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Lighthouses of South Central England

Lighthouses of South Central England

Discover the lighthouses of South Central England. The region includes the Jurassic coast of Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, and the Isle of Wight.


Please note that some of these lighthouses offer holiday accommodation or may be privately owned.  Please take care not to trespass or drive on private property.

The counties of Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, and the Isle of Wight have a number of iconic lighthouses that have played crucial roles in maritime navigation over the years. 

Nestled along the southern coast of England, these counties form a captivating region that boasts a rich tapestry of history and natural beauty.  Each possesses its own unique charm and character, offering visitors a blend of picturesque landscapes and historic landmarks.  From the rugged cliffs and Jurassic Coast of Dorset to the tranquil beaches of the Isle of Wight and from the bustling cities of Hampshire to the idyllic countryside of Sussex, this corner of England is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be explored. 

Dorset

The Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stretches for 95 miles and offers a journey through 185 million years of Earth’s history. It starts at Lyme Regis, famous for its fossil-rich beaches and the iconic Cobb Harbor. Moving westward, the cliffs of Golden Cap rise dramatically, providing breathtaking coastal vistas.

Heading along the Jurassic coast, the 18-mile-long Chesil Beach connects to the isle of Portland, a unique limestone island with rugged terrain and historic stone quarries where you can find three lighthouses at Portland Bill. One of Dorset’s most recognizable landmarks is Portland Bill Lighthouse, guiding vessels through treacherous waters. The lighthouse is still operational and is also a visitor centre.  Nearby are Portland Old High Lighthouse and Portland Old Low Lighthouse; both operated before Portland Bill Lighthouse was established.

A boat trip around Portland harbour is the best way to view the nearby Portland Breakwater Lighthouse

Dorset lighthouses

The Dorset Coastal Path stretches for approximately 96 miles.  Beginning in Poole, it meanders along dramatic cliffs, secluded coves, and picturesque bays, passing iconic landmarks such as Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch, and the striking limestone stacks known as Old Harry Rocks. 

From Durlston Country Park near Swanage, Anvil Point Lighthouse sits on the clifftop near the limestone quarries of the now-closed Tilly Whim Caves. Just below Durlston Head Castle is a 10ft diameter globe carved from Portland stone by Swanage-born John Mowlem.

Further east, towards Bournemouth, Poole and Swanage, the coastline changes into more sandy beaches.

Poole has an extensive picturesque harbour sheltered behind the millionaire rows of houses at Sandbanks. The RNLI Lifeboat Headquarters and Training College are also based in Poole.

An unlikely link with the Scottish family of lighthouse engineers is to be found in Bournemouth. Writer Robert Louis Stevenson moved to the Westbourne area in 1884 and named his house Skerryvore after his Uncle Alan, who had built Skerryvore Lighthouse. The house was later destroyed, and a stone model of the Skerryvore Lighthouse can be found in the Skerryvore Memorial Garden.

Hampshire

Hampshire’s coast is intimately connected with maritime history. It borders the Solent, a busy waterway separating the mainland from the Isle of Wight. The historic city of Portsmouth is home to the iconic HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum, both celebrating England’s naval heritage.

Hurst Castle, perched at the end of a mile-and-a-half-long narrow spit of land, offers panoramic views of the Solent and the Needles, a trio of chalk stacks that are among the most famous landmarks on the south coast. The castle was built in 1544 by Henry VIII as part of the coastal defences.

Hurst
Hurst Point Lighthouse

There are three lighthouses at Hurst, two within the castle compound and the current operational lighthouse nearby. The adjacent acetylene room is one of only a handful remaining, with its equipment intact. Hurst Point Lighthouse guides vessels through the western entrance of the Solent and provides essential navigation for ships heading to the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth.

You can visit Hurst by a half-hour walk along the shingle spit or by taking a boat from Keyhaven. The Association of Lighthouse Keepers Museum Rooms at Hurst Castle have many exciting exhibits for the lighthouse enthusiast, and from here, the Isle of Wight is tantalisingly close.

The Beaulieu River breaks the coastline from Lymington to Southampton Water. The former shipbuilding yard of Bucklers Hard is part of the Beaulieu Estate. At the river’s entrance at Lepe, the Beaulieu Millennium Beacon was established in 2000 to mark the entrance.

