A somewhat delayed post from three months ago, concluding the Berwickshire-based bagging series.
After a few good days of lighthouse-related antics, it all went a bit pear-shaped with my knee-related incident. Any plans I’d had for walking to lighthouses from that point had to be cast aside. However, there was still some fun to be had after I got past the initial painful days.
In terms of lighthouses, there were a couple more days of discovery around St Abbs. I’d found a fantastic company based in Eyemouth who ran boat trips around St Abbs. Even better, the boat they used was ‘accessible’ so I could go along without having to worry about whether or not I would be able to get aboard.
In Our Nature is run by Liza Cole who used to be a Ranger for St Abbs so knows a considerable amount about the geology and wildlife all along the coastline. I learnt a lot more during the trip than I feel I have done during previous trips in any other area – or maybe it’s just Liza’s style of presentation. Learning that a collection of shags is called a ‘hangout’ was rather fun. Liza and I were actually equally delighted to learn that she owns a copy of my book and loves it. It goes without saying that she shares my passion for lighthouses!
As we sailed up the coast we passed multitudes of tiny coves and pebbly beaches, each of which had little sloping pathways leading down to them. Liza informed us that this was to enable local people to access the beaches, although I’ve managed to forget during the last three months exactly what the purpose of this was.
Reaching St Abbs in the boat, this was where the dramatic rocky coastal scenery really kicked in. I’d seen a lot of it from the landward side, but to see it from the sea and experiment the sheer scale of some of the jutting out headlands and sea stacks was marvellous. Although it was late in the season there still seemed to be a fair few seabirds about, both young and old. We were also able to spot my mum sitting just outside the wall of the lighthouse complex and happily waved away to each other as we passed.
Once we had rounded the headland we were edging closer to the little Pettico Wick harbour which we’d explored a bit a couple of days before. The large pinnacles of rock just to the north of the harbour had looked so impressive from the shore, but were now dwarfed in comparison to the big stacks and cliffs that surrounded them.
For days I’d also been admiring the wonderful rocks to the west of the cove and it was fantastic to see them from this different view. The amazing folding effect which Liza explained was a result of two different types of rock meeting, was just as prominent from the sea and, of course, there was a better view of the geology even further to the west.
After just the right amount of time to study the cliffs or birds, we set off back for Eyemouth. Liza uses local fishing boats for her trips and the seals are very used to receiving titbits when the boats return from trips so it was great to see them following us back into the harbour, even if they were slightly disappointed at the lack of food on this occasion.
Having spent a few days being able to do very little, it was great to be back out in the proper fresh air, enjoying a boat trip once again. There’s nothing quite like a sea breeze to bring you around after a difficult few days.
The following day we visited North Berwick again and this time visited the Coastal Communities Museum which I’d been wanting to get to for some time. The main reason for this was to see the old Bass Rock Lighthouse lens. As with so many of these lenses it was a real pleasure to see.
There I was then thinking the holiday was over and we’d be leaving St Abbs behind on that Friday morning, but little did I know that there was one last surprise in store! As we were packing up the car, a couple of people arrived, one of which was the Planning Engineer for the Northern Lighthouse Board, Craig, who was undertaking the annual inspection of St Abbs Lighthouse. Seizing the opportunity for a peek inside the lighthouse, he very willingly agreed to show us around and I hobbled on down the steps to the lantern. It was fortunate that we were at St Abbs really as the majority of lighthouses would have been inaccessible for me and my crutches.
Unsurprisingly, the lighthouse isn’t very big inside. You enter into a small hallway which leads straight into the lantern with the light mechanism. There is also a separate room off to the right. There is only then one set of ladder-type steps to get up inside the lantern. I decided to pass on this opportunity and stayed on the ground floor level, but I was happy enough with that. The others went up and I was still able to join in their conversations with them above the lattice flooring and me below.
While we were inside the lighthouse Craig managed to prise the old hatch open in the steps that would have allowed access to the weight mechanism when the lighthouse was operated by the clockwork system. Due to the lantern being near enough at ground level it was necessary for them to dig into the ground to accommodate the mechanism.
