Approaching the Lizard, in Cornwall’s far south-west, is a little like nearing the end of the world. The landscape grows bleak and – invariably – very gusty, and the sea stretches beyond, as far as the eye can see. But wait. There is a landmark, its distinctive twin towers rising up from the ground, a literal beacon in the darkness.
The Lizard Lighthouse marks the most southerly point of mainland Britain and it guides vessels along a notoriously hazardous stretch of the English Channel. The current lighthouse has been in place since 1752 and was only automated as recently as 1998. The historic building now doubles as something of a playground following the renovation of the Engine Room, now the Lighthouse Heritage Centre, which was opened in 2009 following a hefty grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Some of the old engines have been retained, and there are several engaging interactive displays.
The light fantastic
Aside from watching the blinding 30 second flash of light – which has a range of 26 nautical miles – and hearing the deafening blast of the foghorn, you can also climb the steep steps of the lighthouse tower to the top. One of the guides can take you on a tour of the lighthouse, bringing the place alive by recounting the building’s long and colourful history, and sharing the tales of the keepers who lived there.
It’s best to book on to one of these popular tours when you first arrive (they only take 20 people at a time), then you can peruse the Heritage Centre (and gift shop) at your leisure, safe in the knowledge that you won’t miss out.
Until March 2014, you can also enjoy the recently opened exhibition, which illustrates the history of nautical navigation, from when sailors used to find their way using the stars, right up to modern methods.
This display features Trinity House artefacts previously on display at the National Maritime Museum in nearby Falmouth, including an impressive pair of 3.5m (12ft) light vessel optics. Here you will also find the solid bronze entrance doors from the Isles of Scilly’s Bishop Rock Lighthouse, which were smashed by waves during a huge storm in 1994. Finally, don’t forget to play the huge floor to ceiling magnetic game where kids and adults alike can help ships navigate their way back to the lighthouse.
HOW TO GET THERE
Follow the A3038 westwards from Helston towards the Lizard village. The village is approximately one mile from the lighthouse, which is well signposted from here.
FIND OUT MORE
Opening times vary from month to month, so be sure to check before you set off. Heritage Centre and lighthouse tour: adults £7, children £4.
The Top House
The Lizard TR12 7NQ
Dogs are also welcome at this cosy bar, popular for its St Austell Brewery real ales.
The Atlantic House Hotel
Atlantic House, Pentreath Lane, The Lizard TR12 7NY
This 5-star Gold luxury B&B is a home from home. Book the Caerthillian room, with its far-reaching sea views.