Just north of Whitley Bay is the small tidal island of St Mary’s although locals sometimes refer to it as Bates Island after Thomas Bates who owned it during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
When the tide is out it is possible to walk across a short concrete causeway from the mainland. The island has an interesting history of protecting sailors from the nearby rocks. It was built on the site of an ancient monastic chapel dating back to 1100AD. The story is told that the monks would hang a lantern on their tower as a beacon for fishermen and to warn of the dangerous waters.
Built in 1898 by the John Miller Company of Tynemouth, St Mary’s was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be lit by oil and was not electrified until 1977. In 1982 it was switched over to automatic functioning but within two years it was deemed no longer necessary and decommissioned. The magnificent Fresnel lens was removed by Trinity House and, for a time was on show at the now closed Penzance Lighthouse Museum. It has since been returned to St. Mary’s and placed on display.
GREAT VIEWS, GREAT HOSPITALITY
St Mary’s Lighthouse has become a popular tourist attraction and for those keen enough to climb the 137 steps to the top, it offers exceptional views of the coast and surround nature reserve. The original light keeper’s cottage and outbuildings have been converted into an excellent tea room, museum and shop. The building was listed as Grade II in 2012 and a new causeway has made it easier for wheelchair users to access the island.
MOST MYSTERIOUS – A DARK PAST
For a lighthouse island it is ironic that I has something of a dark and troubled past. According to the author Ingrid Hall the island was once overrun by a plague of locusts and the site of a terrible murder involving smugglers. There is even an inlet called smugglers creek. In 1799 it was used to quarantine Russian soldiers who had contracted cholera and was at the heart of a public house dispute that resulted in a very unpleasant eviction.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Sunny Brae Road, Dunstan Hill, Dunstan, Alnwick
Northumberland, England, NE66 3TQ
+44 (0)1665 576 310
- Address: The Links (Rd), Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, England, United Kingdom, NE26 4RS
- GPS: 55.071669,-1.449528
- Phone: 0044 (0)1912 008 650
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: NE26 4RS
- Entrance Fees: Free access to the island / Fees apply for lighthouse
- Disabled Access: Reasonable to island and ground floor centre
- Visibility from Road: Very Good
- Image Credits: Header Image: Richard Bowden