BLOG: A visit from the Lighthouse Keeper’s family

A lovely thing happened yesterday.

I was about to follow a recovery vehicle down the road to the tyre fixers when a car drew up to the lighthouse.

We don’t encourage cars unless they have a blue badge and the driver or passenger has mobility issues. This is because every vehicle that comes up here makes our potholes a little bit worse. I say “our” potholes, because it’s us who have to fix them, what with it not being a council road. Potholes are an expensive luxury: fill ‘em in, and you are billed by the quarry; don’t fill ‘em in, and you are billed by the tyre-fixers. Which brings us back to where we started.

The visitors’ father was a lightkeeper here, one of the last in the 1980s, so we invited them in for a cuppa.

The Dishon Family group in front of Noss Head lighthouse in 1949
The Dishon Family group in front of Noss Head lighthouse in 1949

We love visits from lightkeepers and their families, and love hearing stories of life here. Some of them get in touch first, some arrive out of the blue. One is coming up tonight to tell me what will and won’t grow in the walled garden.

What I’ve learned though, is that whether the children were happy depended on the adults around them, and life could be hard for those adults. Lighthouses are usually isolated, and are surrounded by weather, for good and for ill.  The Rock Stations are everyone’s idea of a lighthouse, with three isolated keepers living in rooms with curved walls that shake in the storms. The men rotated on and off duty, much as oil workers still do, while their families were housed on shore.

Noss is a Shore Station with homes for the men and their families next to the lighthouse itself. Even so, the keepers moved on every three to five years because no-one wanted to spend their whole career on a Rock. A lot of our lightkeeper visitors tour these postings, visiting places like Shetland and Orkney as well as us.

I don’t know if you have ever gone back to the place you grew up in, or how long ago that was, but it can be a bitter-sweet experience seeing it done up with luxuries that didn’t exist in your parents’ day, and strangers’ furniture in your childhood bedroom.

The keepers’ accommodation was robust, but verged on the spartan. The oldest building here was effectively a couple of two-up / two down cottages with outside loos, but all laid out on the flat. The  holiday cottage was built in the 1960s as a lovely three-bedroom family home for the Principal Keeper and his family. It is larger, warmer and lighter than the older buildings, and of course we refurbished it again four years ago.

As I said, life was spartan. There was no electricity or running water here in the 1950s, and one of our visitors told us about washing their baby in our kitchen sink!

I often think of the children who grew up here, and the women who raised them, and it is always a delight when some of them visit.

The Dishon boys and a friend in front of the chicken house at Noss Head
The Dishon boys and a friend in front of the chicken house at Noss Head