A lighthouse adventure in Essex

After our short boat trip out to see Gunfleet lighthouse on Tuesday morning it seemed a good opportunity to revisit some of the Essex lighthouses – and introduce Bob and Joe the Drone to them as well.

Back in 2012 the Naze Tower had been my first stop on my lighthouse tour and I’d not been back since. Some may argue that the Naze Tower might not have been a lit aid to navigation, but it also may have been – and, more importantly, it’s a lovely place to visit.

The Naze Tower

Due to Covid-19 the tower is currently closed, but that didn’t matter as the sun was shining and it was dry. My lighthouse pal John had joined us and we were all pleased to be able to spot Gunfleet lighthouse in the far distance having been closer to it that very morning.

The Naze Tower is quite impressive and is clearly very well looked after. The beautiful brickwork is looking excellent when you consider that the tower was built in 1720. The tower had been somewhat neglected in the past, but the owners did some extensive renovation and, in 2004, it opened to the public for the first time. Presumably it needed, and will continue to need, some repairs and maintenance done on it – it is 300 years old after all.

When it does reopen, hopefully next year, you can see it’s 8 floors which feature an art gallery with exhibitions, and a museum about the tower and surrounding area. On top of that, quite literally, you get the panoramic views.

Joe took to the sky and, as usual, captured the glorious coastline. Seeing this coastline is always tinged with a little bit of sadness though as it really does suffer from erosion. There is evidence on the beach here that some measures have been taken to try to reduce the erosion in the area as you can see in the picture below.

The sea defences were clear in one of Joe’s shots
The view from above looking towards the south

There’s a lovely little tea room nearby too and we chose to have lunch outside on a bench before waving goodbye to John and continuing on our way.

Harwich awaited our arrival and this is quite a special place for those with any maritime interest. It is where Trinity House monitor their lighthouses from – as well as the Northern Lighthouse Board lights during evenings and weekends. Trinity House also has a depot and buoy yard here. It has its own two old lighthouses, a Light Vessel you can (under normal circumstances) look around, the Lifeboat Museum and an array of other points of interest that make up the town’s Maritime Heritage Trail. In addition we were able to see three more light vessels anchored off shore in the area.

Harwich High Light and the Harwich Town Buoy at the start of the Maritime Heritage Trail
Light Vessel 18 which is usually open to visitors

The two lighthouses here are no longer active and haven’t been since 1863 when they were replaced by the two Dovercourt lights (more on those in a bit). The low light has housed the Maritime Museum since 1980 and the high light is now run by Harwich Society as a local interest museum.

Harwich High Light

The existing towers replaced the town’s original leading lights. All of these lights were intended to work in pairs to guide ships safely into the harbour.

Harwich Low Light with the High Light visible in the background

Joe had a little fly around the area too, which is actually how we realised the light vessels were offshore.

An aerial view of Harwich’s harbour area with the three light vessels visible
The lighthouses in Harwich

Harwich is a fascinating place and it would be nice to spend some more time here getting stuck into the maritime history.

Just a short drive to the south we found the two Dovercourt lighthouses. On my original tour I’d seen these two at low tide and with high tide now approaching it was interesting to see the bottom of the outer light under water and the rapidly heightening waves splashing around the base of the inner light.

The lighthouses at Dovercourt

As mentioned, these lighthouses were introduced in 1863 to replace the Harwich lights. At the time they were built they were believed to have been fairly revolutionary in that they were of the new screw pile design and were prefabricated. A ‘causeway’ was introduced between the two lighthouses which can be walked with care at low tide.

Dovercourt Inner lighthouse

The lights were decommissioned in 1917 when buoy markers were installed to mark the approach to Harwich and since then have been through a period of restoration in the 1980s. Recent investigations have found that further restoration work is required to secure their future and it looks like this is in hand, which is always good to hear.

Dovercourt Outer lighthouse

They are quite unique structures and it was good to also see them from a different angle with the help of Joe the Drone.

Dovercourt Inner light from the seaward side
Dovercourt Outer lighthouse from above

Yet another day of doing a little more exploring and revisiting had come to an end. A very good day it had been and with it also being the last planned lighthouse trip of the year I was glad it had been a success and undertaken with great company.

Let’s hope even a little lighthouse visit can occur at some point before the year is out. Finger crossed 🙂

Looking back: the first “tour”

What inspired me to go on my 2012 tour of lighthouses? Well, I loved lighthouses for a start, but I also had a taste of just how great it can be to go on a trip specifically to see multiple lighthouses back in July 2010. Thanks to my flatmate at the time and my sister, I was treated to a few beauties on the south coast of England over a long weekend.

Visiting multiple lighthouses wasn’t the only similarity to my later tour, as we also camped too. Camping wasn’t something any of us had done much of at all and I recall plenty of laughter and confusion when putting the tent up. It turned out to be good practice for me.

Our first lighthouse of the trip was the small but beautifully located Anvil Point. Thankfully we had excellent weather all weekend which made the walk from the Durlston car park to the lighthouse all the more enjoyable – and I remember the walk which is always a good sign!

