uklighthousetour

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

Dashing about on calming Caldey

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

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Saundersfoot lighthouse

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

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

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

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The old Priory on Caldey Island

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

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Caldey Island lighthouse

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

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

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

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When in Wales… head to Bardsey!

There aren’t too many Welsh islands with lighthouses left for us to visit. One of those that we’d never been in the right area for previously was Bardsey Island. We had booked a holiday in north Wales and we saw the opportunity to finally attempt to make it there.

A number of weeks ago I contacted Colin who operates the boat to Bardsey and enquired about booking. He was very quick to respond and seemed to understand that if we weren’t able to get out there on our first full day in Wales that we would like to attempt the following day and so on until we had got there. Colin’s boat departs from the end of the Llyn peninsula, which isn’t really an area you’d find yourself passing through!

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Colin’s boat preparing to be pulled up the slipway

Colin said we were to call the evening before to check if the boat would be going so we called on the Friday evening a couple of weeks ago and, thanks to the amazing weather we have been having, conditions were 100% in our favour for the Saturday. We arrived in plenty of time and took the wander down to the small harbour. The harbour is very picturesque and after enjoying the views for a while we saw Colin’s yellow boat heading in. He has a great little set-up in place for pulling the boat onto a trailer and then dragging the trailer up the short slipway before passengers embark up a ladder onto the back of the boat. So we hopped on and then Colin reversed us back into the sea and off we went.

It was a fairly short crossing over to Bardsey. It’s a really interesting looking island from the sea, with the lighthouse sitting on the flat southern end of the island and the hill rising up from steep cliffs on the north east. The harbour was between the two so we could see exactly where we needed to go. Our son, who joined us on the trip along with my dad, decided we should head to the lighthouse first, so we followed the coast around to the distinctive red and white striped square building. On the way we were serenaded by the local seals who were in full voice!

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Bardsey lighthouse

There looks to be some work currently going on at the lighthouse, in particular on the chimneys on the buildings within the compound. We sat and had lunch overlooking the lighthouse. My husband often says, in his own sceptical little way, that every lighthouse seems to be able to claim to be the “first” something or other. Bardsey lighthouse holds the accolade of being the tallest square tower in the UK! It stands at 30 metres and was built in 1821. In 2014 the rotating optic inside the lamp room was replaced with an LED light as part of Trinity House’s efforts to move away from “continuous running diesel stations”. This effort has now also been adopted by the Northern Lighthouse Board with lighthouses across Scotland slowly switching over to the more modern technology. I find it a little sad, particularly as the science behind the rotating optic was so advanced in its day and, for me, is a large part of the make-up of a lighthouse. However, it’s always onwards and upwards in the technology stakes. When the optic was replaced, the LED installed also saw a change from white light to red.

There is some really interesting information on the Bardsey.org website about the history of the lighthouse. A couple of points of particular note were that the lighthouse keepers were initially restricted from leaving the lighthouse buildings in the early years. Over time though they would gradually become part of the island community. Also, the island is renowned for its bird populations and before the optic was removed from the lighthouse a number of incidents were reported of birds being attracted to the light and colliding with the building. This has since been resolved, initially by an area near the lighthouse being floodlit to attract the birds there instead, and then with the red LED installed. Thirdly, the lighthouse supply boat was lost on its way across the Bardsey Sound in November 1822.  Finally, the website has also informed me that one of Colin’s roles is maintenance of the lighthouse – if I’d known at the time…

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The view to the south from part way up the island’s highest point

After we left the lighthouse our next priority was getting to the island high point. To get there we wandered through the village, but didn’t spend a great deal of time exploring it. The route up to the high point was easy going and the views as we got higher and higher opened up and, by the time we reached the top, we had 360 degrees of beauty. Among the views, just before reaching the top, were of the lighthouse and we spotted a beautiful-looking beach to the west of the island as it narrowed on the way to the lighthouse. Due to the gradient of the land we hadn’t noticed it at all as we had walked past.

We followed a different route back down to the village, coming out at the little building full of locally-produced items and some very welcome refreshments with an honesty box. We sat and enjoyed our drinks in the company of a couple of dogs and a few friendly goats before heading back to the harbour.

What a wonderful island Bardsey is. You get a real sense of community while there and even on the boat crossing. We were the only people on the boat who didn’t speak Welsh, but everyone was very friendly and Colin was a big help in advance of the day and on the day itself. A lovely day out 🙂

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