Lighthouse fantastic: Get great views without the sky-high prices

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The Independent Online

You need a head for heights and a love of staircases to make the most out of living in a lighthouse. Unlike barns or warehouses, these are not generous, square buildings that are easily converted into spacious, square domestic rooms. But that these homes have a magical draw is undeniable. And their owners will move heaven, earth and often the lighthouse itself to make their dream reality.

Like almost all lighthouses, one of the best things about Belle Toute lighthouse at Beachy Head in Sussex is the 360-degree panorama. Perched high on a cliff, Belle Toute must have some of the most stunning views of any lighthouse, and since it was decommissioned in 1902, it's no longer just the lighthouse keepers who can enjoy them.

This historic landmark seems to teeter on the edge of these flowing chalky cliffs and is currently for sale. Its colourful history includes a starring role as the backdrop for the 1986 BBC drama The Life and Loves of a She Devil, as well as being used for target practice by Canadian troops during the Second World War. But the romance of this lonely tower has drawn countless people to enjoy its dramatic location.

Built in 1834 of Aberdeen granite, its 30 oil lamps threw out a 22,000-candle-power light that was visible for 23 miles. But the cliff-hugging sea mists often obscured this beam and the shipwrecks continued until a decision was taken to build another lighthouse on the rocks below. Various attempts to convert this stumpy tower into a home came to nothing and by the middle of last century it was in a very sorry state.

In the 1950s it was saved from dereliction by becoming a listed building and in 1962 finally changed hands as a private dwelling. Things began to look up when in 1996 the present owners, Mark and Louise Roberts, converted it into a B&B, but within a few years the history of this 15-metre-high beacon took another dramatic turn.

A cliff fall left their home only three metres from the edge of this chalky outcrop – 37 metres closer than when it was built. The Robertses fled the house and began a campaign to prevent Belle Toute joining the centuries of wrecks that had been dashed on the rocks below. A plan was hatched to reposition the lighthouse inland. The stakes were high. Moving an 850-ton building is tricky.

Earth and chalk was excavated using wheelbarrows to avoid heavy machinery causing further cliff movement, and Belle Toute was raised on to hydraulic runners. It was edged away slowly from the cliff and two days later reached its final position – 55 feet further on to terra firma. Its five bedrooms and numerous receptions look good for another 100 years at least.

At £850,000, Belle Toute is not cheap. But as these functional structures lose their purpose, more are being offered to private buyers. A recent sale in Scotland saw the lighthouse at Cromarty go with offers over £60,000 considered. Familiar from the shipping forecast, Cromarty is the jewel of Scotland's Black Isle, being one of the Highlands best preserved towns. The lighthouse will make a bijou bolthole for its new owners and keep another part of our maritime history visible. The lights may be off, but someone is at home.

Belle Toute Lighthouse is for sale through Strutt & Parker (01273 475411, www.struttandparker.com) for £850,000. Cromarty Lighthouse was sold through Smiths Gore.

Other lighthouses for sale

Strathy Point Lighthouse, Thurso, Caithness

Built in 1958, this listed lighthouse juts out on a remote and exposed peninsula between Cape Wrath and John O'Groats. There are breathtaking views from the three bedrooms, living room and kitchen and bracing walks are to be had along the wild beaches at Strathy, Melvich Bay and Farr Bay.

Price: £130,000 through Smiths Gore (www.smithsgore.co.uk; 01343 823 000)

The Old Lighthouse, Dale, Wales

Occupying possibly one of the best locations on the Pembrokeshire coast, this lighthouse is perched right on the ocean's edge at St Ann's Head. Currentlyan upmarket B&B, there are four bedrooms in the main house and three in the apartment, all en suite. Curved staircases remind you you're in an unusual house and the top floor observation lounge let's you drink in those views.

Price: £1.25m through Unique Home Stays (www.uniquehomestays.com; 01637 881 942)

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