase adorned with various flags. The base of the tower holds RNLI and lighthouse artefacts and as you near the top of the lighthouse there are some display cabinets with more lighthouse-related items. Included here are some exhibits on loan from the Association of Lighthouse Keepers that originated in Withernsea, which was nice to see. The views from the top of the tower are very unusual for lighthouse views, you don’t expect to see houses and cars in every direction, but that’s certainly what you get at Withernsea. It’s a unique place and can probably only really be likened to Southwold in terms of location. The people there are really friendly and speak so fondly of their lighthouse. It’s well worth a visit – especially when it’s so easy to get to!
That afternoon tours had been arranged of Spurn Light Vessel, which is currently moored in the Marina in Hull. Although it is currently officially closed to the public my fellow events team member had managed to organise access. I’d seen this one when I passed through Hull on the way to Paull etc. in 2012 – although it was moored in a slightly different place within the Marina then (I recall parking illegally for a short time to take a picture of it). I’d not been on a light vessel before so was quite intrigued to see where the people would have lived while manning it.
It’s cosy on board to say the least. What a life they must have had! When you take into consideration the limited space and the fact that they would have been rocking and rolling about too, it’s not the sort of life I would have chosen. At least as a lighthouse keeper you were on solid ground. One of the other ALK members there raised a point that I’d not thought about before and that was what it must be like to be out there on a light vessel when the tide changes. Frightening! There are a few rooms including a bathroom with an interesting bath and a fairly cramped bedroom. I admire anyone who could cope in those conditions because I certainly couldn’t.
It was a real insight into something I’d not given a lot of thought to before, and I certainly have a new-found appreciation for light vessels and, in particular, those who served on them. Hopefully it will be open to the public again very soon and when it is, if you are passing, be sure to stop off and take a look around. 🙂