Longstone lighthouse back in the spotlight

George Shiel on Longstone.  Picture by Jane Coltman
George Shiel on Longstone. Picture by Jane Coltman

It is approaching 180 years to the day since Grace Darling and her father set out from Longstone lighthouse on their heroic rescue of passengers from the stricken SS Forfarshire.

The story of their efforts on the morning of September 7, 1838, have been passed down through the generations and remain well-known to this day.

Inside Longstone lighthouse   Picture by Jane Coltman

Inside Longstone lighthouse Picture by Jane Coltman

It is one of the reasons why Longstone lighthouse is such a draw for visitors and especially so this weekend when it plays a part in International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend.

It will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday, with special sailings from Seahouses to the Farnes with George Shiel. For details call the booking office on 07904 800590 / 01665 721210 or visit www.discoverthefarneislands.co.uk
George has lived all his life in Seahouses and knows the waters around the islands like the back of his hand.

Leaving school at 15, he worked on the tourist boats for 15 years and then on a fishing boat for a further 14 years before acquiring the licence from Trinity House in 2008 to look after the lighthouses on Inner Farne, Longstone and Bamburgh, and runs trips on his boat The Golden Gate.

“We are the only boat to have a licence to land on Longstone and show visitors inside the lighthouse, so they can see Grace Darling’s bedroom and climb up to the very top – but people are just as fascinated by the wildlife,” he said.

Wildlife on the Farne Islands.  Picture by Jane Coltman

Wildlife on the Farne Islands. Picture by Jane Coltman

In his blog on The Secret Kingdom website, he writes: ‘A fascination of the history of these islands has always been with me and I feel both honoured and privileged to be the owner of the only boat to have access to Longstone Island and Grace Darling’s childhood home in the lighthouse.

‘I still carry on the tradition of Grace’s father William as besides taking out visitors to the islands I can find myself moving the Trinity House engineers between the islands when they are carrying out maintenance work.

‘The biggest kick I get is when picking visitors up from the bird sanctuaries on Inner Farne and Staple and seeing the smile on people’s faces after having seen their first puffin!’

A light was requested for the Farne Islands by Sir John Clayton in the late 17th century and by Captain J Blackett in 1755. In 1826, it was decided to construct a lighthouse on the Longstone Rock. It was designed and built by Joseph Nelson and originally called Outer Farne Lighthouse. 

The Golden Gate come into Seahouses Harbour.  Picture by Jane Coltman

The Golden Gate come into Seahouses Harbour. Picture by Jane Coltman

Storms were sometimes so bad as to drive the keepers into the upper rooms of the tower to seek refuge, the waves so enormous that they covered the living quarters.

The current accommodation was built in 1951 on the former site of the fog signal house that had been destroyed by German bombing in 1942. The lighthouse was electrified in 1952 and automated in 1990.

l Visit Northumberland is running a competition to win a free trip for two people to Longstone lighthouse to mark the 180th anniversary of Grace Darling’s rescue. For details, visit www.visitnorthumberland.com/competitions/visit-grace-darling-s-bedroom-the-longstone-lighthouse

One of the hundreds of grey seals which live on the Farnes. Picture by Jane Coltman

One of the hundreds of grey seals which live on the Farnes. Picture by Jane Coltman

Beautiful views from the boat. Picture by Jane Coltman

Beautiful views from the boat. Picture by Jane Coltman