Thursday, October 12, 2017

Back in the Day There Were Traffic Lights on Ships

On Diamond Shoals with all its dreads,
There’s a flashing buoy and a ship painted red…

                                                C.R. Farrow

                                                ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’

                Imagine a ship with a go-nowhere mission, its sole purpose to sit anchored at sea pitching and rolling with the swells.  Other ships looked for it and expected to find it in a prescribed spot, but carefully steered clear, as if some horrible plague was aboard. By day its colorfully-painted hull contrasted with the blue sea and sky, and at night it shone like a bright lantern afloat on the water.  In fog or storms, its bell bonged or a horn croaked loudly to warn other ships of its presence.
Just such a ship existed twenty years ago at Nantucket Shoals.  More than a hundred of its kind were afloat off the American coast at the turn of the century, with perhaps a thousand in service worldwide.  What manner of vessel drew such a strange assignment?  The lightship
Author Photo

This sturdy navigational aid was a commingling of lighthouse and ship, lightkeeper and sailor.   Its job was to anchor at sea near perilous rocks and bars to warn other ships away, or it served as a guidepost for the approach to an important port or inlet.  Whatever the task, it was duty that proved monotonous and dangerous, inglorious and unpopular, at times even mad. 
Lightships once lit the seaways practically everywhere there was water in or along the U.S., including the Great Lakes and the mighty Mississippi.  Their names reflected the hazards they marked — Nantucket Shoals, Carysfort Reef, Hen & Chickens, Columbia Bar, Wolf Trap, Sandy Hook, the Frying Pan, Rattlesnake Shoal, Fishing Rip, Combahee Bank.  The last of these antique signposts at sea was decommissioned more than a decade ago, replaced by modern technology.  But for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, these briny traffic signals guided shipping where lighthouses could not be built and buoys proved inadequate. 
No ship was ever pressed into service under greater need yet was so ungainly of countenance and so despised by its crew.  Lightship duty was the best and the worst.  Said one skipper aboard the Cross Rip Lightship, which guarded Tuckernuck Shoal, Massachusetts:  “If it weren’t for the disgrace it would bring upon my family. I’d rather go to state prison. Yet I know there’s no nobler duty to be served aboard any vessel anywhere.”
The world’s first official lightship, the Nore, went into service in the Thames River estuary in 1731, guiding ships into England’s busiest harbor.  Her British designer received a patent for the 12-foot crossbeam on her single mast from which twin lanterns were suspended. She was, in essence, a floating lighthouse, a glowing sloop anchored near the uncertain river bottom where mud and silt would not support a light tower.  Her keepers were a half dozen able-bodied seamen who spent their days looking longingly toward the bounding main and dreaming of exotic ports, all the while stuck over the muck within sight and sound of the marvelous delights of London’s shantytown.
        It wasn’t long before the major ports of the world adopted the idea of the lightship, for it seemed the best way to mark offshore danger zones and guide vessels into port.  The earliest light vessels in the U.S. were small boats moored in bays.  The first one went into service at Craney Island, Virginia in 1821 and was tended by a lone lamplighter who rowed to it nightly to kindle its lantern and returned at dawn to extinguish it.  Later, revenue cutters were refitted to make larger lightships with permanent crews.  These could be anchored off the coastline miles at sea.  The first such “outside” lightship in the nation was assigned in 1823 to the sealane off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, the busy artery for New York Harbor. 
Two sizes of lightships came into initial use.  Small vessels displaced 100-tons or less; larger lightships could go as big as 300-tons.  They had little or no motive power and were designed with a bulky, flattened hull with a bilge keel added to reduce rolling in heavy seas.  Huge mushroom-shaped anchors held them on position, digging firmly into the seabed.  Each link in the anchor chain was the diameter of a dinner plate. 
Heavy seas sometimes did mysterious things to the anchor.  In 1951, after a May storm pummeled the Eastern Seaboard, the anchor chain of Barnegat Lightship #79 was found tied in a perfect overhand knot.  Scientists and seaman alike were baffled, but quickly attributed the curiosity to freak wave action.  The tender Sassafras raised the anchor onto her deck and carefully worked out the knot.
The preferred hull material was wood, since it was thought to stand up to pounding seas better than metal.  But in warmer waters marine worms were a problem.  The first Charleston Lightship rotted away in only eight years.  It was replaced by a vessel with an iron hull.  Here again were problems.  Iron demanded frequent painting to inhibit rust, and tenacious marine creatures encrusted the bottom.  Crewman spent many hours wielding scrapers, brushes, and the handy “Lightship Barnacle Bumper,” an implement that resembled a large hoe. 
The old single mast Carpentaria Lightship from Australia, now part of the maritime museum in Sydney. It had a sweet little Fresnel lens and a fogbell. A docent told me he thought it was maintained one day a week by an Aussie lamplighter.     Author Photo

       Severe storms or the movement of ice sometimes dragged the anchor or parted its chain, setting a lightship adrift. There was little or no motive power on these vessels —certainly not enough to hold a position in heavy seas or against an ice floe.  Pushed off station, a lightship became a hazard. It no longer marked its true spot and was a derelict with a helpless crew still aboard. There were always hours of concern until a tug reached the vessel and towed her back to her proper position.
During the worst weather when other ships headed for safety, the lightship remained on duty, often sacrificing itself.  Buffalo Lightship #22 sank in Lake Erie in a November 1913 storm after being swamped by a huge wave.  All hands died and the vessel was never salvaged.  A similar fate befell the Cuttyhunk Lightship off Cape Cod in September 1944.  Nothing was recovered from her except the bodies of two crewmen.   Vineyard Lightship # 73 was equally unfortunate, though five of her crew were ashore on leave.
Even on position, a lightship was at risk.  During a storm or heavy fog other ships sometimes crashed into it.  Ambrose Lightship off busy New York Harbor was hit often.  The damage usually was minor, but on a foggy day in 1934 the lightship at Nantucket Shoals was cut in two and sunk by the huge liner, Olympia, sister ship to the Titanic.  The Nantucket sank in a matter of minutes, and 7 of the 11-man crew died.
Wartime also saw the loss of lightships.  In August 1918 the Diamond Shoals Lightship sighted a German submarine attacking a freighter and sent a message to all nearby vessels to steer clear of the enemy U-boat.  In doing so, she made herself the target.  With no guns to defend herself, she became a sad casualty of war.
Lightship duty was tedious and difficult. Resident crews of 6 to 12 men lived in cramped quarters, ate mundane meals of salt beef and biscuits, and did repetitious jobs without any change in scenery for long periods, even during the foulest weather.  If visibility was poor, the fog bells and horns deprived even the hardiest man of sleep.  Seasickness was a problem too, since lightships were anchored and rolled constantly.   Some men couldn’t overcome it and had special waivers from lightship duty placed in their service records. 

Crewmen were chosen based on seamanship ability and mechanical aptitude.  They called themselves “fish” because of the long months they spent at sea.  Those less enamored of the job referred to themselves as “flotsam.”  Maritime historian James Gibbs noted that “temperamental and impatient individuals are not for lightships.”  Most of a crewman’s day was spent working at shipboard duties, cleaning and repairing the beacons, or standing watch.  To assuage the tedium there were hobbies such as scrimshaw, whittling, and ships in bottles.  The crewmen of the Nantucket Lightship were known for their handsome baskets.

Many crews also kept pets.  The Minots Ledge Lightship off Cohasset, Massachusetts had a dog on board that was trained to swim to passing ships to pick up newspapers and mail in a special waterproof pouch attached to her back.  Charleston Lightship #53 had “Tom,” a hefty old striped cat born on the vessel and encharged with keeping down the rodent population.  The skipper said of him: 
“When the boat goes in to dock, he’ll go ashore, get into a few fights, and come aboard next morning with scratches and general evidence of having had a night of it.  But you may be sure he’ll never let the ship leave without him.”
The deck of a lightship was cluttered with machinery to maintain the beacon and fog signal.  Early on, cannons and bells sounded the fog warnings and had to be tended by hand, but by about 1860 automatic bell-striking mechanisms had been designed.  Whistles, sirens, and horns replaced some of the bells in the late 1800s.  These required cantankerous boilers to make steam for the bellows, but also enormous fortitude on the part of the crew.  In places like New England and the Pacific Northwest, fog plagued the shoreline up to a third of the year.  The constant coal shoveling for the boilers and the never-ending din of the horns wore down many a seaman and added colorful comments to the ship’s logbook.
The hallmark of the lightship – the signature that made it easily identifiable at sea – was the light basket or light cage.  Most lightships had two, mounted near the top of masts. The earliest beacons were oil lamps, which were fueled on deck then hauled up the masts on their own little pulley systems. Gimbals kept the lamps level as the ship rolled in the waves.  Later, gas and electric lights were used in conjunction with small lenses to increase brilliance.
Mushroom anchor on the LV Columbia at Astoria. Author Photo

