A guide to lighthouse books, fact and fiction, featuring lighthouses and lightvessels, including some you can stay in.
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There are so many great books about lighthouses, both fact and fiction. It’s great to delve into books for research, but equally, fantastic reading about them in fiction.
I love reading, and so much the better when a book features a lighthouse! I enjoy reading books set in real places, especially if they have a map or refer to places I know. But even if they don’t, you can really get lost in a great book.
But have you wondered where the inspiration came from? Is it an actual lighthouse that’s featured in the story? Perhaps it’s just loosely featured but inspired by a particular lighthouse, and sometimes it’s purely fictional.
Some of these you can also stay in, or nearby.
I hope you enjoy my guide to some of my favourite lighthouse books and some on my wishlist waiting to be read.
The Long Call is the first in the new series of books by one of my favourite crime writers, Ann Cleeves. The series features detective Matthew Venn, who lives in the village of Appledore. The story was adapted for TV, starring Ben Aldridge.
The setting is North Devon, where the Taw and Torridge Rivers converge. A man’s body is found on the beach near Crow Point Lighthouse. There is a helpful map of the location at the beginning of the book.
Where to stay: Crow Point and Instow are just down the coast from Bull Point Lighthouse, where you can stay in the former keepers’ cottages.
Part of the Exham-on-Sea Murder Mysteries, in Murder at the Lighthouse, a woman’s body is found at the base of the lighthouse at Exham. In reality, this is inspired by Burnham-on-Sea Lighthouse and features the low lighthouse on the book cover.
Burnt Island is the third in the excellent Ben Kitto series based on the Isles of Scilly by another favourite author of mine. Kitto, the local detective, is called in to investigate a body found at Burnt Island off the island of St Agnes. St Agnes Lighthouse, the former keeper and the cottages play a part in the story, and I am pleased to see a map in the front of the book.
The series is a great read and is very descriptive of the Isles of Scilly, often mentioning other Scilly lighthouses.
Where to stay: You can stay at the Gatehouse, which forms part of the St Agnes Lighthouse complex, although you cannot access the tower.
The Life and Loves of a She Devil is a book about a woman who discovers that her husband is having an affair with romantic novelist Mary Fisher and seeks her revenge.
The slightly strange film adaptation features Belle Tout Lighthouse in Sussex as the setting, and the lighthouse is now a hotel.
To The Lighthouse features the Ramsay family, who visit the Isle of Skye between 1910 and 1920. The family set off to see the lighthouse, coerced by their father. The author, Virginia Woolf, is said to have been inspired by Godrevy Lighthouse in Cornwall, which she visited.
Where to stay: Pendeen Lighthouse is just down the coast, and you can stay in the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages.
Set in Connemara, Ireland, Ellen Trawton is running away from life and escapes to her aunt’s house in Ireland. She discovers a dark family secret. Caitlin Macausland died in suspicious circumstances, and between them, an old lighthouse features as the scene of the tragedy.
I am unsure if Secrets of the Lighthouse is set on a particular lighthouse. Possibly Slyne Head or Clare Island Lighthouse.
The Lamplighters was possibly inspired by the mystery of Flannan Isles Lighthouse, when three lighthouse keepers vanished from their station. This particular novel is set in Cornwall in 1972 when three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse. What happened to them?
The Light Between Oceans is set in Australia, and you’ll need a box of tissues to read this one!
A keeper and his wife live on Janus Island in Australia. After failing to become pregnant, the couple seize their opportunity when a baby is washed up in a lifeboat with her dead father. They decide to adopt the baby secretly, but years later discover the mother is still alive and mourning the loss of her husband and child.
The Light Between Oceans was turned into a film. Filming took place in Dunedin, Port Chalmers and on the Otago Peninsula, Saint Bathans in Central Otago and at Cape Campbell Lighthouse in Marlborough.
Following the death of one of their identical twin daughters, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to a tiny Scottish Island that Angus inherited from his grandmother. They live in the lighthouse cottages on the island.
