Standing on the edge of the cliff I watched the sky shimmering with the new colors every second and the waves glittering with scarlet underneath the setting sun. The world was on fire. I knew that soon the night would be stirring the cold tones in, until the flame would be blown out completely. But I didn’t care. Among all the lights around I was interested in the one that hadn’t appeared yet. So I was waiting. Then it glimpsed for the first time and the lighthouse on the top of the cliff had started his duty. I watched the light growing as the night was falling until the cold made me starting off towards the lighthouse. There, I knew, the mug of hot tea was waiting for me. Because it was my lighthouse.
Tell me, who of us hasn’t ever dreamed of this? Living in the bustling cities, hurrying to work and being swamped in the days alike. We all want to get away from this noise and vanity. And spend some time on your own. But then, let’s remember the lighthouse. From the old days it has been a symbol of solitary living which all of us sometimes want so badly. That was the case for me. Well, to be precise, it wasn’t just it: I’ve dreamt to live in a lighthouse at least once in my life. Immersed in this question, I’ve found that today some beacons are remade into hotels, which might be an interesting experience, but has little to do with solitariness. But then I found the other way, even two, to be exact. And both were on Shetland – the Northernmost British Isles.
Rich with landscapes, history and archeology, the Shetland Islands require a separate story (which, of course, will be coming). But today we will focus on the lighthouses. Here you won’t find a place more than 3 miles away from the shore. Therefore the ocean has always played very important role for the locals and the ships are constantly plying local waters despite the rugged coastline danger. So, the lighthouses erected on the shore to help the sailors with navigating. That time the light in a beacon was to be constantly kept up, so the lighthouse keeper’s hut was often placed near the lighthouse or it might even be its part. But at the beginning of the new millennium lighthouses became fully automated, having no need for the daily care, and the keeper’s houses became empty. But, fortunately, for a short while. The Shetland Amenity Trust bought and completely restored some of them. Now they can be rented by anyone (you will find how by this link). In addition, there is an Artist-in-Residence program for writers, painters and musicians, but more on that later!
First of all, although there are three lighthouses on Shetland available to rent (Sumburgh, Bressay and Eshaness), they are very popular and the trip should be planned in advance. I was lucky enough to spend a few days in two of them – each one with its unique atmosphere; still, one thing united them – a once-in-a-life experience.
The Sumburgh Head Lighthouse is located close to the airport, so it came first on my list. Norse called it Durnøstar Høfdi, which means “the cape of thunderous noise”. Once you’re there the reason of that name becomes obvious: the wind howl, the seabirds cry, the ocean thunder do not have a moment of ceasing. The lighthouse also serves as a museum that consists of the lighthouse tower itself, the Marine Life Centre, the World War Two radar hut and the fully restored engine that starts the mighty foghorn which used to serve as a warning. By the way there I met the lighthouse’s last keeper! He still maintains the lighthouse mechanics though not on a daily basis and not living in the house nearby. I also met a painter there. She lived in a house next door working on her landscapes of Shetland. Perhaps, it is necessary to tell more on that.
In the off-season these houses have one more function. It is used as an accommodation for writers, painters and musicians. The project called Artist-in-Residence allows artists to live in a lighthouse and use the place to draw inspiration. More information and the project coordinator’s contacts (who is incredibly open and cheerful person) are by the following link). So, if you create something beautiful, you should definitely apply! Who knows, maybe there you will find inspiration for making a personal exhibition or writing a novel!
The next lighthouse on my way was located in Eshaness. In contrast to the Sumburgh Head there were no people at all. The beacon is in a good distance away from the next village, there is no Internet or good phone connection and the nearest shop is in the half-an-hour drive. And that is more than great! The isolation helped me to have the fullest experience of the pleasant solitariness that I’ve wished so much. I started every morning with a walk along the shore and watched as the waves massively bumped into the cliffs as if trying to reach their sharp peaks. Every evening I saw the sunset waiting for the first glimpse of the beacon’s light. Then I went home for a dinner with a pleasant crackle of the old jazz on the radio and after that I reunited with the warm bed in a company of the book and the wind howling outside. The only thing I dreamed of at night – to have another day like that.
Sometimes I didn’t believe that all that was happening to me for real, that there are places like that still available with this life possible to anyone. Of course, a few weeks of living in a hut near the lighthouse on an island in the North Atlantic – this experience is not for everyone and particularly not for those who looks for a warm climate and escapes solitude. As for me, this house was something much more than a place to sleep or a shelter to hide from pouring rain and piercing wind. Sitting in a warm kitchen with a book, listening to Max Richter, watching in the window as the waves were breaking on cliffs I realized that I had never experienced anything like that. And I had already known that I would miss that feeling.
Alex from Near The Lighthouse
This post was brought to you as a result of the blog trip in partnership with Shetland Amenity Trust. Near The Lighthouse want to thank Shetland Amenity Trust for all help and support provided during the travel.