Lighthouse Beacons from Scotland

North Ronaldsay Lighthouse

Photo by John Tustin via Wikimedia Commons

North Ronaldsay is the northernmost of the Orkney Islands and lies around 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of its nearest neighbour, Sanday. The island is around 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) long along its length and is defined by two large sandy bays; Linklet Bay on the eastern shoreline and South Bay at the south. The west of the island is very rocky with many skerries. The surrounding waters are stormy and treacherous, and have been a notorious "graveyard" for ships - hence the unusually early provision of a lighthouse on the island. North Ronaldsay was the third lighthouse the Commissioners built in Scotland, being preceded by Kinnaird Head and Mull of Kintyre.

Dennis Head in the north east of the island is home to an historic lighthouse known as the "Old Beacon" See graphic on the right (taken by John Tustin, via Wikimedia Commons). The light on a 70 feet tower was first established in 1789 by Thomas Smith, an Edinburgh lampmaker with Ezekiel Walker, an English lighthouse designer, to advise in the initial stages. Smith was assisted by his step-son Robert Stevenson, founder of a famous family of lighthouse engineers, and grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson.

North Ronaldsay has a unique dry stone dyke that surrounds the island whose purpose is to keep the seaweed-eating North Ronaldsay sheep off the arable land. The graphic on the left (by Liz Burke via Wikimedia) is an aerial view of Linklet Bay, looking down over Linklet Bay from the Islander plane as it leaves North Ronaldsay. The sheep dyke can be seen cutting off the area of the Links from the rest of the island, and the new lighthouse (see below and at the top of this page) is just visible at the tip of the island.

In 1809 with the construction of other nearby lighthouses it was decided that the North Ronaldsay light was no longer required and it was extinguished. The round stone tower was retained as a sea-mark, however, and the original beacon chamber at the top replaced by a vaulted roof capped by a remarkable ball finial. The stone spiral staircase which once led to the beacon was demolished. The original keepers' houses, roofless but largely complete, survive below the tower. In 2006, it was one of the neglected buildings selected for the Restoration TV series.

A new lighthouse was built in 1852 and lies at the north of the island at Point of Sinsoss and boasts Britain's tallest land based lighthouse tower, soaring to a height of 138 feet. Built of red brick, its revolving light swept over the land as well as the sea. In 1889, the red brick tower was painted with two white bands to distinguish it as a day mark. See graphic on the right by Liz Burke via Wikimedia.

There have been many changes since a light was first shown in 1789. In 1907, the light was change to incandescent. A radio beacon was added in 1932, and in 1971 further improvements were made to this. North Ronaldsay Lighthouse was automated on 30 March 1998.

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