The coasts and harbours of Scotland are as well protected as those of England; indeed, so numerous are the lights of the first importance that space will not permit us to describe more than a few of the best known and most interesting. The earliest light in Scotland is supposed to have been that on the Isle of May, at the entrance to the Firth of Forth, where a coal fire was exhibited for the long period, of 181 years, It was originally a private venture, the right of levying tolls being vested in the owner of the island. This was the only coal-fire beacon known to have existed in Scotland, but as there were many somewhat similar lights in England a short description may not prove uninteresting. The original building had a pulley and box for raising the fuel to the top of the tower. In the inscription over the door of the tower appears the date 1636. It was considered one of the best coal fires in the kingdom, no less than 400 tons of coal being consumed every year, while three men were employed to keep the fire burning. Although there was no stint of coal or attention, its appearance was ever varying, now shooting up in high flames and then again becoming enveloped in dense smoke.
In strong gales the fire kindled on the leeward side only, so that when a gale was blowing off the sea the light was scarcely perceptible in the direction in which it was most needed. This was the great defect in coal lights but they were also so very changeable and so destitute of any characteristic appearance as to be at times positively dangerous to shipping. An instance of this occurred on the night of December 19, 1810, when H.M. ships Nymphe and Pallas were wrecked near Dunbar owing to the light of a limekiln on that coast having been mistaken for the coal light on the Isle of May.
With the view of providing a better light, the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses obtained in 1814 an Act authorising them to purchase from the then owner, the Duke of Portland, the toll rights for the sum of £60,000. A new light-house was then erected, and on September 1, 1816, the coal fire was replaced by oil-lamps with powerful reflectors. This was later on superseded by an electric light giving four flashes in quick succession every 30 seconds, visible for twenty one miles. The lighthouse is also provided with a fog- siren, giving four blasts (high and low alternately of 2 seconds each in quick succession every 2 minutes.
The oldest existing rock lighthouse structure in this country is that on the Inch Cape, or Bell Rock, a reef 2,000 feet long, lying twenty-seven miles east of Dundee and in the direct track of vessels making their way to the Firths of Tay and Forth. This reef was, even in early days, such a fruitful source of shipwreck that the Abbot of Arbroath placed there a bell fixed on the trunk of a tree which, from the continual motion of the waves, caused the bell to sound a warning to passing mariners. Captain Basil Hall, who was born in a house about thirty miles south of the Bell Rock, states in his “Voyages and Travels ” that wrecks on this sunken rock were so frequent that “ships bound for the Forth, in their constant terror of this dangerous reef, were not content with giving it ten or even twenty miles of elbow room, but must needs edge off a little more to the south so as to hug the shore in such a way that, when the wind chopped round to the northward, as it often did, these over-cautious navigators were apt to get embayed in a deep bight to the westward of Fast Castle. If the breeze freshened before they could work out they paid dearly for their apprehensions of the Bell Rock by being driven upon ledges fully as sharp and far more extensive and inevitable. Thus at that time from three to four, and sometimes half a dozen, vessels used to be wrecked every winter within a mile or two of our very door.” Although the Commissioners of Northern Lights, under the Act of 1786 empowering them to erect lighthouses on the most dangerous points of the coast of Scotland, had by the beginning of the nineteenth century placed lighthouses on some of the most notorious promontories, the Bell Rock was left without any other protection than the temporary beacons of timber, each of which was washed in turn away by the first winter gale which blew.
The long delay in entering upon the erection of a permanent building was doubtless owing to the peculiar engineering difficulties which the rock presented. Its surface is only visible at low water, and at high tides it is submerged to a depth of 16 feet, while for a hundred yards around the sea nowhere exceeds 3 fathoms in depth. Standing some twelve miles from the coast, unprotected by any headland, it is subject to all the fury of the North Sea. Rudyerd’s timber tower, which stood for forty-five years on the Eddystone, would not have survived a single winter on the Bell Rock. Many plans for a lighthouse were submitted to the Commissioners, including one by Captain Brodie for a cast-iron tower on four pillars, and others by Robert Stevenson and Mr. Downie, but none met with the approval of the Board. John Rennie was then approached, and in August, 1805, he inspected the rock, and, after careful consideration, recommended the erection of a stone tower somewhat similar to the Eddystone, but some 16 feet higher and with a base of greater diameter. The Commissioners adopted Rennie’s recommendation and obtained the requisite powers for proceeding with the work.
