Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas

5 out of 5 stars

Lighthouses lost a little of their romance when they became fully automated solar-powered machines. They have a long history though as beacons to guide sailors safely around the coast. Even with modern technology like GPS fitted to ships, they are still relevant and necessary. There are over 60 lighthouses in the UK, my nearest is in Portland Bill in Dorset. This is a coastal one, but this book is about the handful that are built on tiny outcrops of rock standing against the might of the sea and everything that is thrown at it.

Nancollas had originally trained as a building conservationist before falling for lighthouses and rock lighthouses in particular. All eight of the lighthouses that he writes about in here have stories still to tell. He is fascinated by the men who conceived and designed them to be able to face the strongest waves and winds, by how they were built and the ones that didn’t survive and were rebuilt. He teases apart their histories and heads out to sea to get first-hand experience as to what it was like to travel to these places. However, as resilient as they are,  they are not totally self-sufficient and still rely on care and maintenance from us. He even undertakes crash training in a helicopter simulator so he can travel out to stay in the Fastnet lighthouse for a week while a generator is serviced and rebuilt.

I thought that this book was excellent, it has a strong narrative like all good non-fiction should and it is well researched, not only from behind a desk but his experiences bobbing up and down on a boat travelling to visit them. It has a personal element too, not only is he obsessed by them, but he found a link to the construction of one of the lighthouses following some research into his family tree. I particularly liked the interlude where he visits the lighthouse in Blackwall, London where they experimented and tried various pieces of new kit out prior to dispatching them to the lighthouses around the UK. If you have a thing about lighthouses, then I’d also recommend Stargazing by Peter Hill too.

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2 Comments

  1. Ooh this sounds like one that needs to go on my wishlist immediately!

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