Advances in marine engineering eventually rendered lightships obsolete.   Screwpile lighthouses with their iron legs screwed deep into the seafloor, caisson lighthouses atop firmly sunk concrete piers, and huge Texas Towers similar to oil rigs upstaged the small lightship at anchor.  Where permanent structures could not be built, the Large Navigation Buoy could be moored to do the same functions as a lightship cheaper, better, and with less danger to human life.
The last lightship was taken out of service in 1982.  It had served on Nantucket Shoals and carried the nickname of its predecessors — “The Statue of Liberty of the Seas.”  Until 1886 when the true Lady Liberty was lit in New York Harbor, it was the first beacon immigrants sighted when headed to America, the first symbol of freedom in a new land.  After its ceremonious decommissioning, it visited a number of East Coast ports looking for a retirement home. Today it sits at Captains Cove in Bridgeport, Connecticut under restoration in preparation for a new career as a museum piece.
        Although earlier decommissioned lightships suffered humiliating ends as scrap metal and targets for Navy torpedoes, about a dozen have been preserved and opened to the public.  They can be toured at places like Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, the Coast Guard Museum in Seattle, South Street Seaport in New York City, and Virginia’s Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. 
       Still, some have fared poorly. Historic Barnegat Lightship #79, stationed on Five Fathom Bank and Barnegat Shoals, was decommissioned in 1969 and passed from museum to museum without proper care.  She is now at Pine Point Marina in Camden, New Jersey, languishing in the muck of the Delaware River, her century-old hull badly leaking.  Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic landmark, there is no funding for restoration at this time.
Relics like Barnegat Lightship represent a colorful but almost-forgotten chapter in the long struggle to make our seaways safe.  There were once hundreds of them guarding the outermost perils along America’s shores.  Today there are none.  Maritime historian H.C. Adamson gave a fine farewell tribute to them in his Keepers of the Lights:  “Never in the entire history of the sea have smaller ships and fewer men been entrusted with bigger jobs or performed them with greater credit.”

Photos in this blog are from various sources, but primarily gifts from the collections of Doug Bingham and Jim Gibbs.

Aerial view of LV Columbia on duty at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Sketch of the New South Shoals LV in stormy seas with light baskets lowered.

Sevenstones LV, England. Courtesy of National Maritime Museum.

San Francisco LV as it passes the work to a Large Navigation Buoy in 1971. The vessel was then retired.
Minots Ledge LV that preceded the Minots Ledge Lighthouse.

The old wooden LV50 being towed ashore and readied for an overland trip to be repaired and refloated. The LV ran aground in Bakers Bay on the Columbia River.   

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Flying Lighthouse Cat

This charming little story comes from the Daniels family who lived at St. Augustine Lighthouse in the 1930s and 1940s. It appears in my book, The Lightkeepers' Menagerie: Stories of Animals at Lighthouses, and I've told it at many talks I've given around the country. I hope you enjoy it. It's something that might happen only at a lighthouse. And, of course, if you regularly read my blog and check out my Facebook posts, you know I love cats.

Wilma Daniels at about age five with her kitty named Smokey. Photo from Kathy Fleming, St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum..

Smokey was the cherished pet of Wilma Daniels, whose father, Cardell Daniels, was one of the keepers of St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida during the Great Depression and World War II. Smokey was a resolutely independent lighthouse cat, with a stout appetite for mice and bugs. As his name implied, he was dark in color, almost black.

Wilma's brother, who was nicknamed Cracker, was interested in aviation. He made model airplanes and experimented with paper airplane designs. One day, after seeing an action movie in town, Cracker was inspired to make a parachute. He made several, attaching rocks for weight, before he found a weight that seemed to work. He was pondering what to use for a real-time test when little Smokey the cat ambled by.

The cat was the perfect size for the test, thought Cracker. The boy scooped up the cat and his invention and climbed to the top of the lighthouse. He carried the cat around to the backside of the tower. This was a test, he thought. There need not be witnesses.

At the back of the gallery, he outfitted the friendly and unsuspecting Smokey with the homemade parachute. Smokey was still purring when Cracker lifted him up and over the gallery railing of the lighthouse. Cracker peered at the vast distance Smokey would travel to the ground, but he had no second thoughts.

"You'll be a hero, old Smoke!" Cracker assured the cat. "Imagine you're a paratrooper landing in the middle of a battle!"

Smokey reflexively extended his four feet outward, and the pupils of his pretty golden eyes enlarged. The cat let out a cry that began as a low meow and ended in an ear-splitting scream just as Cracker released him.

Coast Guard Photo

Down, down Smokey fell--screeching in horror, paws clawing the air--160-feet to his destination. Cracker watched the little parachute scutter and flutter in the wind and then miraculously open about halfway to the ground. Smokey's skinny body jerked and then floated. His screams eased as he saw the ground approaching at a slow rate. Moments later, the cat's paws touched the earth.

"You've done it Sergeant Smokey!" Cracker yelled from the top of the lighthouse. But the little cat did not hear him. Smokey had landed with a soft thud, and then he took off running. He disappeared into the brush dragging the parachute behind him.

When Smokey did not come home for supper that evening, Cracker was concerned. But he didn't let on that he knew anything about the cat's whereabouts. Wilma called and called for her cat, and then she cried and cried because Smokey didn't come home. After a few days, she gave up looking for him.

"Cats are unpredictable characters," Keeper Daniels said at dinner one night. "They go where they wish and do what they want."

Cracker looked down at his lap. He wondered if Smokey had gotten tangled up in that parachute and was stuck somewhere. Or worse, maybe the cord had wrapped around the cat and choked him. The boy felt a pang of regret as he looked across the dinner table at his little sister, tearful and sniffling.

About a month after the parachute test, old Smokey magically returned. He came ambling into the yard, saw Cracker, and gave him a wide berth. The cat had no intention of participating in any more of Cracker's hair-brained tests. Smokey was thin and looked as if he'd had a rough few weeks in the wilds around the light station. When Wilma saw him she shrieked with delight.

Later in the day, Keeper Daniels saw his little girl hugging her cat. He smiled and even gave Smokey a few pats on the head.

"You know, he might have crawled into the car of a tourist and been driven far from here," Keeper Daniels said.

The keeper praised the little cat for finding its way back home. Wilma didn't really care what had happened. She was just so very happy to have Smokey back home.

It was not until 1993, almost fifty years later, that Cracker  Daniels confessed to his sister that he had been the cause of Smokey's disappearance. The two siblings, by now getting on in years, had come together at the lighthouse for a special event. When Wilma began telling people about her cat, Smokey, and how he disappeared for an entire month and then returned, Cracker couldn't help chuckling. With his tongue pressed firmly into his cheek, he admitted the truth. He had so frightened Smokey, the cat ran off and stayed away a month.

I'm so glad Wilma told her tale of Smokey and that Cracker confessed. It's a wonderful tale to tell...even though Smokey might not think so. 

Read the story of Smokey and other fun lighthouse animal tales in this five-star rated book.  Click here to order.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An 1879 Letter

Here's a letter written in 1879 from the keeper of the Presque Isle Range Light Station in Erie, Pennsylvania to his sister, Julia. Enjoy!

Click on the letter pages to make them larger.

The range lights have been gone for years, but they are seen to the left in this image from 1924. (Coast Guard Archives)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Musings Concerning a UK Lighthouse Tour

Being a long-winded and debatably humorous and alternatively factual account of a United Kingdom lighthouse tour in July 2017 with the U.S. Lighthouse Society.
Those UK lenses really did revolve FAST!

U.S. Lighthouse Society tours are just plain fun. I've enjoyed every one I've taken and can't wait to do another one. (New Zealand is calling my name, tour organizers!) I'm not dropping compliments because I'm on the society's board of directors and have worked for the group since its founding in 1985. The tours really are fun—honestly! I guarantee it! 

As evidence, let me tell you about my latest society tour last month to the North Sea shores of Scotland and England and some of the places I went and characters I met. I think you'll be convinced. The tour was titled "Kilts & Knickers," or was it "Knickers & Kilts?" There was a tour patch with the tour name and a nice image of Longstone Lighthouse, definitely my vote for best lighthouse on the tour. Now, if only I was motivated to sew the patch onto a shirt or jacket. Let it be known that I am not domesticated. (Wild and crazy women don't sew, you know!)

Look at all those smiling faces and waving tourists. The stunning lighthouse was Souter Light in the village of Marsden in South Shields.
I love all the colorful jackets. Me? I'm sixth from the left in monochromatic blue. Even the frames of my eyeglasses were blue. But I did wear a purple shirt, When I am old, I shall wear purple!
The guy on the far right was wearing a train conductor's uniform. I'm not sure why, but he shows up for every tour wearing it. He set up this image with his camera on a tripod, so I won't rib him too much. He's quite lovable anyway!
And, speaking of cameras, do you see one around every neck? Some people had two or three. We'd all be making chiropractic appointments for our necks after getting home.

First of all, we saw almost 60 lighthouses and lightships. How awesome is that??!! I suppose if you don't care about lighthouses and lightships, a 60-sentinel tour isn't awesome at all. But remember, U.S. Lighthouse Society tours are populated with travelers who are mad for lighthouses and lightships. And this blog is supposed to be lighthouse/lightship related, so my readers, as well as my tour-mates, should enjoy this semi-serious reminiscence of recent travels.