Mr. Robert Stevenson, who in his younger days was a tinsmith, and had married a daughter of the Edinburgh lampmaker charged with the care of the lamps and reflectors of the Northern Light-houses, was employed to superintend the erection of the building. The plans were prepared by Rennie, and embodied many improvements in design and arrangements of material adapted to the unique site the tower was to occupy The work of excavating the rock was begun in May, 1807, but it was not until July 10, 1808, that the first stone was laid. By the end of November following, three courses of masonry had been laid in position. The close of the third season saw the tower at high-water level, but it was not until the February of 1811 that the light was first exhibited. During the first two seasons the engineer and his workmen lived in a floating lightship moored about three miles off the rock, and three vessels, named respectively The Smeaton, Sir Joseph Banks, and The Patriot, were employed in conveying the materials for the buildings. After the second year’s operations a temporary barrack, with a lantern on the summit, was erected on the rock to save the workmen the disagreeable and dangerous daily passages of three hours twice each day. Stevenson says that while sitting in his little room in the “Beacon” as the barrack was named, the waves, in passing, created a current of air sufficient to raise the leaves of the book which lay open before him. On another occasion he writes that at four o’clock one morning, during the raging of a gale, the spray rose to a height of 90 feet above the ordinary sea-level, broke into the cook’s berth, completely burst up the floor of the smith’s gallery, and swept the forge, anvil, and other tools down on to the rock.
For the first 30 feet the stones of the tower had been dovetailed together after the method employed by Smeaton at the Eddystone, and the stone floors were formed by an arch in the shape of a dome springing from the surrounding wall. Thereafter Rennie made the floors of large stones radiating from a circular central block, to which their interior ends were dovetailed as well as to the radiated joints, and these again were connected with the surrounding walls by means of a circular dowell. This method relieved the walls of the lateral pressure, and connected the whole into what was practically a solid block of stone. The tower is 115 feet in height, 42 feet in diameter at the base, and 15 feet at the top it is a solid core for the first 30 feet, half of which is below high-water level, above being five rooms and the lantern chambers. The light is a flashing red and white alternately, visible for fifteen miles, and was, even from the first, fitted with parabolic reflectors and argand lamps, in accordance with the best catoptric principles of illumination. The total cost, including that of the establishment ashore at Arbroath, where the families of the light- keepers live, was £61,000. The painting of this lighthouse by J. W. M. Turner gives one but a faint notion of the appearance of the Bell Rock during a storm, when the waves completely envelop the tower to a height of 60 or 70 feet, shooting up its curved outline and deluging its balcony and light-room with spray which sometimes falls, even at this elevation, with such force as to wrench from its fastenings the ladder used in cleaning the outside of the lighthouse windows.
Sir Walter Scott visited the lighthouse in 1814, and wrote in the album kept there the lines which appear at the head of the first chapter.
The lighthouses at Bishop’s Rock, the Eddystone, Skerryvore, and the Bell Rock have been described as “the most perfect specimens of modern architecture. Tall and graceful as the minarets of an Eastern mosque, they possess far more solidity and beauty of construction, while, in addition, their form is as appropriate to the purpose for which they are designed as anything ever built by the Greeks.”
On the extreme south-east point of Forfarshire, safeguarding the entrance to the River Tay, stand the two white towers of the Buddon Ness Light- houses, erected in 1820. The lantern in the higher tower is 103 feet above high-water level, and is remarkable, says Mr. Stevenson, in that it contained every kind of dioptric agent then known, viz., the lens, the reflecting prisms and the cylindric refractor of Fresnel, and the holophotal, the condensing, the right-angled expanding and the double reflecting prisms. The whole of the available light was by these various agents condensed and distributed uniformly over a seaward arc of forty-five degrees”. A white light shows up the river, and when the mariner has this in line with Broughty Castle he will clear the Newcombe Bank. Four hundred yards away from the principal tower is a lower one, showing a white fixed light visible in clear weather for thirteen miles.