When her husband has to travel, disturbing things happen on the island, and Sarah has to face the past.
Where to stay: In the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages at Eilean Sionnach.
There are so many great lighthouse books, some technical, some about specific aspects of lighthouse keeping. There are also some great reads from former lighthouse keepers, keepers’ wives and others who have lived in a lighthouse.
I’ve tried to list readily available books, but there are lots more! For a complete list of lighthouse books, check out the Association of Lighthouse Keepers booklist; though some books may now be less easy to source, some are out of print. But you can always keep a lookout, and Ebay often has a good selection of lighthouse books.
We also have a small selection of lighthouse books for sale. If you would like a copy of the latest list, please contact me.
Lighthouse is an excellent read if you want to learn about general life living in a lighthouse. Tony Parker visited and interviewed several keepers and their wives. An excellent addition to your book collection.
A great read about life as a lighthouse keeper. It Was Fun While it Lasted had me laughing at the pranks played on Arthur as a Supernumerary Keeper and during his training period.
Not a specific lighthouse book, but Ring of Bright Water was written by conservationist Gavin Maxwell while living at Sandaig. Maxwell owned both Isle Ornsay and Eilean Ban Lighthouses and lived in the cottages at Sandaig.
Written by former keeper Gerald Butler, The Lightkeeper is the memoir of life in the Irish Lighthouse Service. Gerald spent 21 years working as a lightkeeper for Irish Lights. He recalls many memories of growing up with his family and then later serving as a lighthouse keeper on various lighthouses. Gerald was on duty at Fastnet Lighthouse when the disaster struck during the Fastnet Race of 1979.
Where to stay: Stay on board Fingal
Not readily available now, but if you ever come across a copy, it is an excellent read about the lightships.
Use these in conjunction with the Lighthouse Directory, and you’ll be off to an excellent start for your next lighthouse adventure!
Of course, I had to include Lighthouse Accommodation Britain and Worldwide, the comprehensive guide to staying in lighthouses and related worldwide world.
The book has been regularly updated; my early editions were published as Joy Adcock.
It includes a brief history and contact details for each lighthouse offering holiday accommodation in the UK and a list of other lighthouses and related places you can stay in throughout the world.
Paperback: photos throughout. Kindle and download versions are also available.
If you love visiting lighthouses, then you need this book! Sarah has listed every lighthouse in the UK, including all the minor lights.
The British Lighthouse Trail gives brief details, access information where applicable, and a box to record the date visited – a must for any pharologist!
Paperback: colour photos throughout
Tony Denton and Nicholas Leach have produced a series of illustrated regional guides with a brief history and details of the main lights around the UK coastline. They serve as a great pocketbook to take with you on your lighthouse travels.
Lighthouses of England: The South West covers lighthouses of the Bristol Channel, Somerset, North Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The South Coast features the Channel Islands, South Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Sussex. The South East covers Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, and the Lincolnshire border. I don’t count Norfolk and Suffolk as being in the South East, as I live in East Anglia, but I understand why they have been grouped with the South East lights. It also includes a few inland lights.
Lighthouses of England: The North East continues the journey around the English coast, covering lighthouses from Humberside, Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland to the Scottish borders, and The Isle of Man and North West England covers the lighthouses of Cumbria down to Merseyside, and across the waters to the Isle of Man. There is another version of this book, titled Lighthouses of England: The North West and Isle of Man – it is the same book with a different cover.
Complementing the series by Denton and Leach, Lighthouses of Wales covers the lighthouses of North Wales, Anglesey, Pembrokeshire and along the south coast to the lights in the Severn estuary.
Lighthouses of Ireland is an illustrated guide to the Irish lighthouses, using O’Reilly’s contemporary artwork.
Published in 2022, The Great Lighthouses of Ireland is an excellent compilation of Irish lighthouses featuring lots of historical photographs and information.
A handy reference for lighthouses worldwide, Lighthouse Encyclopedia is another excellent addition to the bookshelf.
Contact me for a list of lighthouse books for sale