The South West coast of England has some dramatic coastlines, and there are plenty of lighthouses, lightvessels and other exciting places to visit.
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England’s South West coastline incorporates Gloucestershire, Somerset, North and South Devon and Cornwall.
The coastline of South West England starts where the River Severn leads into the Bristol Channel and meets the English Channel. The tidal range of the River Severn is around 50 feet (15 metres), making it the second-highest in the world. Hence the need for useful navigation aids around this part of the coast!
A result of this tidal range, the Severn Bore, occurs when the incoming tide races up an estuary that is shallower and narrower, forming a sizeable incoming wave. By the time it reaches Minsterworth, near Gloucester, it can be spectacular to watch.
At Sharpness Docks, The River Severn heads inland, where you will currently find the abandoned lightvessel of LV23 built for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and was the last manned lightvessel on the Channel station.
From Sharpness Docks, Sula Lightship found her way to Gloucester Docks after quite a few relocations following her retirement. You can now stay on board.
Just beyond the two Severn Crossings, Avonmouth marks the entrance into the city of Bristol. Guarding the mouth of Avonmouth Harbour are the Avonmouth North and South Breakwater Lighthouses. They are just visible from the motorway crossing over the estuary and form part of the Bristol Port Authority.
The city of Bristol was once a busy trading port, and shipping in this area was particularly hazardous due to the extreme rise and fall of the tide.
Not far from the SS Great Britain and replica of The Matthew of Bristol, the former lightvessel LV55 John Sebastian sits in Bathurst Basin. She was bought by the Cabot Cruising Club and now serves as the clubhouse.
Portishead Point Lighthouse is located next to Battery Point, so is often known as Battery Point Lighthouse. Close by, Blacknore Lighthouse is around a mile away, and both look out across the vast Severn Estuary.
The meandering River Parret opens out into the vast Bridgwater Bay, marked by Stert Island. The channels formed into this area make navigation into the entrance at Burnham on Sea challenging.
Burnham has several lighthouses that have been in operation at some time or other. The first lighthouse here was at St Andrew’s Church, and this building still provides a navigation aid to this day.
The unusual wooden lighthouse of Burnham Low Lighthouse stands on the beach and is still operational, unlike the High Lighthouse located just behind it on the shoreline.
The east of Minehead, close to Blue Anchor Bay, is the harbour town of Watchet. Watchet Harbour Lighthouse stands guard marking the entrance to the marina.
From the North Devon coast, you can get great views across to South Wales.
There are some dramatic cliffs along the North Devon coastline, and near Countisbury are some of the highest. Lynmouth Foreland Lighthouse is perched two-thirds of the way down the clifftop but has a soaring elevation of 200 feet high.
From Ilfracombe, St Nicholas Chapel stands proudly on the hill as a navigation mark. A light has been displayed in the chapel for fishermen since 1819, and today it is still a navigation aid.
Along the coast near Woolacombe is Bull Point Lighthouse. The nearby village of Mortehoe has a history of wrecking and smuggling due to the treacherous coastline. In 1972 the lighthouse suffered a landslide and used a temporary light from nearby Braunton.
A number of lighthouses have marked the Taw and Torridge estuary, which flow from Bideford and Barnstaple. The area, including Appledore, Crow Point and Instow, were the inspiration for the setting for Ann Cleeve’s series Two Rivers.
Hartland Point Lighthouse stands on a precarious promontory, which has been ravaged by coastal erosion. It marks the passage between the Devon coast and Lundy Island.
Located just off the North Devon coast lies the island of Lundy, sometimes known as Puffin Island, due to the local inhabitants you might see if visiting at the right time.
The island is accessible from Bideford, Ilfracombe and Hartland (by air). Take a boat trip or helicopter out to the island to explore. Although it is possible to visit for a day trip, your best bet is to stay for a few days to give you time to explore.
It’s worth the stay, as there are three lighthouses and a former fog signal battery to visit, as well as other interesting historic sites on the island. Lundy North was the first Trinity House lighthouse to be converted to solar-powered operation.
Cornwall marks the south west tip of mainland England and has some spectacular lighthouses. The county has inspired numerous writers and artists over the years.