Many a good ship has come to grief on the Pentland Skerries, a group of islands lying at the eastern entrance to the Pentland Firth. Since 1794 these have been protected by a lighthouse on Muckle Skerry from which a white group flashing light is sent every 18 seconds, visible for nineteen miles. An amusing incident is told of a missionary who was on board the steamship Duncan when she struck on these rocks in July, 1877, during a dense fog. The good man was in bed at the time suffering from sea sickness, and when he felt the ship strike he, thinking they had touched at some port, demanded to be set on shore immediately.
Rounding Duncansby Head, a mile and a half to the west is John o’ Groat’s House, on the most northerly point of the mainland of Great Britain. Johnny Groat (to give him his correct name) was a real personage, who, with two of his brothers, settled in Caithness and acquired some land in the reign of James IV. When they had increased to eight families a dispute arose as to precedence at an annual festival. Johnny Groat settled the controversy by building an octagonal house with a door at each side and an eight-sided table, So that each could enter by his own door and sit at the head of the table.
We have now on our left the island of Stroma, with its lighthouse, a white circular tower 74 feet in height, standing on the north end of Swilkie Point.
A century ago the island of Stroma was a very important smuggling centre, and many good tales are told of contraband enterprise. Mr. Fergusson, in his “Rambles in the Far North,” relates the following “A good many years ago the excise officers of Kirkwall were aware that an extensive trade in the manufacture of illicit liquor was being carried on by several of the inhabitants of this lonely island ; and, do what they could, they found them- selves utterly incapable of preventing or putting an end to the practice. The leader of the famous gang one day told the chief exciseman that he would give him and his men an opportunity of arresting him with smuggled goods in the following week ; by that time he purposed disposing of a large cargo in the town of Kirkwall. This information, so frankly given, was received in a rather credulous manner by the protector of Her Majesty’s Customs, who, notwithstanding, resolved to be on the look- out for such a lucky occurrence – if, indeed, it should take place. In the following week the bold smuggler kept his word and landed a fine cargo at Scalpa Bay. As he was carting his kegs along the road towards Kirkwall, the representative of Her Majesty came upon him and seized the horse’s head, announcing that the cargo was his in the Queen’s name. The Stromaman, pretending to be much surprised, endeavoured to resist the assault of the preventive men and pulled vigorously in the opposite direction. Struggling in this manner, they proceeded slowly to the Orcadian capital. At every opening the smuggler tried to get his horse and cart and, at last, his opposition became so strong that the officer despatched his assistant for aid. This was what the Stroma fellow desired, and as they proceeded along the road, the other fisherman, who had been walking behind, began quietly, as he trudged along, to abstract all the kegs one by one from the cart, and to drop them quietly into the deep ditch which ran so handily, beside him. When the Custom House was reached the amazement of the officer may more easily be imagined than described. He now saw through the stratagems of the smuggler and knew that by this time the other fellow had disposed of the illicit goods. Having no pretext by which he might detain the sharp-witted islander he was compelled to let him go, with the hint that he would not be so fortunate next time. Despite his determination, however, the next incident was as unfortunate as the first.
“Some months after the episode related above, the exciseman received intimation that the crew was approaching Scapa with another cargo of spirits Hurrying down to the bay he observed the yawl moored at the jetty. To make certainty doubly sure, he seized a huge boulder lying near by, and, going up to the side of the boat, dashed the stone through the bottom, sinking the craft as a matter of course. There,’ said he, : I have got them now. They won’t get their kegs up in a hurry. With this sage reflection, he departed in search of more assistance. When he arrived at the bay the second time with’ his men, he found the Stroma fishermen looking eagerly for their bark. After the action of the excisemen was explained to the skipper, he burst out into a loud laugh and informed the zealous officer that, this time at least, his zeal had outrun his discretion, for all the cargo had been landed before the yawl was moored, and while he had been sinking their craft they were busily engaged in dis- posing of their goods. The baffled officer not only lost the find,’ which he imagined to be so certain, but he had also to make good the damage to the boat.”
