England has many lighthouses, although many of them are no longer in operation, and used instead as private homes, holiday homes or tourist attractions. Built to protect ships at risk of hitting rocks in stormy weather, not all are tall and cylindrical with red and white stripes – there are also circular lighthouses and even short squat ones! Years ago, lighthouse keepers would live year-round in them, to keep the gas light going, before the invention of electricity.
The Isles of Scilly may look like the Caribbean, but in fact has more shipwrecks than most areas on earth, as any diver will tell you. To learn more about lighthouses in England, Trinity House lists them all (along with light vessel ships – the charity also supports the seafaring community).
So why are lighthouses different colours and shapes? It’s often due to loca lighting and the shape of the land. So say the surroundings are dark woodland, the lighthouse would be painted white to stand out (the familiar red/white striped lighthouses are usually near white cliffs or rocks). Yet others are ‘short’ so sailors can easily see the beam, and others are situated nearby to each other, producing different flash patterns (so mariners know which is which).
Although mooring buoys are used to keep sailors safe, they can destroy seagrass beds (where sea turtles feed – the same issue occurs for anchors from boats). New advanced mooring systems can now be used to do the same job, without damaging the ocean floor. They use elastic to lift chains offthe seabed (even at low tide) and a helical screw over a weighted anchor (load-tested so boaters can hold vessels in place). The project is being used in Norfolk to protect seahorses.
a few of England’s interesting lighthouses
Beachy Head Lighthouse (East Sussex) is near the infamous cliffs that has seen many suicides over the years. Built in 1902, this is the epitome of the red-and-white striped lighthouse to easily be seen against white cliffs.
Smeaton’s Tower (Devon) is a national landmark in Plymouth. Built in 1759, it was moved from Eddystone reef (due to undermining the rock) to its current place at Plymouth Hoe.
Bamburgh Lighthouse (Northumberland) was created to navigate ships around the Farne Islands (the favourite wildlife spot of Sir David Attenborough). Built in 1910, this is the most northerly lighthouse in England, just 20 miles from Scotland.
Bishop Rock Lighthouse (Isles of Scilly) is situated 4 miles from the beautiful islands, in treacherous waters. It was built in severe wind facing the Atlantic (the first one washed away in a gale).
Cromer Lighthouse (Norfolk) had problems with cliffs slipping into the sea when first built. The first keepers were two young women (who received £1 week, for keeping passing ships safe).
Dungeness Lighthouse (Kent) was built to keep ships safe on the Strait of Dover. It has been floodlit since 1962, which helped reduce mortality of migrating birds.
The Needles Lighthouse (Isle of Wight) accompanies the rocks that protrude up from the sea. Although there is now one less, as it fell to the sea in a storm.
Southwold Lighthouse (Suffolk) stands in between rows of houses facing the North Sea. It features in the BBC children’s TV series Grandpa in My Pocket.
St Bee’s Lighthouse (Cumbria) was built to help ships trading between England and Wales. It is in the village that starts Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast Walk (which ends in the village of Robin Hood’s Bay on the east Yorkshire coast).
Burnham-on-Sea Lighthouse (Somerset) is England’s ‘lighthouse on legs!’ These were added when ships complained the lighthouse was too small to see! The two also has two other lighthouses (no longer in working use).
Greenwich Lightvessel (East Sussex) is in the English Channel, which reports to the Planning Centre every 12 hours. This is where you get the information on BBC Radio 4, for the shipping forecast used by the Meterological Office.
Fair Isle, Northwest 5 to 7, occasional gale 8 at first etc. Rough or very rough. Showers, rain later‘. Don’t come here for a summer holiday!
how to be a lighthouse keeper
Jobs only come up every few years, each one has dozens of applicants. The most recent included the job description and needs of those applying:
- High level of fitness (lot of stairs)
- Good eyesight, and a head for heights!
- Resourcefulness (food deliveries are sparse)
- Experience of exterior decorating
- Able to find joy in solitude
- An appreciation of seagulls!
- Good at changing lightbulbs!
the Scottish lighthouse mystery
A long-forgotten mystery has recently been solved. In 1900 on Scotland’s Flannan Isles (Outer Hebrides), three lighthouse keepers disappeared. It was a complete mystery (a bit like Peter Weir’s film Picnic at Hanging Rock, where the schoolgirls disappear without trace). There were stories of ghosts and aliens.
It has since been discovered that one of the men had been (unfairly) reprimanded for his equipment washing away in a gale. It is now believed that (fearing it would happen again) he was washed away, trying to save his equipment. And it caused a tragic chain reaction, as his two colleagues tried to help, and also were washed away in the storm.