There are two lighthouses in my bathroom. They are not there to guide me in the dark, nor to stop me stubbing my knee on unseen rocks.
They are, I should explain, depictions of lighthouses. One is just a small, jolly generic picture, bought many years ago from Markies or British Home Stores, when that was a thing (and a pleasant one too; I’m already beginning to get nostalgic for those stores that have gone to the wall in recent times).
The other is more meaningful, being a framed print of the Bell Rock lighthouse, off the Angus coast near Arbroath, and an edifice dear to a good friend of mine, David Taylor, whose ancestor played a major part in its construction.
It is shown standing proudly against a dramatic background of looming, dark grey clouds, and is said to be the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse.
A forthcoming book, For The Safety of All by Donald S Murray, is described as a “love letter to Scotland’s lighthouses”, and it reminded me of my own liking for these lonely beasties.
Two in particular have meant something to me. I used to love visiting the one at Sumburgh Head on the southern tip of Shetland. There were puffins to see on the cliffs over the wall by the side of the long winding path to the place.
It has a bright red foghorn and is surrounded by a small coterie of stout white buildings. These almost became home to me, as there was a flat among them that I once seriously considered buying.
In the end, I decided that the risk of my having a few drams too many one evening then going out for a walk in the darkness might lead to an unintended session of wild swimming. Or wild drowning almost certainly: these are rough seas.
Another lighthouse I used to like visiting is at the Mull of Galloway, a beautiful part of the country and the site of its southernmost lighthouse.
The foghorn is the best bit
Once more, the foghorn is the best bit. I used to love sitting down beside this one and looking out to sea for any vessels at which we might shout together.
Recently, I saw a really bijou wee lighthouse at Newhaven, the old fishing port just along from Leith.
It has lights that change colour through the night, purely for decorative purposes, and it is an absolute delight.
I think I’d have had the right temperament to be a lighthouse keeper.
I talk to myself a lot. Not sure there’d be much scope for gardening, though. Just a few pot plants maybe. Something to talk to anyway.
Tall, alone and dramatic
In my youth, I was very fond of a prog rock band called Van der Graaf Generator – still am really – whose most famous piece was called A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers.
I must warn you that it’s not for the faint-hearted. Sample lyrics: “I’ve seen the smiles on dead hands/The stars shine, but they’re not for me.” Agadoo this ain’t.
I guess the attraction of lighthouses is that they are to be found far from the madding crowd, standing tall and alone in dramatic places, and serving a noble function.
Bit like myself really.