Craig has worked for the Northern Lighthouse Board for a number of years and has seen the majority of their lighthouses with very few left unvisited. For him lighthouses are his work, but I got a sense that he takes more enjoyment from being around them than most people do their workplace. 🙂
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 🙂
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 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 🙂
It’s been some time since my last lighthouse extravaganza – too long. It was definitely time to make up for it with a good old bagging session. It’s difficult these days to find an area that will allow me to visit more than one or two lighthouses I’ve not seen before.
I’d not been looking forward to visiting the lights along the south side of the Bristol Channel and River Severn. The structures are all a bit odd, a far cry from the majestic towers many would expect from a lighthouse, and I didn’t expect access to be particularly easy. A week on the Isle of Wight with grandparents looking after the kids allowed a day away though to have a good go at getting to some of the 13 I had left in the region.
I am really keen to point out here that I was really wrong to pre-judge the area in the way I did. Yes, the towers aren’t the most thrilling, but if all lighthouses looked exactly the same this would be a much more boring hobby. Access was also not an issue as the Severn Way is a massive help, you just need to know the right places to join the Severn Way to get to the lights.
The journey began (after the ferry) with a 2 and a half hour drive to Watchet. As you enter Watchet the sign reads ‘Ancient port of 1000 years’, which is quite a claim, but is certainly does have some history based around it’s harbour, which was turned into a marina in 2000 after centuries of being integral in the import and export of goods, including iron ore, paper, kelp, flour and gypsum. When you park up in the car park near the marina you are welcomed by an amazing mural charting historical periods from prehistory and the dinosaurs right up to modern day and space exploration.
The lighthouse in Watchet sits at the end of the breakwater and, as with many pier lights, is a point of interest for holiday-makers to reach. The small tower dates back to 1862 during the peak of Watchet’s role as a major exporter. At the time there were about 1,100 ship movements each year and the pier and breakwater had just been constructed. The tower was designed by James Abernathy – who won the design contract over, amazingly, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who also submitted a tender – and built by Hennet, Spinks and Else of Bridgewater at a cost of £75. The light now exhibits a fixed green light and boasts a nice little plaque which was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2012 to mark its 150th birthday.
Though it would have been nice to have spent more time exploring Watchet (there’s a Maritime Museum too), more lighthouses beckoned and the next was the Round Tower in Burnham-on-Sea. I’d been to Burnham-on-Sea before and visited the very popular low light on the beach and its high light, but hadn’t been aware at the time of the Round Tower Lighthouse. My research informed me that it was now a guest house and it looked like it wasn’t easy/possible to actually get close enough to touch – unless you were staying there, or course.
The best view of the tower is from the neighbouring graveyard (or, in fact, from one particular spot in the nearby car park). At the front of the building though there is a sign showing the Round Tower Lighthouse as part of the Burnham Heritage Trail. The sign takes you to this link: http://www.captureburnham.co.uk/heritage-trail/round-tower-lighthouse which gives plenty of detail of the history of the tower and it’s really quite sweet beginnings.
Joe the Drone took the opportunity to dust off his blades and went for a fly about and got some great shots from above.
Bidding Burnham adieu, it was time to head for the River Avon. I’d come across the three lights along the north bank of the Avon during research for my book and I wasn’t massively enthralled by them and access looked like it might be a bit tricky. I’d done my various map investigations though and found what seemed like a reasonable way to get to Fir Tree with Upper and Lower Horseshoe looking a bit more of a challenge. Finding somewhere to park in Sea Mills, we set off for the river, easily spotting the footpath heading down through the trees to the river bank. Passing under the bridge meant we were then on the right side of the railway line and the Fir Tree light came into view as soon as we reached the river. Upper and Lower Horseshoe could also be seen further downstream, but whether it was possible to get to them along the bank was something that needed more investigation. First though it was time to take a look at Fir Tree. It’s a very basic structure as the picture shows and I’ve certainly not got much to say about it, but it was a reminder that lights really only need to be functional to fulfil their purpose, especially when they are only lighting a fairly small area as this one is.
It seemed like there was a path that continued on along the river and I was pleased to find that it went all the way to the Upper Horseshoe light and, even better, beyond!
Upper Horseshoe isn’t much beside a pretty thick pole with a light on top and a ladder to one side which is covered towards the top. However, this was actually my favourite of the three, which (of course) had nothing to do with the fact it had Mr Bump from the Mr Men books drawn on it. It was just a better looking light and, rather interestingly, it had a long ladder leading up the embankment next to it and Joe the Drone later confirmed that the ladder led straight up to the railway line, which seemed like a very unwise return route on the way back.
