Lighthouse Beacons from Scotland

Start Point (Sanday) Lighthouse

Photo by Beth Loft via Wikimedia

Sanday is one of the inhabited Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. With an area of 50.43 square kilometres (19.5 sq mi), it is the third largest of the Orkney Islands. Sanday can be reached by Orkney Ferries or plane from Kirkwall on the Orkney Mainland.

Initially, the beacon to mark Start Point on the Orkney island of Sanday was an unlit masonry tower, but this proved inadequate and ships continued to be wrecked on the island. At this time, Robert Stevenson was engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board and he decided to transfer the light from the neighbouring island of North Ronaldsay to Start Point. Building work began and the new lighthouse was established and became operational in 1806. Later, the original great ball from the top of the first beacon was removed and placed on the old beacon at North Ronaldsay - and is still there. The picture here of the dome of the lighthouse is from the Northern Lighthouse Board.

Start Point was the first Scottish lighthouse to have a revolving light which gave it a unique character making it easily distinguished from other lights. Start Point lighthouse was painted with its black and white vertical stripes around 1915, which makes it a recognisable day mark; it is the only Scottish lighthouse painted in this way.

During the building of Start Point lighthouse the vessel "Stromness" set off to return the workmen back to Leith. A tremendous storm blew up forcing the "Stromness" back northwards to shelter off Flotta island. During the night the cables broke and she was smashed to pieces on the rocks with the loss of all on board except the cabin boy, who was found clinging to the top of the mast.

Despite the presence of the lighthouse, HMS Goldfinch was wrecked in fog on Start Point in 1915.

All Scottish lighthouses now operate automatically as a light sensor switches the light on and off. The status of the light and all its associated equipment is relayed back to the Northern Lighthouse Board's head office in Edinburgh by phone link, radio signal or satellite.

Prior to the automation, a Principal Lightkeeper and an Assistant, with their families, lived at the light. The families were almost self sufficient and kept cows and sheep at the station. At night each keeper was required to keep a watch in the lightroom to ensure that the light flashed correctly to character. During daytime keepers were engaged in cleaning, painting if necessary and generally keeping the premises clean and tidy.

The magnificent lens at Start Point is an original 4th Order Fresnel lens, with a new lamp system. So named after its French inventor, Augustin Fresnel, it is made from a series of perfectly polished crystal glass lenses set into a brass structure.

Start Point Lighthouse is now powered by Solar energy; a bank of 36 solar panels charge batteries which are then used to power the light.

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