On the northern side of the Pentland Firth, whose turbulent waters form a terrible barrier between them and the shores of Caithness, lie the Orkney Isles. There are sixty-seven of them, but only twenty-nine are inhabited, Pomona, or the mainland, being by far the largest. The islanders are Scandinavian and Lowland Scotch. Sir Walter Scott says they are “sober, good -humoured and friendly, but ‘jimp’ honest,” meaning that their notions of “mine and thine” were not too precise. In earlier days they held many strange beliefs which some of the older people still cherish. One of the most curious of these was that drowned persons were changed into seals, but once a month they are allowed to resume their human form and come on shore at sunset, there to dance until sunrise. Before the establishment of a weekly post, communication with the mainland was very infrequent. At the time of the Revolution a Scotch fisherman was imprisoned at Kirkwall, in May, 1689, for saying that King William III had been crowned the previous November, and he was just about to be hanged for what was considered a treasonable statement when a vessel arrived to confirm it.
On the coasts of Hoy and Walls some of the wildest and most romantic scenery in the world may be seen. Stupendous precipices loom up against the sky, with shattered masses of rock lying at their base to be dashed about at the pleasure of every gale. The mighty waves of the Atlantic, as they dash and roll towards the cliffs, sweep tempestuously over every obstacle and scatter the spray far over the land, while their roar rises high above the sough of the wind. Hoy Head is one of the noblest sea -cliffs in the kingdom, or almost anywhere else. Some 30 or 40 feet from its base stands the remarkable pillar of rock known as the ee Old Man of Hoy,” which rises out of the sea to the height of 300 feet, and is singularly like an old man wrapped in a cloak and looking meditatively out over the ocean. The headland in front of which he stands, as James Wilson says, “with his feet always cold,” rises one sheer, unbroken crag of 1,150 feet. The Orcadians say that a wave has been seen to strike this head in such volume and with such power that it has rushed half-way up the cliff, throwing itself in its great but impotent rage to the height of nearly 600 feet! Hurled by such a sea against such a crag, the largest vessel, though built of the strongest oak or the toughest iron, would be shattered like a ship of glass. The Orcadian poet Malcolm thus refers to this rock :
“See Hoy’s Old Man; whose summit bare
Pierces the dark blue fields of air!
Based in the sea, his fearful form
Glooms like the spirit of the storm
An ocean Babel, rent and worn
By time and tide- -all wide and lorn
A giant that had warred with Heaven,
Whose ruined scalp seemed thunder-riven-
Whose form the misty spray doth shroud–
Whose head the dark and hovering cloud ; Around his dread and lowering mass,
In sailing swarms the sea- fowl pass
But when the night-cloud o’er the sea
Hangs like a sable canopy,
And when the flying storm doth scourge
Around his base the rushing surge,
Swift to his airy clefts they soar,
And sleep amidst the tempest’s roar,
Or with its howling round his peak,
Mingle their drear and dreamy shriek.”
There are many weird and tragic tales told of an adjacent Druidical pillar known as the “walking stone.” The legend runs that every Hogmanay night, as the clock strikes the hour of midnight, this stone begins to walk towards the sea, and when the edge is reached it quietly dips its feet into the rippling waves, there to remain immovable until twelve months have passed away, when it silently returns to its former position. It was never considered safe for anyone to remain out of doors at midnight upon Hogmanay to watch its movements. Many stories are current of curious people who have done so, and who the following morning were found lying dead by its side. One story goes that on a stormy December day a vessel was wrecked in the Bay of Birsay and only one sailor was saved. He found a refuge in an adjacent cottage, where he was told the story of the yearly walk, and he at once resolved to see it for himself. In spite of every effort made to detain him in the house, he sallied forth on the last night of the old year and seated himself on the very top of the stone, there to await the events of the night. What these were he was never able to disclose, for in the morning his corpse was found lying beside the stone, which, local report said, had rolled over him as it proceeded to the loch.
