Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to spend a night in a lighthouse. Where this dream came from I’m not entirely sure; I’m assuming it must have been something I saw on TV or read in a book when I was little and for some reason it’s always stuck with me. Years ago I mentioned it in passing to my husband and as my 30th birthday approached he told me that he’d booked me a trip away for my birthday, to a lighthouse in the south of England. I was ecstatic and so touched that he had remembered. However before my 30th came round our lives did a bit of a 180 and we ended up in Canada, so we never made it to the lighthouse. So last summer when I turned 31 I was over the moon to get a voucher for an overnight stay at a lighthouse – this time Rose Island Lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island.
So one Friday in November we drove down to Rhode Island and at 10am on the Saturday morning we were waiting at Newport Shipyard for a boat to take us to Rose Island. I’ve been very lucky to have visited some amazing places over the years but for me none of them compare to the night we spent in Rose Island lighthouse. It’s taken me a few months to put this into a blog post as I felt very overwhelmed with how to convey in words my feelings about the island. It definitely isn’t the most glamorous location we’ve stayed in, it wasn’t the most exotic and undoubtedly not the most exciting but it was certainly the most beautiful, and without a doubt the most special place I have ever had the pleasure of staying.
The lighthouse is no longer manned, being abandoned in 1970 after the building of the nearby Newport Bridge brought sufficient light to the area to make the lighthouse obsolete. The island and the lighthouse then lay abandoned, falling into disrepair for the next 14 years before being saved by the volunteers of the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. Over the coming years they worked tirelessly to restore the lighthouse to it’s former glory and in 1993 the Rose Island light was once again lit and the island has since been used as a hotel and living museum. The downstairs area of the lighthouse is the museum area, having been lovingly restored as to how it looked around the year 1912 with the help of Wanton Chase who back in the early 1900’s was a child living with his grandparents on Rose Island.
I loved hearing the stories behind it’s restoration from Chris, the captain of the boat who very kindly came back later in the morning and gave us a tour of the lighthouse and the island. He didn’t need to do this and we really appreciated him taking the time to fill us in on the island’s history. His stories made the island’s history come to life for us and we were very grateful at having such a gracious host. I would also urge you, if you go, to read the edition of the Rose Island Beacon written by Wanton Chase which is on the bookshelf in the lighthouse, telling stories of what it was like to be a young child growing up on Rose Island.
The upstairs of the lighthouse where we stayed for the night is the lighthouse keeper’s apartment.
There are also 2 other main rooms for rent – one of which is the old Fog Horn room and the other the Barracks room, part of the old Fort Hamilton barracks. It is also possible to rent the bedrooms within the museum area, the Curt Bunting room and the Wanton Chase room. Other than the lighthouse keeper’s apartment all of these other rooms are open to the public during the day as part of the living museum which is worth keeping in mind when choosing which room you would like to rent.
The Fog Horn room and the Barracks rooms are far more basic than the keepers apartment – no electricity or running water and you need to use an outside bathroom, which in the cold and rain we had that November night I can’t imagine would have been too much fun but they are charming and it would, I’m sure, all be part of the experience in summer. Though I have to say I was glad of my creature comforts – indoor bathroom, electricity and heat.
The lighthouse itself is an Aladdin’s cave of artefacts, some dating back to when the lighthouse was built. The decor is quaint and traditional, and it was clean and tidy. This isn’t no room service and chocolates on your pillow type of place, so if that’s what you’re looking for it isn’t for you. It is basic but it’s ridiculously charming and has everything you could possibly ever need. There is obviously no amenities on the island so you need to take all food and drink (other than drinking water) with you. You’re expected to tidy up after yourself and change the bed and empty the bins when you leave which didn’t bother us. We wanted the next guests to find it in as lovely a condition as we did.
