Saturday, 16 October 2010

South Stack lighting

I find lighthouses a bit terrifying for some reason. It may stem from a Dr Who story I vaguely remember set in one - featuring a classic blob-type creature killing off the occupants one by one. (I looked it up: The Horror of Fang Rock. Broadcast September 1977. I was five).

Lighthouses perched atop headlands I can deal with, in fact I'd love to live in one. But those standing in the sea, rearing up from the very waters themselves, I can hardly bear to look at them. I think because when I do I inevitably imagine myself in those waters desperately scabbling for a hold on the slippery walls. It isn't just a straightforward fear of drowning, even if I were safely afloat in a lifejacket and knew help was on the way I wouldn't be able to look up at my surroundings. I'm not sure what this is all about - possibly some kind of cosmic dread, like the sea is the universe or something.

Despite all that I'm quite into going to see lighthouses. While I was planning my recent holiday my research consisted of checking Lighthouses of England & Wales and The Modern Antiquarian (and, er...the Readers Digest Touring Guide to Great Britain). I'd been thinking more of heading south and so it was only a couple weeks before I set off that I looked north and realised Anglesey was in easy striking distance and that South Stack, somewhere I've wanted to visit for years, was seriously on the agenda. I did my homework and was gutted to discover that the lighthouse would be closed to the public from the end of September - a few days before I could get there.

I crossed the drab expanse of Anglesey to get there anyway and sure enough the little office was shut up. However, I obstinately made my way down the four hundred steps and, magically, found the gate across the little bridge unpadlocked. I snuck across and approached the tower. I didn't go right up to it as I could see an open door with paint pots lying about and I didn't fancy a telling off from some gruff, nautical type.

It was certainly a weird environment, half sacred precinct and half secret military installation (the latter effect heightened by the pair of jet fighters circling about). I don't know why I found the tower so sinister - it works, after all, unceasingly for good. But I dunno, its whiteness, its height, the barely audible turning of its great cyclopean eye and its remote location all added up to a very strange vibe.

The authority responsible for lighthouses in the UK is Trinity House, which I think sounds ancient, respectable and somehow quietly evil. And that was before I read that it was governed by a court of elder brethern, and presided over by a master, none other than arch-lizard HRH the Duke of Edinburgh himself.


  1. I thought it was just me. I get like that with objects immersed in water - bridge supports, large ships in dock and, even though I've not seen one at close quarters, oil rigs. All very irrational. I mean, it's not as if can't swim. Going off topic, I know people who can't abide it when certain foods come into contact with each other on their plate. What's that all about?

  2. Hmm, bridges I can deal with - possibly because they're connected to land at both sides? I've gone on about the Titanic before so I suppose I'd go along with the ships one. And I've got no strong feelings about oil rigs either way.

    I think it must be about being in the middle of a large body of water, I'm not sure the object itself has to be that large - I think the shark in Jaws is laughable, but in the opening scene I find the buoy absolutely terrifying.

    I've never been affected by the food thing you mention, the closest I'd come to that is preferring my baked beans not to rest against a waffle or similar for too long, to prevent sogginess. All perfectly rational.