Saturday, 16 February 2013

Seeing the light on Little Cumbrae

We paddled from Millport across the Tan and down the west coast of Little Cumbrae to make a tricky landing below the lighthouse.  Winter storms have broken part of the slipway and it made for a tight and slippery landing.  Above us were the new lighthouse on the right, and the not quite so new lighthouse on the left.  We felt it was time for second breakfast.

We made a colourful and stylish group - in fact the slipway might as well have been a catwalk!  Breakfast comestibles were ferreted out from the recesses of various hatches.

Our plan was to climb to the very top of Little Cumbrae island, seeing the three lights as we went.  David's breakfast choice of boiled egg and Guiness suggested he was looking for some additional propulsion up the hill!

A little way above the slipway and boathouse we came across this windlass.  It would have been part of the arrangements (including a light railway system) which was used to transport materials up the steep cliff to the lighthouse, and as a testament to its manufacturers was still in relatively good condition.

The first large building we arrived at was the Generator House.  It was gloomy inside and had a distinctive smell of machine oil.  As our eyes became accustomed to the low light levels, we found these two generators.  Although dusty and a bit dirty, they appeared to be in really good condition.  These would have provided power to the houses and to the electric lamp of the lighthouse itself.  Nearby were two large service tanks for fuel.

The maker's plate on the machines shows that they were built in 1967 and provided 30 KVA at 240 volt supply, 50 Hertz whilst running at 1000 rpm.  We wondered at the method of transporting these large machines up a steep cliff to the Generator House - were they assembled in situ or perhaps transported by helicopter, which would have been a very big lift for the time.  55 years after they were built, these machines still looked capable of service....

On the floor was another relic of the industrial past of the west coast.  Wooden fish boxes were once the norm, and must have warmed the toes of many sea kayakers through the years.  Sadly, these have long since been superceded by plastic boxes, which don't degrade naturally and don't do anything to warm the passing kayaker when applied to a fire.  Progress?!

Outside, next to the new light we came across the new way of powering the aids to navigation. Solar panels provide electricity for the much smaller light now displayed on Little Cumbrae. The new light is nothing like its forebears; it has function but absolutely no form. We thought we heard the sound of a Stevenson revolving rapidly in his grave.

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