Celebrating St Mary’s Lighthouse

Celebrating St Mary’s Lighthouse

Posted by Joanne Wishart on

Celebrating St Mary’s Lighthouse

If you live along the Tyneside coastline, then you’ll have probably noticed that work has begun to renovate St Mary’s Lighthouse. The landmark has needed a little TLC for quite some time, so it’s great that we are finally seeing the lighthouse getting restored to its former glory.



To celebrate the lighthouse’s much-needed facelift, I thought I’d dedicate this month’s blog to this beautiful spot. I’ve painted St Mary’s Lighthouse many times (more on that later). The building itself has stood proud for over 100 years, even after guiding its last ship in 1984.

St Mary’s Island is very special in its own way. The causeway allows crossing to the island at certain hours of the day (always check the tides before you visit), while the rear of the lighthouse is home to a rock formation that attracts hundreds of sunbathing seals from May to September.

Even if you don’t or can’t cross across to the island, the headland offers an idyllic dog-friendly walk with a pathway leading all the way along the cliffside to Old Hartley and onto Seaton Sluice. 

What makes St Mary’s Lighthouse so special?

There are so many reasons why St Mary’s is such an iconic spot, not least because it’s been synonymous with the Whitley Bay coastline for over 100 years. Let’s explore what makes this lighthouse so special.



Crossing the causeway

As I mentioned above, you can only cross the causeway when the tide is low enough. You have to be very careful so as not to get stuck on the island, as once the tide starts to rise, it will cover the path quicker than you think!

At its lowest point, the tide reveals a myriad of rockpools, home to thousands of species of fish and crabs.

A rich history

Also known as “Bates Island”, St Mary’s has been in use for over 1,000 years, even though the current lighthouse structure was not built until around 1896. It was used by the monks of Tynemouth Priory in the 7th century, then the sight of a gruesome murder in the 1700s (more on that here), and was even home to an inn called The Square and Compass in the 1800s (likely where the new Whitley Bay establishment got its name from!). 

The light was decommissioned in 1984, nearly 100 years after the lighthouse was constructed. Even without its bright rays, the structure remains a homing beacon for many people living along the Tyneside coastline. 


Exploring St Mary’s rockpools is the perfect sunny day family activity. You’ll find fish, crabs and even starfish! Remember, it’s fine to look, but don’t take anything away from the pools or beach. Every creature living in the pool is an integral part of the island’s rich biodiversity.


The grey seals descend on St Mary’s lighthouse in the spring and typically stay all summer long, lazing on the rocks and fishing for their food. If you are on the island, you can walk behind the lighthouse to see the seals from the little hut or above the wall; there are even binoculars to get a closer look. 

Northern lights

Every so often, the Northern Lights (aka aurora borealis) are visible along the Whitley Bay beachfront, illuminating the lighthouse. This is most common in winter and spring before light nights take hold. You can check the likelihood of seeing this natural phenomenon at one of the many Aurora Watch services online. 

Climbing to the top

The top of the lighthouse will likely be out of bounds until the renovation works are complete, but hopefully, the building will reopen and welcome visitors to ascend its 137 steps for a clear view of the North East coastline—all the way to South Shields on a good day!

Painting St Mary’s 

Now you know why St Mary’s is so special to me, I wanted to share some of my artwork inspired by the historic location and surrounding area.


St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Bloom Original Painting

This piece shows the island at high tide, with the causeway disappearing into the North Sea foam. In the foreground, wild poppies blow in the tall grass. This part of my Blue Skies series, for which I’ve painted several of my favourite coastal spots on sunny days. 

Below is a similar piece from a wider angle; this would be ideal as a room centrepiece positioned over a bed or sofa.


Blue Sky over St. Mary’s Lighthouse Original Painting

Both of the above are original paintings available for purchase as one-offs. You can also get these pieces limited edition art prints or canvas prints; just take a look in my online store or visit the gallery on St George’s Road in Cullercoats. We’re open 10 am - 5 pm, Wed to Sun. 

Here are a few more prints and pieces of St Mary’s to finish off this celebration of the famous Tyneside landmark:

A mounted fine art print of St Mary's Island causeway with the tide out.

Tides out at St Mary's Art Print

In contrast to the two pieces above, this print shows the island at low tide, awash with locals and tourists exploring the rockpools and enjoying a stroll along the causeway on a sunny day. 


A mounted print featuring the coastal landscape of St Mary's Lighthouse with a lavender evening sky hanging over the north sea. Pools of water glisten in the rocks.

St Mary’s Lighthouse Evening | Art Print

This sunset piece brings an unusual red, purple and yellow colour palette to the seaside scene. The textures of this painting, in both the clouds and the rocks, make this particular image so special.

An ideal gift for someone who loves Whitley Bay, this tea towel depicts St Mary’s and three of its seal residents.

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