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Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

Perched on top of the steep cliffs of Sumburgh Head, at the southern extremity of the Shetland Mainland, the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse comprises a stumpy tower flanked by two-storey accommodation blocks, all painted white and buff. The tower is 17m (56 feet) in height, but with its base at an altitude of 91m (298 feet), it is a notable landmark with the light having a range of 26 miles (42 km). Completed in 1821 and designed by the noted lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson (1772 - 1850), this was the first lighthouse to be constructed in the Shetland Islands. Stevenson had visited Shetland in 1814, along with his friend Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832), on the Lighthouse yacht which Scott referred to as Pharos. He visited again the following year and identified Sumburgh Head as a suitable location for a light. Construction began in January 1819, on the site of an ancient fort, the work undertaken by Peterhead-based building contractor John Reid. The walls of the lighthouse were built double-thickness owing to the exposed location. The light is unusual in having an equiangular refractor of Stevenson's design, with 26 reflectors instead of the usual 21. The dangerous nature of the nearby coastline was confirmed when the ship Freemason foundered at the entrance to Grutness Voe on 15th October 1820 while bringing glass and other materials to be used in the construction of the lighthouse. All but one of the crew perished.

During World War II a radar station was built in front of the lighthouse and the building remains today. The lighthouse and its associated buildings, which include lightkeepers' accommodation, an engine house, workshops, foghorn tower and storehouses, were Category-A listed in 1977. The foghorn was discontinued in 1987 and the light was fully automated in 1991. Since 1998, Sumburgh Head has been one of three lighthouses in Scotland which act as reference stations working in conjunction with Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to enhance navigation, the others being the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse and Girdle Ness Lighthouse. It continues to be operated by the Northern Lighthouse Board, now remotely controlled from its headquarters in Edinburgh. Ownership of the associated buildings passed into private hands. In 1996, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) moved its Shetland office to these buildings to manage its Sumburgh Head Nature Reserve which now surrounds the lighthouse. In 2002 Shetland Amenity Trust purchased the ancillary lighthouse buildings and began offering self-catering holiday accommodation. The Sumburgh Head Lighthouse buildings are being restored 2012-14 to create a visitor attraction in a 5.4 million project led by Shetland Amenity Trust in partnership with RSPB.


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