The third light, Lower Horseshoe was also easy enough to get to by continuing along the small path. This one also had a ladder that went up towards the rail tracks. It was a bigger version of the Fir Tree light.
Looking back towards the first two lights it became clear why two of them were called Upper Horseshoe and Lower Horseshoe. They are located on a horseshoe shaped section of the river and later, when Joe the Drone went for a fly he wasn’t legally able to fly high enough (within the drone flight height limit) to capture the whole horseshoe.
It’s a very quiet area with the occasional train going past and as much as I expected to not enjoy it, I must say it was actually my favourite part of the day. Sometimes the fun in getting to these odd lights makes them much more memorable and enjoyable than one you can drive straight to.
On the way back, passing underneath the bridge again in the opposite direction I spotted another Mr Bump painted on the side of it. I’ve no idea why he appears in two places here, I’m quite glad he does.
Heading further east now and to the River Severn, the next destination was the very interesting box on a pole that is the Sheppardine front light. This one is super easy to access from the very end of Shepperdine Road where there is a parking area and the road comes out straight onto the Severn Way. It’s just a short walk east along the river then to reach the tower. The rear of the range lights – a tall pole with lights and day mark – can be seen nearby too. This is another really unique one and makes you wonder what they were thinking when they designed it. It has a radar on top too so the box room may well need extra equipment inside and the pole that it sits on top of gives it the extra elevation it needs.
I had just pointed out how good access to the bridleways were in the area when Bob suggested we try an alternative approach to the Fishinghouse Front light to the directions in my book. The light is actually very close to what is marked as an access route on the map, but the signs on the gates when we arrived there indicated that passing through here wasn’t going to be so easy. In the end we resorted to the directions in my book, which meant a longer walk, but quite a nice one.
The Fishinghouse light is another one of a pair of leading lights and, again, the rear light is a tall pole with lights in a field nearby. The front light is slightly unimpressive, but I’d say the walk to this one from Berkeley Power Station was what made it enjoyable.
Aware that it would be time to start heading back soon, we decided to leave the two Berkeley Pill lights for next time and instead take a quick look at the old lighthouse lantern at Sharpness Docks. I’ve not managed to get confirmation, but I suspect it was one of the old lanterns from one of the Berkeley Pill lights as the lanterns were changed on these at some point. The old lantern now sits just behind a fence and is looking in a sorry state, especially as the nearby green area is filled with nautical paraphernalia including an old buoy.
While in the area we spotted Light Vessel 23, which was built in 1960 and originally served under the name Planet at the Bar station in Liverpool Bay. After being sold to Trinity House in 1972 she served on a number of other stations before she retired in 1989. She came to Sharpness Docks in 2016.
It was time to head back to Southampton at the end of a day that felt a little bit like the old times with multiple lighthouses in a day. As mentioned already, this was a far more enjoyable day than I’d imagined it would be. There are still some more to do, but I don’t see them as the hurdle I used to 🙂
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. 🙂
It’s been another day onboard Lysander in Shetland today and it’s really starting to feel like home now. With Michael the fantastically knowledgeable and friendly skipper, and the equally knowledgeable and skilled tender skipper Alan, we have been in very good hands.
My first lighthouse stop of the day was Wether Holm. We were informed by Alan that ‘wether holm’ is the name given to islands where the sea gets shallower and breaks on the island. There are plenty of Wether Holms about in Shetland, but only one of them has a lighthouse. This is a flat-pack lighthouse and after we were dropped off it was just a quick stroll up to it. There were nice views across to Whalsay from the lighthouse including Suther Ness Lighthouse just across the water.
After we left the island Joe the Drone went for a fly and got some great aerial shots of the island and surrounding area.
Next we landed on Inner Holm of Skaw. There’s no lighthouse here, but we were told that there were stories suggesting there was a human skull to be found near the cairn on the island. This intrigued us all so we took the opportunity to have a hunt for it, and with success too. Lying under a flat round rock close to the cairn were indeed bones. There was part of a skull, a jawbone still with some teeth in it and a few other bones too. It was very strange. Bob pointed out that there was a chapel marked on the map and when we looked back towards the cairn there was evidence of rows of stones that could well have been the walls of the old chapel. Our skipper looked into it a bit more and was informed that the remains are actually believed to be of the monk who built the chapel there.
