If, over breakfast, I had shown Allan pictures of the lights I wanted to see around Lindisfarne, I think he would probably have invented a compelling reason to head back to Oxford. Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is a low-lying island off the coast around halfway between Berwick and Bamburgh. The first English diocese was founded here in AD635, and for many years it was second only to Canterbury as the centre of Christianity in England.
The island is reached by a narrow, raised causeway that crosses the muddy sands from Beal. For three hours either side of high tide the causeway is submerged, which means that timing our visit carefully was essential. It looked, today, as though a late morning arrival would be ideal.
I met Allan there. He had spent the time he was waiting by queuing up for fresh, homemade crab sandwiches from a van in the car park. It was about the best welcome I could imagine. The van was doing a brisk trade, with a queue that any beachfront ice cream van would be proud of.
I’ll admit that there are plenty more beautiful sights on the island than the modern light at Heugh Hill. The ruins of the eleventh-century priory, as well as the castle, certainly feature on more postcards. As we peeled off the footpath to make our way towards it, Allan said, for the second time in twenty-four hours: ‘Is that it?’
I don’t think he felt it was worth the £3.50 car parking fee. Close to the priory we had a great view out to the pair of day marks at Guile Point, one of which has a fixed light and so can legitimately be defined as a lighthouse. If only for their unusual pyramidal design, Allan was slightly more enthusiastic, but evidently nothing was going to stack up favourably against the three Lundy lighthouses he had seen the last time we were together.
In the early nineteenth century, Lindisfarne developed a busy harbour. An alarming number of ships ran aground, mistaking Emmanuel Head, at the island’s north-eastern point, for the deep channel leading to the safety of the harbour.
In 1810, a white pyramid-shaped daymark was erected on the headland at Emmanuel Head, reputed to be Britain’s earliest purpose-built daymark. Shortly afterwards, a pair of stone obelisks were built on a small tidal island on the opposite side of the channel, about 125 yards apart. Together, they were leading marks which, when aligned, indicated the safe approach into the harbour.
Called Guile Point East and Guile Point West, they still stand today. The east obelisk, sometimes referred to as East Law, is seventy feet tall, while the west (West Law) is eighty-three feet tall.
Over the years, shifting tides have altered the line of safe passage, and the pair of obelisks no longer work as intended. As a result, a fixed light was added to Guile Point West in 1995, with a range of four miles, and Guile Point East was withdrawn from service.
A new light, called Heugh Hill Lighthouse, was built close to Lindisfarne Priory at around the same time, with a range of five miles. It comprises a metal framework tower with a modern polycarbonate light and black triangular day mark. It has taken over the role played by Guile Point East and works in conjunction with Guile Point West to indicate the safe passage into the harbour.
Meeting up back at Seahouses harbour, we managed to get a pair of tickets for a two-hour catamaran tour of the Farne Islands that I wagered would restore Allan’s lighthouse enthusiasm. Promising grey seals, any number of bird species, as well as the occasional dolphin, the trip would also take in the two Farne Island lighthouses, one of which is among the most famous around our shores.
I had lost count of the number of boat trips I had taken to see offshore lighthouses, but other than the RIB ride out of Cardiff Bay with Emily’s uncle, John, I had experienced them all on my own. So it felt good to be sharing this tour with Allan, who is always good company. I was about to narrate the heroic story of Grace Darling, daughter of the Longstone Lighthouse keeper, when the captain of the catamaran saved me the trouble. He told it much better than I could have done, anyway.
I didn’t want to come across as lacking interest in the bird and sea life, but it also felt good to just be spending time with a mate, something I hadn’t done for a long time. On this tour, at least, I was happy to miss out on the seals and puffins, and reminisce instead about the various clients we’d had the misfortune of working with, as well as the projects we were planning to work on together in the future. Only two lighthouses, and the occasional phone notification of the cricket score, interrupted the conversation.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 19, 2015
The Farne Islands consist of almost thirty islands of which Inner Farne is the largest. The island was home to St Cuthbert, who moved here in 676 and lived as a hermit for more than a decade. While on the island he attracted pilgrims from all over the Kingdom of Northumbria because of his reputed gift of healing. Today, the island is owned by the National Trust, and is renowned as a summer haven for nesting sea birds.