The Calshot Spit Lightvessel was moved to Ocean Village in Southampton following her decommissioning. Following her removal from Ocean Village in 2020, she was relocated to the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton.

Hampshire lighthouses

Southampton and Portsmouth both have plenty of maritime history. If you can, visit the Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth, which is well worth a visit. You can also visit Nelson’s HMS Victory and the Mary Rose. You can’t do it justice in a day, but your entry ticket will last a year, so make the most of it and allow plenty of time.

The Spinnaker tower affords fine views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and also across to Gosport, where Trinity’s Lightship at Haslar Marina provides a bar and restaurant.

Located on the ramparts of Southsea Castle, the disused lighthouse watches over the Solent. From here, you can see the Solent Forts, and it was from here that King Henry VIII witnessed the sinking of his beloved ship, the Mary Rose.

Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight, often called “England in Miniature,” is a haven for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Explore its varied landscapes, from the chalk cliffs of Freshwater Bay to the serene beaches of Sandown and Shanklin. The Needles, with their iconic lighthouse, are a must-visit, reachable by a scenic chairlift.

The Isle of Wight is easily accessible via ferry from Portsmouth, Southampton, or Lymington. The ferry takes less than an hour, so you can visit the island for the day quite easily. However, it’s worth staying longer as there are lots of things to see and do.

The island is 23 miles long and 13 miles wide. Queen Victoria’s favourite home, the impressive Osborne House, is located on the island, close to Cowes.

Isle of Wight lighthouses

At East Cowes, there is very little evidence today of the former Trinity House depot, which served lighthouses and lightships in the area before operations moved to Harwich. Much of it was demolished recently as part of a redevelopment programme.

Heading around the promenade at West Cowes, past the Royal Yacht Squadron, Egypt Point Lighthouse stands on the promenade. Its former lantern is now displayed at the ALK Lighthouse Museum at Hurst Castle.

Needles Lighthouse was built in 1859 to replace a clifftop light. The Needles can be viewed from the Needles Battery, and boat trips to them are also available.

Positioned on the southernmost point of the Isle of Wight, St Catherine’s Lighthouse serves as a vital navigation aid for vessels travelling through the English Channel and the Solent.  Holiday accommodation is available in the keepers’ cottages.  At the nearby village of Niton is the gravestone of the lighthouse keepers who were killed during an air raid in the Second World War.

St Catherine’s Oratory was built in 1323 and provides spectacular views from the hill’s summit. This medieval tower served as a warning beacon for sailors. It is also known as the “Pepperpot” due to its distinctive shape.

At Bonchurch, near Ventnor, the tiny churchyard of Old St Boniface Church has a memorial stone to Sir James Douglass, the lighthouse engineer. He was later re-interred at St Petrox, Dartmouth, with the family memorial.

Sussex

Sussex Lighthouses

The distinctive Littlehampton Lighthouse serves as both a functional aid to navigation and an iconic symbol of the town’s maritime heritage.  It is situated at the entrance to the River Arun, which flows through Littlehampton and into the English Channel. 

Littlehampton was once the base for the Agent of Trinity House before being moved to Harwich. Agents were employed at bases by Trinity House before regional depots were established.

At Shoreham, the River Adur splits east to west. To the east, locks near the harbour entrance guide vessels into the canal towards Portslade. Shoreham Lighthouse is located at the entrance to the harbour by the Lifeboat station.

Reaching the Sussex Downs, its rolling hills end abruptly at the chalky, crumbling cliffs of Beachy Head. Belle Tout Lighthouse was moved back in 1999 but still remains very close to the edge. It has been converted into a bed and breakfast offering stunning views of the surrounding coastline. At the base of the cliffs, Beachy Head Lighthouse is sometimes accessible from Eastbourne at low water, but you need to take care not to get cut off by the tides. Boat trips from Eastbourne can also be arranged.

Further along the coast at Bexhill, see if you can find the Sovereign Light Cafe, made famous by rock band Keane. The cafe is named after the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, which used to be seen from the cafe but has now been decommissioned.


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Discover more lighthouses and places to visit in South Central England

< Isles of Scilly | Channel Islands >

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