(South Stack Lighthouse in the 1910s, reproduced with permission from www.oldukphotos.com)
There are countless special places along the coastline of Wales, let alone the British Isles, but the cliffs around South Stack seem to stir the imagination of a great number of people. Bird-lovers head for nearby Ellins Tower and the RSPB centre, and the chance to aim their binoculars and telescopes at the guillemots, razorbills and puffins, not to mention seeking out the incredibly rare choughs, of which the nine pairs on the reserve make up 2% of the entire UK population.
(South Stack coast, reproduced with permission from www.oldukphotos.com)
Climbers make pilgrimages to the Gogarth cliffs of North and South Stack to climb challenging routes above the turbulent waters, and it was the white horses that ride high far beneath those climbing shoes on rough days that gave inspiration to one of Britain’s most legendary routes. I love the walks along the cliff-tops, the riotous colours of spring and summer, and the old memories of visits past onto which each new experience is added. And then there is the lighthouse itself, that seems to me – perched out there on a rocky islet, 400-steps down the cliff and an iron suspension bridge from the mainland – the ideal of what a lighthouse should look like.
Standing up there on the cliffs, eyes narrowed against the whip of the wind up off the sea, you don’t need to be an expert on shipping, navigation or tides to see why such a warning device is necessary. The waves, the rocks and the tidal races look more dangerous than any German river-dwelling mermaid could imagine, the lighthouse looking down on the scene, maintaining its never-ending vigil. It is a reminder of the power of the seas, even if the romance is slightly spoiled by the knowledge that the last lighthouse keeper left in 1984, and that now things are controlled by a computer in Harwich, Essex.
Words: Paul Scraton