Island Blog – Light Keepers

There is an unique peace in a light-keeper’s cottage. For starters, you won’t find one in the middle of a city, nor in an easily accessible place. Chances are, you will need a boat or legs for walking. Out, out, out on some spit of rock, the lighthouse will beacon both a warning and an encouragement to passing ships-in-the-darkness. It therefore has to be constructed in a wilder place, wilder than any spread of inhabitation beyond the birds, the whales and the boats, or it would be as much use as a torch in sunlight. This light stands alone and it needs the darkness. Behind it, snuggled into the protection of the rockface, the cottage smiles with warmth and safety.

Oyster-catchers pipe me awake early doors. Dawn is the start of their day and they are busy already. I hear the generator kick in, sometime around 7 am. That reassuring growl of power, somewhere behind me in a shed with a blue door. Everything arrived here by boat or on the backs of strong men, from that generator to the fitted cupboards in the bright little kitchen. The cliff track is too narrow for any vehicle, with sheer drops around each twist and turn, each one revealing another breath-taking view. Swathes of wild garlic drop away down, down to the shore and primroses peek out sunshine faces from sheltered dips in the bank. You don’t want to run low on milk out here. As night falls and the darkness is complete save for the moon and the stars and the rhythmic flash of the light out there on the cold black rocks, we light the wood-burner and pour the wine. Surrounding the cottage is a high drystone wall that keeps the Atlantic winds and cheery walkers at bay. I can hear both as I sit on a driftwood bench in a sunny corner of the garden, but neither can get to me. I am invisible, like a secret, and it smiles me.

We pick our way along the shore over wide basalt and granite rocks that slim to pebbles at the water’s edge collecting plastic bottles, string, cans and netting thrown up by the last full tide. Sea Eagles float high above the cliff tops, mobbed by ravens and crows, impervious to the taunting. Fishing boats leave the harbour and then return. An early season yacht, bright white in a capture of sunlight, inflates her sails for the long reach out to sea, the capricious wind in her favour. Children laugh and swoop like grounded birds as all children do when the sea is in their eyes, whilst their parents call caution. Huge container ships rumble by, their engines vibrating the air, rippling it, and then are gone to who knows where, leaving only a flurry of frantic wavelets to chatter over the pebbled shoreline like pizzicato, until the slow rhythm of the sea begins once more.

Time is not here. There is one clock on the kitchen wall and nobody looks at it. We rise when we wake, eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired. It is so nothing like home that my tensions just fall away. Bare stone floors, calypso rugs, simple furniture, carefully chosen artwork on the walls. No heavy dark inherited stuff to block the flow of light, no burden of old and suffocating clutter, all of which I would jettison, given the chance. I would clear the lot out and let the light remaining guide me. Divorced from duty, I would sit in the space until something asked to share it with me. A chair here, a table there, a rug or two, a painting on a wall, a lamp for the darkness.

The sun is rising now, the white paint of the lighthouse almost blinding. Across the water I can just make out a peppering of tiny houses against the black rocks. They gleam in the early light. I wonder who is waking over there. Are they happy, well, fulfilled? The hills will change colour soon as Spring touches this land with her silken fingers, painting heather purple, willow green, primrose yellow across those brawny old shoulders, like a beautiful scarf. And travellers will gasp at the beauty of this rugged place, as I have gasped for over 40 years and will gasp again. Life may be tough here, lived alongside a volatile ocean and often in the teeth of hooligan winds or drenching rain, but it is the only place I want to live. The rigours of a wilder life, the glory of solitude and reflection, a place strong enough to stand resolute against all political and environmental changes, and still able to throw a sudden beauty into a human soul, well…….that’s for me. The light, the dark, the steady turn of seasons, the laughter in the land, the sea and the endless sky. It is enough.

Dusk, and a darkling sky. We walk across the rocks down to the shore and sit, just us, all alone. The birds quiet and all we can hear is the heartbeat of a uninterrupted sea. Suddenly the surface splits and a big dog otter lifts his head to where we sit, gasped into silence, our breath mid breathe and held. He dives once, rises again and is gone. The final gift on the final day.

‘We are all frustratingly earthbound; destined to walk through the banalities of reality; brilliants trapped in the cotton wool of circumstance.’ Dan Boothby

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