Buchan Ness Lighthouse is located on a small island two and a half miles south of Peterhead, linked to the village of Boddam by a short bridge.
Officials in Peterhead petitioned the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses in 1819 to have a lighthouse erected on Buchan Ness or somewhere suitable on that part of the coast. At the time, there were no significant beacons between Kinnaird Head at Fraserburgh and the Buddon Ness lighthouses at the mouth of the Tay estuary.
The area was surveyed by Robert Stevenson, Engineer to the Commissioners, who decided that a light would be best sited on Buchan Ness. It was not, however, until 1827 that the light was first exhibited.
Originally a fixed light was installed at the lighthouse, but as other beacons were being established to the north and south, it became necessary to give the lights their own unique character. Kinnaird Head retained a fixed light, the 1833 Girdleness light at Aberdeen displayed two lights from one tower, and Buchan Ness was given a reflecting light that gave one flash every 5 seconds. This is believed to be one of the first “flashing” lighthouses in Scotland.
In 1907 the tower was painted white with a broad red band to distinguish the lighthouse as a daymark from other beacons along that stretch of coast. Further improvements were made in 1910 when a dioptric lens replaced the reflecting light.
During the Second World War, drifting mines were washed ashore onto nearby rocks and exploded on two separate occasions, causing damage but fortunately no loss of life. On one occasion, a mine exploded 50 yards south of the lighthouse, and three lantern panes cracked, with a further twelve glass panes broken in the tower, engine room and dwelling houses. The attack brought down part of the ceilings of the kitchen and one bedroom of the First Assistant’s house, and it caused damage to the locks, hinges and bolts of four doors.
In the 1970s, the optic from Out Skerries Lighthouse in Shetland was transferred to Buchan Ness. The lighthouse was converted to electric operation in 1978, and its intensity again increased. At around this time, a new fog signal building was erected in the southeast corner of the complex.
In December 2012, one of the worst storms in living memory hit the coastline, destroying a part of the lighthouse wall and building that housed the generator and causing some damage around the cottages. The fog signal turret was badly damaged and was demolished shortly afterwards. You can still find evidence of an earlier fog signal structure beyond the perimeter wall out on the rocks.
The lighthouse was automated in 1988 and is now remotely monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s headquarters in Edinburgh. John Malcolm was the last Principal Keeper, retiring from the service upon its automation.
In 2012 significant work was carried out to upgrade the light at Buchan Ness. The optic was removed and replaced with two LED lanterns. The new light came into operation in April 2013, exhibiting its original character of one flash every 5 seconds. The light is now flashing rather than rotating, and the range was reduced from 28 to 18 nautical miles.
The former optic from Out Skerries was repatriated to Shetland and is currently in storage at the Shetland Museum in Lerwick.