Hoy Sound is protected by seven lights – a high light on the north-east point of Graemsay Island and a low one on the north-west point, a white flashing light on the black beacon on the Skerry of Ness, two fixed white lights on posts on the pier of Stromness, and two fixed red lights in white towers in the town. The lights on Graemsay were established in 1851. On the coast of South Walls bordering on the Pentland Firth is a detached mass of granite, now wholly surrounded by the sea, upon which formerly stood a Scandinavian stronghold or “keep,” to which the inhabitants hurried on the approach of an invader. At the entrance to the bay of Langhope, which forms a fine natural harbour, are two Martello towers, erected many years ago for the protection of the islands. Adjacent to the south tower an artillery fort was erected at the same time, and two artillerymen were put in charge of the guns and powder magazine. On Cantick Head, at the south -eastern extremity of the island, is a white tower, 73 feet in height,
“With a beacon star upon its head
And a wild sea light about its feet.”
North Ronaldshay is the most primitive as well as the most remote of the group ; it is also the most difficult to access. As almost every rood of the island is under cultivation there are no peats for fuel, and no wood is to be had unless a ship has the misfortune to be wrecked on its shores. There is a story told of a pious man in the island of Barra who used to pray, “If ships must in any case perish, do Thou, o Lord, guide their timber with tackling and rigging to the Isle of Barra and the Sound of Watersay.”
On Dennis Ness is a lighthouse of red brick with two white bands, erected in 1584. From its lantern, which is 140 feet above the sea, a white light flashes out every 10 seconds, visible for eighteen miles. At the extremity of Nouster Pier is shown a red fixed light. On Fair Island, which stands midway between the Orkneys and the Shetlands, are two lighthouses – that on the south-west end, the Scaddon, showing a white group flashing light every 40 seconds, visible for sixteen miles ; and that on the north -east point, the Skroo, a similar light every 30 seconds, visible for twenty-three miles. At each tower is a fog- siren, and at the latter storm-signals also.
The most northerly lighthouse in Great Britain is the North Unst, standing on Muckle Flugga, an outlying stack off the northern part of the island. This rock rises to a height of nearly 200 feet above the sea, its northern side being a nearly perpendicular cliff and its southern end an abrupt rocky slope. Only in favourable weather is it possible to land on the rock, which can then be ascended by means of the steps cut in its surface. The light-house buildings occupy almost the entire available area of the rock. The tower is 50 feet in height, and contains the light-room, sleeping-room, kitchen, and provision stores. The dwelling-houses for the families of the four keepers are on the Island of Unst in the Burra Creek, about four miles away from the lighthouse.
The first light on this rock was shown at the time the Northern Squadron was engaged in the Russian War of 1854. It was not until the end of July of that year that a steamer, having on board the necessary workmen and a temporary lighthouse and dwellings, set out from Glasgow, but so energetically was the work pushed forward that on the 11th of the following October it was found practicable to exhibit a light. The temporary houses were of iron surrounded by a casing of rubble masonry set in cement. It was supposed that as these buildings were at an elevation of 200 feet above sea-level they would have only the wind and rain to withstand, but when the gales of winter began to break over the rock it was quickly found that the sea not only broke heavily on the tower, but would sometimes run up the sides, burst open the door of the dwelling -room, and deluge the interior with water. This experience proved the necessity of raising the light -room of the permanent tower to such a height as would prevent the possibility of the waves obscuring or endangering the light during the heaviest gales. The lighthouse was completed in 1858 at a cost of about £32,000, and from its lantern, 230 feet above the sea-level, there shines out nightly a fixed white light with a red sector, visible in clear weather for twenty-one miles.