Sixty! Yeah, baby!
The society makes up this little booklet for tour participants to track our travels and keep a journal. (I think Mary Borkowski creates the booklets for every tour. Thanks, Mary!) The booklet is lovely, but it's way too small to accommodate the prolixity of a jabberer like me. So, I always bring along a spiral ring notebook to record my thoughts and experiences. You'll find much of that drivel in this blog.

so love these little booklets and have kept all of them as souvenirs from my tours with the society.

An exceptional experience like a seventeen-day lighthouse tour abroad doesn't happen without good planning. Hooray for the society tour planners and Operation Europe! A special hooray on this tour goes to a friendly, capable, and efficient tour guide—that cheerful guy in the picture below, the one wearing the badge. No, he's not the Sheriff of Nottingham....or Dodge City either, though he did tell us the origin of the word sheriff. Hang on; I'll share that with you that later.

This smiling man was our guide for seventeen days, and sometimes our errand guy, gate opener, coffee cup washer, suitcase hauler, band-aid applier, and sundry other tasks you'd never expect a tour guide to cheerfully do. 
Yes, he was still smiling on the final day of the tour, when we dubbed him the Earl of Wickie in honor of his enormous help, and feted him with a huge round of applause, a bit of a $$tip$$ in an envelope, and many hugs and thank yous. I think he may even have gained a great appreciation and affection for lighthouses. At the very least, he learned some new words, such as holophotal, catadioptric, and pharologic.

David "Earl of Wickie" Kersham of London led us through beautiful and storied Edinburgh, then took us zig-zagging south along the North Sea coast, inland to Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, and Windsor Castle, and then finally to the outskirts of London next to Heathrow Airport. He filled our minds with much knowledge and lore and impressed us with his kindness, very British sense of humor, and his great passion for his country and his work.

Within days, David knew something about each of us—he had learned some talking points to make us each feel more comfortable and included. I think he quickly learned that Jeff Gales has bad taste in music and obeys his wife Melissa incontrovertibly, that MaryLee Sherwood employs her retired kindergarten teacher skills when handling all of us, and that Skip Sherwood enjoys his daily medicinal Happy Hour. 

Glen Tart made sure David, and everyone else, knew that he is proud to be divorced for 52 years. (Sorry ladies.) I'm sure it also was obvious to Sir Wickie that certain members of our tour group have a broad definition of the word "lighthouse" and would take a picture of a lone and feeble light-bulb on a stick if it stood near the water. I'm not mentioning any names, of course.

With me, it was writing. Words fill my days, litter my desk, drive my dreams at night, distract me from other tasks, and provide me with an occasional, often meager, paycheck.  (Jon makes the livable income.) Writing is a source of joy, and it keeps me medicated like no pharmacy drug ever could. If I seem slightly sane, it's because I write.

David quickly picked up on that, especially after Jeff Gales told him I was the first runner up for the Nobel Prize for Lighthouse Literature and would be called upon to serve should the winner—Jeremy D'Entremont—not be able to complete his term, and that I was the poet laureate of the great city of Pharopolis, not to mention an occasional contributor to The Keepers Log, the polished and sometimes scholarly journal of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.

David, looking doubtful at first:  "Really? You write books? Real books?"

Elinor:  "Yes, real books."

David, looking surprised: "Really, you do?"

Elinor, smirking: "Yes. You know--cover, spine, open it up, read the print and look at the pictures, use a bookmark."

David, roaring with laughter: "I love that!"

This Anglophile--moi-- couldn't wait to visit Scotland and England. They were among many countries still on my bucket list. I confess I've loved Scotland and longed to visit it since 1986 when a neighbor of mine in military housing, who was assigned on a submarine, visited Old Reekie at Holy Loch and kindly brought me a beautiful handmade plaid wool skirt. (Sorry to say it seems to have shrunk!) Another time, girlfriends and I rowed down the Mystic River in Connecticut and under the town's grated bascule bridge just as a parade was going over it. We wanted to see if the Scottish bagpipers were wearing undies. Sure enough, they were...except one, who sent us rowing upriver with fright. Such memories made Scotland all the more dear when I arrived there on July 10th.

I do soooooooo love Scotland!

I'm also a huge fan of Robert Louis Stevenson, as you read in my last blog post. He's affectionately known as RLS to his modern-day admirers. I know so much about him and his kith that I feel like a friend of the family.The Stevenson lighthouse engineers were incredibly skilled. The Bell Rock Lighthouse that RLS's  grandfather designed and built, can only be described as totally fascinating, an unbelievable legacy. I've written about the Bell Rock and the Stevensons many times in my books and articles. I'm pretty-much gone on all of them.

My favorite anecdote about the Bell Rock Lighthouse recalls a parade on the day the final granite block was delivered to Abroath, Scotland in 1810, ready to be shipped to Bell Rock and put in place—

The block was placed on a Woolwich Sling Cart pulled by a beautiful Shire draught horse named Brassey (spelled Bassey in some sources). She had done all of the mainland hauling work—2,835 sandstone and granite blocks—for the construction of the lighthouse and was beloved by the workers. Draught (or draft) horses, as you probably know, are strong, gentle, easily trained, and obedient. Before the advent of machinery, draught horses did the work pulling heavy loads. Shires are the biggest horses, some standing more than 17 hands (68 inches, measured from the ground to the withers, or shoulders).  Brassey was no exception.

For the celebration of the delivery of the final block for the Bell Rock Lighthouse, Brassey's hooves were polished and her magnificent mane, tail, and fetlocks were brushed. She was curried clean, and every inch of her tack was shined and oiled. She wore a wreath of flowers around her yoke. It must have been an marvelous sight, this huge, gentle, half-ton horse prancing through Arboath, her head held high, with Bell Rock's finishing touch in her care.

Though not necessarily the tallest Shire, this handsome guy, named Monty, won best of show in the 2017 Shire competition. Brassey probably looked much like him.

But...I digress. Bell Rock Lighthouse wasn't included in the list for this tour, but I did see it in the distance from the top of Isle of May Lighthouse, a gray and white pillar rising from the misty North Sea. Someday...

I do love all things English too—English muffins, English Leather aftershave, English bulldogs, English Breakfast tea, the OxfordEnglishDictionary I was made to use in college. I love James Bond and the Beatles, of course, and that sad movie "The English Patient." These are all lovely artifacts of Anglo-minutiae, yes...but one can only learn so much listening to Roger Miller sing "England Swings," and watching the BBC. Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey, Midsummer Murders, Miss Marple, Call the Midwife, Father Brown, and Benny Hill—all entertaining and ever-so-slightly instructive, but it was time for me to experience the real thing. 

I boarded our comfortable bus on day one with great anticipation, cheerfully greeting Sir Bob the Bus Driver, who replied "mournin." It's a wonderful thing—anticipation. Waiting. Looking forward. Expecting. Christmas Eve-ness emotion. The suspense of it all! Anticipation, I think, is a highly under-rated feeling. We should embrace it whenever possible. Then, if your anticipated outcome happens, you're not disappointed. If it doesn't, you are disappointed, another feeling that we need sometimes. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I wasn't disappointed, not in seventeen days (except maybe when the toilet at the Mercure Shakespeare Hotel would not fill and flush.) 

As you already know, we had an official tour guide. I like to know the skinny on things when I'm traveling. The honorable Earl of Wickie—our Colossus of a tour guide—and his encyclopedic brain somehow managed to keep straight not only our busy schedule and peculiar habits, such as port and starboard bus offloador in David-speak poit and stabird, but also a gazillion fascinating facts about every place we went and everything we saw. 

He could talk endlessly, smiling with perfect teeth, gesturing excitedly, punctuating his banter with big booming laughs, and elocuting expertly in the Queen's English. If you were interested, as I was, you listened to every word; if you weren't interested, the low timbre and drone of his voice lulled you to sleep. Nothing like a nap on a bus.

  • a leith is a river...
  • a keith is a woods...
  • a burgh is a town...
  • a dun is a fort...
  • berwick means barley farm...
  • a wick is an outlying settlement...
  • a shire is a county policed by a shire reeve, known today as a sheriff...
  • you can't kill a king, but you can starve him...
  • that cross on the street made of dark bricks...that's where the witches and heretics were burned
  • The War of the Roses wasn't a flower fight; it was the houses of Lancaster and York jockeying for the throne
  • Henry Tudor of York begat Henry VIII, probably England's best-known monarch...
  • Henry VIII cast out Catholicism from England and made himself head of his own Church of England, disposing of a few wives and their supposed lovers in the process...
  • Henry VIII was a _____________. (You fill in the blank. I prefer jerk.)

Henry VIII's good deeds—and I think there may have been a few—included the establishment of Trinity House, a group of sea-brethren charged with looking out for mariners and all things nauti. Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I, sensibly took the task a step further by initiating the Seamarks Act that charged Trinity House with building lighthouses and other seamarks. 

Hooray, and way to go girl! Let tourism ring!

