Gibbs Hill Lighthouse
The main sightseeing attraction of Southampton is 117-foot Gibbs Hill Lighthouse (68 St. Anne’s Rd., tel. 441/238-8069 or 441/238-0524, www.bermudalighthouse.com, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily except Christmas, $2.50 per person, kids under 5 free), good for a dedicated visit or a stop on your drive west. Built of prefabricated cast iron shipped from England, the historic landmark’s 26-mile lamp was first lit on May 1, 1846, as a navigational marker for approaching ships.
It was a revolutionary method at the time for diminishing the number of shipwrecks around the island’s treacherous necklace of reefs; before its construction, some 39 vessels had foundered or sunk on reefs, which extend 16 miles offshore in some areas. While ships now employ higher-tech navigation methods, such as GPS systems, the lighthouse offers a backup method of shoreline navigation still appreciated by modern mariners.
The flash of its light can be seen as far as 180 miles by planes flying at 10,000 feet or higher. For generations, lighthouse-keepers ran the property, but it is now operated electronically and maintained by the government’s Marine and Ports Department.
At 10-second intervals, the light emits a two-second-long flash that is visible from most parts of the island. Its 1,000-watt bulb is housed within a revolving beehive lens.
The whole hillside is panoramic—Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1953 shortly after her coronation, and today a bronze plaque on the roadside below the lighthouse marks where she stopped to gaze over the Great Sound’s scattering of islands. But the best view, if you can muster the energy, is from the windswept balcony atop the structure’s 185 stairs. The climb is not as tough as it might appear; eight floors, with mini exhibits that describe the tower’s manufacture as well as general Bermuda history, provide resting platforms on the way up and down. Climb past the gargantuan lamp to the high-railed balcony with its 360-degree views—a spectacular vantage point from which to spy the South Shore horizons, the West End as far as the Royal Naval Dockyard, the Great Sound with Hamilton Harbour and the city in the distance, and the homes, swimming pools, farm fields, and seascapes of Southampton and Warwick.
Indeed, the view demonstrates well Bermuda’s crowding of residential neighborhoods and the lack of substantial greenbelts. Alongside the lighthouse, in a former signaling station used by the British Army, is one of Bermuda’s most unique restaurants, the Lighthouse Restaurant, and a gift shop selling souvenirs.
© Rosemary Jones from Moon Bermuda, 2nd Edition