Lights Of The Moray Firth
Sarah Swallow, Curator Of Collections, Scotland's Lighthouse Museum
Today eight major lighthouses shine out over the Moray Firth from Duncansby Head, just south of John O' Groats, to Kinnaird Head, next to the fishing town of Fraserburgh. These eight lights were all commissioned by the Northern Lighthouse Board and represent three generations of the Stevenson family of engineers who were responsible for the majority of the lighthouses in operation today around the Scottish coast.
Perhaps the most significant of the Moray Firth lights is Kinnaird Head which was the first lighthouse built by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1787. Kinnaird Head marked the point at which mariners would leave the relative safety of the Moray Firth waters and head out across the North Sea to trade with European and Baltic ports. The light was built up through Kinnaird Head Castle and today it is visited by thousands of people each year as part of Scotland's Lighthouse Museum. It no longer operates as a navigational aid but has been replaced by a smaller modern tower built in front of the castle.
Travelling westwards from Kinnaird Head the next three lights seen by the mariner were all built in 1846. Covesea Skerries was completed after a great storm sank sixteen ships in the Firth in November 1826, Chanonry marks the narrows between Fort George to the south and Chanonry Point to the north, and Cromarty lighthouse guides mariners into the Cromarty Firth.
Further up the north shore Tarbat Ness marks the entrance to the Dornoch Firth and according to folklore the lighthouse was built on the site of a Roman fort which was later used as a meeting place for a witches' coven. Tarbet Ness is easily recognised by its two red bands which were painted around the tower in 1915.
The next lighthouse along the northern shore is Clythness which was built in 1916. A naval base had been established at Cromarty as a result of the First World War and the light at Clythness filled a gap on the coast between Tarbat Ness and Noss Head to the north.
Noss Head lighthouse was built in 1849 near Wick to guide sailors into the safety of Sinclair's Bay and to point out with certainty the turning point at Duncansby Head. However in 1924 Duncansby Head itself was provided with a lighthouse which marks a particularly hazardous corner where the tidal streams of the Pentland Firth flow into the North Sea.
If you would like to find out more about the lights of the Moray Firth or the whole of the Scottish coast come along to Scotland's Lighthouse Museum where you will discover the skill, dedication, science and romance of Scotland's lighthouses. The museum is open every day throughout the year. Or look at the Northern Lighthouse Board's own web site which has details of all lighthouses in Scotland.