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Lighthouse

History

This coastline, with its partially submerged rocky outcrops, has always been hazardous for shipping. There are tales of the Celtic hermit, Saint Gerardine, who according to legend walked the headland with a lantern to warn seafarers away from the dangerous Covesea and Halliman Skerries. (Halliman Skerries still retain in their name a reference to the holy hermit.)

Following a storm in the Moray Firth in November 1826 when 16 vessels were sunk, applications were made for lighthouses at Tarbat Ness, on the other side of the firth, and here at Covesea Skerries.

After many letters and petitions from local people, a suitable site was chosen and the building of a lighthouse on the Craighead and a beacon on the Halliman Skerries were approved. The 40 foot tall grid iron tower, which can still be seen on the Skerries today, was erected in 1845. The Covesea Skerries Lighthouse was completed in 1846.

Covesea Skerries Lighthouse was designed by Alan Stevenson, a member of the famous 'Lighthouse Stevensons' family who over a period of 150 years built most of the lighthouses around Scotland’s coast. It was built by James Smith, a building contractor from Inverness, at a cost of £11,514. The lighthouse stands 36 metres high and its light had a range of 24 nautical miles, flashing red and white every 20 seconds. The lighthouse complex included the two keepers cottages and a well; along with workshops and offices on the lower ground.

The original 1845 Fresnel lens was built in the Parisian workshop of Francois Soleil. The light was rotated by a clockwork mechanism with gradually descending weights providing the energy. The lighthouse keeper winched these weights up every day and the lighthouse still has the hollow central void which held these weights.

Covesea Skerries Lighthouse was automated in 1984 and the original lens was replaced with an array of sealed - beam bulbs, similar to those used for car headlights. The original Fresnel lens can now be seen in the Lossiemouth Fishery and Community Museum, Pitgaveny Quay, Lossiemouth. The light was finally extinguished in 2012 following 166 years of loyal service.

The lighthouse is a Category A Listed Building, deemed to be 'of national importance'. It is now owned by Covesea Lighthouse Community Company who are preserving this iconic building as a heritage and education centre for all.

Light Established: 1846
Engineer: Alan Stevenson
Position: Latitude   57 43.5' N
Longitude 03 20.2' W
Character of Light: Flashing White/Red every 20 secs(now decommissioned)
Elevation (ASL) 49 metres
Range: White 24 Nautical Miles
Red 20 Nautical Miles
Structure: White tower 36 metres in height

Covesea Skerries Lighthouse
The lighthouse here at Covesea Skerries is one of nearly 200 that are located all around Scotland’s wild coastline.  Operated and maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board they warn ships of dangerous waters and provide important navigational information.

The Sensational Stevensons
Between 1797 and 1938 Robert Stevenson and his descendants designed most of Scotland’s Lighthouses, including this dramatic building. The remote and challenging lighthouse locations underwrite an amazing historical achievement.  Alan Stevenson, the architect and builder of the Lighthouse, had a facination with Egypt and instilled some Egyptian themes in many of his Lighthouses.  Here at Covesea he added numerous pieces of Egyptian detail in his architecture and design flurishes and along with Ardnamurchan on the West Coast has the best examples of his handiwork.

Robert Stevenson’s talented family also included the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson (his grandson). Visits with his father to remote lighthouses are thought to have inspired his books Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

Lighting the Moray Firth
Following the loss of 16 ships during a storm in the Moray Firth in November 1826 many applications were made for lighthouses to be established at Tarbat Ness (near Portmahomack on the Black Isle) and Covesea Skerries to mark the wide entrance to the Firth and its confusing series of inlets.  Preference was given to the building of Tarbat Ness lighthouse; this magnificent tall light with its two distinguishing broad red bands was designed by Robert Stevenson and was first lit in 1830.  Tarbat Ness can be seen on a clear day.

However, local demand for a light at Covesea Skerries continued and following lengthy petition approval was finally received for the building of the lighthouse on Craighead and a beacon on the dangerous Halliman's Scars.  By this time Robert’s son, Alan, had joined the family business and he designed and built the new Covesea Skerries lighthouse and beacon.  The iron beacon, which is a pyramid of iron pillars was completed in 1845 and the new lighthouse followed in 1846.

High walls were built around the lighthouse complex for shelter but these caused 'strong whirlwinds' in the courtyard, which interfered with the lightkeepers lookout, so in 1907 the walls were lowered.  Egyptian influences can be seen in the entrance to the tower, the chimneys of the cottages and the arches at the top of the lighthouse tower beneath the balcony.

Keeping the Light on
A Principal Lightkeeper, an Assistant and their families lived at Covesea Skerries until the light became automated in 1984.  Lightkeeping was a remote, lonely and hard existence.  One task overruled everything: the light must burn at maximum intensity throughout the hours of darkness. During long winter nights, the need to constantly check everything and trim the lamp wicks every four hours was extremely demanding.

Keeping the Light out
Daytime, and the relentless demands of ‘lightkeeping’ continued as reflectors were polished, oil was replenished and windows cleaned in preparation for the next evening.  This work had to be undertaken in partial darkness. If light from the sun hit the lens the intense heat could damage the burner and possibly ignite a fire.

French Crystal
The original lens from Covesea Skerries Lighthouse was made from a series of perfectly polished crystal glass lenses set into a brass structure.  Called a Fresnel Lens, after its French creator, these intricate constructions were flat on one side and ridged on the other, like the rings of a tree.  Each ring is slightly thinner than the next and focuses the light toward the centre, creating a narrow beam of light.  This lens is now in the Lossiemouth Fisheries and Community Museum; it is so large that it can be seen on both the lower and upper floor.

How did the light operate?
The lighting system is decommissioned but did have an array of sealed-beam electric lamps, similar to those used by locomotives for headlights.  When daylight fell and rose between set levels a small light sensor automatically switched the banks of lights on and off.

The light was monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board's offices in Edinburgh.  The light was visited on a regular basis by a local person to carry out basic maintenance and cleaning.  Once a year the Northern Lighthouse Board Technicians would visit the light to carry out maintenance.

Access
Admission and guided tour of inside of Lighthouse by appointment.
t: 01343 810664
e: info@covesealighthouse.co.uk
Website by Digital Routes
Location
Covesea
Lossiemouth
IV31 6SP
Location