Britain is an island. I think we can all agree on that. We don’t need to of course but it’ll certainly decrease the number of arguments we have. And this means that for many years people have been sailing the sea. And, due to weather or other concerns they have been getting wrecked. And whilst I’d like this to mean drunk I don’t, wrecked as in hitting rocks and in many cases drowning.
In Roman times, fires were lit on hilltops to aid mariners, either to guide them into a safe haven or warn them of rocks. When the Romans left England this practice fell by the wayside. Any fires seen by mariners were either set by companies to guide you to safety, for which you had to pay, or to entice you in to be wrecked so you could be robbed. And with no good charts and fires lit by whoever, there was no way to tell one from the other.
At the turn of the 18th century transatlantic trade was booming. But seafaring was still a dangerous profession. And with the money invested in it mishaps like hitting rocks was seen as a costly mistake. So lighthouse building began, the 18th century was a golden age for innovation in construction but other engineering endeavours that saw lighthouses and lighthouse technology advance by leaps and bounds. I’m sure we are all familiar with names such as Thomas Smith, ostensibly the father of lighthouse construction, followed by Robert Stevenson whose sons David, Alan, and Thomas followed him into the business of lighthouses and then two of David's children, David Alan and Charles Alexander also became distinguished lighthouse engineers in their own right.
Fast forward past these developments, the lighthouse keepers, the custodians, the maintenance and resupply and these days most lighthouses are automated. And this means there are lighthouses cottages available to rent for the night, weekend or day. As you can imagine these places command a spectacular view because, of course, you would build a lighthouse with the best view of the sea possible so mariners could see it.
And we were lucky enough to stay in one of the cottages at Start Point, a point on the south side of Start Bay near Dartmouth running almost a mile into the sea so offering superb views. It was designed by James Walker in 1836 and, given the influences of the gothic movement of the time, it’s certainly an imposing structure with its battlemented parapet.
We arrived on a Friday night in December and had the pleasure of negotiating the narrow road down to the lighthouse and letting ourselves in by torch light. Once in though we found what can only be described as a beautiful cottage and the ample welcome basket was, well, very welcoming containing farm eggs, local milk and coffee and numerous other delights.
There is no local shop or takeaway as you can imagine so we had a menu plan in mind and, even then, over shopped.
Opening the bedroom window on that Friday night, seeing the faint flashes of light from the lighthouse directly above us and hearing the waves crash and beat the cliffs below certainly rocked us off to a marvellous night’s sleep.
A relaxed start to Saturday saw us walking west on the South West Coast Path and exploring all the nocks and crannies on the way, a photographers paradise which meant herself was more than happy.
There is with no doubt that every few yards, as a new view came into sight, that we didn’t say wow.And even the walk back, normally an anti-climax on any walk was spectacular.
So much so that the good lady convinced me to climb up to the trig point behind the lighthouse to take photos of the sunset and the lights. And whilst these were dramatic views climbing down a 60 degree, almost vertical cliff face with only a rusted guide chain in the twilight is not to be recommended to the faint of heart.
Luckily we returned to the cottage to take out of the oven a beautiful Beouf Bourguignon inspired by the wonderful Julia Child. I won’t bore you with the recipe since it’s readily available on the net but let me just say, the time it takes to cook is time well spent and you can cook so much of it before hand. This is the recipe that led so many cooks to realise that the way to avoid soggy mushrooms and get them crispy was to simply not overcrowd the pan.
And what a wonderful meal that made.
But back to staying at Start Point……
So How Do You Stay in a Lighthouse...
After sitting in the car with him all the way down the M5, taking him round Sainsburys with his shopping list that was HUGE I was beginning to wonder where we were actually staying. I had been to Start Point Lighthouse with my kids. I had even tried to lose my dive buddy in the seas below the lighthouse and I was pretty certain it was not a major expedition. However I wasn't going to complain about the 6 bottles of prosecco and food for a month being loaded into the car.
I was however a little frustrated with the five year old grown man sitting next to me, getting more and more excited as I watched the perfect sunset melt into darkness as we had spent so much time shopping.
I then realised that it would be me driving down to the lighthouse. Having walked the path I knew how narrow it was on foot in daylight. Taking a car in the dark down the path was going to be a whole other experience.
I'm pleased to say, with a little bit of rally style direction from himself I survived to the lighthouse. So worth the raised blood pressure and white knuckle driving.
We had booked the lighthouse through Rural Retreats who manage a number of lighthouse cottages which are now holiday homes. The booking process was simple and the key instructions were very clear and easy to complete even in a gale and driving rain.Stepping in to the cottage was like entering a dream home. My brain started on the "oh, look at that", 'wow, I wonder where that is from", I even have photographs of standard lamps and rugs to try and find them for the living room.
The kitchen was well stocked with everything you need. Given that the chef I had brought with me travels with his own knives and potato masher it is saying something when he is happy with the set up.
The bedrooms were cosy and warm with stunning views (luckily for me the view in the morning was pretty gorgeous as well!!!). The beds were comfortable, the pillows and duvets snuggly and the windows all opened so I could have the night time fresh air that I need. You were even supplied with ear plugs to ensure a good nights sleep on foggy nights when the fog horn is sounding continually.
We had planned to go to Salcombe for the day but in the end after a leisurely breakfast watching the waves on the rocks below we decided that walking was the best option. Straight from the door you can walk. There is strange sense of contentment as you watch walkers slog down to the lighthouse to find a locked gate that you have the code for. Instead of the slog back up the hill to the car park and a drive home we were curled up in front of the fire watching the sweeping flash of the light within minutes.
In summary, for those who can't be bothered to read the rest, it is possible to stay in a lighthouse. There are lots of options with Rural Retreats and the whole experience is fantastic. Whatever the weather you will be exposed to the elements and waking up in the middle of the night to the crash of the waves makes the snoring of your holiday companions fade into the background.