Digest>Archives> May 2003

Visit To South Stack Lighthouse

Or, Why don’t they build lighthouses in easy to get places?

By Amanda Horton


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I am a lighthouse enthusiast, okay, fanatic, and I have visited over 50 lighthouses so far in the British Isles. There aren't many in this country that are actually open to the public, so when they are you have to make the most of the opportunity to visit them.

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On the 20th July 2002 I was lucky enough to be able to visit South Stack Lighthouse on Anglesey, Wales. This was one of the most memorable lighthouses I have visited so far. The lighthouse itself was amazing, but to actually get to it is an adventure in itself.

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You have to climb down 400 concrete steps down the side of a cliff face, with the breeze constantly whipping at your face. Every step you go down you know you're going to have to ascend on the way back up!! The steps snake down the face of a cliff, where there are benches strategically placed along the route—which I knew I was going to make use of on the way back.

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On the way down I passed some 'twitchers' all gazing wondrously at some nesting birds on the cliffs. Apparently this part of Anglesey is renowned for a wide variety of different birds. They were chattering excitedly amongst themselves at what they were seeing. We all have our hobbies and I could see mine beckoning me ahead.

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At the bottom of these steps is a metal bridge that spans a 100-foot deep chasm, where the sea surges constantly between the cliffside you have just walked down and the stack itself. It's an incredible place witnessing the sea's constant battle with the land. A battle that you know the sea will win in the end.

The present bridge was put into position in 1997. When the lighthouse was first lit the way over the chasm was by cable along which a sliding basket was pulled. Even for this lighthouse I don't think I would have been brave enough to endure that. Thank goodness for the bridge which is a lot safer, and only takes a short time to walk over.

After 400 steps and the bridge, the last few steps up to the lighthouse are a doodle!! There are literally hundreds of birds here and the seagulls especially are everywhere. They are extremely loud and squawk constantly.

I remember I was the first to arrive at the lighthouse for the first tour - not that I was eager or anything. Then it was time to go up the internal steps of the lighthouse to the top, which after ascending 400 steps made your legs even wearier (if that was possible). The lens was huge and I could only get a small portion of it in the viewfinder of my camera.

The view from the top was amazing and it was worth climbing up to the top for this alone. On one side you could see the route down the cliffside clearly, and you had to wonder if you had really done that. You could also see the Skerries Lighthouse flashing some 7 miles away on its tiny island.

At the bottom of the internal staircase is an example of a mercury bath, which the lens sits on. You can move the lens with a finger when it's set on the mercury bath, which is amazing as its weight is considerable.

Then it was time to leave South Stack behind and trek back up the side of the cliff. It was definitely harder going back up those steps and those benches enroute were a lifesaver. And the twitchers were still there where I'd first seen them, still doing their thing. It felt quite an accomplishment to reach the top of the steps once more and quite a relief.

I just know I have to go back to South Stack again one day. When I can face those 400 steps again that is!!

South Stack

Lighthouse Facts

First Lit: 1809

Automated: 1984

Height of Tower:

28 meters


White flash

every 10 seconds

Optic: First Order Catadioptric

Range: 23 miles

Fog Signal:

5 second blast

every 30 seconds

This story appeared in the May 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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