While I'm on the topic of kings and queens, I confess I accidentally stepped on Henry VIII while I was in England, and I walked away with my head still intact. Henry the Headhunter is buried in the floor inside the chapel at Windsor Castle, right under a stone slab. Without realizing, you can step on him or Jane Seymour; she's beside him and was the only wife he seems to have liked. We visited the chapel at the end of our tour. I felt a bit of remorse as I hopped off Henry's grave, until I remembered David telling us about all the priories and churches Henry VIII ordered destroyed when he decided to go rogue on the Catholic Church. And I thought of all his jilted girlfriends and headless wives and their decapitated lovers. I remembered his reputation for gluttony and stories of his temper tantrums. Most of all I recalled his bad attitude towards women. "Give me sons, not daughters!" Henry probably deserves all that tourist traffic stomping over him.

Sir Wickie was, and is, well-versed on the monarchy. He tossed out the names of kings and queens like he was throwing confetti—Henry II, Edward III, Charles I, William III, James II, Elizabeth I. How does he keep straight in his head all the Roman numerals after their royal names? Heaven help us if there had been a quiz. And more importantly, why didn't all those kings and queens just pick easier names so their subjects would be less confused and could pass history class in high school and college? Who wants to be Henry VIII when it's easier to be just plain Joe or Fred? King Fred. I like that!

From the continuous unscripted and informative rhetoric of Sir David, we learned about dalesdowns, plains, moors, wolds and cots...the latter being little huddling shelters for sheep. There were SO MANY SHEEP in England! The country's national animal is the lion, but I didn't see a single one of those. It was sheep everywhere, sheep-a-palooza! I picked up a hunk of wool at Hadrian's Wall to send to my daughter, who fancies having her own flock of sheep, Most of the woolly ruminants had been sheared recently and errant gobs of their soft coats were rolling over the countryside like white tumbleweeds. I grabbed a gob, rubbed it for the bit of lanolin it might contain and then stuffed it in my pocket. The only other place in my travels where I've seen more sheep is Australia.

The names of the rivers we saw and cruised and learned about are burned into my brain—the Forth, the Humber, the Tyne, the Ouse, the Avon, the Thames. English towns like to add upon to their names if they sit along rivers, as in Stratford-upon-Avon and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Once-upon-Atyme. Upon, what a poetic word. It's compound, you know, a combination of up and on. In the States we've settled for just on.

And so many bridges, including the Tyne swing bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with a little lighthouse on top of it—how quaint. It's a wonderful contrast to the modern Millenium Bridge just east of it. The new bridge lights up at night like a bejeweled necklace, a fact that sent our entire tour group racing out of the dining room one night when dinner was about to be served. You'd have thought the National Christmas Tree was being lighted.

The chalk cliffs at Flamborough Head, England.

At Flamborough Head Lighthouse, I climbed to the top of the tower and got a look at the amazing chalk cliffs of the coastline. David told me England has a ridge of chalk running across it. Being a highly visual learner, I imagined a map of England with a giant piece of chalk laying over it. What a cool Dr. Who sci-fi episode that could be—"Invasion of the Chalk Sticks."

I knew there were other parts of the English coast with chalk cliffs, like Dover where comely Beachy Head Lighthouse stands, its red stripes bright against those white cliffs. Flamborough Head's chalk cliffs weren't as high as at Dover, but they were still impressive.

(Newsflash: Why was Sir Wickie telling us so many fascinating facts about the lay of the land in the UK? I discovered while surfing an online British tourist site that David Kershaw majored in geography in college and was once a high school teacher. Go figure!)

Back to that chalk—
I thought about it all afternoon. After all, I had a personal relationship with chalk in the years when I was a teacher. That was over thirty years ago when slate boards were still in use. Every Monday morning I came to class with clean fingers, but by Friday afternoon I had chalk fingers, all white and dried out and zombie hands. My pallid pinkies usually recovered over the weekend, only to get chalky again by the next weekend. When I began teaching at a college, chalk boards and chalk had been replaced by white boards and dry erase markers. It wasn't nearly as nostalgic, but at least there were no more chalk fingers.

That evening I Googled chalk and found a billion bits of info. One website mentioned fossils. I had read Tracey Chevalier's wonderful historical fiction novel, Remarkable Creatures, a few years before, so I knew about fossils in England on the Dorset coast. The article I chanced upon online also mentioned that chalk and clay coastlines are the best for finding fossils, only the word used was—wait for it!fossiliferous. I love that word! It sounds like you're saying it with a mouth full of Weetabix. 

Enough chalk talk—I should expound a bit more about the tour. (After all, this blog is sorta one big advertisement for U.S. Lighthouse Society tours.)

The food was awesome. We dined on authentic UK fish & chips in Anstruther, on baked cod, and broiled haddock, roast beef, pork, chicken smothered in cheese and mushrooms, and lamb at the hotels where we stayed. I had croquettes one evening and porridge one morning, both UK staples. I turned up my nose at beans for breakfast.

In the way of the required culinary cultural experience, we sampled haggis and blood pudding—such appetizing names! Neither one pleased my taste buds. Haggis had the texture of driveway gravel, and blood pudding in no way resembled anything remotely pudding-ish. None of my tour-mates seemed very enthusiastic about these much-touted Scottish goodies. What's up with the Scots that they not only eat this stuff but enjoy it too? 

We ate amazing desserts though, and these indeed pleased my palate. Tiramisu, I love you! Cheesecake, I will take! And ice cream, three scoops per serving, and I...truly was deserving. (I'm a poet and don't know it!) The sweet breads and buns were fabulous. Jam and crumpets and scones with real whipped cream, oh my! The climate in the UK begs for carbs.

Though I don't recall exactly what David was saying here, I suspect he was giving instructions on five ways to win at a "bun fight." We needed such guidance at the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, where breakfast was "supply and demand" and a bit of a free-for-all. We found ourselves in competition with several other tour groups. Soon, there was no coffee or tea and not a clean cup to be found. I knew, then, that we were in trouble but also in good hands; I saw David carrying an armload of dirty cups back to the kitchen. He may even have washed them for all I know...made fresh coffee and tea and baked some buns for the bun fight. What tour guide does all that?  Amazing man, he was.
I did get my bun, a hot cross one with icing, and my coffee—battery fluid with sugar and cream to keep me running. All the way back to my table I sang...Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.

One day for lunch I had a Cornish beef pastie, not to be confused with a pair of risque and skimpy pieces of burlesque clothing of the same spelling (though the shapes are somewhat similar). We had stopped at a highway rest area. The place was rife with British fast food eateries and Brits who knew what they wanted to order. I was undecided, lingering in front of the menu too long.

"Excuse me there, ma'm, but if yaw still looking, I'll just step ahead of you, a'right then?"

A'right then. The beef pastie I ordered was good but a bit too salty. I felt my arteries throbbing after I finished it. It seems the Brits sell pasties like we Yanks sell McDonald's double-cheeseburgers, another fast food that makes my aorta sorta shudder.
The fasti pasti with edges tightly crimped and beef and onion and potato filling. But not for a shilling! Mine was 3 pounds.

The coffee and tea flowed everywhere we went, especially the tea, steeped just right and piping hot, sugar and cream added if you wished...but why such tiny cups? I felt like DeFoe's Gulliver in the land of Lilliput; three swallows and my microscopic cup of tea was gone. I managed to stick out my pinkie as I held the itty-bitty cup, though I'm not sure it's required for proper English tea drinking. David didn't have an upright pinkie when he sipped his tea. He did look a bit peculiar though, with his giant hand grasping a tiny cup as if he were at the Mad Hatter's tea party.

Over our seventeen days of touring, there were six fun boat trips on the bouncy, trouncy, windy, wavy, slate-colored North Sea, famed for its shipwrecks, oil rigs, and wind farms. I do love a good boat ride!—the tang of salt air, the moist ocean vapors, the sea wind in my hair, the thrill of being on the bounding main. You can bet I made sure a Scopolamine patch was nailed securely behind my left ear and copious cups of ginger ale were flowing from the galley. Yo ho, yo ho! A sailor's life for me! NOT! 

Mary Levins, my roomie, and I were discussing the merits of Dramamine vs. Scopolomine as we cruised away from land and inner ear stability.

Do ya think Glen Tart likes Auburn?

Photo courtesy of Mary & Phil Borkowski

I must be the only U.S. Navy wife alumnus who needs seasick meds. "I do," I confess in a whisper. Without my cochlea sufficiently calmed, I'm manning the rails and chumming off the stern. The fish love it, but I feel horrible and embarrassed. As Mark Twain said: "It's always fun to see others get seasick when you are not." Let's just keep this a secret, okay? If it became public knowledge, it really wouldn't be good for the Lighthouse Queen's image.

I feel sick! Let's move on to another topic.

We saw so many lighthouses on our excursions and boat trips!

A view of the ancient Isle of May with its upper and lower lights, revealed their role as leading lights for ships heading into the Firth of Forth. The old light is being preserved. Just like in the United States, lighthouse preservation in Scotland and England takes enormous time, effort, and money.

