Reflecting on my recent comment about the frequency of lighthouse appearances this year, I’ve decided to embrace the possibilities and seek out the structures when I’m out and about on my travels. This time though there was very little travelling involved.
My adoptive father was born in a town that whose beaches have appeared here before, a place that he invariably referred to as “The Harbour”. He meant Seaham, though I can’t recall him ever referring to the town by name. He was correct of course. When he was born early in the 20th century the full name was Seaham Harbour, the harbour of the hamlet by the sea. That hamlet, dating back to at least the 7th century was a little further inland, but in the early 19th century the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry set about the construction of the harbour and surrounding town as he wished to facilitate the transportation of coal from the numerous collieries in the area.
At some point the Harbour element was dropped (though not by my father) and it is now simply Seaham one again.
My motivation wasn’t originally the lighthouse; I just wanted to get to the coast to try out a new super-stopper filter, which for the uninitiated allows very little light to pass so that conditions that might require a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second are now extended to over half an hour. Under these circumstances moving objects disappear, or as in the case of water, smooth out the flows to leave structural details as the only textures in the shot. Of course the camera must be absolutely still and the photographer patient for all of this time, so I mounted the camera on a tripod (essential) and hung my camera bag from it to give ballast.
I was to be frustrated in my trial by Doris. Storm Doris. Though I wasn’t on the pot as she vented her full fury here I did experience the periphery of her arrival. The tripod was stable enough but the power of the wind was vibrating the camera fixed to it. To add to my frustration the bag hanging for weight began to swing which can’t have helped either. Consequently what should have been pin sharp imagery was hazy and unusable.
Spotting a wall at the top of the nearby limekilns (another industry necessitating a good port) I wondered if this might provide some shelter but the exposed position was even worse. Climbing to the crenellated battlements (the product of a scheme to keep the unemployed active in the 1980’s) I fired off another couple of shots of the harbour light. As I did so I was unaware that the clifftop where I stood was where the original lighthouse was sited and though it stood as a landmark until 1940, it had been usurped 35 years earlier when it was realised that a light was needed to mark the entrance to the harbour.
The original structure had been tall and proud, it’s replacement that you see here is a diminutive 10 metres in height.
What I would have given for such a short climb when I was counting the steps to the top of St Mary’s!