Tarbat Ness Lighthouse is Scotland’s third tallest lighthouse, at 130ft high, with 203 steps to the top.
As far back as 1814, the location was noted as an important place to mark the Caledonian Canal. This led from the Beauly Firth in Inverness to Loch Linnhe. Sailing vessels had a more sheltered passage, avoiding the Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath.
Applications for a lighthouse at Tarbat Ness were made following a storm in November 1826 when sixteen vessels were lost.
In 1828 David Stevenson accompanied his father Robert (the Lighthouse Board Engineer) on their Annual Inspection Voyage. At Tarbat Ness, there was “an evening scene of boats collecting from the surrounding ports of Dornoch, Tain, Portmahomack, Cromarty, Findhorn etc, to the extent of 500 and upwards in Helmsdale Bay. The sight of this fishing fleet was truly grand – conveying the idea of wealth and industry of great importance to the country…”
The lighthouse was first lit on 26th January 1830 using Argand lamps and reflectors. A prismatic optic was installed in 1892 with a paraffin vapour burner as the light source. In 1907 a more efficient incandescent oil burner was installed.
The optic was removed during automation in 1985 and is now on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The distinctive two red bands painted on the tower were added in 1915. These were added to make it more conspicuous during daylight hours.
In 1883 William Davidson, Principal Keeper at Tarbat Ness was awarded the Royal Humane Society bronze medal for saving life at sea. He had come to the aid of four men from a Norwegian schooner wrecked at Wilkhaven nearby.
It is reported that a Roman Fort used to be located at Tarbat Ness. The site was also used as a meeting place for witches covens, according to local folklore.