On Dunnet Head, the Cape Orcas of the Romans, stands the white stone lighthouse which guards the western entrance to the Pentland Firth. The tower, 67 feet in height, stands on the brink of the Head, which rises to a height of some 280 feet above high- water level, although even at this elevation it is not free from the assaults of the waves which, when driven forward by a strong gale, strike the cliffs with such tremendous force as to hurl loose stones from the base right up to the top of the lantern, occasionally starring or cracking the thick plate glass. During the migration period it frequently happens on dark nights that wild geese and other large birds, attracted by the light, strike against the lantern in their flight and sometimes break the glass. The light shown is a fixed white one, giving four flashes in quick succession every 30 seconds, visible for twenty-five miles A fog-siren in thick weather gives three blasts (low, high, low) each of 3 seconds’ duration, in quick succession every two minutes.
At the lighthouse on Eileen More, one of the Flannan Islands, a ghastly tragedy occurred only a few years ago. One stormy night the men in the lookout house failed to see the light but were in no wise concerned about it as a heavy sea-fog had come up. But when the fog had cleared away and eleven days passed and still no light shone out, they grew alarmed and, in face of the gale which still raged, made the dangerous passage across to the lighthouse, only to find the three keepers missing: It was the custom to keep the landing gear and sundry stores on a small ledge some 200 feet down the zig-zag path which leads from the lighthouse to the landing-place, and it is conjectured that during the height of the storm the men went down to this ledge and were swept away by a high wave.
The nearest land to the Flannans, or the Seven Hunters, is Lewis, some twenty-five miles to the west. These rocks are now uninhabited but they formerly had a reputation for special sanctity, and in Martin’s time “it was not right ” to call them by their name and they were always spoken of as “the countrie.”
Some twenty-four miles to the west of Iona and eleven south of Tyree a noble lighthouse rises from a reef of dangerous rocks known as Skerryvore, i.e., the Big Scaur, or rock. In the half-century immediately preceding the erection of the Skerryvore lighthouse, thirty-one wrecks upon these murderous rocks are recorded, and such a list is inevitably far from complete, for doubtless many a gallant vessel had gone to pieces leaving no record but “foundered at sea.”
It had long been contemplated to place a light here but the attendant difficulties had delayed the carrying out of the scheme. As long ago as 1804 Robert Stevenson had paid a visit to the rock and found the surface polished by the Atlantic waves for thousands of years to such a glassy and rounded smoothness that to mount it was “like` climbing up the side of a bottle.” He said he considered the erection of a lighthouse on it was feasible though the Eddystone and the Bell Rock would be a joke to it. Ten years later he paid it a second visit as Surveyor-General of the Commissioners of Northern Lights, who were making their annual expedition. The party on board the yacht included Sir Walter Scott, who found time to keep a very minute and extremely interesting diary, from which we have extracted the following paragraph:
“Having crept upon deck about four o’clock in the morning, I find we are beating to windward off the Isle of Tyree, with the determination on the part of Mr. Stevenson that his constituents should visit a reef of rocks called Skerryvore, where he thought it would be essential to have a lighthouse. Loud remonstrances on the part of the Commissioners, who, one and all, declare they will sub- scribe to his opinion, whatever it may be, rather than continue the infernal buffeting. Quiet perseverance on the part of Mr. S., and great kicking, bouncing, and squabbling upon that of the yacht, which seems to like the idea of Skerryvore as little as the Commissioners. At length by dint of exertion, come in sight of this long ridge of rocks, (chiefly under water ), on which the tide breaks in a most tremendous style.”
Only Sir Walter and three others had the courage to land and explore these wave-washed rocks, bestowing on them “our unworthy names.” The same year an Act of Parliament empowered the erection of a lighthouse, but the work was not begun until 1838 owing to the attendant difficulties. The constant friction of the waves had worn the upper surface of the Skerryvore quite smooth, it being exposed to the full “fetch ” of the Atlantic waves, which at times beat on it with a force of three tons to the square foot. Moreover, the rock does not stand alone, but is surrounded by foul ground extending on either side of it for many miles, no less than 130 outlying rocks having been discovered in its immediate vicinity during the progress of the building operations. In a storm all these low-lying rocks are submerged, rendering it necessary to have a very powerful light placed on a high tower to ensure its being seen for a considerable distance. It was therefore determined that the lighthouse should be 138 feet in height, with a diameter at the base of 42 feet and at the top of 16 feet. These proportions and its beauty of outline greatly surpass those of the Eddystone and the Bell Rock towers.
