phares enough

HAVING MADE OUR TRANSFER from Portsmouth to Bilbao (a first for me if not for Mary;  the sailing not as tedious an experience as I might have expected, given the 30 hours duration of this crossing) and having secured distant views of St Catherine's Light on the Isle of Wight upon leaving British waters, witnessed the majestic nightime sweep of the double beamed Cre'ach, the red flicker of Stiff, the scintillation of Nividic – guardians of Ile d'Ouessant in French waters, and been greeted upon our approach to Bilbao by the first Basque lighthouse of Cabo Villain at Gorlitz, we resolutely made our way to our hotel (just to be sure of where it was), then motored into the riverside centre of the city, parked underground, then wandered the streets around the singular Guggenheim Museum, having a reviving tapas or two, eyeballed the ornate railway station frontage, the theatre and/or opera house, crossed a few bridges, strolled a few pavements, etcetera etcetera; and thus concluded that Bilbao is a jolly fine city, with much impressive if not always very attractive architecture, and is well worth a visit. We had arrived early afternoon, having lost an hour as the clocks went forward then another because of the UK time difference, so we had the best part of a sunday afternoon to gain an impression.  The city is  considerably changed from Mrs Melling's time here some 30 something years back . . .

Spain has a very different attitude to the use of lighthouses than is to be found back in the motherland: light up the coast rather than only the dangerous bits, Trinity House style. Almost every cape along the northern basque coast sports some sort of light or other, and to visit them all is a very natural ambition for a pharofile, as I am sure you will concede. But if one is sidetracked by confusing mapping, the quest for a good breakfast, finding and using the wonderful transporter bridge to Portugalete–Getxo, illustrated left, not to be missed, as well as a roadside garage shampoo-and-set for the salt encrusted Berlingo (who was camped out on the spray drenched open deck for the crossing of the Bay of Biscay, suffering accordingly) time can become an issue. The coast too is tortuous, the roads serpentine, so something had to give. No stopping at Gernika, a mere drive through of San Sebastian . . . add in one or two errors occasioned by our misreading of signs, atlases and differing personal targets . . . so  the rather small haul of lights illustrated above may be readily understood.

We missed some stunners. It won't happen next time! The Cabo la Plata light for example, perched on a high cliff overlooking the entrance to Pasaia. I've ringed it on the distant snap I took so you'll not be left wondering, and borrowed the inset view of the establishment from Trabas.

I take full responsibility for the omissions. Mrs M was up for grabbing them all but I faltered, confused by the uncharacteristic inadequacies of the Spanish Michelin (too small a scale). and an overriding fear of not speaking the language (I blame my school, I was never even offered Spanish!).

Before crossing over to the French side of the Basque region we were able to visit Cabo Figuier and the light of Cabo Higuer. I know, its confusing, apparently 'f' and 'h' are often interchangeable in Spanish . . . but your correspondent wanted to see this last Spanish light before Fr. because that legendary demi god of phare illustration Jean Benoît Héron has produced an elevation of same and I include it here, risking fines and ignominy for copyright infringement, so that you can see the sort of illustration that got me hooked on lighthouses in the first place . . .

And so to Ciboure, for the first of a small handful of new French lights to add to my list.

Yes Ciboure—where for once our hotel room did not overlook the local plumber's yard, or face a blank wall, but instead looked straight down the harbour entrance, as good a view of the two St Jean de Luz lights as can be had from land (room 408, see the snap below). They flash green all night, but only out to sea so we were not troubled. This was our most favourite overnight stop, proper sea with proper tides, cidre bouche with our supper, comfy bed and spiffing sunset. I can quite understand why Madame Ravel brought forth her son Maurice in a house just opposite the anterieur light (although it didn't look like this one, which was built in 1938 to upgrade what was there before) and why young Maurice went on to compose such mellifluous music, because Ciboure is indeed mellifluous!

Our penultimate day en route took us to the Socua headland to tick off the black vertical stripe of that phare before breakfast then jamming through the centre of roadwork-wracked Biarritz, to eyeball Pointe St Martin. Wonderful although not ascendable on this particular day, built by Freznel himself (look him up he is pivotal in lighthouse dev). Biarritz? Superb location, not sure the town meets my exacting criteria, then off to the mouth of the Adour, and upstream, Bayonne. Interesting, but without lighthouses for some reason. So it was a late lunchtime setting off for the east, to a stop-over at the mysteriously disappearing Ibis at Castelnaudry, –it always seems to be on the next roundabout or two; followed by a morning's easy motoring to bring us into Sablet in time for lunch.

The wonderful Golf de Gascogne lighthouse poster by Héron above –sadly not in my collection, the search goes on– demonstrates further my fascination with all things phare. No? Well it does to me. This trip was all about that bottom row, we've 'done' all the others bar two and there is talk of addressing that shortfall on our way back home!! Watch, as they say, this space!

Why not get hooked on lighthouses too by visiting The Lighthouse Directory (all the world!) by clicking on this link? Go on go on you know you want to . . .