Visit Cornwall's Beautiful Lizard Peninsula & Stay at the Historic Lizard Lighthouse

Anyone who has ever watched the British comedy series "Doc Martin" or historical drama series "Poldark" already knows how beautiful the county of Cornwall located in South West England is but I'm here to tell you that it's even more amazing when you're wandering the picture-perfect peninsula yourself! Want to make it even more amazing? Stay in a historic lighthouse like the Lizard Lighthouse located on the most southerly point of mainland Great Britain. 

Lying within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Cornwall’s nationally protected landscape with the same status and protection as a National Park, the lighthouse is located on the tip of Lizard Point which is the most southerly point of Lizard Peninsula in the civil parish of Landewednack which is the most southerly parish in England. 

Yes, there's a lot of "most southerly" going on here but in spite of its name, there aren't any lizards going along with that! Known for its geology and for its rare plants, the name Lizard is most probably a corruption of the Cornish name Lys Ardh, meaning "high court". It's purely coincidental that much of the peninsula is composed of serpentinite-bearing rock which is as close to a lizard as it's going to get! 

As the Lizard's coast is particularly hazardous to shipping, it has historically been known as the"Graveyard of Ships" due to the large number of maritime disasters that have occurred in the area. Naturally this made it the ideal place for a lighthouse with the first one being erected in 1619 by Sir John Killigrew - an accused pirate who was known to store stolen goods at his home. Killigrew applied for and was granted a patent on the understanding that the light would be extinguished on the approach of pirate or enemy vessels. 

The original lighthouse was simply a single tower with an open fire atop which did the job but proved to be too costly for Killigrew to maintain. In an effort to help with the cost of the maintenance, King James I levied one halfpenny a ton on all vessels that passed the lighthouse however, the levy was very unpopular and caused such an uproar that it was withdrawn and the light tower was demolished.

In 1748, Thomas Fonnereau, landowner and entrepreneur, applied for a patent to build a second lighthouse on Lizard Point and was granted permission by Trinity House, the official authority for lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar that was established by Royal Charter in 1514. Completed in 1752, the new lighthouse consisted of both an east and west tower which were topped with open coal-fired braziers. A small cottage was built between the towers in which an over-looker sat and made sure that the lights didn't dim or go out. If they did, the over-looker would blow on a cow horn to remind the bellows-blowers of their duties. 

Trinity House took over the responsibility for the lighthouse in 1771 and began making improvements such as changing the coal lights to oil lights in 1811 and adding more cottages which were used by the keepers and their families. On October 1, 1903 the western light tower was taken out of service and its lanterns removed when a large four-panel rotating optic, manufactured by leading glass manufacturer Chance Brothers, was installed in the eastern tower. It was announced that this 'new revolving light of very great power' would be visible at a distance of between 40 and 50 miles. 

Image Source: @ILoveCornwallUK via Twitter

Claiming to be the home of the biggest lighthouse compound in the world, Lizard Light was automated in 1988 as Trinity House neared the end of their Lighthouse Automation Programme. The 117-year old light, which is illuminated by  a one-million candlepower bulb with a lifespan of six-thousand hours, flashes once every three seconds and is visible at up to 26 nautical miles or 52 regular miles. As of January 23rd, 2012, the light is only displayed at night.

A view of the light at night.

Today the six cottages at Lizard Lighthouse have been converted to lovely holiday rentals operated by Rural Retreats in conjunction with Trinity House should you wish to spend time on the most southerly point of mainland Great Britain. Forget the crowds of tourists over at Land's End - the most southwesterly point of Great Britain - who queue up to pay £10 to have their photo taken with the landmark signpost and choose the Lizard instead. It's remote, yes, but if peace, beauty and magnificent coastal walks available from your front door are what you're looking for - this is the place to be!  

National Trust signage for Lizard Point.

One of the many awesome views you can take in while walking the South West Coast Path in the Lizard National Nature Reserve.

In addition to the holiday cottages, the Lizard Lighthouse Heritage Centre is located in the former lighthouse engine room which still features some of the original engines. Interactive exhibits and displays focus on the history of the lighthouse, the life of a lighthouse keeper, and the role of lighthouses in sea safety. The main exhibit now features Trinity House artifacts previously on display at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and include a magnificent pair of 12-foot light-vessel optics as well as the solid bronze entrance doors from the Bishop Rock Lighthouse that were smashed through by storm waves. 

Made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Lizard Lighthouse Heritage Centre was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal - or Princess Ann for those of us not in the know when it comes to British Royalty! - on July 13, 2009.

