Exploring the lighthouses of South West England
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!
Bristol City was once a busy trading port. Shipping in this area was particularly hazardous due to the tide’s extreme rise and fall.
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 quite spectacular to watch.
The River Severn heads inland at Sharpness Docks, 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.
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 quite treacherous.
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.
From the North Devon coast, you can get great views across to South Wales.
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.
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 southwestern tip of mainland England and has inspired numerous writers and artists over the years.
The Lizard peninsula marks the most southerly point, and just along the coast from Lands End, you can see Longships Lighthouse a mile offshore.
Lizard Lighthouse not only has an excellent visitor centre, with guided tours of the lighthouse, but you can also stay in one of the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages.
From Penzance, you can head out to the Isles of Scilly aboard the Scillonian. From here you can explore several offshore lighthouses by boat off the coast of Lands End. The former Trinity House Lighthouse Depot is just along the road from the harbour.
Falmouth Harbour is the third deepest natural harbour in the world, and St Anthony’s Lighthouse stands guard on the eastern approach.
Heading around the southern coast of Devon, 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 sea on the Eddystone rocks.
Today John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse stands as a memorial on Plymouth Hoe, and the former Fog Signal Station at Penlee commands fine views across Plymouth Sound. You will find other interesting lighthouse things to visit in the area.
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