Barra Head Lighthouse

Barra Head Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Barra Head Lighthouse is the most southerly of the Outer Hebrides lights and has the highest elevation in the UK.  

Barra Head Lighthouse is perched loftily at its summit. There is a climb from the shoreline of about 1¼ miles to the lighthouse compound.

Despite its short height of 59ft, Barra Head Lighthouse claims the highest elevation in the UK. The precipitous cliff on which the lighthouse stands is around 645ft tall, and the elevation of the light is 682ft.

Barra Head
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Established in October 1833, the lighthouse was built under the supervision of Robert Stevenson. He reported in 1831, during its construction, that “little work can be done here excepting the summer months. Access to Barra Head is found extremely difficult, and the maintenance of communications with it by post at present requires a passage in an open boat of 54 miles from Tobermory”.

A light was first exhibited on 15th October 1833, the same time as Lismore and Girdleness Lighthouses.

Barra Head Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

The last inhabitants left the island by 1931, leaving only the keepers and their families behind. The lighthouse keepers left the island in 1980 following automation.

The fourth-order optic was moved to the Calf of Man Lighthouse in 1994.

When the final few crofting families left the island, the Northern Lighthouse Board proposed a wireless system. By 1925 Barra Head, along with other remote lights, was able to make direct contact with the shore. Like Lismore, Barra Head was a family station. However, from 1952, the keepers’ families were housed in one of the new villas at the shore station at Oban.

Lighthouse cottages with cross
Note the cross above the centre of the accommodation
Photo: Patrick Tubby

A stone cross is in the rear elevation above the former keepers’ cottages. This is the only lighthouse in Scotland thought to have this feature. An archway behind the bank of solar panels leads to a headland looking straight down on vertiginous cliffs. Here puffins, guillemots and razorbills circle and swoop. 

Beyond the lighthouse is a small circular enclosure, now overgrown. A number of memorial plaques are embedded in the walls. These plaques are dedicated mainly to young children of the lighthouse keepers, who had died there on the island. The island was so remote it was difficult to get emergency treatment.

Memorial compound
Memorial enclosure
Photo: Patrick Tubby

From the site are clear views across to the neighbouring island of Mingulay and beyond.

Established: 1833
Engineer: Robert Stevenson
Tower Height: 18 metres
Light Character: Fl W 15 s
Light Range: 18 miles
Elevation: 208 metres
Automated: 1980