For the true lighthouse enthusiasts among us, Lizard Lighthouse is the only Trinity House lighthouse in Cornwall where you can climb up the spiral staircase in the tower to view the 2nd order Catadioptric four-panel rotating lens that was installed in 1903 as it continues to float smoothly in its bath of mercury.  

This amazing piece of early technology is definitely worth the short climb to see!

Now as to the holiday cottages, while on an extended visit to the United Kingdom to celebrate a landmark birthday, I decided that the best way to usher in another decade was to spend it at Lizard Light. To that end, I booked Bishop Rock - the cottage that was once upon a time the home of the head lightkeeper and his family. Located right next to the operating light tower, it was ideal for this lighthouse-lovin' wanderer!

Each cottage comes with one designated parking spot which offers a great view of the tower and it's light. Isn't it pretty? 

Entrance to the enclosed courtyard of Bishop Rock with the light tower next to it.

Inside the cottage, the kitchen has everything you could possibly need: an electric oven and hob, dishwasher, fridge/freezer, electric kettle, microwave and a washer/dryer. 

The kitchen also has fantastic views from the window! 

We were welcomed with a vase of beautiful flowers.

There was also a welcome hamper full of all sorts of goodies! 

The sitting room had lots of comfortable seating and awesome sea views from the windows.

There's an electric fireplace if it gets chilly and a television and DVD player for entertainment though keep in mind, you don't get any channels on the TV so enjoy the DVDs or bring some reading material. A few games can be found to play also. 

Upstairs the second floor has two bedrooms. This room has a king-size bed, a vanity and plenty of room to spread out your belongings. 

There are terrific sea views from the room also. 

This was a great view to wake up to in the morning! 

The second bedroom has two twin beds. The bathroom with a tub and shower is located on the ground floor at the bottom of the stairs.  

When the fog rolls in on the Lizard, the beautiful sea views become shrouded and the light's mournful foghorn starts up. Earplugs are provided for guests' use though we never used them ourselves as we didn't find the foghorn to be that loud when it was going off on our third day there due to the fog. Well, either that or we're just very sound sleepers! 

Not to worry, these are not the foghorns that you'll be hearing! These large black foghorns were installed at the Lizard in 1908 and remained in service until 1998 when the lighthouse was automated and de-manned. At that time these behemoths were replaced with an automatic fog signal but as the last compressed-air fog signal to be discontinued in Britain, the old horns are still intact and are occasionally used to mark special occasions - like to welcome in the New Year. 

This view shows Bishop Rock cottage to the left of the tower and light. The small window at the top is the king-size bedroom while the one below is the sitting room. I should probably take the time to mention that when you're this far out on the coast, there is no cell service and no WiFi either so unless you bring your own hot spot - which we did - you're going to be off the grid during your stay. These days, that's not necessarily a bad thing! 

View of Lizard Light from the South West Coast Path. 

While you're out walking about, be sure to take a peek at the old Lizard Lifeboat Station located in Polpeor Cove below the lighthouse. The first station was built above Polpeor Cove in 1859 by the Royal National Lifeboat Insitution (RNLI) but its location proved to be not ideal as it made launches a long and precarious operation in rough seas and weather

The second Lifeboat Station was built in 1885 above the high-water mark in the cove (the square, flat-topped building in the photo) and then was built for the third and final time in 1914 (the concrete building with the peaked roof.) The Lifeboat Station had an integrated slipway which meant the lifeboat was able to launch directly into the sea however, this could prove hazardous in rough conditions because of the number of rocks in the cove.

With the need to employ larger and faster lifeboats due to the growth in maritime commerce, the RNLI decided to close the station at Polpeor Cove due to its operating limitations and seek out a new location for the Lizard Lifeboat Station. In 1958, a new station was built in Kilcobben Cove as the cove is sufficiently protected to allow safe launches in all sea and weather conditions. Polpeor Cove's Lifeboat Station closed in 1961 and in 2010 the original Kilcobben Cove station was demolished as it could not accommodate the latest Tamar-class lifeboats. On May 5, 2012, the new station (pictured above) was officially opened by Admiral the Lord Boyce, Chairman of the RNLI.

There's a lot more to the Lizard Peninsula then the lighthouse and the few things I've mentioned here but I have to admit that most of my time there was spent walking the coastal path and taking in the beautiful views from all angles but honestly with views like the one below, can you blame me? I didn't think so! 

For more information on other places to stay, things to do and lots more on not just the Lizard Peninsula but all of Cornwall, go to VisitCornwall where you can "Think, Plan, Book & Enjoy"! Oh ... and may I suggest you watch of a bit of Poldark before you go just to whet your whistle? The scenery is simply to die for but not so much that you need to walk too close to the edge of the cliffs!


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