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Off to the lighthouse

24 October 2010
Published in Society
by Christina Kolyva

Once abundantly used to guide sailors through dangerous waters and mark safe entry to harbours, hospital nowadays modern navigational equipment has made lighthouses, here to a large degree, redundant. Scattered along scenic coastal drives, at the end of long and half-forgotten stony paths, with the cries of seagulls and the sound of crashing waves mixing with the echoes of the past, there are a large number of derelict lighthouse buildings in the UK , looking beautiful in their solitude and solemn in their cobwebbed attire. Marvelling at the charming and romantic atmosphere, the calmness radiating from the secluded environment, the splendid view, the fresh air and the constantly changing landscape around a lighthouse, some lighthouse owners have decided to convert their properties into unique hotels and B&Bs, making perfect weekend getaways.

For weekenders who are after the alluring atmosphere exuded by an old lighthouse, but not particularly happy with the idea of forgoing all the comforts of a luxury hotel, the Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel is a good solution. Situated at Corsewall Point in Scotland and overlooking the North Channel, its beacon has served as a warning to ships approaching the mouth of Loch Ryan since 1817. The lighthouse became fully automated in 1994 and the lighthouse building itself, a 34 metre-high white tower, is listed, but the former lightkeeper’s accommodation is now operated as a four-star hotel and restaurant. It is possible that you will spend your entire stay with your nose glued to the hotel’s window-panes admiring the view, and that you will not want to part from the relaxing and friendly ambience of the establishment. After all, this is a hotel of distinctive stature, so to speak, and nobody can blame you. If you do venture outdoors though, you will be rewarded with majestic views of the Scottish coastline, which you can enjoy in combination with some local sightseeing, cycling, hiking, golf and wildlife watching.

Young (and young at heart!) people who would like to combine a relaxing weekend stay at a charming, wave-crashing cum seagull-crying lighthouse setting, with a ton of fun activities to choose from, would be thrilled with the West Usk Lighthouse. Built in 1821, the lighthouse overlooks the Bristol Channel and offers breathtaking views of the Severn and Usk Estuaries. It was decommissioned in the 1920s and today it operates as a comfortable and shabby chic B&B. All accommodation is within the lighthouse building itself, which is unusually short and wide in circumference for a lighthouse, and a stone, spiral staircase in the centre of the property leads to the wedge-shaped first floor rooms. The fully restored lantern room offers a panoramic view of Welsh countryside and sea, and one of the fastest tides in the world can be heard rushing towards the foot of the building twice a day. Originality is not limited to architectural features. With a Dalek at the bottom of the staircase and a wishing well in the basement, a 21 ft Mongolian Yurt in the courtyard, a Rolls Royce to drive you around, whispers of paranormal activity and crop circles, all combined with a very long list of fun activities to choose from (ranging from aromatherapy to Russian Tank driving), in all fairness originality is a gross understatement! Have a look at their very friendly website if you don’t believe me.

If you are looking for an elite, cosy and romantic place to spend a weekend away from it all, then the Great Orme Lighthouse cannot possibly disappoint you. It was built in 1862 and faces the Irish Sea from the Great Orme, a limestone headland in North Wales. Apparently because of its location, on top of a 100 m wave-lashed cliff, there was no need for the usual tall and narrow lighthouse stance to make it visible at sea and as a result this lighthouse has the unusual appearance of a fortress, featuring dressed limestone outside and pitch pine panelling inside. The beam was deactivated in 1985 and today the building is operated as an elegant, family-owned B&B. Accommodation is within the lighthouse building, with the names of the rooms indicating their original use: the Lamp Room, the Telegraph Room and the Principal Keeper’s Suite. Yes, there are only 3 rooms available, so it is recommended to book very early in order to avoid disappointment. A lot of the original furnishings are strategically scattered around the rooms, like the portholes and pine shutters for the telescopes, the ladder leading to the roof and the glass panelling of the lamp room, adding to the feeling of history beckoning to you when you stay there.

Finally, for families or large groups of people, if you do not mind hiring self-catering accommodation, you might want to have a look at Burnham High Lighthouse, an 8-storey tower in Somerset promoted as a self-contained let, and the Old Higher Lighthouse in Portland, offering a cottage almost next to the lighthouse as a long-stay holiday let. For hostel-like accommodation bear in mind the Portland Bird Observatory and Field Centre in Portland, whilst if you are willing to travel the extra mile you might be interested in self-catering lighthouse accommodation up north in the Shetland Islands. By the way, The Old Lighthouse at St. Anne’s Head in West Wales is available both to let and for sale, if you really like lighthouses that much!

If the idea of staying at a lighthouse brings out the child in you, you ought to know that you won’t be able to just sneak into the lamp room at night and play shadow puppets across the Irish Sea of the English Channel! My understanding is that lighthouses providing lodgings have deactivated beams, which in this case is a great pity, don’t you think?

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