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Learn to be a lighthouse keeper at Lizard Lighthouse

The Visitor Centre at Lizard Lighthouse is a great family day out. Learn about semaphore, sound the foghorn & hear stories from past lighthouse keepers.
Located on the treacherous rocky tip of Lizard Point, the Lizard Lighthouse is a great day out for families. As well as boasting rights for having visited the most southerly point in mainland Britain, Lizard Lighthouse Heritage Centre offers the chance to climb the lighthouse tower (all steps of it), sound a foghorn, track ships passing the point and even build your own lighthouse.

The job is now done automatically from the 19 metre high tower which shines a light 70 metres above the mean high tide level. Each lighthouse has a different interval for sailors to identify which lighthouse they are seeing and the Lizard lighthouse flashes one white flash every three seconds. The beam is so strong it can be seen for 26 nautical miles. In fog there is also a foghorn which sounds every 30 seconds.

The extensive buildings lie between the lighthouse and a second lookout tower at the other end of the complex with separate accommodation on the rest of the site.

Lizard Lighthouse history

The first lighthouse was established on this treacherous point in 1619 as a marker for sailing ships entering the English Channel. The idea of a beacon to stop needless shipwrecks hitting the rocks in poor visibility or bad weather was first raised by Sir John Killigrew, a local man who applied for a patent.

Permission was granted with the proviso that if enemy vessels or pirate ships were spotted the light must be extinguished. No-one wanted to help guide enemy ships safely to shore!

Killigrew had to fund the first lighthouse himself and he intended to collect money from passing ships who would make a voluntary contribution. Unfortunately ships were not willing to pay a toll, despite the obvious benefits, so King James I set the fee of a halfpenny per ton for all vessels passing the light. There was such protest from mariners that the light was no longer lit and the tower was demolished.

The next attempt to build a lighthouse was made by Thomas Fonnereau in 1748 and he had the backing of who were the managers of all lighthouses in the UK. The two towers were built in 1751 with a lighthousekeeper’s cottage between them. The lights were actually fires which had to be stoked and pumped by bellow so it was hard work. Trinity House took over the lighthouse in 1771.

Things to do at Lizard Lighthouse Visitor Centre

The lottery-funded Visitor Centre is in the former Engine Room of the lighthouse and was opened by the Princess Royal in 2009. Visitors to will be able to tour the audio-visual room, enjoy some interesting interactive displays and see the exhibition showing the history of the lighthouse and other fascinating information for would-be lighthousekeepers.

Attractions include learning about the weather, sending a message in Morse code, the use of signal flags, identifying buoys, sounding the foghorn and listening to lighthouse stories.

Visiting Lizard Point, Cornwall

Once your lighthouse tour and climb is done, stroll along the clifftop footpath or clamber over the rocks and appreciate the dramatic landscape, you may even see a seal bobbing its head above water or relaxing on the rocks. Basking sharks are also known to frequent these waters in the summer.

The nearby town of Helston is a great place to pick up a hot Cornish pasty for lunch, explore the gift shops and see local serpentine rocks being turned to make novel souvenirs in one of the craft studios.

Have you visited the Lizard Lighthouse or one of the other Visitor Centres operated by Trinity House? What was the most unusual or surprising thing you learnt? Feel free to let other visitors know about your visit by leaving an informative comment below.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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