Stiff lighthouse: the oldest lighthouse in Brittany that is still working
“Further west than the west”, Ouessant is the westernmost island in Finistère, a department of France in the extreme west of Brittany. The island is well known for its treacherous seafaring heritage and for its indigenous sheep.
It’s also a land of many legends, including the story of Lampaul Bay and the clash between Saint Guénolé and Saint Gildas, which led to the creation of the great rock (or grande roche) right in the middle of the two coastal points.
Ouessant is regarded as the entrance to the English Channel, and more than 50,000 ships a year pass this way. The waters around the island have wrecked many a ship: Its most famous wreck was the Drummond Castle in 1896, when all on board were lost en route from South Africa to England. In 1978 the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground near Ouessant, causing one of the world’s worst oil spills and polluting the Breton coast.
So, it’s no surprise to discover that there are six lighthouses around the island including Le Stiff, La Jument, Nividic, Kéréon and the Phare du Créac’h, which has one of the most powerful beams in the world with a reach of 80 miles, and the Musée des Phares et Balises (museum of lighthouses and buoys) sits at its base (but this is another story).
Each one has very specific features. For istance Kéréon, watching over the Passage du Fromveur to the south-east of the island, is built on a miniature island called Men Tensel, Breton for “the vicious stone”, in the middle of some impressive currents.
Jument lighthouse has a range of 19 miles (or more than 30 kilometres), and It is named after the rock it stands on: the “old mare”, Ar Gazek-Koz. On the far west, Nividic lighthouse is recognisable thanks to its helicopter pad on top, and gave its name to a skin cream that is well-known in Brittany.
Le Stiff, built in 1695 by the great military architect Vauban, is the oldest lighthouse among those that surround the island, and the oldest lighthouse in Brittany that is still working. Constructed on the highest point of Ouessant, it rises 90 metres above the sea level.
The round granite double tower incorporates the keeper’s quarters, and the Fresnel lens transferred from the Creac’h lighthouse in 1863 remains in use still today.
The lighthouse was built on the order of King Louis XIV by Marquis de Vauban, his chief military engineer and at the time it housed a small contingent of soldiers as well as keepers.
Open fires were lit from the tower until 1820.
Recently restored, the current light signal is two red flashes every 20 seconds.
Author’s notes: Ouessant is the only island that is accessible by plane, and one of only two islands (the other is Batz) where you can get around by bike. The 32 kilometres of paths will show you its wildlife. Please be aware that cyclists cannot follow the coastal path, as it is reserved for pedestrians only. You’ll find bike-hire centres on Ouessant where the staff will be happy to help you find the bike to suit you.
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