Another difficulty against which the builder had to contend was that Tyree, the nearest land, “is unhappily destitute of any shelter for shipping, a fact which was noticed as a hindrance to its improvement upwards of a hundred and forty years before by Martin in his well-known description of the Western Isles. It was, therefore, obvious at a glance that Tyree was one of those places to which everything must be brought ; and this is not much to be wondered at as cc the population labours under all the disadvantages of remoteness from markets, inaccessible shores and stormy seas, and the oft-recurring toil of transporting fuel (of which Tyree itself is destitute from the Island of Mull, nearly thirty miles distant, through a stormy sea.” Yet another difficulty was that of quarrying the 4,308 tons of stone which the tower contains. Barracks were erected in Tyree and also in the Isle of Mull, where the granite for the tower was quarried. A pier was built at Mull and a harbour or basin at Tyree for the accommodation of the small vessel which attended the lighthouse.
Operations were commenced in the summer of 1838, under the superintendence of Alan Stevenson, by placing on the rock a wooden barrack for the use of the workmen. It took the whole season to complete this preliminary work but it was entirely destroyed during a great gale which raged on the night of the 3rd of the following November. A special steam tug was constructed to convey the building materials to the rock and to serve as a residence for the workmen during the earlier stages of the work.
At the beginning of the next season a second wooden shelter was erected and this successfully braved the storms of the following winter, although the sea often poured over the roof, shaking the house to its foundations and recalling to the occu- pants the appalling fate of its predecessor. The foundation stone of the lighthouse itself was laid on July 7, 1840, by the Duke of Argyll, who had given the Commissioners free permission to quarry granite on any part of his estates.
By infinite patience and perseverance the con- struction of the tower was completed in February, 1844, within six years of its commencement. The light is supplied by a four-wick lamp with eight annular lenses which throw a flash every 20 seconds, visible for eighteen miles. There is a fog- explosive giving one report every five minutes. The entire cost, including the construction of the little harbour, the signal watch-tower, stores, and dwellings at Hynish and of the pier at Mull was £86,977 17s. 7d.
The pier at Hynish is no longer used and the stores and dwellings are now turned to other uses, for Tyree had proved, after the expenditure of so much labour, to be so inaccessible that it had to be abandoned in favour of the settlement at Mull, Of the lighthouse when completed the Engineer wrote : “In such a situation as Skerryvore innumerable delays and disappointments were to be expected, and the entire loss of the fruit of the first season’s labour in the course of a few hours was a good lesson in the school of patience. During our progress, cranes and other materials were swept away by the waves ; the attending vessels were driven by sudden gales to seek shelter at a distance from the rocky shores of Mull and Tyree, and the workmen were left on the rock idle and despond- ing, and altogether destitute of comforts. Daily risks were run in landing on the rock, in blasting the splintery gneiss, and by the falling of heavy bodies from the tower on the narrow space below, yet there was no loss either of life or limb.”
But though the work was carried through without any disasters to life there are some twelve or fourteen gravestones in the churchyard of Soraby, the inscriptions on which show that of the little colony of English folk who spent six years of their lives in this remote district some never returned to their homes. Charles Fyfe, “the blacksmith to the Skerryvore. works ” lost two little daughters in 1841, and John Smith his eighteen-day old son the same year. The foreman carpenter and one of the masons were also among those who died in 1839.
There is another very fine lighthouse on the Dhuheartach Rock, situated some twenty-five miles south-east of Skerryvore and fourteen miles south- west from Iona, or Icolmkill, the island where St. Columba took up his abode in the year 563. The tower, designed by the Stevensons, is of grey granite with a red band 30 inches in width ; its height is 126 feet, the lantern being 145 feet above high-water mark. The building was commenced in 1867 and it took six years to complete, the total cost being £65,784.
The character of the light was altered in 1883. It now shows a one-minute white occulting light from south 11° west to west, but a fixed light in all other directions.
