Friday, 18 May 2012

Lighthouse Living

Lighthouses were built to perform a safety role marking treacherous coastlines for mariners and had to include a tall tower so the lamp was high enough to be seen before the danger was reached. The lights may be off these days, but someone is at home. Decommissioned lighthouses are being auctioned off around the world as technology means they are no longer needed. Some of these iconic buildings have been transformed into visitor centres, or for holiday stays as so many of us have a fascination with living in lighthouse. But if you have a healthy bank balance, you can buy your very own lighthouse and make it your home.

One of the best things about lighthouse buildings are the 360-degree panoramic views and the dramatic locations. Some are located on the mainland coast and others can only be reached by boat or helicopter.

Being a Lighthouse Keeper
I asked a friend whose father was a Scottish Lighthouse Keeper what the lifestyle was really like. The family always lived in a house near the lighthouse which was often a fair distance from the nearest town so the remote location meant they sometimes kept chickens and had to plan good food storage. They had to move every three years but, while some families found this difficult, my friend didn't mind and enjoyed the freedom. His father worked one month on and one month off at the lighthouse and they had telephone contact every day. His father took the job straight out of the army and embraced the long hours and solitary work.

Like most people, I thought the Lighthouse Keeper was up and down stairs all day but it turns out there's a large room at the bottom of the tower which is where they spend most of their time. His days were filled with maintenance of the lighthouse - mostly down in the engine room - and he only needed to go up to the top once a day.

The job developed over the years and monitoring a weather station was another important role. There was also a lot of painting to be done as the harsh weather battered the building, plus maintaining and sounding the foghorn in a storm was vital too.

While away for a month at a time, Lighthouse Keepers would receive supplies by boat and could send things back to their families by helicopter every two weeks. My friend's dad would mostly send back his dirty laundry and an enormous amount of library books as he would read about twenty books every two weeks.

Owning a Lighthouse
Due to the exposed locations, lighthouses are at risk from eroding coastlines and one owner literally moved Belle Toute lighthouse at Beachy Head in Sussex, England when the cliffs started crumbling too close.

This will give you an idea of the enormity of the proposition of owning a lighthouse and being a custodian for a heritage building. While the peace and privacy of the remote locations may seem idyllic, the costs involved take it far beyond most dreamers' reach.

If you're still tempted, the United State Lighthouse Society has advice on how to be a Lighthouse Keeper, the Northern Lighthouse Board has advice for Scotland, and Trinity House has excellent resources on lighthouses in England and Wales.

Laura Porter has kindly written this article especially for SEAS-IT. She writes an online London travel guide for (part of the New York Times Company) and is a Visit Britain Super Blogger too. She fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen's. You can follow her on twitter at @AboutLondon.

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