Oxcars Lighthouse stands on dangerous rocks in the Firth of Forth with some of the firth's many bridges in view. Don't ask me what Oxcars means. I tried to Google it, but it kept coming up Oscars.

Beautiful Inchkeith Lighthouse off Edinburgh is the color of my kitchen—butter yellow. In Scottish, inch means meadow and keith means woods. Come on now, is it meadow or woods? It really can't be both. Maybe it's a meadow in a woods?

Phil Borkowski photographed the relocated Burnt Island East Breakwater Lighthouse in its new home on the Shore Leith Docks. Poor little light was assaulted by our camera-toting group, shutters clicking and everyone squinting and jostling. Some of us hang around until the other addicts have wandered away, endorphins pumping lighthouse love into their brains.

I do like to take pictures of people taking pictures. I'm not sure why. No voyeurism intended, I assure you. 

Nice outfit, Phil.

Majestic Barns Ness Lighthouse seemed as if it was chuffing a cloud of something in this morning photo. (What were those lightkeepers smoking, anyway?)

 I learned from the signage around the place that a ness is a promontory or headland. It denotes prominence, and we can see how the word became a suffix in modern times.
Happiness means a whole lot of happy, a prominence of joy. That's me!
Craziness means a prominent amount of crazies, which is what afflicts me most of the time.

I am not nuts, truly. I'm surviving and thriving with laughs and smiles, jokes and fun. It's the only way I know how. 💜

Lovely Roker Lighthouse on the pierhead in Sunderland was all wet in this image. It was raining. We had a couple of rainy days on the tour. Despite having lived in the Seattle area for fourteen years, I'm not fond of rain...unless it happens when I'm inside...writing.

"Bloody rain!"

Here, I was cruising to Coquet Island Lighthouse with the legendary lighthouse tour travelers, who've visited something like 80,000 lighthouses; I think this one made 80,001. The Chisholms (left) and the Borkowskis (right) are SERIOUS lighthouse hunters. Note the intensity of these four. Their gaze is fixed on the island. Woe betide the guy at the helm if he goes any-which-a-way but straight.

We saw lots of things on our boat trips other than lighthouses. Here, the group is photographing bird pooh. It's the white stuff on the rocks, in case you weren't sure. Notice the tide-line on the rocks. The North Sea produces some big tides.

There was this one, the name I've forgotten, near a golf course at Bamburgh. She seemed quite surprised to see us. I liked the red lipstick daymark. Mariners definitely wouldn't miss that.

And then...this one. The Granton Middle Light. Bad choice of name, as it has no middle. I think Spinal Cord Light fits better.
Check out how high that exterior ladder is from the ground. David Sir-Very-Tall Wickie was likely the only one in our group who could climb it.
Yes, I did walk out to photograph this one. I try to love all the lighthouses, pretty or not. This one—NOT.

They aren't all in good shape. This is the Leith West Breakwater Lighthouse. Vandals and graffiti artists have done their work. A sturdy fence was meant to protect the lighthouse, with no success. Perhaps it needs an electric wire around the top.
Trinity House, on the whole, takes good care of its lighthouses As in the States, not all of them can be saved.

We did not find time to visit the Loch Ness Lighthouse. I was disappointed.

I am a fan of Grace Darling of Longstone Lighthouse on a rock several miles off Bamburgh, England. She was sort of the media star of her day, a girl hero with serious pluck. (Gender-specific words are fast disappearing in this age of parity, so I don't use heroine. It sounds like a drug anyway.) I wrote about Grace in an earlier blog, so I won't go into a lot of detail here. It's sufficient to say she became famous, despite being shy, and put the town of Bamburgh on the map. Below is the house where she was born and next door (not shown) is the museum dedicated to her. Among its artifacts is the cobble Grace and her lightkeeper father used to rescue nine shipwrecked sailors.

You can imagine my eagerness to visit Grace's memorial in the churchyard at Bamburgh. She's not buried under or in it. Instead she was interred in the family plot a few yards away. It wasn't until she became famous that the memorial was erected.

Grace was a shy, unassuming girl of 22 when she helped her father rescue castaways. Most of her years had been spent on remote Longstone Lighthouse. She had a short, meteoric life and died of tuberculosis before age 30. Her memorial has her head resting on a stone pillow--rather appropriate, I think.

It rained and rained the day we were in Bamburgh, but I was okay with it...sorta...because the following day we would boat out to Longstone Lighthouse, a sentry I wanted to visit almost as much as the Bell Rock. And the weather would be nice, we were told. As forecast, it didn't want rain the next day; the sky was a rich blue and the North Sea was about as calm as it ever gets.

Anticipation! I was so ready to visit this lighthouse. It was a fairly smooth cruise out to Longstone. I made sure everyone was up to speed on Grace Darling and her daring deed. As we tied up at the lighthouse, David leaned down from his place in the upper atmosphere (he must be about 6'8") and said: 

"This must be a long-awaited experience for you...visiting this lighthouse." 

From an old postcard in  my collection, probably printed before 1920.

Drawing courtesy of Trinity House.

We encountered a young female gray seal on the stone pathway up to the lighthouse. Her cries were pitiful, but later that day a ranger on Inner Farne told us seals come onto the island when they see a boat approaching, hoping for a handout. She had the pity me routine down. Such a moocher!

The older part of the lighthouse is the tower and base. The extra quarters and fog signal room on the right were added later. Inside, displays about the lighthouse and the Darling family were cleverly placed inside life buoys. I must have taken 250 pictures. Both my regular Sony camera and my cell phone camera were very busy. Click, click, snap, snap! I couldn't take photos fast enough. Someday, I'll buy one of those fancy cameras that takes one shot after another...and I'll probably drop it and break it.

In the lantern, the double dual lenses revolved FAST! I had to be ready to take a picture when two bulls-eyes were straight in front of me.

Such an amazing optic! It was in great condition too. Trinity House seems to have taken better care of its lenses over the years than we have in the States. There are almost no chips or cracks. Likewise, the Scottish lenses are in good condition.

So, maybe this looks like a bra Lady GaGa might wear? That thought occurred to me as I watched the bulls-eyes whirling around, but I wisely kept the thought to myself...until now.

Hmmmm. What's this contraption? Ah...a Davy Escape Apparatus. This was an emergency escape kit for the keepers, in case they had to get off the lighthouse quickly—maybe because of a fire or explosion.

What was he up to here? Planning his escape with that Davy Escape Apparatus?

I was so busy taking pictures in the Longstone lantern room I did not notice everyone was gone, except me and Mr. Wickie. He didn't know I took his picture—ha! Possibly, he was looking down the spiral stairway, watching the rest of the group descend and hoping no one ended up on his or her head.

David kindly and patiently waited for me to finish my photos and then accompanied me downstairs and to the boat. Even Tom Chisholm beat us back to the boat!

After Longstone, we cruised the bounding main past Brownsman Island through Staple Sound to Inner Farne Island. It was a really rocky, jockey ride, and I was glad that Scopolomine patch was still behind my ear. In the chop, the boat rolled and yawed, and everyone began yelling like a bunch of fourth graders on a school field trip. A few waves came over the starboard side...where I was sitting. I got wet. Just like seasickness, getting doused by King Neptune is always funny for persons who remain dry.

The sea air soon dried my hair in a Shirley Temple do, and I was none the worse for the saltwater washdown, except that my snowy coif felt like sandpaper, and I smelled like a fishwife.

David told us about a pious fellow named St. Cuthbert who got things rolling on Inner Farne Island about year 600, and he did it all by himself. He retired to the island, built a crude shelter, prayed and self-sacrificed, and lived a hermit's life until he died ten years later. The stone church on Inner Farne is dedicated to him and quite beautiful. I felt a sense of contradiction inside, though, where candles burned in gold candlesticks and the windows held detailed stained glass scenes of saints. It seemed an inappropriate memorial for a man who gave up beautiful things. 

As we disembarked the boat at Inner Farne, we were warned to cover our heads with hats or hoods, as the seabirds, particularly the arctic terns, were protecting their babies by doing kamikaze stunts and pecking heads. Flying pooh was another hazard. Keep this in mind when I tell you we sat down at picnic tables next to the lighthouse and ate our bag lunches. The designs on the tables were quite artistic, white and gray spatters. Once I got over my initial revulsion, it grew into a fun experience. Dining among the avians in a seabird nursery—it's hard to beat that.

The terns did aerial stunts and argued with us, the puffins stared down from the eaves of the keeper's house, and the wind carried the smell of bird droppings and whirled it about our noses. No worries. If St. Cuthbert could live hermit-style among the seabirds, what was an hour or so with them? 

The lighthouse was gorgeous, painted white and well-kept by the rangers who live in the quarters in the summer. I'm not sure why I took so many bird photos. I couldn't tell one puffin from another, nor could the terns be differentiated. On the way down a path among the nests and burrows, I heard some guy yell: "That's the one that pecked me on the head and tried to steal my hat!" Now, just how did he know? They all looked alike.

There were so many seabirds, wherever we went, but more in some places than others. I have photos to prove it.

