January 12, 2012 § 1 Comment
For sale: a disused Welsh lighthouse. It’s a big project, but the owner says it’s a great place to drink champagne
This Welsh lighthouse has a spooky past and a remote, blustery setting. It’s a project only for the brave, says William Flew
“EVERY MAN IN HIS LIFETIME SHOULD OWN A LIGHTHOUSE. I USE IT AS A PLACE TO MEDITATE AND DRINK CHAMPAGNE”
Talacre Beach, in Flintshire, on the northernmost point of mainland Wales, is to Liverpudlians what Camber Sands is to Londoners or Trecco Bay, in Porthcawl, is to the people of the Welsh valleys. A wild and windswept stretch of sands, backed by an enormous expanse of static caravans, it is where Scousers have come for generations to fill their lungs with fresh sea air. Now, its most significant landmark, the Point of Ayr Lighthouse, has been put on the market.
Cut off from the rest of the beach at high tide, the lighthouse is remarkable in many ways. For one thing, it lists noticeably towards the sea, giving it, as many a comic has noted, a faintly phallic appearance. It has also gained wider recognition, being one of the main locations in Backbeat, the 1994 film chronicling the early days of the Beatles.
Above all, however, the lighthouse is known for being haunted. Scores of people claim to have seen, in broad daylight, an old lighthouse keeper, in coat and cap, standing in front of the glass dome on the gallery walkway. Dogs were said to flee rather than approach it; enormous, unexplained footprints have been spotted in the sand nearby. When the Stockportbased Pathfinder Paranormal Investigators stayed in the building overnight, they reported “strange sounds and unusual lights”.
The lighthouse has been owned since 1983 by James Mcallister, who until recently also owned 630 of the static caravans in the parks behind the beach. He bought it for about £25,000 at auction, as a burnt-out shell — the previous owner had spilt oil from a Tilley lamp, causing a blaze visible 20 miles away.
“Every man in his lifetime should own a lighthouse, to let his beacon spill abroad,” says Mcallister, 67, who grew up in Belfast. “I have used the old building as a place to meditate and drink champagne.”
Mcallister spent about £30,000 restoring the old lighthouse. He installed a new staircase and floors inside, then replaced the stanchions (the wooden supports for the walls). Most important, he stopped the structure from listing further by bolstering the foundations with 20 tons of concrete.
At first, he intended to use the Grade Ii-listed, 60ft-high building as a fun place to spend occasional weekends. The storms of 1987, however, put paid to that idea. “It was terrifying,” he recalls. “I came here with my son, James Junior, on that day when the highest tide coincided with the biggest storm in memory. The waves were actually breaking over the top of the lighthouse and I thought, ‘This is crazy — even you cannot defeat the sea.’”
Though Mcallister abandoned plans to make the building habitable, he has seen to its general maintenance and upkeep. He has had it freshly painted every four or five years, at a cost of £10,000 a time. He also commissioned a local artist to create a stainless-steel figure of a lighthouse-keeper, 7ft tall, fixed to the balcony, where it whistles eerily in the wind.
The inside of the five-storey, 600 sq ft building is now devoid of home comforts, but Strutt & Parker, the estate agency marketing the property, says it “has the potential to be converted to residential use subject to appropriate planning permission”.
That is, if you are prepared to put in some work. “There are no mains services and you have absolutely no chance of getting them installed,” Mcallister says. “You would have to install a generator in the cellar for electricity, arrange deliveries of water and use chemical toilets.”
Essentially, anyone buying the lighthouse, on sale for £100,000, is taking a punt. If planning permission were obtained and the necessary improvements carried out, the lighthouse would make a lucrative holiday let. Visitors love the idea of spending time in unusual locations, and lighthouses come top of the list of places they like to rent year-round — even in the dead of winter. Tot Thomas, the owner of the Dale Lighthouse, at St Ann’s Head, Pembrokeshire, has estimated that he makes a gross annual profit of about £70,000 from letting its seven bedrooms.
Modern health-and-safety requirements mean that obtaining planning permission, would be far from a foregone conclusion — even though the property has been used as a holiday home in the past.
Alternatively, Mcallister reckons that the lighthouse, which comes with two acres of beach, could pay its way as a film location, a study centre or a venue for management adventure courses. Witnessing how people behave when a Force 8 gale is breaking over their heads in a supposedly haunted lighthouse could tell an HR team quite a lot about an individual.
Mcallister, who is moving out of the area, hopes that his beloved lighthouse finds a good home. “Ideally, I’d like it to be of some sort of educational benefit, as a place to study the geography and the bird life of the area,” he says. “Alternatively, I hope someone simply enjoys it as I have done — as a folly where it’s rather nice to drink champagne.”