Onto my second new lighthouse of the day, Muckle Skerry. We’d considered landing on this one two years ago, but it had been raining and – given my experience of it today – I’m glad we didn’t. It’s a skerry so it’s rock really and although it looks from a distance like it has some nice grass on top it’s really just flora and fauna that thrives in wet environments combined with an occasional hard bit of soil and then random rocks in and around it all.
It took us a little while to pick where we would land. The side of the island looked like any landing there would involve a scramble up rocks that looked green and potentially very slippery. We made our way around the island on the tender coming across another potential landing area where there turned out to be too many rocks just under the water. We then found a deeper section which got us onto some barnacle-covered rocks followed by a short section of slippy rock and then it was rock hopping all the way up to the mixed terrain described above.
Muckle Skerry Lighthouse is another flat-pack and this time without a fence around it. There are great views all around which always make the less straightforward landings more worthwhile. It’s certainly somewhere you would struggle to land without the near perfect conditions we had today. We were very fortunate with sea conditions today.
Joe was launched from the boat and caught some pictures which hopefully illustrate the tricky terrain of this one.
We were bound for Out Skerries next. There are so many islands within this group that it wasn’t surprising that to save time we all dispersed a bit. Skipper Michael and I were dropped off on Bound Skerry, home to Out Skerries Lighthouse. Michael had never landed on the island before so we left the big boat moored up on the main island and Alan took us across.
Although I’d been to Out Skerries Lighthouse before it was really nice to visit it with someone who was really looking forward to getting there. We had the island to ourselves for some time before the others arrived and we took a stroll around the rocks, getting as far to the east as possible so Michael could reach the most easterly he’s ever been in Shetland. One particular view from the highest point of the island was excellent with the lighthouse in the foreground and the shore station on neighbouring Grunay beyond.
On a calm day it’s very hard to imagine how wild it must get there. Today is just seemed so tranquil and serene. For a while I sat at the base of the lighthouse and just enjoyed being there – that was until Bob came and asked me to move so I didn’t get in Joe the Drone’s pictures! However, I can’t complain as he did get some superb images. The blue sky appeared too!
A few hours – and a number of islands – later we arrived at Hoo Stack. John as well as Alan the boatman were keen to land here and I went ashore too, but stayed down on the rocks. I’d already been to this lighthouse back in 2019 and with the swell picking up I didn’t want to slow anyone down. The swell had picked up a fair amount by this point so landing wasn’t so easy, but we all did it and stayed dry, and John and Alan were happy.
It’s been a long day, but another successful one. Mervyn has now set foot in one way or another on over 100 islands so far and I just have one lighthouse left to achieve my personal goal for this trip. That one is lined up for tomorrow. All fingers are crossed 🙂
It’s been some day today and certainly varied, taking in two very different lighthouses in extremely different settings. It is the day I have been waiting for, to make it to the remote and challenging Ve Skerries Lighthouse.
Leaving from Aith this morning, we set off for Papa Stour with our skipper Magnus Scott and John Anderson from Simmer Dim Charters. All four of us baggers on board had something of interest on this island that’s not so easy to get to, with one ferry a day in each direction only three days a week. For me, or course, it was a lighthouse – or, as I call it, a lightbox.
Upon arrival at the island Bob and John set off for the island high point and trig pillar while Mervyn and I took a stroll along the road, discovering quite a lot about the island community. For a start they have a great ferry terminal with tea and coffee making facilities, a book swap, a nice seating area and toilets.
There aren’t many houses on the island and those that are there are scattered alongside the road that runs from the pier to the airport landing strip. There’s a Primary School which has been closed now for around 8 years and the population of the island is just 6. A small community, but a really wonderful one which embraces its island and its history. This is very clear to see throughout Papa Stour.
There is a wonderful ‘stofa’, an old Norwegian-style house made from carved wood. This was built in the place of a former stofa, but part of the build project was to allow younger people to learn the traditional skills of Norwegian building. It is really quite beautiful to see how well-constructed it is.
We also took a look inside the Kirk, which is perfect for a small community. The building features a stained glass window that was designed and made by the locals to commemorate the lives of the four men from Papa who lost their lives during the Great War. It also contains a prayer tree which people can hang messages on explaining who they are praying for. There is also a small room with local history information and some locally made products for sale.
