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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

On the western edge

As part of our travels in Britain – in particular since Jo’s parents moved to the northern part of Scotland – I’ve wanted to visit the far extremes of the islands. I’ve decided to make do with the mainland destinations first, as they’re within comparatively easy reach.

Jo and I made it to the end of the most north-westerly freely accessible public road on the British mainland when we visited Balchrick in 2010, although we’ve yet to reach the true most north westerly point at Cape Wrath. (Where one has to cross a strait by foot passenger ferry and make the last part of the journey by minibus taxi.) On this summer’s trip to Scotland, we added two more notable points to our list of achievements: the first of which being Ardnamurchan Point in Argyll.

The cliffs at Ardnamurchan Point, on which the Ardnamurchan lighthouse stands, are the most westerly point of the British mainland. The lighthouse is reached by a winding, 6-mile single-track road from Kilchoan and is open to the public; the combined ticket to gain access to a small exhibition and to ascend the tower and be greeted by a gruff ex-lighthousekeeper is a bit steep at £6 per person, but it’s a fine lighthouse to ascend. I learned more after our trip through a couple of quick internet searches than I did from the “guide”, but enjoyed the trip nonetheless. Most interesting is that the lighthouse is unique in being the only remaining lighthouse in the world to be built in the “Egyptian” style, made using granite from the Isle of Mull.

The lighting geek in me was interested to see how the individual halogen bulbs were focused not by a glass Fresnel lens, but with black metal baffles: much in the same way that much smaller snoots work in photographic lighting equipment. The glass on the lighthouse windows is specially treated to resist dirt on the outside, so as to ensure that the windows remain clean with as little maintenance as possible. From the top, views across the sea to the Inner Hebrides made me even keener to carry on and explore more of the islands, whilst a visitor-friendly, glass-enclosed viewing shelter below the lighthouse’s foghorn building allowed us to enjoy watching gannets dive into the heaving seas directly to the west of the Point.