Every white spot was a bird. Bass Island not only has a handsome lighthouse but also the largest population of arctic terns in the Atlantic. It sounded and looked like an Alfred Hitchcock movie and smelled like...POOH!

The puffins were undeniably cute. I loved hearing them talk..arr, harr, little tuxedoed pirates. They were yet another subject I'd written about several times but never seen for real. FOR REAL. Well, I saw them for real on this tour! Thanks U.S. Lighthouse Society. Your stock has gone way up in my portfolio.

I did my best Tippi Hedren impersonation on the helopad at Isle of May Lighthouse as a chopper pulled away without me. I was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance.

Other high points of the trip? A Silver Award Loo...woohoo! This is a totally British thing, I think. Who else but the English would give out clean bathroom awards? (Maybe the Canadians?)

If you need to use the Loo, it's good to use an award winning one. But what about the 2017 award? Who gets that? I'd hate to think the cleanliness score of this one had fallen.

I'd like you to meet some of my tour mates. They were fun and congenial, and I have sweet memories of interactions with all of them!

This was my terrific roomie, Mary Levins, on the stairs of Isle of May Lighthouse. Yeah, she drew the short straw and had to be Elinor's room mate. She put up with a lot from me, and I'm sure she still loves me.
The guy in the red jacket was former Scottish lightkeeper and expert flirt, Ian Duff. I won't go into detail about the flirting.

Aye, and it be Mr. Jeremy D'Entremont, fantastic lighthouse historian, excellent speaker, amazing photographer, and a longtime friend of yours truly. Did I mention he also tames lions and alligators (we saw neither in the UK) and was once given an award for standing on his head on the vent ball on top of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse where he is the executive director? I didn't mention that? Well, now you know. He also had a cat years ago that was in love with my cat. True story. Alas, it was not to be—one of those unhappy, long-distance feline love affairs. Meowza. 
You can see Jeff and Melissa Gales on the tier below Jeremy.

Jeremy tried to disown me in this selfie. He knows I'm crazy.

Captain A.J. Lacausi at your service! A.J. bought this hat in the Hartlepool Maritime Museum gift shop, and it changed her from a happy person to a happier person. She even gifted me her mermaid necklace on the last day of the tour. Thanks, A.J.!

We found this girl alongside the road just outside of Edinburgh. She told us she had escaped from her hotel room mate, a white-haired man who snored so loud she couldn't sleep. We adopted her as our youngest and most beloved member, and Glen Tart made her his official granddaughter. 
Trinity Tart, we love you, and your singing is divine!

Roy ____________. I never did get his last name. Perhaps Ian Duff can en"light"en us about that. Roy is a former Scottish lightkeeper and a man of enormous experience, but few words. When he spoke, though, it was profoundly interesting. 
I tried my hardest to get him to smile in this photo. What you see is what you get, a slight upturn of the corners of his mouth. 
I'm sure he wasn't keen to sit with a crazy woman like me. Sometimes, Roy, you just have to make the best of the situation. 

Jan Dumonson and I took time out for a selfie in Paull, England. She's been a Facebook Buddy of mine for a long time. We met for the first time on this tour.

Diane Taeckens was with me for this photo at Newhaven Pier Lighthouse. Are we old gals hot stuff or what??!! I'll add that Diane has the most infectious laugh you'll ever hear.

Lightkeeper Ian Duff honored me with a photo of us together at his old stomping grounds at St. Abbs Head Lighthouse. I'll be writing an article about this lighthouse for the society journal. The wind was crazy on the point and flattened back my hair. Ian said he was not having any issues with his hair. Photo by Jeremy D'Entremont. 


Although he wasn't in our tour group, we all enjoyed meeting Mike Bullock, Commissioner of the Northern Lighthouse Board. He welcomed us to the Board's HQ in Edinburgh. 

In this image, he signed a book published by the Board. That's Ken Mulder on the left waiting for his autographed copy, as Tom Chisholm in the middle waited for his. Mike the Commissioner was smiling, because book signings are fun!


Norma Bell took a break in a comfie chair at the HQ of the Northern Lighthouse Board. I will NOT forgot her sweet smile! She was always smiling. Truly.
I'm not sure whose foot got into the picture. Own up if it's your foot!!!
Notice the table in front of Norma and Mr. Foot, made from a retired drum lens. Clever re-purposing.

Ruth Floyd, sister to Norma Bell  of the previous photo, and Jeremy D'Entremont looked on as a ranger talked about seabird rescues. The real star of this photo was the puffling waiting to be released in safe waters. The little birdie was trying to make it into the sea after leaving its burrow at Inner Farne Island. It was almost eaten by a gull, until the ranger rescued it. Baby puffins are safest in deep water where they can dive if a hungry gull decides to try to make a meal of them.

Dear Peggy Wainscott lent me her shoulder after I climbed ashore at Longstone Lighthouse. I was utterly exhausted with anticipation and excitement. 
I think she looks a bit like Grace Darling in this photo, don't you agree? Peggy, I see a second career for you playing the 1830s-40s tabloid idol!

Darlene Chisholm is not one to shy away from a good photo op. She crawled underneath the St. Mary's lens and took a photo up through the center. She's little enough to do these kinds of shots.  Raise you hand if you've seen Darlene do this before.

All of us stood on the stairs at St. Abbs Head Lighthouse and had our photo taken by a ranger. No one lost a hat, though the wind sure tried to steal a few, including mine.

At St. Mary's Lighthouse, David took a picture of Diane and Ken. I took a picture of David taking a picture of Diane and Ken.....maybe someone took a picture of me taking a picture of David taking a picture of Diane and Ken.... 

I love how the lighthouse seems to grow out of Ken's head. I'm wild about pictures like this and usually take one at every lighthouse I visit. I included one of me with a lighthouse on my head later in the blog. 

Sir Wickie had on his wild green shoes, which we all liked...but none of us would be caught dead in such footwear. He was really laid back and hip and cool..kinda..sorta...maybe, except for those attention-getting shoes.

And now for some totally shocking photos. A near escape was observed and documented...
I could not believe my big blue eyes! After he took the previous photo of Diane and Ken. Sir Wickie tried to escape. The nerve! I think he was up to his eyeballs in lighthouses and lighthouse fanciers and their port and starboard exits and their clicking cameras and their rules for taking pictures so that everyone got a people-less photo before the wild stampede happened.
David, I'm certain, saw the lighthouse car and was hoping the keepers of St. Mary's Light had left their keys in it.

Check it out! He was even looking back toward the keepers' cottage to see if anyone had noticed him making a getaway. Well, I noticed...yes I did! After I tackled him to the ground, put him in a half-Nelson, and showed him these pictures, he gave me all of the money in his wallet—4 pounds and 20 pence—and got back on the bus.
Needless to report. Her Majesty the Queen was displeased that one of London's best tour guides would behave so poorly.

We made visits to castles and priories galore. Priory? Priority? Minority? Sorority? Inferiority? I had to look it up. I think we Americans call it a monastery.

Plain and simple, the OED says a priory is a monastic site; the home of monks, priests, and nuns. (Not all living together in the same flat, of course.)

These old sites are everywhere in England. I enjoyed, if that's the right word to use, seeing the ruined priory at Holy Island, Lindesfarne. We had to cross to the island at low tide, since the causeway is awash at high tide. Mary, Jeremy, and I had lunch in a loud, rollicking pub on the island, then headed for a tour of the ruined priory. Henry VIII had ordered this priory destroyed after he outlawed Catholicism, but some of the walls remain standing.

It was an eerie place; frozen in time. The ruins had a supernatural quality. Everyone visiting moved about in a reverent silence, almost tiptoeing. The constant drizzle and lack of human sound only added to the strangeness. At every turn I though I might hear "Twilight Zone" music.

The shattered remains of the priory at Lindesfarne were eerie. So was St. Aidan!!!

In a grassy area off to one side of the priory was a statue of St. Aidan, to whom the place was dedicated. I photographed him, dressed in his stone robes and standing silent in the midst of the ruins and rain. He looked pious, but with the smallest hint of mischief on his granite face. He is the patron saint of firefighters, thus he has a torch in one hand.

I spent a few minutes studying him, mostly because I like statues and have always been amazed at how they're made. Who can force stone to shape to their will in such a beautiful way? 

St. Aidan was a good-looking chap for sure. He must have known I was thinking that because—and this is no joke nor was I on any hallucinogenic substances other than dark chocolate—he winked at me! One stone eyelid quickly and distinctly closed and re-opened. No one was nearby to corroborate this miraculous interaction between stone and flesh. I looked back at him repeatedly. Nothing more. Just the one wink.

I was tired, yes, and letting my imagination go off. If you look at a thing long enough and think deeply enough about it, you just might see what you want. I guess I needed someone to wink at me that afternoon, even if it was a stone guy.

Some of us made a side trip inland on Day 10 to see Hadrian's Wall. It was a real treat for me, probably the oldest human-made structure I'd ever seen. Seriously, when I climbed to the hilltop fort and saw the wall stretching as far as I could see, I was awed. I sent a picture of it to my son, who loves all things Roman and has watched every documentary ever made about the Roman Empire, and he responded: "Now, that is really cool, Mama!"

