Skerryvore Lighthouse aerial view
The second of the great rock towers to be designed for the Northern Lighthouse Board by the Stevenson family of engineers.
Skerryvore lighthouse stands on a treacherous reef in the Atlantic around 12 miles south-west of the island of Tiree. Alan Stevenson’s masterpiece took six years to build and was finally lit in 1844. On an earlier visit to the rock in 1814 with Alan’s father Robert Stevenson (builder of the Bell Rock Lighthouse), the writer Sir Walter Scott commented that ‘It will be a most desolate position for a lighthouse – the Bell Rock and Eddystone a joke to it’. The first season’s work was completely wasted when the wooden barrack built on the rock to house the workers was washed away in a winter storm after the men had left the rock for the season.
Skerryvore is regarded as being the most graceful example of rock lighthouse design in the world, the 48m high tower (Scotland’s tallest) is made of granite from the Isle of Mull. Unlike many other rock lighthouses the granite blocks at the base of the tower are not dovetailed and interlocking – Alan Stevenson calculated that the weight of the tower would provide the strength needed to resist the power of the seas – after 167 years service he has of course been proven right!
The most dramatic event in the lighthouse’s history was on an evening in March 1954 when a fire broke out in the tower, the fire quickly spread upwards until it reached the room where the explosives used for the fog signalling device were kept . The subsequent explosion spread the flames to both the upper and lower compartments of the lighthouse. The three keepers were fortunate in that it was not stormy weather outside and they were able to escape from the tower and stand on the rock below, they were also fortunate in that the relief boat for the change of keepers was due the next day. The fire itself completely gutted the interior of the lighthouse and caused some of the granite blocks themselves to crack. The damage was not fully repaired and the lighthouse manned again until 1959.
Skerryvore was automated in 1994.