Monday, April 02, 2012

Rock Lighthouses

The site of lighthouses stirs the soul of many sea kayakers, when Chris and myself ran the original Sea Paddler site the pages with pictures of Breton and Scottish lighthouses are consistently amongst the most popular.  Their popularity means that there are numerous books available about lighthouses but very few in English, which are of the quality of this book by Christopher Nicolson.

Nicholson has selected 14 rock lighthouses, of which 13 are possible to visit by sea kayak, Rockall would be pushing the boundaries, for what is feasible for most paddlers.  From Bishop Rock on the edge of the Scilly Isles to Muckle Flugga to the north of the Shetlands they have helped to protect generations of sea farers from the hazards of these isolated rocks.  It is interesting to note the enormous impact of the Stephenson family. Members of this famous family built Bell Rock, Skerryvore, Flannan Isles, Dubh Artach and Muckle Flugga.
There are a large number of fascinating photographs, many of a historical nature but others, which depict the sheer power of the ocean, and the challenges, which faced the builders of these lights.
  The photograph of Longships Lighthouse on page 75 proves that Brittany does not have the monopoly when it comes to huge waves crashing over isolated lighthouses.  It is difficult to comprehend the feelings of the keepers in such situations.  It is also interesting to observe the use of semaphore in a number of the pictures, a skill that is rapidly fading into the memory.
Each light is allocated a chapter and the development of the lighthouse is covered in some depth with a wide range of supporting photographs.
  What is clear though is that the lights are representative of a particular era in the maritime history of these islands.  The advent of solar power, GPS and remote control have meant that the job of lighthouse keeper is now obsolete.  Therefore, there will no longer be the need to build such graceful structures.  The events of December 1900 on the Flannan Isles are covered in some detail but very little new light is shed on the mysteries of that occurred in this remote corner of north west Scotland.
Over the last few days the drone of Corbiere lighthouse has been a fixture in my house, its signal warning mariners of the treacherous south west corner of Jersey but with the advent of more sophisticated navigational aids and enclosed bridges on ships the need for audible warnings has declined and the fog horns of many of these lights has become a distant memory.  The last Scottish lighthouse to lose its signal was Skerryvore in October 2005

Generations of sea kayakers have responded to the challenge of visiting offshore lights.
  Hundreds of paddlers probably experienced their first offshore tidal race as they approached the Skerries off the north coast of Anglesey.  The Longstone is one of the most famous of British lights and it has attracted numerous paddlers to the north east hoping to visit this outer part of the Farnes.  Many of us still have a tick list of places we want to visit and I know that in common with lots of other paddlers a trip past Muckle Flugga is high on the agenda as is a visit to the Smalls, which is the most isolated of all the Trinity House Lights.
Christopher Nicolson has produced a book, which should attract all those people who are interested in the maritime traditions of the British Isles.
  From the armchair historian to the active sea kayaker there is something to interest everybody.  It contains a wide selection of photographs and an endless supply of information about Britain’s Rock Lighthouses.  This is just the sort of book to flick through on those dark winter evenings as you look for inspiration for future kayaking adventures but as summer approaches it is time to plan your journeys to some of the most dramatic locations in the British Isles.

Rock Lighthouses of Britain by Christopher Nicolson
Published 2006 by Whittles Publishing
ISBN 1-904445-27-6
Price £25.00

No comments: