Trwyn Du and Ynys Seriol

On the 17th August, 1831 the steamer Rothsay Castle left Liverpool at 11am on her regular journey to the Menai Straights. However, the rough weather made the sailing difficult and she made very little headway. The passengers became worried and asked the Captain to turn back, but he refused. By midnight he had still no made land, and an hour later the Rothsay Castle struck Dutchman Bank, then out of control struck a sand bank off Penmon. Of the 150 passengers on board, 130 lost their lives. This hastened the decision by Trinity House to build a lighthouse to guide ships on the Eastern tip of Angelsey. Work commenced in 1837 to build the black and white stone tower on a reef between Trwyn Du and Puffin Island. The light was lit in 1838.

Originally manned by two keepers, it was automated in 1922 and the keepers were withdrawn. In 1996 the light was converted to solar power. As we were walking around the shore we heard a bell being tolled on a regular basis. But I couldn’t see why or decide exactly where the ringing was coming from. The explanation comes from a further modification carried out in 1996 when a unique mechanism was installed to sound a 178 Kg bell every sixty seconds to act as a fog signal.
As well as the reef marked by the lighthouse, the small strait between Trwyn Du and Puffin Island has another rocky outcrop dangerous to shipping. This is marked by a large red beacon.

Puffin Island or Ynys Seiriol, refers to Saint Seriol. The son of Owain Ddantgwyn, a 5th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, and the brother of Saint Einion Frenin, a 5th- or 6th-century king in the Llŷn Peninsula, Seiriol founded and governed a clas (ecclesiastical settlement) at Penmon on the Anglesey. In later life, he abandoned his responsibilities there to establish a hermitage on the nearby island, where his remains are thought to rest.

King Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd is said to have sheltered here in around 630 when fleeing an invasion from the Kingdom of Northumbria. A monastery existed on the island in the late 12th century and was mentioned by Gerald of Wales who visited the area in 1188. He claimed that, whenever there was strife within the community of monks, a plague of mice would devour all their food. The ecclesiastical emails still exist on the island. Puffin Island is now privately owned, and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it’s not possible to land unfortunately, so this will have to remain an unattainable island for now.

Twr Mawr Lighthouse – Ynys Llanddwyn

Ynys Llanddwyn has two lighthouses. Neither of which fit the classical design that we know today. Twr Mawr (Big Tower) is more characteristic of a windmill than a lighthouse, and much can also be said of the smaller tower which now carries the light. The lighthouses cover the westernmost approach to the Menai Strait the narrow but treacherous water between Anglesey and the main land of Wales. The history of the lighthouses on Llandwyn is uncertain, but by 1823 it is certain that the two towers were already built, probably as day markers, but not with lights. 

In 1845 alterations were recorded as being made to Twr Mawr, costing £250 7s 6d, and a light was installed in 1846 (1). Twr Mawr is 36 feet (10 m) high and 18 feet (5.5 m) in diameter. It incorporated living quarters, but uniquely the light was shone from a lamp room at ground floor. 

South from Twr Mawr is another conical tower, also painted white, known as Twr Fach (Small Tower). This was built between 1800 and 1818 of rubble stone with a domed roof (1). In 1975 the light was moved from Twr Mawr to Twr Fach. This is now a solar powered light, monitored and maintained by Trinity House. The light is visible for 7 miles.

Just across the small beach from Twr Fach is a group of small cottages. These housed pilots who would watch for boats approaching the western end of the Menai Strait. The pilots would then row out to guide them through the reefs and safely into harbour at Caernarvon and other ports along the coast. The cottages now act as offices for the nature reserve.

Two Lighthouse & Two Pauls

During our trip to Grassholm we visited two lighthouses. Both of which I never thought I get the chance to see let alone photograph – South Bishop and The Smalls Lighthouse. As we passed Ramsey Island on out way to Grassholm we had a view of South Bishop, but only a distant view. I hope to go back there another day.

Smalls Lighthouse stands on the largest of a group of wave-washed basalt and dolerite rocks known as The Smalls. It is the most remote of the lighthouses around the UK and is approximately 20 miles (32 km) west of Marloes Peninsula in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and 8 miles (13 km) west of Grassholm. There has been a lighthouse here since 1776, the present one having been built in 1861 to replace the original wooden structure. I have often wondered what it would be like to be a lighthouse keeper, but to be isolated on a wooden structure built on a rock 20 miles from the mainland, exposed to the full force of the weather and seas hurtling in from the Atlanic must have required a very specific type of person. That that type of person is certainly not me!   

A drawing of the original wood lighthouse. Not a place for the faint hearted!

Having left the Gannets at Grassholm we headed further out to sea towards what seemed like an empty horizon. The sea was dead calm, with very little swell despite the current caused by the tidal rush. then in the distance we were able to make out the misty outline of the Smalls Lighthouse. After serious storms during December 1777 repairs and alterations became necessary, but Phillips had no funds to carry them out. He discharged the keepers and extinguished the light and made over his interest to a Committee of Liverpool Traders. In 1778 Trinity House obtained an Act of Parliament authorised the repair, rebuilding and maintain the lighthouse and to collect and levy reasonable dues. In view of Phillips’ services and his financial losses, they granted him a lease on 3 June 1778 for 99 years at a rent of £5.

Although this new lighthouse was described in 1801 as a “raft of timber rudely put together” it survived for 80 years. Whiteside’s novel design of raising a superstructure on piles so that the sea could pass through them with “but little obstruction” has been adopted since for hundreds of sea structures. An incident at the lighthouse caused a change in policy dictating that off-shore lighthouses should have a minimum of three keepers. In 1801 Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith were assigned ther period of duty in the lighthouse. The two men were known to argue, so when Griffith died in a freak accident, Thomas Howell feared he would be accused of murder if he buried the body at sea. Despite sending off a distress signal the weather prevented andy assistance being sent. As his colleagues body be an to decompose Howell built a makeshift coffin for the body and tied it to the outside of the lighthouse where, blown by the wind the box started to fall apart. The arm of Griffith fell out of the coffin and as the wind caught it, eerily waved at the window of the keepers hut. Howell kept the lamp lit but it is said that when he was relieved from duty, the experience of living with the decaying corpse of his colleague, left him unrecognisable. From that time, until the automation of lighthouses in the 1980s all teams were made up of three men.

The present lighthouse was built  The present lighthouse was built in 1861 under the supervision of Trinity House’s consultant engineer James Walker to a design based on Smeaton’s Eddystone tower, taking five years to build. It is 41m tall, and at high water 36m above the water level. The light can be seen over a range of 18 nautical miles, or 21 miles (33Km). In 1978 a helideck was erected above the lantern and the lighthouse was automated in 1987. In June 1997 the red and white stripes that had distinguished the tower were no longer considered necessary for navigation and the tower was grit blasted back to natural granite. In today’s world the need for a manned lighthouse is no longer necessary, and modern technology means that it is possible to control the lighthouse from a distance. In fact on the other side of the UK, at Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.

There was plenty of bird life out here. The top of the helipad seems to be a roost for cormorant and sea gulls, as were the rocks exposed by the low tide. After seeing so many Manx Shearwaters having been killed by Greater Black-backed Gulls on Skomer it was great to finally see one on the wing.

At last a live Manx Shearwater on the wing flying past the lighthouse.

Further Reading

The First and Last Letter to his wife:

Trinity House Blog:

Whiteford Lighthouse

It rained overnight, and threatened more during the morning, but luckily it didn’t materialise until the end of our walk this morning. On the norther coast of Gower is a fantastic nature reserve, now in the stewardship of the National Trust. But the nature reserve was not the main focus, but an unusual lighthouse was. It needs a little determination to get a view of the Whiteford Lighthouse, requiring a 2 mile walk along the costal path, which in part has been washed away by recent storms, but walking along the beach is always a pleasure.

This is an unusual lighthouse in a number of ways. Instead of being the usual stone built edifice standing offshore, the Whiteford Lighthouse is made of iron. It was the only operational cast iron light house to actually stand in the sea on the British coast. As trade increased at Llanelli and Bury Port it became apparent that the safety of shipping had to improved. This is a difficult stretch of water as the conflicting current from the Bury Port Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean made it difficult and dangerous to navigate. The lighthouse was built in 1865, working through until 1933 when the light was extinguished. 

Whiteford (pronounced Witford), its name being corrupted from the Viking word Hvit Fford, is a large expanse of sand (Whiteford Sands), and dune, forest and estuary (Whiteford Burrows). However, there were still disasters even after the light was lit. In January 1868 sixteen coal ships were wrecked on the beach. They had only come a short distance form Llanelli, but a sudden ground swell left them floundering off the point of Whiteford. The bodies of the crew from all sixteen vessels were laid to rest locally in the neighbouring graveyards of Llangennith Church and Llanmadoc Church.

Before the estuary was dredged, it is believed that huge stepping stones lay across the divide between Whiteford Point and the coastline of Dyfed, allowing access across the quicksand and mudflats at low tide. These have long been swallowed in the long history of the Burry Estuary, but another causeway, from Whiteford Lighthouse to Burry Port remains partially intact (but totally impossible to follow for any distance). We didn’t try to find these – not even I would attempt to persuade her this would be a good idea! The whole sand dunes, forest and beach are a fantastic and magical place. So I thought I’d leave you with a photo of a pair of Common Blue Butterflies that were intent on creating the next generation.

Strathy Point Lighthouse

On one of our trips along the north coast of Scotland we came across Strathy Point Lighthouse. If you imagine a windswept cliff with waves crashing sand thundering into the rocks below you would not be far from the reality of our visit there this day. It really was windy, and the waves really were crashing onto the rocks below. 

The lighthouse at Strathy Point on the North Coast of Scotland doesn’t have a distinguished and long history. An application to the Trinity Board for the building of a lighthouse was first made in 1900 and rejected. It wasn’t until 1953 that the need for a lighthouse was sanctioned, eventually being lit in 1958. There after Strathy Point filled one of the last important dark blanks on the Scottish coast between the practical limits of visibility of the major lights.

Strathy Point was the first Scottish Lighthouse built as an all-electric station, with a light and a fog signal. The light is now remotely controlled, and the accomodation where the lighthouse keeper once lived is now a private residence. Yo can read more technical details about the lighthouse here on the Northern Lighthouse Board website.