From the Kirk we walked around to East Biggings and then began the attempt to reach the lighthouse. It had been visible nearly all the way around the road, but we’d not spotted a clear way to reach it. On our return journey we found a gate and followed the edge of a field down towards Housa Voe. Through one more gate and another field and we were there.
I would never say that these little lightboxes are anywhere near the most impressive, but they certainly do the job. The one here at Housa Voe is a similar type of structure to the two at West Burrafirth. It’s essentially a small square dry dashed building with a door at the back and a directional sector light shining out the front. There’s little more to it than that, but you can see when you step into the path of the light that it does it’s job very effectively. I had some fun for a few minutes walking back and forth in front of it and watching the red light change to white and then to green. This light is owned by Shetland Islands Council, which sort of explains its appearance. Clearly its purpose is to guide vessels safely into Housa Voe.
It was nice to introduce Mervyn to this type as well as they are very rarely visited. I’m not sure he was particularly impressed, but he pretended to be which was good of him. This is one of the delights of lighthouse bagging, discovering new places above and beyond just looking at the lighthouse.
We left the lightbox behind and headed for the ferry terminal for a nice cup of tea. Even the waiting room is a trove of historical treasures relating to Papa Stour.
Once we were all back we set off to a few islands off of Papa Stour before we began to head north west towards a little collection of rocks called Ve Skerries. I’m not sure how well known Ve Skerries is in lighthouse circles. When you are as into lighthouses as I am you sort of lose any sense of what others do or don’t know. Anyway, for those who don’t know, Ve Skerries is a collection of very small islands/large rocks off the west coast of Mainland Shetland. They mark the most south westerly point of St Magnus Bay. On a clear day you can just make out the lighthouse in the distance from Eshaness. It is renowned for being a very dangerous area for ships with numerous wrecks occurring there. The most recent of which was the Corelleira in 2019 though thankfully there has been no loss of life there since the Ben Doran wrecked in 1930.
The sail out to Ve Skerries was actually not too bad at all and it was very encouraging to see hardly any swell around the islands. A fairly rare occurrence I think. I climbed into the tender with Bob and John and we set off to land on Ormal, the lighthouse island. We found somewhere to land and getting out of the boat was easy enough, but then the challenge began. Although the Ve Skerries are low-lying that doesn’t mean they are flat. The island is made up of tidal sections of rock and near enough all of these rocks seem to be jagged with no flat, horizontal edges. While some were covered in barnacles there was plenty of seaweed and slimy stuff about. Bob lent me his micro spikes which certainly made moving over the rocks much easier. It was a long section of rocks to cross though before we got to the helipad. Now whenever I think about Ve Skerries I remember those rocks and just have to laugh. It was quite an experience.
Relief set in when I finally got to the helipad which has a nice walkway across to the base of the lighthouse. There was a little stoney area down some steps from the helipad and John Anderson said it’s possible to find bits of ballast from the ships wrecked on the Skerries sometimes. I did have a look around, but couldn’t see anything.
Of course, we couldn’t have gone to Ve Skerries on a calm day without Joe the Drone coming along.
The lighthouse on Ve Skerries was first lit in 1979, built mainly to aid the large vessels moving around the area going to and from Sullom Voe. The wrecking of the Elinor Viking in December 1977 was also a deciding factor for the lighthouse which was already being spoken of at that point. After the lighthouse was built it received an award for its design and construction, and has very recently been granted listed status. It is a very unique structure, a real modern day rock lighthouse.
Getting back to the boat was slightly easier than the way we’d gone onto the island. However when I got towards the boat one of my feet slipped on some seaweed and my right foot ended up in the sea. Fortunately it was just my foot and I was able to get back into the boat safely before we had a quick stop in the very sheltered little harbour on North Isle, which was a great spot for watching the seals flopping on the rocks and swimming around.
Reaching Ve Skerries Lighthouse felt like a great achievement. It is not frequently visited and probably for good reason.
Today was a great reminder to me of why I love doing this so much. That combination of straightforward, understated lighthouse trips and heading out into the wild extremes and creeping about over slippery rocks. Lighthouse bagging like this isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for me – even if I do get a wet foot every now and then! 🙂