I love Roman history too. (What history don't I love?) In fact, I'm well-informed about Ancient Rome, being the mum of a Roman-obsessed son and having watched Victor Mature and Jean Simmons in Androcoles and the Lion and Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr in Quo Vadis. I saw Ben Hur too, both the old and new versions.  Adding to my knowledge was a traumatic experience from junior high school when my seventh grade history teacher made us outline every chapter in our world civ textbook. I not only did the outlines, I also rewrote the chapter on ancient Rome, subbing in my own characters and events, and signed my assignment as Elinorius Parodian. I only had to stay after school with Miss Haggar for one week. Had I known what I know now, I'd have nicknamed her Miss Haggis.

It was rainy and a bad hair day at Hadrian's Wall. Sadly, there was no Hadrian's Hair Salon.
What an amazing place! I could not believe I was walking in the footsteps of Roman soldiers, maybe even Victor Mature!

I bought a book of Latin in Hadrian's gift shop, a dictionary of sorts. I hope Hadrian's descendants appreciate that. Sir Wickie, with his many reminders of the Latin origins in modern words, inspired me to re-acquaint myself with the so-called dead language. It's not really dead, though; it's alive in many languages and disciplines. 

I had a half-year of Latin in ninth grade, way back before computer lessons, standardized testing prep, and substance abuse resistance programs began eating up the school day. Kids are lucky if they get time for anything else these days. Though I didn't pay much attention to Latin class back in the 1960s, today I know that the little bit I did learn has helped me be a better reader, speaker, and writer. It also has given me a moral I live by: facilius est vitae risus. (It has nothing to do with peanut butter cups...though I rather wish it did!) Fill in the blank below.

Near the end of our tour, we stayed at Stratford-upon-Avon at the Mercure Shakespeare Hotel. It was a very old building that had been refurbed to become a hotel. I absolutely loved its charm and peculiarness. Once in my room, unlocked with an antique brass key, my suitcase rolled away from me as if pulled by unseen hands. I spent several minutes chasing it around. Then, I helped Mary sling her suitcase onto a low table, and it seemed as if it lifted up effortlessly. "Oh boy, is this place haunted,?" I wondered. Mary and I slept uphill in our beds, as the floor was a bit canted.

The most amusing and frustrating thing about our room was the toilet. At first, we couldn't make it flush, despite all our efforts and a good deal of swearing on my part. Mary asked the desk what to do and was told to pump the handle up and down vigorously over and over. Really? Was this a joke? But it worked. I think this was because the pumping caused a hammer inside the tank to pound on the head of the toilet boogie man, forcing him to lift the flap. Flush!

That evening, Jeremy D'Entremont and I went to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to see Titus Adronicus. The theatre was beautiful, and the players were remarkably talented. I even recognized a couple of them from my BBC faves, Call the Midwife and Grantchester. I was unfamiliar with the play itself, and it turned out to be bloody and violent—hands loped off with swords, tongues cut out, murders, rape. Bill Shakepeare was surely in a mean mood when he penned that one!

And then, Jeremy and I had to walk back to the haunted Shakespeare Hotel in the dark.

We got lost, of course. What did you expect from a couple of absentminded scribes? Fortunately, Betty and Stan Meyer had gone to the play as well, and they found us wandering about Stratford-upon-Avon as if it were a maze.

Inside the hotel, we all bid each other goodnight. I had the freaky fun of finding my room in dim hallways and stairways. I eschewed the single, small elevator, a modern addition, as I was sure a mad Shakespeare would assail me inside and cut out my tongue and cut off my hands! How would I ever type long-winded and never-ending blog entries if that happened??!!

I did eventually find my room, and dear Mary had waited up. "Is that you, Elinor?" She must have wondered if some wraith was knocking at 11:00p.m. Dear, kind Mary. She was like a big sister, always with more sense than me. She had passed on the Titus Andronicus evening. I was glad, I told her, that I had the experience of seeing a Shakespeare play in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, but...then I got lost, and then I got rescued, and then I had to find the room in dark stairwells and hallways...well, you get my drift. We turned on our sides, uphill, and went to sleep.

Say it ain't so! Even dear Shakespeare has been sullied by Star Wars commercialism. Methinks this is ludicrous and perchance a slap in the face of the world's most celebrated playwright. Though I must admit, Anakin Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, and Pizza the Hut could easily be Shakespearean names...well, maybe not that last one.

 "Unloose thy light saber and be-eth afeard, thou hairy, jabbering, bonobo-like beast!" (That'd be one of the Clone Troopers addressing Chewbacca.)

It's obvious I know little of Shakespeare, and less about Star Wars. Thou art not bedazzled. I'm certain.

We visited Oxford University on the last day of our tour. What a place! It doesn't look a thing like my Alma Mater at University of Connecticut. It's actually a collection of some 32 colleges...and if you manage to get accepted and graduate, David says you get "Oxford University" on your diploma. Pretty heavy accomplishment, indeed.

(If only I'd opted for an MFA in Writing from Oxford. Where might I be today? A writer perhaps? Oh wait..I am a writer. Nevermind.)

The architecture at Oxford was breath-taking. David did a fine job explaining the buildings, defining all the types of columns and ornaments, and sharing the history of the university. He had told me a few days earlier that Oxford was one of his favorite places to lead tours. I am still ever-and-eternally-amazed at how much he knew. His green shoe fetish, not so great, but history poured from his mouth in a continuous and rich stream.

I noticed he seemed quite taken with the Bodleian Library, telling us about it before we got to it, making grand gestures as he spoke, and over-pronouncing the name each time with an emphatic baud on the "Bod." Baudleian...Baudleian. 

He looked like he was about to strangle one of us—probably me, since I badgered him with questions throughout the trip. (I was that kid in grade school who always had her hand up.)

I don't blame Sir Wickie for his fixation with the 500-year-old Baudleian Library and its Tower of Five Orders, the orders of classical architectural columns. Let's see if I remember them from the architecture class I took in college—Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan...and the fifth I can't retrieve from my increasingly cobwebby mind. Who knows the fifth type?

I'm smitten with libraries. In fact, I considered becoming a librarian when I started college. And, I've given talks in many libraries. I'd have loved a few minutes inside that old Baudleian repository of musty books and ancient papers! I bet there were some old, old, ye very olde tomes in the Baudleian Library. I'm sure David has been inside. If I'm correct, it's the second largest library in the UK, after the British Library in London, and it dates back to before Queen Elizabeth I.

A statue of the Earl of Pembroke—the first one, I think—stands in front of the Baudleian  Libary at Oxford. 
Was he the guy who developed the Pembroke Corgi?
I like those little Christmas tree thingies on the rooftop.

Old Oxford—
The cobbled plaza. The handsome church, not grand enough, said David, to be called a cathedral. The various colleges. Did you know there's a college of logic? (I should enroll.) The rotund telescoping Radcliffe Camera, which we learned means "space" in Latin (camera, that is), stood in the middle. All of these buildings were incredibly old. The place even smelled old. My own knowledge of history tells me Oxford was the pet project of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, chief adviser to that scandalous King Henry VII. Wolsey missed losing his head by dying of natural causes before he could be tried for treason. Such was life in and about the court of King Henry the Head-Hunter.

We made a circuit around the Oxford quad, following David like lemmings. People were walking everywhere, some carrying briefcases or wearing backpacks, many seeming to know just where they were heading. David said classes were out for the summer, so where were all these people going? A graceful archway to one side gobbled up most of them. Maybe it was a shortcut through the assemblage of timeworn edifices. (Edifi in Latin?)

The Camera, with its Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. It seemed the focus of the quadrangle, all the other buildings surrounding it.

Oxford...not a new name for we USA-ers. It occurred to me that in the United States we've borrowed lots of city and town names from our Mother Country. There are Oxfords galore in America. And Hanovers, Yorks, Stratfords, Londons, Cambridges, Bristols, Manchesters, Plymouths, Hartfords, Chesters, and more. There's a Canterbury too, where I live, named for the famous Canterbury, England where the Church of England is HQ-ed. 

My Canterbury in Connecticut bears little resemblance to its namesake. For history we Yankee Canterburians have the Prudence Crandall House, honoring a woman who tried to educate black girls before it was socially acceptable. Sadly, she was run out town and her school was set on fire.  Otherwise, Canterbury, Connecticut just has a post office and small town hall, a closed up restaurant with a "For Lease" sign in the window, a Kubota tractor store (my husband's hangout), and a drive-thru Dunkin Donuts (my hangout) and a Cumberland Farms. Oh yeah, David told me -bury is from the Anglo-Saxon burh, meaning a fortified place. Hmmm. Fortified with donuts, coffee, and pump your own gas in Canterbury, USA.

I loved all the finishing touches on the buildings in Oxford, like this guy below--

"Ah, those lighthouse freaks are here! This is what I think of them...and that chatty Mr. Davy Wickie too!"

To one side of the quadrangle, something special caught my attention. I have a keen eye for things I like. I squeezed the lens of my camera through the bars of a locked gate and peered through the eyepiece. Ever vigilant of his sometimes mischievous charges, David saw me move away from the group.

