Pembrokeshire/Sunday 17 August
Considering how many organisations were involved it was a tight fit. Besides the NCI display there were stands for Trinity House (our hosts), West Wales Maritime Heritage Society, the Marine Volunteer Service and the Coastlands Local History Group (the Dale Peninsula). There was also a tiny galley and a toilet. And it was just a lighthouse!
St Ann's is south of Dale, overlooking the entrance to Milford Haven and looking out to the underwater mountain of rock that tore the bottom out of the oil tanker Sea Empress in 1996, depositing 72,000 tons of crude oil on the surrounding coastline.
We must have had 200 or so visitors during the day - luckily not all at once, even if it felt like it occasionally - and there were certainly queues waiting to go up the steep steps to the light chamber. One of the most interesting exhibits was a representative selection of lighthouse and lightship bulbs ranging from one about 18 inches tall (still in use at Strumble Head) to the ones used at St Ann's, not much larger than a torch bulb. Three of these power the light, with the aid of reflectors and refractors in the light chamber. The lighthouse is unmanned now and electronically controlled from Harwich (!), which is the control centre for all the lighthouses in England and Wales. Peter Williams, the local Trinity House watchkeeper, is on 24-hour call for any problems.
Alongside the lighthouse is a landing strip for light aircraft and for the helicopters which are used to maintain all the lighthouses in Wales – quicker than servicing them by road or by sea. The blockhouse which is the control tower carries the fog horn. The device for activating the foghorn is a pair of electronic eyes placed opposite one another: when they can't see each other a signal whizzes off to Harwich and the foghorn is activated automatically.
It is all very high-tech.... except that recently Harwich was in touch to ask “where has your lighthouse gone?” - it had disappeared off their screens. The culprit turned out to be one of the local cows who had leant up against the control box in the adjacent field and disconnected all the electrics! (As good a reason as any for “Eyes along the Coast”.)