10. KÕPU LIGHTHOUSE
Kõpu lighthouse is undoubtedly the most famous tourist attraction on Hiiumaa. The pyramid-shaped base was constructed in the early 1500's and is believed to be the third oldest continually operating lighthouse in the world. The construction of this lighthouse was a remarkable feat considering the remoteness of the location and the lack of modern technology. Originally, a large fire burned atop the lighthouse and its appetite for wood resulted in the deforestation of a large part of Kõpu peninsula.
The lighthouse was built at the request the Hanseatic Merchants League in order to reduce the number of shipwrecks at Neckmansgrund and to warn ships away from the pirate- infested coastline. This cut into the income of the local population who made a nice profit from salvaging goods and taking people off of grounded ships. Still, many shipwrecks occurred because during storms the wood fire either went out or could not be seen far enough out to sea. Later, oil was used to provide light and finally in the late 1800's the top section was constructed out of brick. An electric light was installed with a specially designed lens and now the light is visible some 30 nautical miles out to sea. The top of the lighthouse is over 100 meters above sea level and gives a breathtaking view of the Baltic Sea as well as much of the island. Sweden lies over the horizon about 200 kilometers straight west.
You can also see the old Soviet radar base just to the west. The lighthouse is open to the public and for a small fee you can walk to the top. However, the climb is a long one and the steps are very high so take your time. The lighthouse base was originally constructed without steps and wood as well as workers were hauled up the sloping sides with ropes. Later, a stairway was literally hacked out of solid rock up through the center of the lighthouse base. Some restoration and painting work was done in the 1980's but this had the effect of almost destroying the lighthouse. An oil based paint was used and this caused the stones to retain moisture. For a time, there was quite a large flow of water down the stairs of the lighthouse and the mortar holding the lighthouse together began to deteriorate. After several large chunks of the lighthouse fell off, the local governor convinced the Soviet authorities to redo the restoration work properly and now the lighthouse is ready to keep ships safe for another 400 years.
- After you finish at the lighthouse retrace the 500 meters back to the gravel road road that you turned off from. If you turn to the right you will be headed west towards the very tip of the peninsula. If you do not wish to go to the tip of the peninsula, then turn left and continue on your way.
If you do go to the western tip of Hiiumaa you will find Ristna lighthouse which is open to the public. Just look for the sign that says "Ristna". Another interesting place is the abandoned harbor at Kalana. There is also a sign to tell you where to turn. This place provides a beautiful view of the ocean from its concrete pier and is the place where you can find the biggest waves on the island. If you would like a real treat and don't mind walking a few kilometers, then go from either Ristna or Kalana and walk along the sea to the very tip of the peninsula. There you will find the most isolated and most beautiful beach in Hiiumaa. Because of its remote location it is rarely visited so you are almost sure to have the beach to yourself. It is backed by a high sand dune which also adds to the feeling of isolation. The best thing about this beach is the clear, deep water. Unlike like some of the other beaches on Hiiumaa, the water becomes deep fairly quickly so you don't have to walk out 500 meters just to get your shoulders wet! As this was the northwestern border of the Soviet Union there is an abandoned border post on the hill behind the beach. This base had radar as well as anti-aircraft missiles. The weapons are gone of course but their emplacements are still there along with the towers and bunkers where the soldiers lived. From the towers they kept watch for a NATO invasion that never came and they also made sure that people could not escape from the island to Sweden or Finland. This place also has bunkers dating back to World War One and Two.
- As you come back from the tip of the peninsula or if are coming back from Kõpu, watch for the fork in the road at kilometer marker 17. Take the road on the right and you will soon be heading south towards our next stop which is the Old River Valley. This stretch of road is gravel for about 15km but is generally in good condition. You must turn right after kilometer marker 6 to reach our next stop. Watch for the sign that says "Vanajõe Org". The river is about 800 meters from the highway.