An ac­tion man’s bea­con of peace

Owner needed for se­cluded light­house home with peer­less views and an aw­ful lot of stairs. Jonny Beard­sall re­ports

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Bright Ideas -

Light­houses make ex­cep­tional homes for ex­cep­tional peo­ple. This was why David Ni­cholls, a re­tired bri­gadier, was en­thused when, three years ago, he be­gan ren­o­vat­ing the run-down keeper’s cot­tage at­tached to the High Light­house, a mile from the har­bour town of Tay­port on the mouth of the Tay.

But fate is cruel and Ni­cholls – who had com­bined a re­mark­able ca­reer in the Royal Marines with be­com­ing the out­stand­ing mil­i­tary moun­taineer of his gen­er­a­tion – died from a heart at­tack last sum­mer, so never saw the work com­pleted. He was only 57 and now his home, on the coast of Fife, is for sale.

Ni­cholls was an ac­tion man. He saw ac­tive ser­vice in Oman and com­manded 45 Com­mando from 1991-94, and was later in­stru­men­tal in the sign­ing of the Day­ton Peace Ac­cords on Bos­nia. In re­tire­ment, he founded the South Ge­or­gia Her­itage Trust (a con­ser­va­tion body) and also led Bri­tish Schools Ex­plor­ing So­ci­ety ex­pe­di­tions to the Antarc­tic.

It was prob­a­bly this love of wild and stir­ring land­scapes that drew him to this most un­usual of ad­dresses on the clifftops just four miles from Dundee, where he de­voted bound­less en­ergy to Project At­lantis, an en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search group based in the city. For sim­i­lar rea­sons, this far-flung hideaway had ap­pealed to the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pant, an ec­cen­tric Dutch ex-tug­boat cap­tain who had leased it for many years.

Ni­cholls bought the High Light­house – a stone house un­der a slate roof – in 2003 from Dundee’s Har­bour Board, which still op­er­ates the un­manned sta­tion to which the dwelling is fused. Reached along a private ac­cess road, orig­i­nally it com­prised two cot­tages built in the 1820s. Th­ese are be­lieved to have been de­signed, along with the tower light­house, by the Scot­tish en­gi­neer, Robert Steven­son.

Thirty years ago the cot­tages were knocked into one, and Ni­cholls and his fam­ily have turned it into a rather cun­ningly spa­cious, four-bed­room ground-floor home, with two floored at­tics. It has a peer­less ro­tunda sit­ting room added by the fam­ily, with an oak floor based on the de­sign for the Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre, where Cap­tain Robert Fal­con Scott’s ship, Dis­cov­ery, is moored, so is per­fect for sweep­ing the hori­zon with a tele­scope and the floor with a soft broom.

The views from the cliffs across the es­tu­ary to Broughty Ferry, An­gus, are un­matched. “Ac­tu­ally, they’re unique,” says Clare Valen­tine, of Strutt and Parker. “I’ve never sold a light­house be­fore, as they come up ran­domly rather than reg­u­larly. This one is a real peach and there’s masses to do here, what with all the golf and the sea­side, not to men­tion St An­drews and Dundee.”

The light­house tower is part of the north-east wall of the house, and the small gallery where the lantern is mounted is reached via an in­ter­nal spi­ral stair­case from an ex­te­rior door in the front gar­den. The light it­self emits a small nav­i­ga­tional beam at the mouth of the es­tu­ary, so doesn’t move. In ef­fect, the 76ft tower is in the cus­tody of the owner, be­cause the tech­ni­cian who oc­ca­sion­ally calls to check on the bat­tery is the only per­son who has rea­son to bother those within. And should the port ever de­cide to de­com­mis­sion it, the owner has the le­gal right to snap up the tower for a tri­fling £1,000, a sum that is in­dex-linked to 2003.

Tay­port is on the south bank of the river. It looks well-served; it has a post of­fice, gro­cer, news­pa­per shop, den­tist, med­i­cal cen­tre and a li­brary, but in any case the city of Dundee is only a short drive across the Tay Bridge if you in­sist on some­thing a touch more cos­mopoli­tan.

Ni­cholls’s step­son Chris, 31, is a land­scaper and was help­ing his step­fa­ther with the project when he died, where­upon the light­house was left to his half-sis­ter, So­phie, 23, who is study­ing for a his­tory doc­tor­ate at Cam­bridge Univer­sity.

“Clearly it was no use to her as a stu­dent, so she has de­cided to sell,” says Mr Ni­cholls. “Sadly, her fa­ther never got to live here in what is now a re­ally fab­u­lous home. As I live close by, I’ve spent the sum­mer fin­ish­ing off the grounds and the walled gar­dens. I’ve cre­ated lawns and paved paths, one of which de­scends to the shore­line.”

So how is the fish­ing? “I have fished off the beach but must ad­mit I’ve never caught any­thing,” he says. Strewn mostly with peb­bles rather than sand, the beach comes with a sturdy moor­ing ring to en­able the next owner to tie up a boat, which, de­pend­ing on the tide – and on whether you moor a dinghy or a yacht – could reg­u­larly be left tee­ter­ing high and dry.

High Light­house, Tay­port, Fife is on the mar­ket for of­fers of more than £475,000. Strutt & Parker, 28 Melville St, Ed­in­burgh EH3 7HA (www. strut­tand­, 0131 226 2500)

Clock­wise from top left: the six-hob cooker in the kitchen; a dra­matic view of the light­house tower and theTay in the back­ground; the ro­tunda added by David Ni­cholls; the bath­room; liv­ing room; fire­place; and Chris Ni­cholls, the bri­gadier’s step­son

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