Of the 145 steps to the top (167 if you count the steps from the basement), it was probably around half way up that I remembered that I’m not overly fond of heights. When I stumbled across the website for the Covesea Lighthouse in Lossiemouth before a recent short break in Moray I immediately thought it would be a great experience (and blog material of course) and emailed to organise a tour before I thought too much about the fact that I don’t really have a head for heights. I am always thrilled to discover something new in an area I know well and so there I was on a rainy Saturday morning, duly following a volunteer up a winding staircase and pushing any queasiness aside. (Thinking about it now I can add climbing up a lighthouse when I’m not good with heights to some of my other perhaps unexpected blog posts – the pregnant lady on a whisky tour, and the ever-so-slightly claustrophobic and squeamish person on a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close in underground Edinburgh).
As often happens in Scotland, the day before had been beautiful and sunny, and that very afternoon spilled over with glorious sunshine but the morning of my tour it was pouring. I arrived to soaking wet bunting flapping in the wind and the sea engulfed in grey mist and discovered that the day before there had been a wedding at the lighthouse (what a wonderful venue for a wedding! And if anyone should have had lovely sunny views from there, I’m glad it was the wedding party).
The lighthouse is run by volunteers as it was bought by the Lossiemouth community in 2012 (they are always looking for more volunteers so if you live in the area and are interested please do get in touch with the Covesea Lighthouse Community Company) and I found the history of the lighthouse fascinating. The friendly volunteers went through the early history in a room at the bottom of the lighthouse, which has some interesting artefacts and information boards, as well as a web cam on the view from the top.
If you know about lighthouses in Scotland you’ll be aware that most of them were designed and built by four generations of the Stevenson family – Covesea by Robert Louis Stevenson’s uncle, Alan Stevenson. After 16 boats sunk during a storm in 1826 it was decided that a lighthouse should be built at Lossiemouth and across the Firth at Tarbat Ness to warn sailors of the dangers of this particularly rocky section of coastline. The lighthouse was completed in 1846 and became automated in 1984.
I loved learning about its history and about the daily life of the two lighthouse keepers. I have to say my knowledge of lighthouse keeping was pretty sparse before my tour. My guide told me that Alan Stevenson made the lighthouse ‘solid but beautiful’, adding Egyptian touches to it, such as a handle in the shape of a Nile sturgeon, a plaque with Isis, the goddess of wind, and the ‘elephant feet’ chimneys on the lighthouse keepers’ cottages. It’s the little anecdotes like this that I think make the tour so interesting.
As well as the 145 steps there are two ladders (so the tour is not appropriate for young children) and you can step onto the gallery outside to take in the views. And, oh! – what views they are! Even on a wet, grey day it was wonderful to look out across Lossiemouth, down the beach and out to sea (on a clear day the volunteers assured me that the view was far-reaching and oh-so beautiful. I believe them). I had no problem walking around the lighthouse (with my hand firmly on the railing) as long as I kept my eyes out to the distance, but when it came to looking down at my toddler who was frantically waving from directly below all I could manage was a weak wave in his direction (I still don’t know how I ever managed to do a sky dive years ago…).
It was great to see how the light actually works and learn about the changes to it over the years. I cannot imagine cleaning the light from the outside or climbing up and down those steps everyday, you must have had to be made of very strong stuff indeed to be a lighthouse keeper.
The two houses that were once home to the lighthouse keeper, his assistant and their families are now lovely self-catering cottages (I had a quick peek inside and was really impressed) so if you want to imagine the life of the lighthouse keeper, what better than to stay in this unique accommodation? The location of the cottages is fantastic, with a beach just a hop and a skip away, and those sweeping sea views to soak up. History, a stunning seascape and a beach on your doorstep – I think I’ll add this to my list of places to stay next year…
A tour of the lighthouse is by appointment only (currently on Saturdays between 10am and 4pm) and costs £4.