"Are you trying to get through there?" Sir Wickie politely inquired. "Oh, you're taking a picture. What is it? A sundial. Lovely!" 

I do like sundials, almost as much as lighthouses. (We'll keep that between us—not good for book sales or my epithet "Lighthouse Queen.") I had to learn about sundials when I worked at a planetarium years ago, because we had a diverse collection of them, and visitors would usually ask about them. We even had a moondial and a pocket sundial. I designed a paper one kids could make.

I saw five sundials on the UK trip with the society. The one below was on the face of the chapel at Windsor Castle. It looked correct for latitude, and of course it would be. The English are the best sundial makers in the world. 

Most sundials we buy from catalogs or garden stores have a gnomen (the part that sticks up and makes the shadow) set to 45 degrees. It's easy to manufacture in mass quantities that way. But this only works for telling time if you live at 45 degrees north latitude. Otherwise, for the gnomen to work properly it needs to be set to the same angle as your latitude. London is about 51 degrees north, and the gnomen in the picture looks right, about a 51 degree angle when viewed from the side.

The chapel has the year 1723 on its face. I'm not sure of the significance of that year. I know Sir Christopher Wren died in 1723. David talked about him attending Wadham College at Oxford and designing many buildings and churches, but Wren is not buried at Windsor Chapel. I wonder about 1723? Perhaps that was the the year the sundial was made...simple as that.

The time lines on this sundial are another matter altogether, too complicated for me to explain here. (Meaning, I'm not really sure how to explain them.) I'll just say the placement of the lines has to be calculated for the sundial's location. Sundials may be pretty, but they're also complicated. And now, I've gotten away from the main topic again—lighthouses.

The two lights below were among the last ones we visited. They stood along the channel of the Humber River, serving as range lights, which the British call leading lights. For anyone unaware, a ship tries to keep these lights lined up one over the other so as to stay safely in the channel. That's why one is taller than the other. They appear piggyback from the middle of the channel. There once was a keeper's house situated between them, but it was torn down in 1998. These leading lights are the Thorngumbald Clough lighthouses. What a mouthful! Say that name ten times really fast.

Our bus pulled alongside the road some distance from the two cast iron sentinels, and all of us looked pensively out the windows. It was late in the day and we were tired from visiting so many lighthouses, but we HAD TO GET OUT AND PHOTOGRAPH THESE. One by one, we piled off the bus and zoom lenses were pulled from camera bags. We aimed to take some long-distance shots and quickly get back on the bus.

Then, Sir Wickie, as chipper as ever, noticed a trail of sorts, a nearly invisible path through the field of wildflowers and weeds that separated us from those lighthouses. He wasn't going to let his enthusiasm and affection for us diminish, even near the end, so off he went at his usual long-legged clip. But this was no short walk, and the path wound port and starboard, up and down. If you have short legs, the tall grasses tickle the skin under your shirt. One by one, like mindless automatons, we followed. 

I hesitated for a loooooong time before joining the comatose parade of lost lighthouse souls...

Feeling shame at my lethargy and flagging passion for photographing EVERY lighthouse on the tour, I followed the camera-carrying throng. Finally, we got close. We stopped, we looked, we focused our cameras by habit as we stood shoulder to shoulder and clicked away. We were shutterly exhausted but not giving up. Even Tom Chisholm rallied and took a thousand pictures of the shabby pair. I took three photos. That should do it, I thought.

I'm sad to say the light towers looked worse up close, a bit rusty and neglected, but they still were monolithic and vigilant, still doing what lighthouses are supposed to do. The red one appeared to have legs, many of them. The white one's gallery supports could have passed for arms. Their lanterns looked like helmets. 

I thought to myself, "The Mother-Ship must have landed way back when and left them here."


This blog post surely needs to end. It more closely resembles the thickness (and absurdness) of a Congressional Bill than a blog post. Even Tolstoy would be surprised at the length. My literary idol, and a prolific scribe himself—RLS—would say "enou', woman!" Shakespeare? "All's well that...finally ends, girl. Be done!"

I usually send Jeff Gales an excerpt from my trip journal, and sometimes it's serious and instructive enough that he publishes it in The Keepers Log. That was the case with my visits to Kakokefali Lighthouse and Keoghi Lighthouse in Greece and Gaski Lighthouse in Poland. This blog post is an excerpt too, truly. I can pound out pages and pages of verbiage if uninterrupted. My thoughts and memories here...well, they're not very serious; I realize that. Jeff will be amused by all my blather, but he surely won't be publishing it. 

I didn't have to tell you that, did I?

I hope my comic dribble hasn't offended any of my wonderful tour mates; a big apology if it does. As I've already said, levity keeps me sane. Some days, even dragging on into weeks and months, the strings of my heart pluck out of tune and the usual happy song stops. That's when I need to sit down at my keyboard and get some therapy.

I do hope David Kershaw, our fabulous tour guide, has a good a sense of humor when he reads this and sees all the fun pictures I took of him and the crazy captions I wrote. I think he does have a sense of fact, I know so. We had a wild time with him on the tour, learned a prodigious amount of history and geography from him, and regretted saying good-bye to him. All of us hope he'll be our tour leader again on another fun society adventure. I think we infected him with the lighthouse bug, so there's a good chance of that!

Thanks, David, for everything you did for us.

Oh, one more thing—
Did I mention I fell down on the last day of the tour? Oh yeah. Right down on my left hip and clacked the insides of my knees together pretty hard. Thwomp! I wasn't drinking, no; this is a naturally occurring phenom with me. I fall, and often.

Actually, I did not fall down; I just fell. No one ever falls up or falls sideways or falls diagonally, so there's no need to qualify it by adding down.  It's just a plain old fall. I bet you didn't know this is yet another science I fully grasp and can demonstrate with ease. I could teach Falling 101.

The Accident Report—
Our group was packed together in Oxford due to the crowded street where the bus dropped us. It was like a roller derby, only without the rollers, pads, and helmets. A cute little kid ran in front of me with what I presumed was his grandma in hot pursuit. I swerved to avoid both of them, but continued to watch the comical footrace instead of watching where I stepped. Thwomp! I ended up tripping on the edge of a curb that surrounded a statue, of what or who I never discovered. Humpty Dumpty perhaps. He had a fall.

It was a graceful plunge, if nothing else. I helplessly descended toward the street, my capitis nives (white locks) flying and one hand extended to break the landing. Ka-Thwomp! My comrades were quick to respond. Hands and arms came at me from all directions. I was lifted up, set back on my feet, dusted off, interrogated, pitied. Jeremy confided he almost tripped on that same little curb; oh sure!

And then, after I recovered my dignity, I was off again, huddled amongst the horde of visitors and being conveyed forward by the sheer momentum of following tall David Kershaw.  His steps covered twice the length of any of ours. We had earlier nicknamed it the "David Pace." What distance he covered in five minutes, we did in twenty. Most of the time, if he was not distracted, he walked a slow pace, just for us. It must have been sheer tedium.

He heard the Elinor fell down rumor make its way up the line. He halted, doubled back, and checked on me with a truly concerned expression, a sympathetic face I think he has perfected through many years of tour leading. We'd already had another person in the group fall earlier in the trip, chasing a runaway suitcase, and that fall had way more serious consequences, including blood, gouges, and band-aids.

"You fell?" David asked acerbically from high above me, the sun behind his head and me squinting and rubbing my left hip. Our group had stopped and was silent, as if the BBC News Team had arrived to interview everyone involved. Where was Jeff, anyway, and Skip? I needed their pity! They passed the buck to David.

My brain must have suffered a jolt in the fall, for momentarily I lost my wits and hallucinated. I thought Sir Wickie was Dr. Kildare, a stethoscope suspended around his neck instead of a tour guide badge. Richard Chamberlain, who played the good doctor was my teenage heart-throb. Oh please, make it be true—me attended by that 1960s hottie, Dr. Kildare! Alas...

"You fell over that curb? Are you okay, then?"

Obviously, Sir David, Earl of Wickie, understands Newton's Law of Gravitation, for he did NOT ask if I fell DOWN. Fell sounds so much more fluid and elegant, like a dance move.  (If you enroll in my Falling 101 course, I'll teach you some of those moves.)

I assured him I was fine. He asked three more times, then bolted for the head of the group, looking back just once with a quizzical are you absolutely sure expression.

Other than bruised knees and a bruised ego, I was none the worse for the wear, certainly not perceptibly damaged.  My dignity restored, the remainder of the day and the trip went fine. I even managed to RUN to the raffle table at the farewell dinner when my ticket# was called as a winner. Yippee! I won a Scottish whiskey three-pack! 

Thanks for hanging with me until the end. It was a literary marathon for sure.

Sign up for a U.S. Lighthouse Society lighthouse tour. I promise you won't regret it. 

"Though she be but little, she is fierce!"


This blog is dedicated to Steve Weber of Colorado Springs, who traveled with us on the Scotland and England tour in July and sadly passed away a month later. Go find those lighthouses in heaven, Steve! We miss you.