I’ve found myself encountering more and more lighthouses in various states of dereliction recently, and although you don’t necessarily get used to it, it’s no longer shocking in the way it was with, for me, Ailsa Craig. When I saw the state cottages there I found it so sad, but I’ve seen many like that and worse since then. It’s a very rare occurrence to see a vast improvement in the state of lighthouse towers, and often their associated buildings, when the light no longer shines from it. A couple of Saturdays ago I was to witness exactly this though.
I’ve been to Spurn once before, on my original 2012 tour, and I was excited to be going back there as part of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK) AGM weekend. I knew that it had changed a lot since my first visit and I was excited about going to what felt like an entirely new place. The two key changes that have occurred since my visit are that the tidal causeway leading out to what is essentially an island was washed away in 2013. When I was there before I drove out quite happily (I mean, I did nearly get my car stuck in the sand, but driving out and back was fairly uneventful otherwise), but now the only way to get out other then on foot or by bike is to join the Spurn Safari Unimog – a fantastic vehicle! Secondly, the lighthouse itself, while still recognisable as the same structure, has had the TLC it desperately needed. No more paint flaking off on the outside, and as a member of the public you can get inside it now and climb right to the top. The change is incredible really.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have opened Spurn Discovery Centre on the “mainland” side, and this was where we met that morning. They’d laid out plenty of lighthouse-related items and artefacts for us, they had videos playing and Spurn-related books laid out – and then there was tea and coffee. We knew we were going to be well looked after here!
Once we were all gathered we set off for the Unimog. It’s a monster of a vehicle, and I know I wondered if we would be going over big old boulders in it and bouncing about all over the place. It was actually good fun and there were a couple of times I thought we might topple over, but the people who drive these things at Spurn certainly know what they are doing. The only thing that made me feel a little uneasy was that one of the volunteers there had said to me the day before that every day there are noticeable changes on the way out there. I suppose it’s impossible to know a “road” fully if it is in a constant state of change. One of the things I found impressive is that there are a number of groins still out there, jutting up out of the sand. They don’t look in particularly good condition, but they are still there, and obviously were able to withstand the conditions in which the road was destroyed six years ago.
We arrived safely at the lighthouse and parked up in the same place I’d parked last time. It was more overgrown than I remember it being with higher sand banks, but it could just be that I don’t recall it correctly.
We all went on inside the lighthouse. I could go into great detail about everything in the lighthouse, but (a) I’m sure I would miss a few things, and (b) this post would become far too long. The amount of time and effort the team there must have put in is astounding. It’s all been so well done and each floor has something different to offer, from details of wildlife to be found there, to the geology of the area, and of course the process of restoring the lighthouse. Of course you are then treated to some wonderful panoramic views at the top of the tower. The lens isn’t there anymore, but that wasn’t a problem for me as it meant I could stand on the raised platform in the middle and see out, which I couldn’t have done otherwise. From here I was able to spot the older lighthouse tower on the sand (more on that in a bit).
There was a lot to fit into our short time out there so, when we left the lighthouse, we were taken over to the most unexpected part of our tour: some military underground tunnels and rooms. These have only very recently been uncovered and there has clearly, yet again, been considerable effort put into discovering what is there and making it safe for the public to go inside. The walls in one room in particular were covered in graffiti and in another was a collection of items found during the excavation work. It was amazing really and added an extra element of wonder and interest to Spurn. What a treat that was!
It was time to move on, so we left behind our hard hats and torches and continued along the track towards the RNLI buildings. On the way there, a few of us took a slight detour to go and get a closer look at the old lighthouse tower on the sand. Although it now boasts a not so fetching water tank on top, it is a beautiful tower. It once had the words ‘Explosive Magazine’ on the side and you can still see the remnants of this lettering half way up the tower. I wasn’t really wearing the most appropriate footwear for wandering out to it and my feet got a little wet, but it was so worth it!
We caught up with the others at the Lifeboat station. The original plan had been to have a tour of the station with the crew, but they were out on a call-out at the time so Andy from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust gave us a bit of history of their work out there. The Humber Lifeboat crew are the only full time all-weather crew in the UK. There are a number of buildings around the station, which used to be the homes of the crew and their families until the families were moved off of Spurn in 2012, which was by all accounts a very sad occasion as they had formed quite a community there. The work they do out there is amazing. The crew are paid for the time they spend at the station, but as soon as a call-out comes in and they go out they become volunteers. At the ALK dinner that evening the Coxswain, David Steenvorden, gave an incredible talk about his life in the crew, which was a real eye-opener. To hear his stories after being there that morning was wonderful.
We left Spurn in the rain, but with a feeling of having been somewhere really special. Recently I’ve found that returning to places has uncovered new details and points of interest that I missed the first time around. I knew Spurn would do just that, but it went beyond that. It was like being there for the first time as I’d not appreciated it anywhere near as much as I should have done on the first visit. I felt very calm as I left Spurn – so much so that I nearly fell asleep in the Unimog!
That afternoon was the AGM and it was particularly important for me (aside from my events duties) because I had copies of my book there to sell and everyone seemed excited about it. The most important bit though was being able to hand over a copy each to a couple of people who had helped so much with it. The first was Ian, a former keeper on the likes of Skerryvore, Duncansby Head and Sanda. He’s been mentioned a few times in my blog over the last year and was one of the first ALK members I met. He checked over the dates and designers for my book (as well as various other things he picked up on in the final draft). The second was John, my flat-pack partner in crime, who has also had a few mentions on here. John helped to make the book so much better than it would otherwise have been and was the person I called upon to discuss the details of lights of all shapes and sizes. I’ve thanked him countless times, but feel he needs regular reminders of just how grateful I am. Thanks you two!
Well, that was the end of another ALK AGM and what a great weekend it was. Going to two places that are both fairly accessible was good fun, but the experience of sharing it with others who appreciate lighthouses as much as I do is invaluable. Many of them feel like old friends already because I have communicated with them so much over the past year. All I can say is bring on next year’s event! 🙂