open country

Ever since I heard about the lighthouse near Stranraer that had been turned into a hotel, I wanted to go there.

I imagined staying in a round room that would be reached by a spiral staircase so that at the top you would appear in the middle of that room. There would only be a little window from which the sea would be viewed from a great height.

My fairytale image was rather hopeful and I had to remind myself that I was, on my day of arrival, 40 years old.

Corsewall, pictured top of page, was built in 1815 by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Robert Louis. It first became operational in 1816 and has continued to watch over the tumultuous Irish Sea and North Channel ever since. The foghorn, although no longer operational, could be heard up to 20 miles away.

The Northern Lighthouse Board maintain ownership of the tower. They run the now automated system remotely from Edinburgh. Although the original clockwork mechanics are still in place they are no longer in use.

Every lighthouse has its own signature, for Corsewall it is five flashes followed by two spaces.

The hotel has used the keepers’ living quarters which are built directly landward of the tower. At the top of the house would have been the larger quarters for the head keeper and his family. This level has been turned into five bedrooms and, most delightful of all, they are reached by a spiral staircase.

This internal staircase is not original, despite its maritime charm creating an art deco feel. An external staircase at the front of the building would allow the family their private entrance. The two under-keepers and their families would have half of the lower floor each.

Downstairs, where the modern staircase winds up to the comfortable rooms, there are two lounges which are decorated with objets d’art relating to the sea, the coast and shipping.

This light area closes in to a narrow corridor and then into the dark low ceiling of the dining room that immediately made me feel that I was in the captain’s quarters of an 18th-century ship.

There were pictures of ships around the brick and whitewashed plaster walls from over the centuries, brass mermaids gleamed on the tiny bar, ships sailed on the window sills and waders roosted on the shelves. The “captain” had laid the table for my birthday meal; I felt four years old again; I could not stop grinning.

I hopped up the pale blue carpet passed the blue and white lighthouse sitting in the window half way up, the fire door at the top creaked, and in my room a large model ship sat on the sill. The excitement was too much as I tried to pry the door open that leads out on to the balcony.

It gave way and the wind sucked me out of the room on to the cold stone slabs. The sun had almost set and beyond the black railings a sleepy blue was broken tentatively by deep greyed clouds – one was like a peregrine with its wings pulled back.

From that moment I was bewitched by this ancient, giant protector of those at sea. That night I lay in bed looking out of the small panes of the little door that led out to our balcony; the fingers of light turned slowly, cutting the darkness with their blue glow, I lay on my side mesmerised as I sank with each turn – the pale beams circling the sea, circling the rocky shore in a ghostly drag.

In the morning I went through the little door and once more the wind grabbed me. I looked out at the rocks creeping out into the sea like an army advancing at night; waves crashing against them before trickling back to the swell.

The days started and ended with the winds never ceasing, they howled around the old stone walls like a thousand souls crying to be back on land.

With my family I ate, talked, walked, played, got giddy outside standing with our backs against the tower looking up at those moving lights.