Lighthouses are an important part of maritime history and the safety of our seas and with a coastline as dramatic as Devon’s its not surprising that passing ships need these vital guiding lights to ensure they have safe passage to their destinations.   

Working from west to east, here are the main lighthouses in South Devon, and the great news is many of them can be visited, and a few even allow access inside, meaning you can explore these fascinating landmarks for yourself. 

Smeaton’s Tower, Plymouth

Found on Plymouth Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound is the striking red and white Smeaton’s Tower. 

Originally built 14 miles offshore, as the third Eddystone Lighthouse, Smeaton’s Tower is over 250 years old. Smeaton’s Tower was built and first lit up the sea in 1759 after the first two Eddystone Lighthouses were destroyed, which we’ll look at later in this blog post, and was a revolution in lighthouse design by civil engineer John Smeaton.

Smeaton’s Tower was inspired by an oak tree, and is made up of 1,493 blocks of stone, with dove-tail joints and marble dowels, arranged in rings. It was designed to bend in the wind and withstand strong gales without breaking. It originally stood at 22 meters tall and was lit by 24 candles until 1810 when an oil lamp and reflectors were installed; lenses were then put in place in 1845.

The tower stood protecting ships for 120 years until 1877 when the erosion of its foundation rocks meant it had to be replaced in 1882. The upper part of the tower was dismantled stone by stone and moved to Plymouth Hoe in 1884 where it serves as a reminder of the engineer who created it.   

Now a Grade I listed building, the lighthouse is open to the public who can climb the 93 steps and ladders to visit the lantern room and enjoy views of Plymouth Sound and the city.

*Please note Smeaton’s Tower is currently closed for repainting and will reopen in spring 2020. 

Eddystone Lighthouse, Plymouth

Protecting ships from dangerous rocks stands the fourth Eddystone Lighthouse.

14 miles to the south west of Plymouth is the treacherous Eddystone Reef, one of the most notorious reefs in the English Channel. Over the years there have been four lighthouses warning ships of the hazardous rocks near the entrance to Plymouth's important naval harbour.  

The first lighthouse was destroyed by a violent storm in 1703. The octagonal wooden tower was built by Henry Winstanley and first shone its light in 1698. When the tower was ruined Henry Winstanley was sadly on the lighthouse and lost his life.

The second tower was burnt down by a fire, which started in the lantern in December 1755. The lighthouse stood for nearly 50 year after the first candle was lit in 1708.  

The third tower was built by John Smeaton and stood for 120 years. It was an innovative design for lighthouses which was able to withstand strong storms, it is likely that it would still be standing today had its foundation rocks had not been eroded. The top section of the tower was moved in 1884 to Plymouth Hoe where it still stands as a tourist attraction as mentioned above.

The forth lighthouse, Douglass’s Lighthouse, was first used in 1882 and is still in use today. The tower designed by James Douglass stands at 49 meters tall and was automated in 1982, the first of Trinity House off shore lighthouses to be converted and since 1999 the lighthouse has run off solar power.

On a clear day the current Eddystone Lighthouse can be seen on the horizon along with the stump of Smeaton’s Tower. Unfortunately visits aren’t permitted to Eddystone Lighthouse. 

Start Point Lighthouse, Kingsbridge

Probably the most dramatic lighthouse in South Devon, Start Point Lighthouse stands on a rocky outcrop at one of the most southerly points in the region.

Marking the south side of Start Bay the lighthouse at Start Point has guided vessels along the English Channel and warned of the dangerous rocks for over 150 years.

Designed by James Walker and built in 1836, the gothic style building is now Grade II listed. Surrounding the main white tower is a number of smaller buildings, which were the keepers house and a fog signal stack and a nowadays, a visitor centre.

The light was originally powered by oil, but was electrified in 1959. In 2018 the rotating optic was replaced by a two–tier LED lantern, the old lens can be viewed in the visitor centre. As well a light, which was found to be inadequate in fog, a bell was installed in 1862, which was housed in a small building close to the tower. The bell was replaced by a fog siren in 1877, which is now housed within the galley of the lighthouse, after the fog signal building collapsed in 1989.  

45 minute guided tours of the lighthouse are operated by Trinity House on selected dates throughout the summer months. As well as finding out about the history of the building, visitors can go up the tower where even more impressive views can be enjoyed.

Start Point Lighthouse is a short walk, along a gentle hard surface, from the car park which is found at the top of the approach road, where charges apply. If you wish to explore further along the coast the South West Coast Path reaches out in either direction, where stunning views and hidden coves can be found.  

Berry Head Lighthouse, Brixham

One of two lighthouses found near the fishing port of Brixham, Berry Head Lighthouse is found at the end of a limestone headland within Berry Head National Nature Reserve, a short drive or walk from the town.

Berry Head Lighthouse was built in 1906 by Trinity House as part of a chain of beacons along the south coast. The lighthouse gives out a double white flash every 15 seconds and has a range of 19 nautical miles warning ships of the rocky headland.

After its construction in 1906 the lighthouse was automated in 1921 and converted to mains electricity in 1994. The lighthouse is one of the smallest in Great Britain, the tower is only 5 metres high, but due to the height given to the light by the headland it sits upon, it stands at 58 metres above sea level.     

Sitting at the far end of the nature reserve the unimposing white building of the lighthouse is not open to the public, but visitors to the area on a clear day can enjoy views as far as Portland Bill in Dorset, over 35 miles away.

As well as the lighthouse these is much to be found and explored at Berry Head, including a Napoleonic Fort, two garrisoned forts, bird hides, coastal walks and views of Torbay, a visitor centre and café. 

Brixham Breakwater Lighthouse, Brixham

With the towns of Torquay and Paignton as backdrops, a visit to the small white lighthouse on Brixham Breakwater makes a great photo opportunity.

Brixham’s second lighthouse can be found much closer to the town. Standing at the end of a half mile breakwater which stretches from the town into Torbay, protecting the busy fishing harbour from the English Channel, is a 9 metre high white cast iron lighthouse.

The first light protecting the town dates from 1878, but the current lighthouse was built in 1916. The lighthouse is still in operation today and its main red light and flashing orange light guides boats into the harbour. Although you can’t go inside the lighthouse a walk up to it, after a visit to the town, makes for a great day out and the views of the bay and out to sea are incredible.     

Teignmouth Lighthouse, Teignmouth

In the coastal resort of Teignmouth, at the mouth of the Teign Estuary is the charming, Grade II listed, grey limestone and blue topped Teignmouth Lighthouse.

In the early to mid 1800’s Teignmouth was a busy port for the export of china clay and the import of coal, culm and timber. However the mouth of the River Teign had strong currents and shifting sand banks, this made the harbour entrance highly dangerous to larger vessels which often sat low in the water due to their heavy cargos.

Completed in 1845 the Teignmouth Harbour Commissioners built the lighthouse on the Teignmouth side of the river mouth and the lighthouse is still guiding ships safely through the channel and sand banks today. It is paired with a second light, found on a pole outside the Lynton Hotel in Powderham Terrace, vessels must line the two lights up and then it is safe to enter the river mouth.

The lighthouse, which is 11 meters tall, can be found at the south end of The Den and promenade and at the entrance to the Point car park. The lighthouse is not open to the public, but due to its location on the seafront is a great start or end destination for a stroll along the promenade.   

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