Bona Lighthouse overlooks the entrance to Loch Dochfour at Lochend, at the northern end of Loch Ness. The two-storey building adjoins a single storey dwelling that guided ships into the Caledonian Canal from Loch Ness.
It was intended as a viewpoint even before it was altered to exhibit a light. A light shone from the bay window on the first floor facing Loch Ness. Later, two electric lights were mounted on a timber pole nearby and the lighthouse became unwatched.
Shipping is now guided through the narrow stretch of water into Loch Dochfour by lights and buoys.
The channel at Bona was once a major crossing for drove roads. Such roads were used for moving livestock from one place to another. Alongside the lighthouse building, a small quay marked the site of the Bona Ferry crossing.
For many years a small boat ferry operated across the Ness at this point. A ramped quay was built alongside for the ferry service, and a bow fronted ferry house located to the southeast. By 1848 it was an established ferry pier, and in 1864 was replaced with stone.
Bona Lighthouse was the smallest manned inland lighthouse in Britain, designed by Caledonian Canal Engineer Thomas Telford in 1815. The design of the building at Bona is very similar to Telford’s construction of octagonal tollhouses in Shropshire and Anglesey. There are similar tollhouses at Conan Bridge and Tore to the north of Inverness. So it may be that the building originally served as a tollhouse before being converted to use as a lighthouse.
Original drawings show four stables at Bona, and it may well have been a stopping point along the canal.
Built to take sea-going ships, the canal was also designed by Thomas Telford. It was part of a wider initiative across the Highlands to allow easier access and growth of the industry. The canal could provide shelter and safe passage for ships wishing to avoid the Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath. Also, it provided much-needed employment to those evicted from their land during the Highland Clearances.
The 60-mile long canal links lochs Oich, Ness, Lochy and Dochfour along the Great Glen. It runs from the Beauly Firth at Clachnaharry, Inverness, to Loch Linnhe at Corpach. 22 miles are man-made and the other 38 miles run through lochs.
The first complete journey through the canal took place on 23rd – 24th October 1822. Although built for commercial activity, the canal was never really successful, as it was too small for most seagoing ships. It was closed for alteration and deepening between 1844 and 1847, and when it reopened, it became popular for passenger steamers, and the former towpaths formed part of the Great Glen Ways. Queen Victoria visited in September 1873, and from then on, tourism increased.
Construction of the canal had stretched from Dochgarrow to Loch Ness between 1814 and 1818, and the building at Bona was constructed around this time. It was used as a dwelling house and store until 1848. The Bona Channel was deepened and widened, and the level of water on the loch was raised in 1844, marking a transition from horse-pulled barges to steam tugs.
The canal section at Fort August was improved in 1847. The building at Bona displayed a light shortly afterwards, guiding vessels from Loch Ness into the narrow channel of the Caledonian Canal network. A lighthouse keeper occupied the single-storey block, but when the light became electrified, his services were no longer required, and the house was converted into a private residence.
Bona Lighthouse was in operation for around a hundred years before it was decommissioned and fell into disrepair. In 2014 the lighthouse was restored, in time for its 200th anniversary, and was officially opened on 17th December by Transport Minister Derek Mackay.