Best of 2021: Whiteford Lighthouse

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Whiteford Lighthouse. Photo by Gareth Lovering Photography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This Nation.Cymru week counts the year by revisiting the highlights of 2021 literature

At the end of October, Llanelli’s Ant Heald was announced as the winner of the Nigel Jenkins First Literary Prize. Jenkins worked closely with the H’mm Foundation, so it was fitting that the Foundation chose to honor Nigel’s memory by awarding an award to a student whose accomplishments in the Masters of Creative Writing at the University of Swansea in 2020 were top notch.

Ant Heald

I only saw the lighthouse up close once, when our oldest son had come – I was going to continue “home for Easter”, but it was never Jack’s house. How does he see this place, born and raised as he was in Doncaster, where we have lived for over two decades, bought our first home, brought our three children into the world? Doncaster never really felt like home, but then:

Home is no place you tried to fool yourself
tear up the nest, as if it wasn’t yours,
and regardless of the drifting chicks:
a kid caught, a cuckoo and an abandoned.
Once crawling southwest, singing Soldier Girl,
you had laughed together; accelerating north, alone
you cried, uprooted from three places: one
who had been home, one who could never be,
and the one you didn’t know yet would be yours,
solve the double meaning, make it heard
this silent doubt through different words –
not dy gartref di, but eich cartref chi.

We checked the tides and went around the estuary to Llanmadoc. We crossed fir woods, then we splashed puddles of marshes along the spit, before crossing the dune to the beach. And it was there: Whiteford Point Lighthouse with its striking curved sides.


The only wave-washed cast iron lighthouse remaining, it was designed by the son of local blacksmith John Bowen of Llanelli Copperworks, and built in 1865. Beauty shows how it works. The flanges through which the cast iron plates are bolted together are external, where in all other iron headlights they are bolted together from the inside to present a smooth profile to the world.

This was undoubtedly above all a practical consideration, allowing the lighthouse to be set up with the necessary speed when high tides only allowed a few hours at most between floods. But if its designer, and the thrifty Harbor Board who commissioned the light, knew that these outer flanges were useful, we can afford to believe them beautiful.

They divide the lighthouse into horizontal bands without the need for a lick of paint, and the ridges have an organic, serpentine quality, seeming to articulate the hard iron shell into sinewy skin. The design of the lighthouse achieves the feat of making it appear to both arch itself organically from the sea when the tide is high, like a whale happily rolling over on its back, while when the waves recede, it grows steadily from the rock-strewn coast as if a metal oak tree was pulling its solid substance from a stone floor.

Looking across from the top of the dunes, it didn’t seem far away, but that’s because we didn’t know how tall it was. It seemed like a short walk, but as the beach gave way to pebbles, the lighthouse didn’t seem to get any bigger. The pebbles turned to pebbles, strewn over the bedrock that pocketed puddles of sea left behind, and the walk was, although not strenuous, laborious, to avoid turned ankles or soaked shoes. What had looked like a probable five-minute walk took half an hour, time for the lighthouse to slowly loom, stares torn from our feet, into a giant: solemn, majestic, desperate. The outline of her lantern’s empty glazing bars and ornate balustrades around a long-gone wooden balcony looked delicate, fragile, but intact. The overwhelming feeling was that of a core of stubborn solidity surrounded by a fragile, rusty halo.

Around the turn of the millennium there was an unsuccessful attempt to sell the lighthouse for £ 1 to find someone who could invest around £ 100,000 “to keep it from collapsing into the sea”. Despite a lot of interest, including from an American who wanted to take it apart and ship it across the Atlantic, and from telecommunications companies and television crews, no sales took place. But the lighthouse didn’t tip over either, and up close I was surprised at how sturdy and impregnable the main structure looks.

Whiteford Point Lighthouse. The photo by slimmer_jimmer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jack sat down for a moment, his back against the massive stone soles of the structure, as I gazed across the water to where we now live without him. The lighthouse held it back for a while, and I took a picture to keep that picture from being forgotten, before we turned around and headed back to our house, to the house we built, wondering what “we” means now.

