Sleepover: Rose Island Lighthouse
A bed for the night in New England
Sunday 31 July 2005
A tiny island off the New England coast, set a mile into Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. A short boat ride from the quaint colonial towns of Jamestown and Newport - both easily accessible from the state capital, Providence, and roughly a 90 minute drive from Boston, Massachusetts.
It's a working lighthouse that admits paying guests to stay overnight. And if that isn't enough, it has also been restored as a "living museum", so the interior appears exactly as it would have 100 years ago. Finally, those with an environmental conscience may be interested to discover that the lighthouse is completely self-sufficient: running off wind-powered electricity and a rainwater collection system.
The comfort factor
Like everything else here, 100 years out of date. The facilities are incredibly basic, with an outhouse toilet, a jug and basin under the bed for washing, and a coal stove for those brave enough to attempt cooking. Even the lighting is restricted to kerosene lamps, so don't expect to find a TV or even a telephone in your room. Guests are also expected to help the keepers with day-to-day chores, from mowing the grass to stirring the giant rainwater cistern in the cellar. Comfort should not be high on your list if you want to stay here - the watchwords are isolation and adventure. As the publicity material proudly claims, Rose Island "lacks the modern conveniences of electrical appliances and running water, but is rich in romance and history".
The food and drink
Guests have to take their own, with the majority packing a cooler bag of supplies in Newport before boarding the little boat to Rose Island. Cutlery and crockery are provided, but bear in mind that there are absolutely no modern conveniences from after the turn of the 20th century - including a refrigerator.
Situated in a wooden outhouse, complete with rainwater shower and toilet. The latter operates an amusing yet official "Three P's-or-a-Poo" flushing system, in order to conserve as much precious water as possible. After you've been, you need to move a shell along a piece of string to tell everyone exactly what you've done.
The lighthouse, and the 18-acre nature reserve it is built upon, is run by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation, a non-profit-making organisation which restored and reopened the derelict site in 1993. Members take it in turns to stay on the island alongside "regular" guests. But because there are only two bedrooms, it's a real pick 'n' mix as to who you end up sharing close quarters with. We spent the night on Rose Island with a jovial New York limo driver and his teenage son.
If you have a couple of days to spend in this part of Rhode Island, Newport itself is worth a visit - particularly its famed oceanfront mansions. For those with limited time, the must-sees include Rough Point (001 401 849 7300; www.newport restoration.com), the gigantic former home of colourful millionairess Doris Duke, where she regularly entertained the likes of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and kept an elephant in the garden. A short walk away is Beechwood (001 401 846 3772; www.astors beechwood.com), formerly home to the Astor family and the unofficial birthplace of American Society. A resident group of actors lead highly entertaining tours around the gilded residence, dressed as members of the Astor family and their understairs staff. For other things to do in Newport, including the popular nightly ghost tours and the International Tennis Hall of Fame, contact the Newport Convention and Visitor's Bureau (001 401 849 8048; www.gonewport.com). Or for general information on New England, go to www.discovernewengland.org.
Difficult, but not impossible, for visitors with limited mobility. It's a choppy ride across Narragansett Bay in a little boat, then a rickety wooden jetty and a rocky path up a relatively steep incline to the lighthouse. However, the two double keepers' bedrooms are both on the ground floor. The water taxi from Jamestown and Newport is seasonal (1 July to the first weekend
of September), but guests staying at the lighthouse are provided with boat transportation at anytime of the year.
Depends upon the season and day of the week, but prices for one of the two double rooms start at $165 (£92), plus a small fee to get to the island. But look at it this way - you're saving money on dinner and breakfast.
Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation, PO Box 1419, Newport, Rhode Island 02840 (001 401 847 4242; www.roseislandlighthouse.org).
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