Digest>Archives> September 2002

A Princess Visits the Lighthouse

By Sharma Krauskopf


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We have had many visitors to Eshaness lighthouse and every visit is special and we appreciate the uniqueness of Eshaness when seeing it through the eyes of others. This summer we had a visitor who caused more of a hullabaloo then most of our guests.

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I was in the States when we were notified that the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, the second child of The Queen of England would visit Eshaness. The first question everyone asks is why is a Princess of England visiting a remote lighthouse in the Shetland Islands? Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has been Patron to the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) since 1993 and takes an active interest in the work carried out by the Board. Once in awhile she takes time from her busy schedule to visit the various lighthouses and this year it was our turn.

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My return to the lighthouse was scheduled for four days after the Princess’s visit so we decided I should return early to be there when she came. The most serious challenge to changing my schedule was an injury to my back that was not healed and quite painful. Pleading with my doctor to let me go, he finally gave in and provided the needed medication to control my pain on the long flight to the UK. We were attending a family wedding in New Hampshire on the Friday before the Princess’s visit so I rearranged my airline tickets to fly from New Hampshire to Shetland. I arrived in Shetland early afternoon on the day before the royal visit.

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The day of the Princess’s stopover turned out to be cold and rainy. The “Red Chariot,” the Northern Lighthouse Board’s helicopter, began the visit by bringing support people from their ship the Pharos, which was anchored near the south end of the island. I always get goose bumps when the helicopter comes because it exemplifies that this lighthouse is part of something bigger and really special. The Princess Royal arrived on the third trip accompanied by an NLB commissioner and the managing director.

She was dressed in a NLB orange waterproof and wearing a baseball hat with the former royal ship Britannica’s emblem on it. When she came in the gate she walked up and shook Leslie’s, our attendant keeper, and my hands. I was astonished. I had checked with the British Consulate in Chicago on the proper protocol and was prepared to stand back and just greet her as “Your Royal Highness.” The Consulate had emphasized I could only touch or speak to her if she made the first move. From her outgoing handshake on I found her genuinely pleasant and down-to-earth.

Having been told I would only be introduced and my books presented to her by someone else I was stunned when I was asked to help show the Princess Eshaness. Because of my injured back I could not go up in the tower so I waited downstairs while she made that part of the visit. That piece was involved with the NLB director explaining the mechanics of machinery so I could not have added anything anyway. After the tower she signed the guest book with a simple - Anne. Anyone in Britain looking at the book would know who signed.

At that point I asked her if she would like to see the inside of the house and she replied. “I was hoping you would ask.” The house had been shut up while I was in the States, a clogged chimney had caused the Rayburn to belch smoke into the living room the night before and I had no time to do anything but dust a little, so it was neat but definitely not sparkling like I would have liked for the visit of a princess. Her Royal Highness “loved the house” and stood a long time in front of the Rayburn just like all our visitors do on a cold rainy day. Since we were the only women in a room full of men we told a few husband jokes.

While we were in the house I presented her with copies of two appropriate books - The Last Lighthouse and Scottish Lighthouses, along with a poster created by the publisher about A Year at the Lighthouse. I was thrilled later when she doubled checked to make sure the books were on the helicopter for the ride back to the ship.

After visiting the house she asked to see the blowhole, a hole on the west side of the lighthouse that drops 200 feet straight down through the rock to the sea. Her bodyguard asked me if she would be in danger and I assured him no if she was careful. In her straightforward style Princess Anne walked right up to the edge of the hole and I could see the bodyguard turn white.

Next she asked if she could visit Cross Kirk, a historic cemetery at the bottom of the lighthouse hill. The commissioner asked Tom, our caretaker, to take her to the cemetery in his car. He has been upset every since that no one took a picture of the Princess in his car.

She surprised us again when she decided to walk back to the lighthouse, which is no easy feat, as she would have to climb the steep lighthouse hill. When she got back I asked her how she liked our backyard and she smiled and said, “It was quite a backyard!” She did mention the lighthouse hill seemed endless but everyone feels that way, since it is precipitous long hike. I think her favourite natural feature were the huge sea caves around the lighthouse and her least favourite that blasted hill.

After that the helicopter started shuttling people back to the ship. She went on the next to the last trip and I was sorry to see her go.

I have to admit I was totally amazed at how down to earth and genuine The Princess Royal was. She deeply impressed me with her interest in the lighthouse tower and accommodations as well as the surrounding area. Some of the NLB engineers who are working on the light today mentioned they too were surprised the first time they met her because of her friendly and relaxed nature.

I never thought I would meet a real princess and if I did she would not be in my living room. But one magical day in July a wonderful lady full of genuine warmth and friendliness came to visit Eshaness Lighthouse and she just happened to be The Princess Royal of England.

This story appeared in the September 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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