Sunday, 22 April 2012

To the Lighthouse

The other day, having left my car at the garage to be serviced, we went up the coast to Souter Lighthouse.

Wikipedia Commons
Situated not far South of the Tyne, Souter was the first lighthouse to be lit by electricity. Generators on the ground floor powered an arc lamp on the top floor. However, the light was kept turnng not by electricity but by the traditional method: a rope loaded with weights gradually sank the from the top of the tower to the bottom, turning wheels up in the lantern as it went. Every couple of hours a lighthouse keeper had to go to the top and wind it up again. The great virtue of this system it seems, was that it kept the lighthouse keeper fit, while satisfying the niggardly imaginations of those who felt that lighthouse keepers shouldn't be left twiddling their thumbs for too long. On the ground floor, the light and lenses from another lighthouse were on display. Not having Wikipedia in my head, I was racking my brains (or is that wracking?) trying to think of the name given to the rather beautiful assembly of glass that surrounds a lighthouse light: back at the computer, I now know that it's called a Fresnel lens (see picture).

The lighthouse also incorporated six keepers' cottages, one of which is restored and open to the public. There certainly was a simplicity to life in the 19th century - if the restoration is accurate, leisure time revolved around ludo, snakes and ladders and the bible. Quite a contrast to life round here these days. It seemed quite an attractive lifestyle and I've been wondering if I could whittle down my stuff to the bare essentials. Well, for a start there's the car, central heating, antibiotics, the internet, induction hob, fridge, TV, hifi, piano, cello, double bass, guitar, books...

We didn't climb all the way to the top of the tower as it was foggy - we'll do that next time we go. We headed back down the East coast hoping to cross the transporter bridge across the Tees in Middlesborough. Unfortunately it was closed, probably on account of the weather. I have included a picture of it, though (which will be familiar to anyone who drops into my Facebook page). For anyone unfamiliar with it a gondola (for cars, etc) is hung from the criss-crossing cables that in turn hang from a bogie the runs along rails in the upper part of the structure from one side of the river to the other.


Tom Stephenson said...

I always wanted to be a lighthouse keeper when I was a kid, but I bet the reality would have palled after a day or so. That's why they would never let one be there on his own...

GOAT said...

Would a double bass fit in a lighthouse keeper's cottage?

My cousin used to work maintaining automated lighthouses up and down the Queensland coast. Much as I romanticise the image of lighthouse keeping as possibly my dream job, I'm sure the reality was rather less idyllic. On the tip of Moreton Island, off Brisbane, are a convict-built lighthouse and the graves of two or three of a 19th-century keeper's young children. It's a lonesome but beautiful spot.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments!

Tom: Same here. Always thought it was quite a flashy job.

Goat: Basses can go in surprisingly small cars, so the answer to your question is probably yes.

If not, a lighthouse keeper who was good at joinery could always use it as a garden shed.

The bass virtuoso Dragonetti (18th-19th century) had a hole cut in his upstairs floor to accommodate the top -the "scroll"- of his bass, it is said.

The Weaver of Grass said...

The transporter bridge always looks absolutely terrifying to me.

I can't even load my photos on to my blog now that Google have completely changed the format. And I still can't print my photos. Oh the frustration!

Jenny Woolf said...

I have always liked lighthouses - there is something rather good about the idea of having a huge light like that inside a building. I don't really know why!

I had never heard of the transporter bridge.

Whenever I hark back to the wonderful life of the old days I think of... toothache. I've been reading an essay written in 1850 and one of the cliches about being old was having your face tied up because your teeth were so painful, it seems.

Titus said...

Ooh! Oooh! Ooooh! We want to go on the transporter bridge.

I have to say there are times when a job as a lighthouse keeper seems enormously attractive.

And there's a fantastic complete lighthouse light, fresnel lens and all, at the Museum of Scotland.

Kat Mortensen said...

Just want you to know that I'm reading, but sometimes I don't comment because I'm iny iPod. I intend to return and comment and then I forget! Sorry about that.
By the way, your rabbit comment was indeed a consolation. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How many manned lighthouses remain? Like Tom, I had a yen to be a keeper for a while. It was my dad telling me about the winding that switched me back to the footplate of a speeding loco!

Jessica Maybury said...

I'd love to whittle my life down to the essentials. But like. It's just not going to happen, to be honest. Although I loved for 4 months without email or anything and actually I was fine. Maybe it's the thought of isolation that's worse. Or the thought of a smartphone-free life.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone!

WG: You should give it a go sometime. It's never occurred to me that it could be frightening.

JW: Yes. People have been bemoaning decline since time immemorial. It's incredible that people don't realise that things just can't be getting steadily worse. The luckiest humans who have ever lived are living now.

Titus: Do it! :)

KM: Thank you for letting me know. I used to despair of releasing little rabbits too, until I found out. And of course, if they don't make it at least they end up being food for equally cute fluffy bird of prey chicks. :)

patteran: None, I think, in the UK.

JM: We might feel less isolated without all these things. I'm a sucker for blogging, etc., but time without a screen to look at can be people time.