Maybe you live in a flat, or a house, or a cottage, maybe even a caravan, but today I'd like to tell you a story about a girl who lived in a … lighthouse! Her name was Grace — Grace Darling — and she was born just over 200 years ago, long before even your great-great-great grandparents were born.
Grace's father was a lighthouse keeper. It was his job was to clean and look after the lamp at the very top of the lighthouse, and to keep it burning all through the night to guide the sailors safely back home.
From the time she was just a wee baby, Grace lived with her family in a cottage next to the lighthouse where her father worked. But, when she was 10, they moved to another tiny island called Longstone, six miles off the coast of Northumberland. They had no neighbours on this island — their only neighbours were the seabirds, swooping and screeching for food, and sometimes the seals that came up onto the rocks.
And this time, Grace and her family lived right inside the lighthouse.
Grace had to get used to a world where everything was round - curved rooms, curved walls, curved doors, even the stairs spiralled round and round to the very top, where the light sent its bright beam across the sea warning ships about the dangerous rocks.
Grace and her family spent most of their time in the room on the ground floor — a living room, kitchen, and dining room all in one.
Every night, Grace would climb the spiral staircase to her small round bedroom on the next floor. She loved that room. She could look out across the sea, and with her telescope, she could sometime see ships, and boats, sea animals, and other islands.
Well, nowadays, if you want to know what the weather will be, you can just turn on the television or radio, or look on your phone, but Grace lived long before the days of TV and computers and the internet. She learned to read the weather in the skies, in the air, in the changes of temperature.
She watched the clouds, and listened to the voice of the wind. By the time she was 22, she was an expert weather forecaster, and one day — 6th September 1838 — she said:
'Father, I'm sure, tonight, there will be a storm.'
'D'ye think so, lass?' bed that night, she couldn’t sleep - it was such wild, windy weather. She tossed and she turned.
At last, in the early hours of the morning, she got out of bed, took her telescope, and looked out at the storm. The waves were so high — like wild, leaping horses. But, what was that … far out on a distant rock? It looked like a boat! She focused the telescope carefully, and found that same dark shape — it was a boat for sure, and it seemed to have broken in half on the rocks.
Grace's mother was on watch in the light room, and her father was sleeping, but she ran to his room and shook him awake:
'Father! Father! There'to row, and she wanted to take the rowing boat out straight away, but her father said they should wait until it was light enough to see. As soon as the dawn rose, they got the rowing boat ready.
'Are you sure you can do this, Grace?' asked her father. 'It's heavy work, rowing, just the two of us, especially when the sea is so rough and fierce, and the waves so high.'
'Yes, father, I can do it! We can do it together.'
So, Grace and her father took one oar each, and rowed for a mile, out towards the rock. It was hard and dangerous work, but as they got closer to the rock, they saw people waving, and heard them calling, calling out for help. There were nine people clinging to the rock, but their boat — the steamship called the Forfarshire — had already sunk deep into the ocean.
Grace and her father managed to get five of the people, including one woman, into the rowing boat, and although they were tired and cold, they rowed back to the lighthouse as fast as they could. Once there, Grace helped everyone inside to warm by the stove. She made porridge and hot tea, whilst her father and one of the men, went back to the rock to get the other survivors.
Thanks to Grace and her father, these nine people survived the storm and the shipwreck. News of their bravery got around, and became front page news. Grace Darling became known all over the land — she even got a letter from the Queen — and people sent her letters and gifts, which arrived by boat to that little lighthouse on the tiny island.
Today, there's a museum in Bamburgh which tells the story of Grace Darling, and if you ever go there, you can see the boat which Grace and her father used to rescue everyone on the night of the great storm.
© Beverley Casebow, 2020