Smeaton's tower Gill Wild

Gill Wild

Smeaton’s Tower is the famed red-and-white lighthouse in Plymouth (Devon) that now runs on solar power, but was originally powered by candles and then oil lamps. Made from granite blocks (outside) and Portland stone (inside) it was built by talented civil engineers who designed many other lighthouses across England, to warn ships of rocks in the water. These seas used to be so treacherous that the original lighthouse had its 550lb fog bell torn off in a storm and had to be built again.  Recently, a rare job came up as a lighthouse keeper, asking for someone with a good head for heights, happy to work alone, able to change lightbulbs and must like seagulls!

The Greenwich Lightvessel (situated off the Sussex coast) is a moving lighthouse that reports in every 12 hours, and marks the English Channel Traffic Separation Zone (France is north, England is south). It’s this ship that is used by the Met Office to bring the daily Shipping Forecast. For more information on lighthouses (of all shapes and sizes), visit Trinity House (which also is a charity that helps old seafarers).

Smearton's pier St Ives Whistlefish

Smeaton’s Pier (St Ives) by Whistlefish

Although today there are less ship disasters, they still happen. England’s own version of the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in 1967, when a tanker struck Pollard’s Rock in Cornwall, spilling millions of gallons of oil, which affected the coast in France, Guernsey and Spain. Recently, 4500 containers of Vanish stain remover washed up on a Cornish beach, after 18,000 fell off a container ship (so the rest are still at sea somewhere). The local sea turned pink, and thankfully many volunteers helped to clean up the sea, to help wildlife. However others faced fines, as they literally drove to the beach to pick up free bottles of Vanish, and drove them home. We have a long way to go.

A mystery remains in Scotland, when three lighthouse keepers mysteriously disappeared over 100 years ago (a bit like that film Picnic at Hanging Rock, they just vanished into thin air). There was talk of ghosts and foul play. But now, historians believe they know what happened. One of the lighthouse keepers had been unfairly reprimanded for losing some kit in a storm. They think it happened again, and he risked his life (not with success) to fetch it from flying away – and the other two lighthouse keepers tried to help him. It now seems it was simply a tragic accident.

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