The Lighthouse

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

If you follow the snaking single track roads west from the campsite, passing through Salen, along the clear waters of the loch and through the bowing trees at Glenborrodale, rounding the side of the mighty Ben Hiant where deer frequently dot the landscape, and continuing onwards through the crofting village of Kilchoan until the road runs out, you will have reached the most westerly point on the U.K’s mainland. It’s approximately 27.8miles from the campsite and will take roughly about an hour by car; these are Ardnamurchan miles remember, everything here takes a little bit longer. It's a trip worth making though and the drive only acts to enhance the whole experience.

The point, which is 20miles further west than Land’s End in Cornwall, is marked by a working lighthouse. This iconic structure has been in operation since 1849 and although now automated, it is still working today to guide seafarers safely on their journeys. Ardnamurchan Point has a reputation from sailors as being tricky to navigate, with the ever changing and sometimes treacherous waters of the North Atlantic, it made for challenging sailing conditions, especially in bad weather. It was once tradition that upon a successful completion of their voyage around the point, sailors would place a sprig of lucky white heather atop their masts. With the difficult seas and rocky outcrops, it made perfect sense and an ideal location to have a lighthouse to help guide sailors on their way.

Designed by Alan Stevenson, Uncle of the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson, and a member of the Stevenson family who were responsible for designing the majority of Scotland’s lighthouses, it is the only Egyptian styled lighthouse in the world. The 36-metre tower is elevated 55metres above the rocky outcrop it stands on and was built using granite from the nearby Isle of Mull. The remoteness of the location meant that building wasn’t always easy, and the project took three years to complete. Possibly slowed down by an outbreak of scurvy that struck the workers on site. I dread to think of the doctor’s call out costs for that visit!

Before it’s automation in 1988 life was tough for those that worked as keepers. Keeper’s cottages were built at the same time as the lighthouse and provided housing for the principal lightkeeper and assistant with their families. It wasn’t possible to just ‘pop down the shops’ so the families kept and tended 2 cows and a dozen or so sheep for food and dairy products. It wasn't just the remoteness that added challenges to the the lighthouse way of life, there were also the fearsome storms from the North Atlantic to contend with. The families would have to battle against the strong winds, ferocious storms and raging seas that so often strike this most westerly point. The winter of 1852 saw a particularly devastating storm that quite significantly damaged the tower from a lightning strike. Panes were smashed, and plaster ripped off the walls, but that was nothing in comparison to the 40 feet of road that was washed away into the angry seas.

Things are very different today, and although the sea is still hazardous and the storms are just as dramatic, the point is now alot easier to get to you with roads leading right to it. Today, the cottages are also a bit more luxurious and are rented out as self-catering holiday homes, plus, there’s now a coffee shop on site, serving an array of delicious food so the risks of contracting scurvy are significantly minimised.

Although the lighthouse no longer requires manpower to keep it alight, the tower is fully functional and if you’re feeling brave you can climb the 152 steps and 2 ladders right to the top to take in the jaw dropping oceanic views. If you don’t quite have a head for heights, or spiral staircases, then there is plenty to see at ground level. The engine room and workshop are kept as close as possible to its working times and there is an interesting exhibit on the extensive natural history of the peninsula, especially the geography that is so affected by the volcanic history of the area. If the weather allows it then it’s worth wandering around the various paths that take you around the point. On clear sunny days it offers breathtaking views of Skye, Muck, Eiigg and Rhum and on the not so clear and calm days there are dramatic views of breaking waves alongside the looming lighthouse itself. No time is ever wasted gazing out to sea, especially on the most westerly point of the U.K mainland, under a one of a kind lighthouse.

Words: Jeni Bell

Title Image: Karen Brettell