St. Catherine’s Down is a chalk down near the southernmost point of the Isle of Wight, rising to 240 metres above the level of the nearby sea. There is a rewarding walk from a car park on the road, climbing steadily and in places quite steeply. On the way up there are spectacular views across to the Needles to the west.
Eventually the track opens out near the top of the hill to reveal an amazing medieval prototype for a skyrocket near the summit.
This is in fact St. Catherine’s Oratory, known locally as the ‘Pepperpot’, a stone lighthouse built in the 14th century by Walter de Godeton. It is the second oldest lighthouse in the British Isles – only the Roman-built lighthouse at Dover is older.
De Godeton was convicted of scavenging wine ‘belonging to the Church’ from a shipwreck. He was ordered to make amends, under threat of excommunication, by building a lighthouse. Wreck plunder / lighthouse penance – a rare early example of punishment fitting the crime at a time when theft of a sheep might mean death. Fires were lit in the lighthouse tower to warn ships at sea that they were close to the coastline.
There was an attached chapel at one time – hence the ‘Oratory’ – but it has been long since demolished. A replacement lighthouse was begun in 1785, but never completed. Locally this half-finished building is known as the ‘salt pot’.
The hill is surrounded by unspoilt downland, with long views on all sides
There is also a trig point, providing an unstrenuous target for ‘trig-baggers’. Anyone interested in using trig points as a purpose for a nice walk and needing an incentive for the achievement might like to look at http://www.trigpointinguk.com
Portland is a ‘tied island’ at the southernmost point of Dorset, linked to the mainland by a 5 mile strip of steeply banked stones and pebbles called the Chesil Beach (or to the older among us, Chesil Bank) that runs northwest towards Abbotsbury and West Bay. There is now a road, of course. The bank’s formation is known as a ‘tombolo’, where a spit joins to land at both ends, creating a tied island and often a lagoon (here known as the Fleet).
I’ll be posting about Chesil Beach and other aspects of Portland in due course. Meanwhile, I’ll focus on the southern tip of Portland, known as Portland Bill. There are 3 lighthouses there. Two were operationally replaced in 1906 by a classic red-and-white striped edifice, and are now, respectively, holiday apartments; and a bird observatory. The ‘new’ lighthouse stands guard over a strong tidal race caused by the underwater continuation of the Portland rock ‘shelf’ and the Shambles sandbank further offshore.
Portland is one of the ‘Sea Areas’ familiar from UK shipping forecasts, located between Wight and Plymouth. The lighthouse, 115 ft high, is a prominent navigational landmark for the English Channel.
Since 1514, Trinity House has been the organisation with responsibility for lighthouses and the safety of UK shipping generally since the grant of a Royal Charter by Henry VIII. The Portland light bears the Trinity House arms.
It also bears a substantial foghorn, essential to warn of the coastal rocks as well as the strong current from the tidal race
As ships are warned by the foghorn, so humans are warned of the foghorn…
At the cliff edge is a stout obelisk of portland stone erected by Trinity House in 1844 (before the present lighthouse existed) as a daylight warning to passing ships of the dangers of the offshore race.
The two lighthouses shown below are renegades from the LIGHTHOUSES section under the THEMES heading, to which they are linked if you want to know more (or to view lighthouse interiors, a bit of a specialist preference). But you may well just be content to cast a glance at these images, and move on… The sea in photo 3 really is that colour in the sun.
HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE, ELBOW CAY, ABACO
For a detailed description of Abaco’s iconic striped lighthouse CLICK HERE
HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE, ABACO, BAHAMAS
For a detailed description of this remote and near-defunct lighthouse station CLICK HERE
THE NEEDLES, IOW – A COUPLE OF CONVENTIONAL TOURISTY SHOTS
LESS CONVENTIONAL EVENING SHOTS (nb unmodified images – no P/Shop!**) ** and no sepia filter, in case you were wondering…
ROOSEVELT ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE NYC
This New York City lighthouse is situated at the northeast tip of Roosevelt Island, in the East River. It is also known as Blackwell Island Lighthouse, named for the family that owned and farmed the island more than 200 years ago, and whose farmhouse (1796), recently-restored, can still be found nestling among the towering apartment blocks [a subsequent post on the farmhouse is planned]. The lighthouse is also known as Welfare Island Lighthouse, reflecting the use to which the island has been put in more recent times for hospitals, an asylum, and a penitentiary.
The 50 ft octagonal lighthouse was built of stone in 1872 under the supervision of architect James Renwick Jr, and is a designated ‘New York City Landmark’. It operated until the 1940s, and has subsequently been restored, most recently in 1998. Despite several legends that are attached to the building, its function in a busy tidal shipping channel was prosaically practical.
The area shown above is known as Lighthouse Park. Like many waterside features on this side of the City, it was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The green lift bridge visible below is the Wards Island Bridge, also known as the 103rd Street Footbridge.
This photo, mainly of a ring-billed gull, was taken from near the lighthouse during a period of sub-zero temperatures. The freighter in the channel has its entire foredeck thickly covered in ice.