There are records of a number of attempts to build lights on the island, one of the earliest of which was a coal-burning light built by a Captain John Blackett in 1778. Blackett also built a second light at the southern end of Staple Island, and when this proved ill-sited, he replaced it with a crude, coal-fired tower on Brownsman Island.
By 1809 both of Blackett’s working lights were in disrepair, and Trinity House agreed to take them over and establish new lights.
In 1811, Trinity House built the current Inner Farne Lighthouse to a design by Daniel Alexander. It has a circular white tower, forty-three feet tall, with lantern and gallery, and keepers’ cottages behind. The lantern displays two white and red flashes, every fifteen seconds, which are visible for ten miles. The whole lighthouse complex is surrounded by a stone wall.
At the same time, a smaller light tower was built on the north-west point of the island, about 150 yards away. It was octagonal, twenty-six feet tall, and displayed a fixed white light through a small window. This smaller light remained in operation until 1910, when it was decommissioned and demolished shortly afterwards. At the same time, the remaining, principal lighthouse on the island was automated. In 1996, the lighthouse was converted to solar power, and LED lights were installed in 2015.
In 1810, at the same time as the lighthouse at Inner Farne was under construction, Trinity House built a new lighthouse to replace the coal-fired tower on Brownsman Island. It was not a success, failing to prevent a number of wrecks on the northern Farne islands, so the Brownsman Island light was scrapped and the decision was taken to build a new lighthouse on Longstone Island, originally known as the Outer Farne.
It was designed and built by Joseph Nelson, and is a red and white circular tower built of rough stone with iron railings around the lantern’s gallery. It was completed in 1826, employing Argand oil lamps, and was equipped with one of the world’s first revolving flashing optics. It displays a white flashing light, every twenty seconds, which these days has a range of eighteen miles.
The Longstone Lighthouse will forever be renowned for the 1838 wreck of the Forfarshire and the role of Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, in rescuing survivors. The Forfarshire, with sixty-four passengers and crew on board, broke in two about half a mile from the lighthouse.
William Darling, the keeper, and the fishermen ashore, thought that a rescue attempt was impossible. However, Grace Darling insisted on trying, and took her place in the small lighthouse boat. While forty-three sailors perished, nine lives were saved, due almost entirely to her gallant action. The rescue made newspaper headlines, and Grace Darling became a national heroine. Sadly, she died of tuberculosis just four years later aged twenty-six.
Longtone Lighthouse underwent substantial alteration in 1952, including the installation of electricity generators, renewed optics, fog signal and radio beacon. It was automated in 1990.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 19, 2015
Back in the harbour at Seahouses, I felt a sudden pang of anxiety, brought on by the knowledge that Allan was about to head home, and by the discovery that England had just lost the second test against Australia by 405 runs.
I hated saying goodbye, but as Allan had nearly 300 miles to drive home, I had no right to delay him. He promised to be at Dungeness for my homecoming, which at a rough estimate was probably only three weeks away. While he set off in the direction of the A1, I found my way back to National Cycle Network Route 1, and pushed on another twenty miles to the stunningly beautiful village of Alnmouth.
Much as I would have preferred to space out meetings with friends and family, it was a joy to meet up with Jo, one of the first friends I made in a publishing career that began almost thirty years ago. Quite apart from being a gifted and sought-after editor, she is also exceedingly good company. I’ve always been envious of the way she can express, with just a raised eyebrow or knowing nod or glance, what would take me five minutes of bombastic speech.
Jo and I ate at the Hope & Anchor, the pub where I was staying, and spent the evening catching up about our mutual publishing friends. Back in the 1990s, we both worked for a small tertiary and academic publisher in West London. It was founded by Dick Chapman, who had written and published a book about data processing, and then built a respected list of textbooks from there. Dick had, and continues to have, a baffling, magnetic hold over the eight of us who worked for him. We were like a second family.
Dick is a keen walker, so meetings, appraisals and project planning all took place over a pub lunch, halfway through a ten-mile stomp in the Chiltern hills, close to his home. It’s a huge testament to his legacy that more than twenty-five years after Dick retired, and long since the company was acquired, the eight of us still meet up in the Chilterns each year for a long walk and a bloody good pub lunch.
So lovely to meet up with Jo for a meal in Alnmouth. Strange not being in the Chilterns with rest of the DPP team! pic.twitter.com/FKscEMxGkN
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 20, 2015