South of the fishing village of Padstow, Trevose Head Lighthouse stands on the north west promontory of the headland above the cliffs.
St Ives is famous for its artists and has a pretty harbour with two lighthouses on the pier. Godrevy Lighthouse stands guard on its island at the entrance to St Ives Bay, and was the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse.
Pendeen is the next lighthouse along the coast, and guides ships between Cape Cornwall and Gurnards Head. It stands on a dramatic coastline between Land’s End and St Ives, and was believed to be a site for smuggling activities.
The area along this stretch of coastline is also dotted with former tin mines, one of which can be seen from the coastline here.
At Land’s End you can get a great view of Longships Lighthouse about a mile offshore. At nearby Sennen is the former Trinity House boathouse and also the keepers’ cottages for Longships Lighthouse. From here the wives of the keepers used to signal by semaphore to their husbands at the lighthouse.
Off Lands End, Wolf Rock Lighthouse is around 10 miles from the coast on a treacherous reef. It has a distinctive cone which was previously used as an unlit beacon.
At Gwennap Head, the distinctive Runnelstone Daymarks on the headland line up with the Runnelstone Rock offshore. Between Gwennap Head and Lamorna is the famous open air Minack Theatre. It was built as an amphitheatre on the headland with spectacular views.
From Lamorna Cove, the South West Coast Path passes Tater Du Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1965 and was one of the last automatic lighthouses to be built by Trinity House.
The fishing harbour of Newlyn has an interesting lighthouse at the end of its pier as it has a tidal observatory adjacent to the building. Across Mounts Bay is the spectacular St Michael’s Mount, which is accessible at low water across a causeway.
From Newlyn it is a short distance to the busy town of Penzance, from where the Scillonian departs for the Isles of Scilly. Penzance Harbour Lighthouse guards the entrance and is visible from the ferry. The former Trinity House Lighthouse Depot is close by. This once housed the the Trinity House National Lighthouse Museum which is sadly no more.
The Lizard peninsula marks the most southerly point of mainland Britain. Lizard Lighthouse has an excellent visitor centre, with guided tours of the lighthouse. You can also stay in the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages.
Falmouth Harbour is the third deepest natural harbour in the world. St Anthony’s Lighthouse stands guard on the eastern approach guarding Carrick Roads. The lighthouse was the setting for the children’s TV series Fraggle Rock, and you can stay in the lighthouse cottage. It also houses the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, which is well worth a visit.
Mevagissey is a pretty fishing port, the second largest in Cornwall. Its original harbour dates back to medieval times, and the current Mevagissey Lighthouse was built at the end of the outer harbour wall in 1896.
Fowey Harbour is a popular destination for sailors, nestled within a sheltered estuary. At Gribbin Head, the red and white banded daymark stands on the headland to mark the turning point between Fowey and St Austell Bay. There are a couple of lighthouses guiding vessels into the harbour at Fowey at St Catherine’s Point and Whitehouse Point.
Rame Head marks the western side of Plymouth Sound. On the headland at Penlee Point is the former fog signal station. This site was used to monitor Eddystone Lighthouse and Plymouth Breakwater Lighthouse.
Entering Plymouth Sound, the River Tamar splits the counties of Devon and Cornwall. Just over the Tamar Bridge is Britain’s Ocean City of Plymouth. Britain’s first offshore lighthouse was built around 11-12 miles out to see on the Eddystone rocks. Today John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse stands as a memorial on Plymouth Hoe.
Beyond Plymouth is the pretty sailing village of Salcombe, passing Prawle Point. The next headland along is Start Point, guarded by Start Point Lighthouse overlooking Start Bay. It warns of the offshore Skerries Bank and is accessible via the South West Coast Path. Tours are sometimes available.
Just north of Dartmouth at Brixham, Berry Head Lighthouse stands on a headland overlooking Torbay and Brixham Roads. It is one of the shortest lighthouses built by Trinity House. But because of its elevation is 58 metres above sea level. The harbour at Brixham is guarded by the lighthouse at the end of Victoria Breakwater, which you can walk along.
North of Torbay, on the promenade, Teignmouth Lighthouse stands on the promenade. There are a number of leading lights marking the entrance to Teignmouth harbour.
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