Anvil Point
Anvil Point lighthouse

Rather fortunately the lighthouse was open for tours on that particular day, although these are sadly no longer running, so I’m even more glad to have done it when I did. I remember the tour guide being really friendly and pleased to meet someone else who had a genuine interest in lighthouses. I look back now at pictures of the tour and it brings back memories of being in awe of it all, which is a feeling I often still get when I reach the top of a lighthouse. I suppose you never lose that feeling of wonder – or I hope I never do anyway.

Anvil Point interior
The lens inside Anvil Point lighthouse

The views from the top of the tower were amazing, with the turquoise sea and the various tracks littered along the coastline around the lighthouse. We wandered a little further around to the east after we’d left the lighthouse and read up on the Tilly Whim Caves.

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Looking towards the Tilly Whim Caves

We then continued on to our next destination: Swanage. No more lighthouses on that particular day, but we did have a nice ride on the Swanage Railway Steam Train to Corfe Castle. The Castle wasn’t open for long after we arrived so we settled for a wander around the outside and dinner in a pub nearby. We finished off the day with a visit to Swanage beach before heading back to the tents.

Day two was to bring back lots of memories for me and certainly made some wonderful new ones too. As a student I was based in Weymouth for a couple of years so Weymouth itself, Portland, and the coast around Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door became my playground and I am still very fond of the area to this day. I’ve obviously seen a lot of coastline since then, but it’s never dampened my appreciation of that area. Just looking at the pictures makes me want to go back. Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door were our first stopping points that day, followed by lunch and cider in Weymouth (for old times’ sake, of course).

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One of the many great views at Lulworth

Continuing onwards to Portland, we set off to see its three lighthouses. Portland Bill is a pretty famous lighthouse and you can see why it attracts a lot of people, it makes for a nice day out. It’s another scenic area, particularly the views looking down on Chesil Beach as you climb higher and higher up Portland itself. It is incredible what nature does, and I could happily spent hours researching barrier beaches and tombolos, which I fell in love with in Shetland last yet, (put extremely simply, it’s an island attached to the mainland by the narrow spit). It’s truly incredible what nature does and we are so lucky to be able to witness it, either in a single moment or (if we are really lucky) to see how it changes over the years. Of course not all of the change is good of course as we are seeing at Orfordness now.

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Looking back at Chesil Beach from Portland

The lighthouse at Portland offered another chance to climb some steps – plenty more this time than at Anvil Point. Even more lovely views of the Dorset coastline were to be had from the top of the tower and it was great to see the big lens in there too, although this has recently been removed. Back down on the ground we strolled around for a while and I captured a couple of pictures of the other two lights before we returned to camp.

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Portland Bill lighthouse

Our final day began and great adventure awaited us, this time in the form of a boat trip which would take us out to Hurst Point. It was another beautiful day and I gave the big white lighthouse at Hurst a hug as that was as close as I could get to going inside. For some unknown reason we didn’t go into Hurst Castle itself, which with hindsight was rather foolish of me as there would have been the other two lighthouses in there and I may well have discovered the Association of Lighthouse Keepers sooner as they have some excellent rooms there, which I finally got to see last year.

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Hurst Point lighthouse

It’s interesting looking back at my pictures from that visit to see how the area around the Castle looked then compared to how it is now, although there was clear evidence then that the movement of the shingle was a problem. Again, it’s nature doing its wild and wonderful thing.

The Needles from Hurst
The view towards the Needles from Hurst and some of the sea defences in place at the time

Only a short visit to Hurst that time, but it was a perfect end to an inspiring trip. It was only a few months after this that I began learning to drive. The weekend had given me a taste of what could be done, and I knew I needed a car and a licence to be able to do it. The rest, as they so often say, is history! 🙂

The missing light: Egypt Point

I was informed by a regular, and probably the most eagle-eyed, reader that I had missed a blog post covering a lighthouse I had visited last week. He is indeed correct. I confess, I visited Egypt Point lighthouse without writing about it here. Now there are times when I quickly stop off at a lighthouse and don’t mention it on here, but as a fan of the little lights I do now feel it would be wrong of me not to promote them whenever I get an opportunity.

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Egypt Point lighthouse

My first intentional visit to Egypt Point lighthouse was in August last year, which seems crazy as I am from the Isle of Wight and lived in Cowes itself for a couple of years. As I said in that earlier post, I’d passed the lighthouse here numerous times in the days before I became seriously interested in lighthouses, and not paid it any attention.

Egypt Point lighthouse is unique, there isn’t another one like it (as far as I recall). It can be found on the most northerly point of the Isle of Wight at the side of Egypt Esplanade, at the bottom of Egypt Hill. All very Egyptian you may be thinking. Well, it turns out that the “Egypt” in Egypt Point apparently takes it name from the fact that a colony of gypsies lived in the area in the sixteenth century. That’s another thing I’d not questioned before.

