SCOTTISH LIGHTHOUSES          A KEEPERS REMINISCENCES               A look at days gone by

            SCOTTISH LIGHTHOUSES          A KEEPERS REMINISCENCES               A look at days gone by


Cape Wrath Sutherland


 CAPE WRATH is situated on the extreme north west corner of the Scottish mainland, the name itself comes from the old Norse meaning turning point, although the english rendition of the word is more apt at times, owing to the severe weather conditions that can be encountered there. The lighthouse itself stands on top of 300ft cliffs, but this is by no means the highest point of land as there is a hill behind the station which is home to the ruins of the old coast guard station, in times gone by, the lightkeepers and their families became very close with those of the coastguards. The original site planned for the lighthouse was to be perched on top of a rock standing almost opposite the present site and access was to be via  a subterranean tunnel, although there seem to be a bit of a debate about this sequence of events the remains of which are still evident today, this was a rather ambitious project as there were no machines in those days, there main help was with the aid of explosives and then it was down to the old pick and shovels, the main reason for wanting to site the light out on the outcrop was that at certain times of the year Cape Wrath tends to be shrouded in mist its base being around 150feet above sea level and during these times the original location would be ideal for giving good light visibility out to sea. work was started in the 1820s but due to the war and also the difficulty in cutting the the vertical shaft and tunnel work was abandoned in favour of the easier solution of building on top of the cliff, although it was less than satisfactory but did give the advantage of allowing space for a substantial fog or low visibility horn, although the  effectiveness of these horns  has always been debatable, as the low frequencies given out from these horns could make it difficult to pinpoint the source, therefore they could only be used to give the mariner an approximation that there was danger close, as for in foul weather the sound could be reflected by the water droplets in the fog or rain.

In the summer months you reach the lighthouse by first crossing in a small passenger ferry from Durness then proceed by bus for the eleven miles of single track road.The beaches up in this part of the world are stunning and if you alight from the bus for the track down between the hills to Kervig bay , (around a mile) you will be greeted with beautiful sands surrounded by high cliffs at either ends, the bathing appears to be safe enough as long as you stay close and don’t venture out to far as there are bad currents I personally swam there a number of times but check with locals first ,  of course it has to be said that the water is a trifle nippy so be warned  , although one time I was there it didn’t stop a party of Germans stripping off and dashing in (as they do), just at the top of the beach there is an old school house that the children of the lighthouse keepers and coastguards attended, it has since been turned in to an over night bothy for walkers, if you intend to stop over  be prepared for very Spartan conditions, though I think it has been modernised now, Most of the area around that top quadrant is owned by the Ministry of Defence as a firing range for the navy and also a simulation combat zone and if you keep a keen eye open on the bus you may be able to pick out the holes made by the shells, the military also use a small island to the south west of the light called Gruney that is used for missile target practice mainly for pilots to hone their skills although the navy used it as well, and you could see the orange explosions from the lighthouse Im glad their targeting systems are accurate as the navy ships would be barley visible on the horizon, I suppose only half a degree out, from that distance away would mean that I wouldn’t be here typing at my laptop.

. The weather in that neck of the woods can be pretty horrendous, the courtyard has a pair of railings from the accommodation block to the tower  so the keepers can make their way across to keep their watch for its been known on occasion for a keeper to be pinned up against the courtyard wall by the wind just as well the yard is totally enclosed the antithesis to this is the bright calm sunny days of summer ,and on one of these when of watch in the afternoon I jumped in the landrover to go and do a spot of fishing in a fresh water loch a few miles down the road, I duly arrived , loaded up with rod and line and started down the hill to the loch, about half way I started to see black spots appearing all over me and they quickly multiplied and before I knew it I was being swamped by flying ants, the boat sitting by the loch edge was now only sixty yards or so away so in my wisdom I reckoned that if I made the boat and got onto the loch that the ants would not bother me there as they preferred hovering overland ,but on reaching the boat I was greeted by a writhing dark mass almost engulfing the entire vessel, so without hesitation I made a quick Uturn and very hastily made my way back up to the safety of the land rover I’ve seen flying ants before but never in these numbers, so needless to say that put me off fishing that water for a while, fishing and walking were the most popular pastimes for the keepers.

Due to a new engine room being built at the station the old engine room had now become vacant so the board sold it to the local council for the princely sum of one pound, the council decided to make it into a tea room for the tourists and repaired the roof, but it wasn’t until they went to install the plumbing  they discovered that the water supply was severely inadequate to supply the tearoom and the toilets needed so the whole idea had to be abandoned it’s a pity for it would have been a good little earner for them as many thousands visit during the summer months and beverages and toilets would be in great demand , the engine room is now owned by a local person in Durness ( I notice on google maps they show a cafe there now so they must have solved the water problem and installed chemical loo's )

One summer we had the media doing a piece on the station and the coming automation and were interviewing a keeper at the back gate , this was in the height of the tourist season, bad move, the interview was going smoothly, and entertaining for the onlookers when this old woman came round the corner, on seeing the filming she shouted "oh look, what are they doing, who is that", etc, etc, (theirs always one) the film crew were making all sorts of gestures to indicate that they needed silence, while all this time the sound engineer was frantically twiddling all the knobs on his equipment, did she take any notice, I’m afraid not she just kept prattling on, in the end the interview had to be abandoned until she disappeared around the other side of the building, I just wonder about people sometimes !

Relief Day 

 Unusualy the rotors are stopped this day, normally the pilots keep them rotating throughout  the relief, personal boxes would be loaded from the rear, change over was usually done in double quick time and you were panting away breathing in the exhaust fumes, as the exhausts pointed slightly down and you could feel the fumes hurting your lungs as it forced into you, the quick time didn't help either otherwise relief day was good as long as they didnt land any keeper you didnt get on with that is


Position on the most north westerly point of the UK mainland
Cape Wrath
Cape Wrath