After rounding the Mull of Cantyre and the Sanda lighthouse on Ship Rock, the Firth of Clyde opens out before us, in mid-channel being Ailsa Craig with its yellow brick lighthouse rising from a spit on the east side. Between this island and Glasgow are over seventy lights, some in towers of iron, stone, or brick, others on iron pillars or wooden posts, the most important being the Cambrae on the west side of Little Cambræ Island, showing two white flashes in quick succession every half-minute.
At “the auld toon o’ Ayr,” where Burns spent several years of his life, on the north side of the harbour are a white fixed light in a stone tower, and near the dock entrance a red fixed light in a red iron tower ; at the outer end of the South Pier is another red iron tower from which are shown a white occulting light with an eclipse of 5 seconds every 10 seconds, and lower in the same tower a fixed red light.
This part of Ayrshire – -the wild coast of Carrick – is replete with associations, not only historical but supernatural. It was in the neighbourhood of Turnberry Castle that Bruce, in the spring of 1308, arrived with a party of followers from the Isle of Arran for the purpose of subjugating Carrick. It had previously been arranged that on a certain day -if all circumstances proved favourable – a fire would be lighted on the Carrick Coast by his friends there, as a signal for him to embark from Arran. Towards nightfall of the appointed day, the signal was seen. Bruce immediately set sail and reached Carrick the same evening. But he arrived only in time to find Turnberry Castle in the hands of Percy and a strong party. A more startling fact, however, that he had to learn was that no signal had been lighted by his friends, and that the origin of the fire was unknown. But Bruce’s decision and determination overcame even his supernatural opponents, for such they were considered to be. He immediately rallied his friends, attacked and took the Castle, and succeeded in reducing the district.
Scott, in his “Lord of the Isles,” makes allusion to the mysterious appearance of the fire :
“Now ask you whence that wondrous light
Whose fairy glow beguiled their sight?
It ne’er was known yet grey-haired eld
A superstitious credence held,
That never did a mortal hand Wake its broad glare on Carrick’s strand ;
Nay, and that on the self-same night
When Bruce crossed o’er, still gleams the light.
Yearly it gleams o’er mount and moor,
And glittering wave, and crimsoned shore—
But whether beam celestial, lent
By heaven, to aid the King’s descent;
Or fire hell-kindled from beneath,
To lure him to defeat and death;
Or were it but some meteor strange,
Of such as oft through midnight range,
Startling to traveller late and lone,
I know not -and it ne’er was known.”
A short mile south of Turnberry Castle is the farm of Kirkoswald, the residence of Douglas Graham, the hero of “Tam o’ Shanter,” who lies in the yard of the little kirk which occupies the site of an earlier church built by Oswald, a Northumbrian King of the Heptarchy, to celebrate a great victory he achieved near the spot.
A few miles south of Ayr is the little village of Dunure with its tiny harbour, and on a rocky eminence washed by the sea the ruins of a venerable castle, formerly a seat of the Marquis of Ailsa.
Proceeding southwards we see Girvan, with its little harbour and lighthouse tower, from which is exhibited a fixed red light, and then a range of precipices called Gameslouper, with the tall, gaunt ruins of Carleton Castle, to which is attached one of the wildest legends of this wild coast. This story, which is referred to in the ballad of “May Cullean,” relates that the Castle was once occupied by a terrible baron who was a “lady-killer “, in more senses than one, for he had not only contrived to marry seven wives but had released himself from them successively and successfully by throwing them from the summit of a lofty crag overhanging the sea. But the eighth time he tied the matrimonial knot he formed a noose which proved fatal to him. On leading May Cullean to the crag where he was wont to settle his domestic disputes, the lady pretended to agree to his proposals for a separate maintenance, and to prepare to take the fatal step.
“Her gentle limbs did she undress. “
for the purpose, but not being inclined, like Christabel, to
“Lay down in her loveliness,”
she paused in her task, and, as her beauty became every instant more unadorned, requested her companion to turn away his head for the sake of propriety. The “fause baron” complied, and the lady, seizing the opportunity and his portly person, precipitated him from the fatal cliff.