Visiting the lighthouse
A landmark of the White Cliffs, the Victorian lighthouse was built to warn mariners of shifting sands and guide them through the Strait of Dover. A place of innovation and science, discover South Foreland Lighthouse.
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There has been a light at South Foreland since the 1300s when Brother Nicholas de Legh hung a lantern in a hermitage cut into the cliff to guide ships to safety. The current lighthouse is Victorian, rebuilt in 1846, and shows the progression in channel navigation. The lighthouse worked in conjunction with the lower light to provide safe passage for ships until it was decommissioned on 30th September 1988. During its 142 years of service the lighthouse stood witness to and withstood a wealth of history, including two World Wars, all of which left a mark and can be seen today on a fantastic guided tour.
Discover the rotating optic installed in 1904, which still turns easily and incredibly smoothly, and the simple yet sophisticated clockwork mechanism used to turn the lens and make the lighthouse flash. On one of the fascinating guided tours you will also learn how South Foreland was a place of innovation and firsts, with the works of Michael Faraday and his electricity and Guglielmo Marconi and radio.
The necessity for a light at South Foreland is due to the Goodwin Sands, three miles off shore a 10 mile long sandbank also known as the Great Ship Swallower. The sands have a quick sand-like consistency during high tide and are constantly moving, but when the tide is out they are exposed to view and become more solid. The constant movement of the Sands made them highly dangerous to ships with over 2000 recorded wrecks. The notoriously dangerous nature of the Goodwin Sands is clear as Shakespeare mentions them in The Merchant of Venice.
" the Goodwins, I think they call the place; a very dangerous flat and fatal"
The keeper’s story
The lighthouse was run by three keepers working in shifts to ensure the optic kept turning, the light stayed on and the lighthouse maintained the high standards of Trinity House once it took over. The keepers would not only have worked at the lighthouse, but the principal keeper and his family would have lived on site too. The Knott family were keepers at South Foreland for five generations, with eight family members being in light-keeping, and are a firm favourite amongst visitors and volunteers alike – particularly George and Catherine.
What a view
A guided tour of the lighthouse offers not only a fantastic story but ends with a spectacular view from the balcony. Step outside with us and see the cliffs stretch out for miles all around you. Get a bird’s eye view of St Margaret’s village and completely uninhibited views across the Channel.
Of course no trip to South Foreland would be complete without stopping at Mrs Knott’s tea-room. Indulge in a cream tea or delicious homemade cake and sit and watch the world’s busiest shipping lane go by from the comfort of a picnic bench.
There's no direct vehicular access to the lighthouse, but parking is available at the White Cliffs of Dover Visitor Centre, a stunning 2 mile cliff top walk along the cliffs to the lighthouse following the way-marked trail.
If you prefer a shorter walk, park at St Margaret's Bay (not NT) then walk up to the Pines Gardens and St Margaret’s Museum continuing on along Beach Road through South Foreland valley to the lighthouse, which is about a mile away.
Please help us by using the public car parks in the village and not parking in residential areas.