Once an integral part of Scottish seafaring, the role of a lighthouse has now largely been replaced by computerised equipment, with the last lighthouse keeper in Britain leaving his post back in 1998. But while the lighthouse signals may now be controlled remotely, you can still take a trip to some of the country’s most spectacular examples of engineering. Here’s 10 of the best.
1. Kinnaird Head and the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, Fraserburgh
Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, Stevenson Road, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
Adults £8.80, concession £6.60, children £3.85
Open every day, 10am-5pm
If you want to learn what life was really like for Scotland’s lighthouse keepers then Kinnaird Head is the place to go. The lighthouse, which was the first built on mainland Scotland, also hosts a museum dedicated to the service, where visitors can try on a lighthouse keeper’s outfit and explore the impeccably preserved keeper’s quarters. You can also get a guided tour of the lighthouse itself – but be aware that a ghost is rumoured to haunt the site. Sir Alexander Fraser was so disapproving of his daughter Isobel’s choice of partner that he chained him to a rock in a nearby cave to drown him. Crushed by grief, Isobel then threw herself from the castle’s tower, where she can now apparently be spotted wandering around miserably whenever there is a storm.
2. Isle of May Low Light
Isle of May, Firth of Forth, Fife
The Isle of May is only accessible via a boat trip from Anstruther or North Berwick – but don’t let that put you off. The whole island is a designated national nature reserve and it makes a wonderful place for a day trip during the summer if you want to spot puffins. It has two lighthouses but the Low Light – a pretty white structure perched on the north of the island – has now been turned into a peaceful bird observatory. If you do make the trip over to the island be sure to pay it a visit, alongside the larger gothic lighthouse that was manned until 1989.
3. Dunnet Head Lighthouse, Dunnet
Dunnet, Caithness, Highlands
Dunnet Head is worth a visit not just to see the lighthouse, but to be able to say you have visited the most northerly point on mainland Britain. People might think John O’Groats holds the ‘most northerly’ crown, but the Dunnet Head lighthouse has a plaque that proudly affirms its place at the (literal) top. You can jostle with other tourists to get your picture taken at the sign, before wandering around the foot of the lighthouse and savouring the views. The closest you can get to the actual lighthouse is to stay the night in the keeper’s cottage, but while you are in the area be sure to make a trip to the Dunnet Bay Distillery. The family-run firm – which produces Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka – offers distillery tours that culminate in a tasting session round a banquet table.
4. Mull of Galloway Lighthouse, Dumfries and Galloway
Mull of Galloway Experience, Drummore, Dumfries & Galloway
Entry to the tower is £3 for adults and £1 for children, the exhibition and tower is £5 for adults and £1 for children
Lighthouse open every day until mid-September, 11am-5pm
Clinging to a cliff at Scotland’s most southerly point, climbing to the top of the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse will reward you with some truly spectacular views. The 115 steps to the viewing platform don’t make for an easy climb, but when you get there you can see across to Ireland, the Isle of Man and Cumbria and you might spot some dolphins in the water. There is also an exhibition where you can learn about how lighthouses worked in the days before automation, and you can hear a demonstration of the original Mull of Galloway foghorn.
5. Buchan Ness Lighthouse, Aberdeenshire
Boddam, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire
Rent the whole keeper’s cottage from £220 a night
This distinctive red-banded lighthouse certainly stands out against the Aberdeenshire coastline. But if you want to get close to Buchan Ness then the best way is by staying in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, which is available to rent out as holiday accommodation. The two cottages, which are at the foot of the lighthouse, are surrounded by a private garden that is closed to the public – leaving you free from any interruptions.
6. Neist Point Lighthouse, Skye
Budding photographers: this one’s for you. Sitting on top of a jagged cliff at the most westerly point of Skye, Neist Point Lighthouse is crying out for dramatic landscape pictures – especially at sunset. It is off the beaten track, but like most places on Skye is becoming more popular with tourists, so your best bet is to try to get there early. The walk to the lighthouse takes about 45 minutes and includes some steps and rocky ground, making sensible footwear a must.
7. Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, Western Isles
Isle of Lewis, Western Isles
Holding the (unenviable) Guinness Book of World Record for the windiest place in the UK, the Butt of Lewis has absolutely nothing standing between it and North America. It therefore makes for a pretty striking location for a lighthouse – and the one it has certainly stands out. The Butt of Lewis Lighthouse is (unconventionally) made from red brick, being built for only £4900 back in 1859. It was automated in 1971 and is now mainly visited by seabirds or tourists exploring the wild stretches of coastline that surround it.
8. Barns Ness Lighthouse, East Lothian
Dunbar, East Lothian
As the author of Treasure Island, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson is pretty well known. But what is probably less well known is that he comes from a family of lighthouse engineers, with his grandfather Robert Stevenson designing the vast majority of Scotland’s most famous lighthouses. But it was the author’s cousin David Stevenson who devised the 121-foot Barns Ness Lighthouse, which opened in 1901 before being deactivated in 2005. Modern visitors can stroll around the grasslands, sand dunes and beaches that surround the lighthouse and then look up to admire its imposing structure.
9. Cape Wrath Lighthouse, Sutherland
Durness, Sutherland, Highlands
Tours operated by Visit Cape Wrath, 01971 511284
Ferry £7.50 return for adults and £8 return for children, bus £13.50 return for adults and £5 for children
Every day until mid-October
Dunnet Head might be the most northerly lighthouse in mainland Britain, but you would struggle to find one that feels more remote than Cape Wrath. It is difficult to access – via boat and minibus – but it makes for an excellent day out if you want to feel like you are at the edge of civilisation. The perilous cliffs add an air of drama and it is staggering to think of the isolation once experienced by the lighthouse keepers who lived there. For modern visitors, the lighthouse keeper’s cottage serves as a café, offering up some welcome hot drinks and refreshments.
10. The Lighthouse, Glasgow
11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow
Open Monday- Saturday, 10.30am– 5pm and Sunday, 12pm– 5pm
Okay, we cheated. This isn’t a lighthouse at all, but a centre that showcases art, design and architecture in various exhibitions throughout the year. Still, it is probably the closest thing that Glasgow will get to a lighthouse, with its sixth-floor viewing platform offering excellent panoramas across the rooftops of the city. You get the best views from the outdoor viewing platform – which is accessed via a steep spiral staircase – but there is also an indoor viewpoint, reached by a lift. It is free to enter, so while you are in there make sure to take a look at any exhibitions that are on in the lower levels.