At the lighthouse without light
neither light nor listless
soggy salt marsh
bursting with pebbles and hulls
across the shoal that ran aground the coal barges
in front of the Argand lamps of the cast iron giant
were lit against the dark Burry Sound.
We choose the pools that the caretaker has seen
then wade through the sandy winds
and piles of plastic creasing the shore
like, redundant, rust,
extinct but relentless,
in order to pull us here,
the lighthouse is smoldering behind us,
wave washed, waiting without light
be further dimmed by twilight
and swallowed soon, as always now, at night.


Looking across to the lighthouse framed by Gower’s hunchbacked back, I wonder if the sea seen at high tide is normal, through which sand and silt weave its way twice a day? Or are hull beds and salt marshes by default, smothered twice a day by a brackish and brackish insult? Are you looking out to sea or across a river? The estuarine topology scrambles the waters both literally and figuratively. It’s, I guess, Bristol Channel on the ebb, Afon Llwchwr on the ebb.

A tide of incoming English, outgoing Welsh.

I turn my back to the lighthouse and walk away from Llanelli Beach, at the back of North Dock, next to the crackling wires of the electrical substation where the Llanelli power station was, before the Carmarthen power station. Bay does not make it obsolete, which in turn gave up its bricks and spoil to create the Millennium Coastal Park.

There, now shaded by the hot concrete of the flyover that takes the new route along the old route of the Mynydd Mawr Railway which carried coal from Gwendraeth to the docks and metallurgy, is the old station of hydraulic pumping, nicely converted into a fine dining restaurant. restaurant, now on the back burner. Between it and the road is the footbridge over the silted and dirty Afon Lliedi, winding limply towards the sea.

Mae gyda ni bad wedi suddo yn an Afon Lliedi hefyd,
ar bwys an doc gogledd. (at least I think that’s what it was.
At least I think that’s what I said.) The tidal range is here
the second largest in the world that you know. Occasionally
wish they would rust but they are built to last
shopping carts are up to fifteen feet below
swirling foam. Young dead trees wither in their cages.
Brushed steel deteriorates without elegance, unlike iron which
was not kidnapped for the war. The water tumbles through the lock.
The risotto with field mushrooms in truffle oil replaces the pumping equipment.
That iridescent flash? I saw my first kingfisher here.

A few more yards, across the road and up Cambrian Street, to the railway bridge. Another blue plaque, overlooking the scene of the 1911 railway strike, where troops opened fire, killing two young men in the back garden of that house right there. I want to feel a sense of solidarity, but –

Oh yeah, I know this fake ffycin too well.

Bagging of fertilizer bags for sledging
while a life away from the guys stored them for bombs.

The roots of the working class in hydroponics
from cottonseed. Sweet and useless,
like watercress in an inverted eggshell. Pussy willow
on the nature table. A pellet from an air rifle
to a tennis ball stuck in a drystone wall
missing, and staining the blonde girl in red.
And now: o ble wyt ti’n dod yn wreiddiol?
Dwi ddim and gwbod. I do not know.

Looking to the side of the bridge, where the line heads west toward the setting sun and the Celtic Sea, the railroad tracks slowly rust, their surface only, polished by the passing wheels, capturing the last golden gleams of the sky. Sun. Across the bridge and onto Queen Victoria Road. Ffordd Frenhines Victoria. A few more yards now, past Albert Street, where I can see the end of Brynmor Road where my wife grew up in the house where her father still lives.

At Easter 1987, after entering the station where this strike and these shootings had sparked riots seventy-six years earlier, I entered this house for the first time and suddenly pulled the handle of the living room door, holding it in a throatless hand with which I was about to shake that of my future father-in-law. The memory, although atrocious, always makes me smile. A neighbor has just painted his cast iron grates black, taking up in gold the small plaque with the name of the foundry – Thomas Clement and Sons – that I had not noticed before.

Next to it, a Leeds flag hangs from the window to celebrate their return to the top flight. I look at the names of the houses, both Welsh and English, and savor their different feel in my mouth: Abermorlais, Hillsboro, Ty Undeb, Onibury.

Where am I originally from? Dw’I ddim yn gwbod. I do not know.

But I’m almost home.

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