We were particularly fortunate the night we stayed that we had the whole island to ourselves, bar a couple of tour groups who visited during the day; but after 4pm it was just us, no one else was staying on the island that evening, the other rooms were all unusually empty. I can’t even put into words how special it was to have this little piece of paradise all to ourselves. Whoever was looking out for us there, thank you.
The island itself is such a peaceful, idyllic spot. It isn’t quiet per se but the noises that there are, are peaceful ones and vastly different from those we are used to hearing on a daily basis. The waves lapping at the rocks, the tinkling of the bell on the buoy out on the water, the birds chirping and as the fog set in at night the fog horn of another lighthouse sounding across the water were soothing rather than disturbing. It was bliss. There is no wifi on the island, no TV and as we only had Canadian mobile phones, for us we had no phone signal either. To be separated entirely from the outside world, even just for 24 hours, was wonderful.
So with no technological distractions we explored the lighthouse, took a walk around the island, skimmed stones at the beach and by late afternoon I was wrapped up in a blanket on one of the deck chairs overlooking the ocean with my book in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other.
I have watched many beautiful sunsets over the years (my favourite thing to do in life is to watch the sunset) but this one was different. It was special. I truly felt like we were miles from anywhere and anyone (in reality we were only about a 15 minute boat ride away from Newport) but you wouldn’t have known that as it felt like our own little uninterrupted corner of the world.
As night fell we cosied up in the apartment with the fire lit and champagne flowing. We listened to a country music station on the radio for hours and played monopoly and dominoes from the extensive cupboard of games. It’s been a very long time since I’ve played a board game on a Saturday night, probably the best part of 20 years, but it was one of the best Saturday nights I’ve ever had.
We waited until it was pitch black outside and then we climbed back up to the light. Watching the darkness be illuminated by the light before everything being plunged back into darkness again just seconds later was breathtaking. This was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget.
There were lots of beautiful little quirky things about Rose Island that helped to make it so special – the log books where you write a little note about your stay, what the weather was like and anything of note that happened while you were there, went back years and I loved looking through these, the sea shells collected from the beach and stored in a cabinet in the lighthouse keeper’s apartment, the rocks placed outside the front door with messages from past visitors are all charming little touches.
We were sure to get involved in all of these traditions, leaving our own little mark on the island.
Some say the island is haunted but if it is the ghosts were certainly kind to us, though we did hear a dog (not Max) barking outside late at night which we knew was impossible, only we could find a ghost dog!
We were very fortunate in that we got to see Rose Island in all of it’s forms – we arrived to dark,cloudy, moody skies but by lunchtime the clouds had cleared and it was hot and sunny hitting 16 degrees, practically unheard of in November.
As darkness fell the rain started and the island felt even more isolated as we became surrounded by fog, listening to the rain battering off the windows. We were woken the next morning by the sound of high winds which certainly made for an interesting boat journey back to Newport!
I loved this! It may seem ridiculous but seeing the lighthouse in all weather conditions made it even more wonderful and the island’s beauty shone through in all of these conditions. The only element we didn’t face while on the island was snow, but we drove through a snowstorm in Vermont on our way back to Montreal so we didn’t escape that one entirely.
My lasting memory of Rose Island will be how struck I was by the stillness and by it’s immeasurable beauty. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so relaxed anywhere as I did for those 24 hours. It truly is a magical place.
I cannot urge you enough to visit this tiny little piece of heaven resting in a corner of Rhode Island. I guarantee that you won’t regret it. Staying in a lighthouse may have been an apparently silly notion to take into adulthood with me but I will be forever grateful that I did as the night we spent on Rose Island was one of the most wonderful I have ever spent anywhere. And I am very grateful to my thoughtful husband for making that childhood dream a reality and giving me, if just for 24 hours, my own little piece of heaven. I am also very grateful to Rose Island itself for making the reality of a night in a lighthouse even better than I could ever possibly have imagined.
If you would like to book a stay at Rose Island Lighthouse or for further information please visit http://www.roseislandlighthouse.org