Egypt Point plaque
The plaque on the base of the tower

The tower is actually quite old, 122 years old to be precise, although you wouldn’t think it. It was built by Trinity House and, in 1969, the original lantern was removed and replaced by a new light powered by electricity. The old lantern can now be found at Hurst Castle as part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers Museum. The added bonus of going to Hurst Castle to see the lantern is that you can see three lighthouses, plus the old Nab Tower lighthouse.

The light at Egypt Point was switched off for good in 1989 and, in 2007, ownership passed over to the Isle of Wight Council after a couple of local councillors campaigned for it to be kept. Just last month it was reported that Cowes Town Council are being urged by Cowes Heritage to take over maintenance of the tower.

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This has to be among the easiest lighthouses to get to with it being right at the side of the road. Only the double yellow lines are there to stop you parking right next to it. Let’s hope it gets the care and attention it needs so people can just carrying on walking straight past it with only the occasional lighthouse bagger stopping to enjoy its existence.

Egypt Point

Oh, and while I’m confessing, I did briefly see St Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight last week too, but that was so brief I didn’t even get a picture. 🙂

Return to the Needles

It was a little over seven years ago that I last got a closer view of the Needles lighthouse off of the most westerly point of the Isle of Wight, the island I still consider to be home in many respects. It’s the sort of place you never lose a connection with, which I suppose could be said for any place where you were born and brought up.

The is a picture on the wall at home of the Needles, taken back in 2012, and so it’s a lighthouse that my son, in particular, is quite familiar with. He’d mentioned it a few times since we had arrived on the Isle of Wight earlier this week so we thought we’d take a drive out there to see if the boat trips that take you close to the lighthouse were running.

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The picture of the Needles on the wall at home

The chairlift was clearly moving when we arrived so we were hopeful of getting out in a boat. We asked the lady at the kiosk and she said that they were due to start running the trips soon so we quickly bought tickets and rushed off towards the chairlift. On the way down to the beach my little boy asked if we were going to go inside the lighthouse and I had to break it to him that we weren’t. His response was “But I want to go inside” and all I could say back to that was: “So do I”!

We hopped off of the chairlift and looked across at the boat rolling about in the sea with a couple of men on board. The kids were quite content throwing stones into the sea so we thought we would wait there to see if the boat started to move.

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The Needles seen in the distance from the beach

Unfortunately that plan was scuppered when the chairlift operators announced that they would shortly be closing the chairlift for technical reasons and that those who had tickets should make their way back up. We reluctantly followed these instructions, but decided we would go for lunch and try again later. It was slightly irritating to hear as we were heading to the cafe that the chairlift had re-opened, but you can’t dwell on these things.

A little while later we checked with the chairlift staff who reported that the boats were indeed due to start running very soon. Back on the chairlifts we went and wandered on over to the little jetty which the boat was moving about quite a bit at the end of. Last time we’d taken the RIB, but fortunately the only option today was the slower boat. I say fortunately as there appeared to be a fair amount of swell once you got out past the lighthouse, and the RIB takes you right around to the other side of the Needles.

Needles getting closer
Closing in on the Needles

It was quite a pleasant little cruise and a real pleasure to see the lighthouse again. The tower, at 31 metres, has got some height to it, but it appears slightly dwarfed almost by the actual “Needles” between it and the island. I sometimes think the helipads on top of the towers take away from the beauty of the structure, but what they take away in beauty they make up for in the “bring it on” exterior. The metal bars sticking out from around the helipad appear almost as arms spread wide, saying “Throw whatever you can at me. I can withstand anything”. I usually picture lighthouses as females. It’s just something I do, often singing “Isn’t She Lovely” at them, but I would struggle to do so with these rock lights boasting helipads. That’s possibly a little old-fashioned (and also quite strange) of me to think of it like that, but there you go.

Needles lighthouse
Needles lighthouse

The colour on the tower wasn’t as vivid today as it was when I’d seen it before against brilliant blue skies, but it’s nice to have different views each time you visit. We also had to contend with kids this time and while one of them held on to his seat the whole time and only moved when he was helped, the smaller one wanted to run free along the benches or lay on them singing away to herself. A natural at this boat malarkey she is, which is scary and encouraging in equal measure.

Needles and lighthouse
Looking back at the lighthouse

Once back on dry land and at the top of the cliff, the little man was repeatedly informing us that he didn’t have a Needles lighthouse toy – there was clearly a Needles lighthouse gap in his toy box! He chose, rather than a toy, a little ornament depicting the Needles lighthouse and the stacks. We also read up a bit in the shop, via an information panel on the wall, on the old lighthouse that was built upon the headland above the Needles in 1785. As is so often the case, this old lighthouse was frequently obscured by sea mist and therefore did not serve its purpose, hence the replacement tower being built at a lower level.

Today was a reminder of the variety of experiences you have when visiting lighthouses is your favourite thing to do. Some days are about the big adventure, hopping (or cautiously stepping in my case) onto and off of boats a number of times. Other days are for the enjoyment of the little ones when you take a step back, hold your hand out towards the lighthouse and say “kids, this is what it’s all about.” 🙂

Kids at Needles

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 🙂

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 🙂