Ardnamurchan Lighthouse is the most westerly lighthouse on mainland Britain.
The Ardnamurchan peninsula juts out 35 miles north west of Oban, above the top of the island of Mull. Its unpainted pink granite lighthouse stands on the most westerly point of mainland Britain, some 23 miles further west than Land’s End in Cornwall.
There are many variations of explanation for the name; “Point of the sea hounds, or otters”, Airde meaning point, Muirchu meaning sea hound or otter, “Point of the pirates, or wreckers”, Col coming from Muirchol, meaning wickedness, or “Point of the Great Ocean”.
In 1845 20 acres of land were purchased for £20 from the landowner, Alexander Cameron to construct a lighthouse on the point. He was reluctantly paid £58 for maintenance and inconvenience caused during the building operations.
The 118ft high tower was engineered by Alan Stevenson, and the building contractor was Mr Hume. Construction took three years to complete, during which time the workmen suffered from scurvy. The granite came from nearby Mull and was a pinkish colour compared to the grey of the local granite on the point.
When finished, only three other lights existed on the west coast of Scotland; Barra, Lismore and Skerryvore. It completed the lighting of the south of the Hebridean Sea and improved navigation between Oban and The Hebrides.
The tower and keepers’ houses are now category ‘A’ listed, being of Architectural and Historic Interest, and are unusual in that they were built in Egyptian style. The cottages were built at the same time as the tower to house the keepers and their families. Originally two keepers were appointed, with a yearly allowance of £18. They also kept two cows and about a dozen sheep.
The light was first exhibited on 5th October 1849 and displayed a fixed white light, from an oil lamp that was visible for 18 miles.
On the morning of 22nd January 1852, during a severe storm, the tower was struck by lightning, causing broken panes and plaster to fall off the walls. 50ft of the boundary wall also collapsed, and 40ft of the road was washed away by the sea. The keepers’ boat was smashed to pieces even though it was secured 15ft above the last known high water mark.
In 1928 the light was changed to a group flashing character, flashing twice every 30 seconds. The light source was upgraded to a paraffin vapour burner, which gave a very bright light but used only a fraction of the fuel of the old oil lamp. The lighthouse had a fixed optic with a slotted drum rotated by clockwork to produce the flashing character. This required rewinding every 1½ hours. A red sector was also exhibited from the lantern onto the dangerous rocks below.
At one point a siren fog signal was in operation—the main fog trumpet being situated on the cliff edge at the front of the tower. An electric fog signal replaced this but was discontinued in June 2005.
In 1997, a visitor centre was opened, with an all-weather viewing area close to the former fog trumpet. This allows visitors to shelter in inclement weather when watching the sea for whales, dolphins and porpoises.
During the bicentenary of the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1986, Her Majesty The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Duke and Duchess of York visited the lighthouse and keepers, marking a memorable occasion.
After its automation, the adjoining property was purchased in 1989, and a visitor centre was opened in June 1997. The engine room has been restored, and the Principal Keeper’s House now hosts scientific displays, videos, and history of the area and lighthouse. There is also a café and shop.
Ardnamurchan can also be reached by ferry from Tobermory on Mull, to Kilchoan, the nearest village to the lighthouse.