Sunday, 8 July 2007

Okay, What's This About Lighthouses?

Bell Rock, Inchcape, Angus, Scotland
I originally labelled this incorrectly, somehow placed it on the west coast.
The Bell Rock Lighthouse is on the Inchcape Rock, part of a reef about twelve miles east of Arbroath, Angus.

Inchcape Rock

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
The Ship was still as she could be;
Her sails from heaven received no motion,
Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock,
The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock;
So little they rose, so little they fell,
They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

The Abbot of Aberbrothok
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.

When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
The Mariners heard the warning Bell;
And then they knew the perilous Rock,
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok

The Sun in the heaven was shining gay,
All things were joyful on that day;
The sea-birds scream’d as they wheel’d round,
And there was joyaunce in their sound.

The buoy of the Inchcpe Bell was seen
A darker speck on the ocean green;
Sir Ralph the Rover walk’d his deck,
And fix’d his eye on the darker speck.

He felt the cheering power of spring,
It made him whistle, it made him sing;
His heart was mirthful to excess,
But the Rover’s mirth was wickedness.

His eye was on the Inchcape Float;
Quoth he, “My men, put out the boat,
And row me to the Inchcape Rock,
And I’ll plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

The boat is lower’d, the boatmen row,
And to the Inchcape Rock they go;
Sir Ralph bent over from the boat,
And he cut the bell from the Inchcape Float.

Down sank the Bell with a gurgling sound,
The bubbles rose and burst around;
Quoth Sir Ralph, “The next who comes to the Rock,
Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

Sir ralph the Rover sail’d away,
He scour’d the seas for many a day;
And now grown rich with plunder’d store,
He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.

So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky,
They cannot see the sun on high;
The wind hath blown a gale all day,
At evening it hath died away.

On the deck the Rover takes his stand,
So dark it is they see no land.
Quoth Sir Ralph, “It will be lighter soon,
For there is the dawn of the rising Moon.”

“Canst hear,” said one, “the breakers roar?
For methinks we should be near the shore.”
“Now, where we are I cannot tell,
But I wish we could hear the Inchcape Bell.”

They hear no sound, the swell is strong,
Though the wind hath fallen they drift along;
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,
“Oh Christ! It is the Inchcape Rock!”

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair,
He curst himself in his despair;
The waves rush in on every side,
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.

But even is his dying fear,
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.

Robert Southey

Flamborough Light, Yorkshire

Well, I'm not obsessed, it's not my hobby or anything. but I remember going as a kid to visit a lighthouse. A fairly small one, climbing all those spiral stairs, up to the lantern at the top.
The lighthouse was on the top of a cliff, I remember being very impressed that it could be seen from 24 miles out to sea.. I remember the great glass fresnel lenses, and the fact that the huge lamp assembly could be turned with hardly any effort. Though it weighs over a ton, it floats on a bath of mercury, which makes a near perfect bearing.Flamborough Light, Yorkshire
Later, probably because John Smeaton, the designer was from my home town, I learned of the very different nature of offshore lights, perched on rock, and needing to withstand the roughest seas, and how, in 1696, Henry Winstanley resolved to put a light on the deadly Eddystone Rock, 14 miles offshore in the English channel. Only a few years later, in the Great Storm of 1703, it was swept away in a storm, and Winstanley with it.
Then a Captain Lovett built a great wooden tower on the rock, designed by an engineer called Rudyard. This lasted almost fifty years before the lantern house caught fire, and the keepers were unable to save it.
So a new light was needed, Yorkshire engineer John Smeaton was given the task to design a structure that would endure where others had failed. He thought of the task, and modelled his tower on the broad base and tapering trunk of an old english oak tree.
He came up with a design that required a heavy stone construction, wherein each stone interlocked with others, both side to side, and above and below. Marble dowels, oak wedges, granite blocks, created an immensely strong structure.
Stone plan, Base of Bell Rock Light, Scotland
To make it he had to invent a new type of crane, and further, to invent a new form of fast setting mortar, that would even set underwater. All these things he did. This lighthouse was to be the model system that most later lighthouses would follow, and was exactly what was needed.

Interlocking stone courses in the Bell Rock Lighthouse, Scotland

Bell Rock, Stephenson/Rennie design, (after Smeaton) Angus, Scotland
It weathered the worst the sea could throw at it, for over a hundred and twenty years.
Then it became noted the tower could be felt to move in a storm. Nothing wrong with Smeaton's work, but the rock beneath it had started to crack. A new tower was built then, close by on the reef. Smeaton's was dismantled and re-erected on the clifftop at Plymouth. That is, the upper part. His base section proved so well constructed that it could not be dismantled, and remains standing today.
The next tower to be built (using Smeaton's techniques) is still in use, Douglas's tower, (now has a helipad on the top). Near it can be seen the base of Smeaton's tower.

Yo ho, Here's a tale
That's fair and dear to the hearts of those that sail
'Bout a lighthouse keeper and his bare faced wife
Who joined together for a different life
Yo ho, The winds and water tell the tale

My father was the keeper of the Eddystone light
He married a mermaid one fine night
From this union there came three
A porpoise and a porgy and the other one me!

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea!

Late one night, I was a-trimming of the glim
While singing a verse from the evening hymn
A voice on the starboard shouted "Ahoy!"
And there was my mother, a-sitting on a buoy.

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea!

"Tell me what has become of my children three?"
My mother she did asked of me.
One was exhibited as a talking fish
The other was served on a chafing dish.

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea!

Then the phosphorous flashed in her seaweed hair.
I looked again, and me mother wasn't there
A voice came echoing out from the night
"To Hell with the keeper of the Eddystone Light!"

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea!

Yo ho, Yo ho
Yo ho, Yo ho, Yo ho...


  1. mmm.....fascinating,

    but i really love the chambered nautilus stair ........ and the phosphorus flashing mermaid's hair ......

  2. The Lighthouse's Tale
    -by the band Nickel Creek

    I am a lighthouse worn by the weather and the waves
    I keep my lamp lit to warn the sailors on their way
    I'll tell a story, paint you a picture from my past
    I was so happy but joy in this life seldom lasts

    I had a keeper, he helped me warn the ships at sea
    We had grown closer 'til his joy meant everything to me
    And he was to marry a girl who shown with beauty and light
    They loved each other, and with me watched the sunsets into nights

    And the waves crashing around me
    The sand slips out to sea
    And the winds that blow remind me
    Of what has been and what can never be

    She'd had to leave us; my keeper, he prayed for a safe return
    But when the night came, the weather to a raging storm had turned
    He watched her ship fight, but in vain against the wild and terrible wind
    And me so helpless, as dashed against the rocks she met her end

    And the waves crashing around me
    The sand slips out to sea
    And the winds that blow remind me
    Of what has been and what can never be

    Then on the next day, my keeper found her washed up on the shore
    He kissed her cold face, and that they'd be together soon he swore
    I saw him crying, watched as he buried her in the sand
    Then he climbed my tower, and off the edge of me he ran

    And the waves crashing around me
    The sand slips out to sea
    And the winds that blow remind me
    Of what has been and what can never be

    I am a lighthouse worn by the weather and the waves
    And though I'm empty I still warn the sailors on their way

  3. The Bell Rock Lighthouse is off the coast of Angus, not Ayrshire.

  4. Thank you, I'm not sure how I managed to get the location so wrong that I placed it on altogether the wrong side of Scotland. There have been a LOT of visitors to this post, in the almost two years since it went up, I'm amazed nobody pointed it out earlier..
    I'll go edit.

    Oops. Just goes to show you can't always believe what you read on the internet.


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