A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: Visit the Lighthouse
An old proverb – at least as old as the LL Bean catalogue – claims there is “no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.” A trip to the lighthouse in winter requires the right clothes – warm, wind-resistant, and waterproof. Even if you feel only slightly chilly on the ground and you are warmed by the 199 steps of your journey, the breeze that greets you when get to the top will set your teeth to chattering.
The Cape May Lighthouse is a great place to visit on a December weekend. The 1859 structure – Cape May’s third lighthouse – is located in Cape May Point State Park and is maintained and operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts. You won’t have the place to yourself in winter, but the crowds are gone and you can take your time as you climb. The interior was refurbished in 1998. Examine at your leisure the nooks in the brickwork, decorated with pictures and information about the lighthouse and its keepers. The nooks are also convenient if you need a break from the climb. Because it’s not crowded, you’re free from the summertime rush to start back down – there’s no line of climbers waiting down below.
At the top, the wind whips your face, making conversation impossible. The kids start out chattering and questioning, but they soon realize the futility and enjoy this wild, noisy peace. The family is there, together, wrapped in winter, and each of us is alone. The solitude is welcome for its own sake, and because it forces us to contemplate the gray winter ocean, the challenges faced by shivering sailors, and the grim reality of winter for working people in the nineteenth century. This is insight into another side of Victorian life.
Even if you never leave the ground, you’ll enjoy a trip to the lighthouse. The tiny museum shop has plenty of pictures of the view, and you can see the World War II bunker on the beach without tackling any steps. Also, because Cape May Point is a favorite birdwatching destination, you may pick up a new hobby while you visit. Even better, admission to the visitor’s orientation center and the ground floor is free – the fee to climb the tower is $7. The lighthouse is open from 12pm–3pm on Saturdays and Sundays in December, daily from December 26 to January 2.
Get yourself the right clothes – including gloves – and head to the lighthouse. When you come back down to earth, claim a seat by the fire at the Pilot House, order hot chocolate, and rekindle the conversation lost to the wind.
Next week: A Cozy Carriage Ride