On 26th August the Museum Manager and Collections Manager travelled to Lossiemouth to visit Kinnaird Head Lighthouse’s neighbour to the west: Covesea Skerries.
This decommissioned lighthouse was bought by the community and is now run by volunteers who aim to open a visitor centre at the site. Being decommissioned, the lighthouse was virtually stripped bare in the mid-1980s with automation. The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses hopes to help the project by loaning items for display to help bring the site to life.
As it stands the lighthouse is already an impressive site living up to the beauty and design of any Alan Stevenson creation. It is often cited that Ardnamurchan is Scotland’s only fully Egyptian style lighthouse but, first lit in 1846, Covesea Skerries is an earlier built challenger to that claim.
As you look up the tower from below you notice the Egyptian style arches which support the lighthouse lantern. Built for beauty, not practicality. On the ground level too the semi-detached lighthouse cottages for the two serving keepers have been given impressive Egyptian influenced frontages and elongated chimneys. A far superior design to the plain boxes of Kinnaird Head. By the way, the cottages are available to rent with the income supporting the work of the volunteers at Coveseas!
With such an impressive design and construction it is little wonder the Engineer placed his name in a prominent position above the entrance on a classically styled triangular plaque. Upon entering we are greeted with an enclosed spiral stairway to the top with no less than 144 steps and 2 ladders. Breathless at the top we should be grateful not to be an ‘old timer’ paraffin keeper. He would carry his oil supply to the top, but with an addition 17 steps to be challenged from the basement oil store!
Upon climbing the first of two ladders we reach the watchroom. Sadly the winding machinery and much of the original fittings were removed with automation. We are, though, greeted with the sorrowful face of a goddess on the brass air vents looking how we feel after our ascent! An original feature, the face is believed to be that of Isis – goddess of light, and goddess of wind. This is another example of Alan Stevenson’s interest in the classical world spilling over into his lighthouse work. From the watchroom a small door takes us out on to the lighthouse balcony to see the stunning views from the top. Breathless!
In addition to the beatiful surrounding scenery (not to mention the comings and goings of jets from RAF Lossiemouth) two more constructions of the Northern Lighthouse Board are visible from the tower. Closer to the station is the Halliman Skerries ‘beacon’. Constructed in 1845 this iron cage was unlit. If your vessel was unfortunate enough to strike the rocks, you would clamber on to the reef and then climb the iron cage until you could be saved! The modern buoy which replaced the light can be seen floating on the right.
It was a clear day when we visited meaning that we were lucky enough to see across the water to Tarbat Ness Lighthouse’s 135ft tower. Built in 1830 by Alan’s father, Robert Stevenson, the light is still operational today.
From the balcony we are able to view even more decorative features on the outside of the original 1846 lantern. Keepers would be required to clean lantern panes as well as scrape off snow in the winter. This would mean hand grips were required. Alan’s versions were designed to look like classical sea serpents!
The tours offered by the extremely knowledegable guides at Covesea Skerries take visitors up to the now near empty lantern room. They feel disappointed that there is no lens at the top to delight their visitors, but it is worth the trip to see the view framed in the window panes. The window panes, by the way, are square which shows the vintage of this lighthouse. Most lights – including Kinnaird Head – lost their original lanterns but not Coveseas! Alan Stevenson abandoned bulky square astragals in favour of stronger, narrower triangular astragals in 1849.
(Above: Museum Manager Lynda McGuigan [right] with enthusiastic tour guide Graeme and Trustee Franziska in the lantern at Covesea Skerries).
From the lighthouse the Museum Manager and Collections Manager were treated to a visit to Lossiemouth Heritage Centre to view what had been removed from the lighthouse with automation.
(Above: Covesea Skerries lens at Lossiemouth Heritage Centre)
The early, and rare, first order lens was installed at Covesea Skerries in 1846. The Collections Manager was instantly jealous as it is older than any of the major lens assemblies we have in Fraserburgh! If Covesea Lighthouse tower is a sister to Ardnamurchan, the lens is a sister to that originally placed in Skerryvore! State of the art for the time, the central lens panels were accompanied with Alan Stevenson’s lower prisms. His brother Thomas has not yet perfected the holophotal model, and so the top section of this catadioptric lens was finished with slanted triangular mirrors. The lens used both refraction and reflection. The mirrors are still at the lighthouse!
We had an excellent visit to Coveseas Skerries and we are extremely thankful to Franziska and her brilliantly enthusiastic team for the warm welcome and hospitality we received. The Covesea Skerries Lighthouse is open to visitors and we would thoroughly recommend a visit! Details can be found on their website!
We are also extremely grateful to the volunteers at Lossiemouth Fisheries and Community Museum for telling us about their lighthouse related collections, particularly Mr Campbell who was the last attendant keeper at Covesea Skerries.