Monday, 30 April 2012

Lighthouse spotter's badge

I was off this weekend on a short break to Camber Sands, organised by my wife and a couple of her friends. On these jaunts I expect nothing more than salubrious digs, a decent meal out somewhere and a catch up in the pub with my wife's friends' husbands.

However, any trip to the coast will always have me scrabbling for my copy of Lighthouses of England & Wales and I was pleased to see that Dungeness was a distinct possibility.  All that stood between me and it was whether or not I could sway "the gang" into visiting a desolate headland that was also the home of a nuclear power station.  It didn't seem likely and crazy golf at Hastings was very much on the cards, until it started raining cats and dogs.

So, Dungeness. What a weird place, tons of beached boats and rickety little shacks, some kind of military type stuff (on the way my wife shouted out, "A tank!" but I wasn't quick enough to spot it) and a whopping great nuclear power station.  For the lighthouse spotter Dungeness offers exceptional value, with two and a half lighthouses situated there.

Only the old lighthouse is accessible and I zoomed to the top of that (stopping to take some snaps of some pretty, colour lens things). At the top I went through a little hatch onto an outside parapet, the view from which was staggering: the sprawling settlement of Dungeness, the miniature railway carriages (looking a bit like a centipede from this height) and off in the distance the white cliffs of Dover (I think).  The weather had turned lovely and you can sometimes see France from the top of the lighthouse, I didn't notice if you could or not.  I was slightly nervous to be honest and when the breeze got a bit frisky I was back through the hatch.

Back on the ground floor I got chatting to the custodian of the lighthouse and bought a lovely little cruet set, more as a token of support of their efforts in keeping the place going than anything else (I rarely add salt to food and I don't think I've ever added pepper to anything).  Old Dungeness is one of the tallest lighthouses in the country apparently and I read later that they do a certificate for reaching the top. Tragically I was not made aware of this at the time.

I love the whole Victorian-ness of lighthouses but while I was there I thought I ought to check out the new lighthouse (built 1961). You can't go in this one but I had a good squint and was quite taken with it, it's a bit Chris Foss I think.

Also on the list were the acoustic mirrors at nearby Greatstone* which longstanding readers might remember once featured as this blog's header picture.  Sadly I couldn't find out if there were any guided tours on, time was limited and my fellow holiday makers were in any case unwilling to wade through waist deep water and indulge in a little minor trespassing to check out, in their words, "giant lumps of old concrete".

The day before I'd nipped into Rye to pick up some groceries and chanced upon the excellent Grammar School Records shop, possibly the most impressive looking exterior of any record shop I've seen. I was a bit doubtful though when I went in, a surfeit of Alan Parsons Project-type record shop I thought.  But very quickly I found an immaculate copy of the Tom Tom Club's first album, which I snapped up straight away.  (Incidentally, Tina Weymouth's comment, that despite being young and hip in Seventies New York, she'd been shocked by the antics of the Happy Mondays in the Bahamas, used to be one of those things that made me feel proud to be British.  Sullied now though by Shaun Ryder's support for the Tories.)

Anyway, I rate Wordy Rappinghood higher than other early rap, far funnier and more fluent than anything I've heard by the Sugarhill Gang and it knocks Blondie's Rapture into a cocked hat.

* A distinct lack of ancient megalithic monuments, another of my holiday favourites, in the area.


  1. I've only ever been up one lighthouse. It's the one I call The Beatles Lighthouse; back when Hoes were only found in Plymouth.

  2. Top marks on the Beatles tie in. Some heavy body language going on I think: George and Ringo hunched up like self conscious school boys, John and Paul competing to out cool each other with (identical) displays of lavish nonchalance. Paul wins by virtue of his fantastic coat.

  3. You need to make your way up the west coast, Artog to Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, the most westerly building on the western mainland of the UK. Gorgeous beaches and very rugged scenary.

    Great post btw

  4. If you get the chance - have a pop in (and up) to Southwold Lighthouse. Although I had to back-track after about 20 steps. Not good with indoor heights..

  5. Cheers Drew. I've no doubt most Scottish lighthouses are very impressive, as befits the landscape. I've only seen the one, Lismore, on the way in and out of Oban. That looked very smart and I took quite a few photos, but I don't count it as a spot unless I've been right up to them. I nearly bought a book (The Lighthouse Stevensons) a few weeks ago, the story of a Scottish lighthouse building dynasty, looked cool.

    Mondo - I remember your mention of Southwold lighthouse a while back. It looks a beauty, though I prefer them out in the middle of nowhere normally, rather than mixing in the town. That said, in the pictures it's giving off a bit of a Godzilla vibe. Which is a good thing.

  6. What an excellent post.

    Never been up a lighthouse - possibly due to lasting trauma from The Sea Devils in Doctor Who.

    I think the Shaun Ryder backing Tories story was a Grauniad April Fool. Or *gulp* is your comment a double bluff?

  7. Nope, it was an irony-free comment, the Guardian totally had me there. In my defence can I just say that I'm rarely sure what day of the week it is, never mind the actual date.

    Anyway, a big "Phew!" on the Shaun Ryder score. By odd co-incidence earlier today I was offered (and accepted) a ticket to go and see the Happy Mondays. It's more of a social thing really, no great burning desire to hear them. I'm slightly more excited about seeing the Inspiral Carpets in support.

  8. Ah, every time I've seen the carpets play live, I've loved them. Saturn 5 has the hairs standing up on the back of my neck every time.

    My dad's parent's were from Plymouth, and when I grew up, they had a flat that looked out onto the Hoe, and I've been up Smeaton's Tower there many times (no, not a euphemism). What I really loved though was the way that, on a clear day, you could see out as far as the new lighthouse, with the stump where they'd taken the old one and transplanted it to the Hoe clearly visible. I also have very clear memories of watching Tora! Tora! Tora! on the telly one evening as a storm thrashed in from the sea - it was the night that a lifeboat turned over and some people died (December 1981, wikipedia tells me, so I would have been 7). I've never lived by the sea (I'm a midlands boy), but I really think I'd like to.

  9. It's obligatory to have grandparents who live by the sea, in my case Morecambe Bay. And the plan at one time was that my parents were going to retire to the coast (Norfolk probably) to ease my dad's asthma. They didn't in the end, mainly I think because they couldn't face dealing with all the books in the house.

    I saw the Inspiral Carpets play once, years ago (Noel Gallagher was probably still their roadie). It was a great gig. I don't think I'd planned to go, I think we were just walking past the venue and a tout offered us tickets for a couple of quid each.

  10. Two lighthouses well worth visiting if you're ever in the north- Southerness (Solway Firth near Dumfries, scene of many childhood holidays) and Withernsea near Hull. Withernsea isn't pretty but the lighthouse is first rate.

    I'm dodging the Mondays.

  11. That Withernsea one is amazing, I may have to make a cardboard model of it. And the Southerness one is very interesting looking too. Top tips SA, cheers.

  12. And the Mondays, I wouldn't have been bothered but it's a free ticket and I'm meeting up with a couple of old mates. They can be as shit as they like.