I turned a bend on the promenade and looked up. Smeaton’s Tower always cheers me up, even on a gloomy, blustery day. The red and white striped paintwork is striking and I’ve admired the iconic landmark, since moving to the West Country decades ago.

Plymouth was the earliest place to have a lighthouse, and the first one was constructed on the Eddystone Reef twelve miles out at sea in 1698 after numerous shipwrecks along the treacherous coastline.

Alas, the original eccentric polygonal lighthouse was destroyed by fire and storm along with its creator Henry Winstanley, who perished inside it in 1703. A second one, Rudyerd’s Light, was erected five years later, but this suffered the same fate.

Third time lucky, so the saying goes. Smeaton’s Tower was started on the Eddystone Reef in 1756 and illuminated by 1759, where it shone brightly until 1877. Due to the rock’s erosion causing instability, it was decommissioned and moved to Plymouth Hoe. Now, it stands proud, as a memorial to its designer, civil engineer John Smeaton.

History from those days fascinates me. There wasn’t enough time to go inside when passing the spectacular structure that afternoon, but I recall doing so a few years ago.

As I wended my way up steps through the round-shaped floors, I imagined the lives of the three lighthouse keepers sharing shifts. They kept busy maintaining oil and machinery in the lantern rooms and ensured candle rings were continually alight at the top. Tedious, but crucial chores.

When off watch, they would be snug in the kitchen where a hefty kettle steamed on the black lead stove as they entertained themselves before going to bed, in what is best described as a wardrobe-type piece of furniture curved to the walls.

The lighthouse’s highlight is the gallery. I’m afraid of heights, but I recollect snapping photographs, my back tentatively hugging the edifice as I walked around, with my other hand gripping the handrail. I was pleased to be back inside, but felt a great sense of achievement.

Onwards and upwards. Nothing could deter me from conquering the apex where the windows around the old candle chandelier have amazing views.

Smeaton’s Tower’s outlook is so different today from when it stood on the Eddystone Reef. Now the solar-powered automated Douglass Lighthouse with its helipad stands in its place protecting sea vessels from danger, while John Smeaton’s invention retires on Plymouth Hoe. It dominates the landscape with the city behind it and Plymouth Sound glinting in the bay to the fore.

I’m nearby at least once a week, and whenever I can, I take a little detour there – it’s remarkable.

Until next time,
Sue. X