Burrafirth Shore Station

Burrafirth Shore Station
The former shore station at Burrafirth
Photo: Patrick Tubby

The Muckle Flugga Shore Station is located in a sheltered harbour at Burrafirth.  It provided accommodation for the keepers of Muckle Flugga Lighthouse and their families.  A boathouse was also kept here to provide reliefs for the lighthouse keepers.

Four keepers and their families lived at the Burrafirth Shore Station, which was built at the same time as Muckle Flugga Lighthouse.

From the shore station, the Flugga boat, as it was known, was also located, as was the boatman’s house – now known as Shorehaven Cottage. A boatshed and pier were located just below the shore station. During a severe storm, waves broke into the boatshed and moved the boat inside, so the boatshed was later moved further up the slope.

Shorehaven Cottage
Shorehaven Cottage
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Supplies and relief crew were transported to the rock in a small open boat. At one time, supplies came via the Earl of Zetland, which landed at Baltasound on Unst. The provisions were then transported to Baliasta to a storage hut alongside the Loch of Cliff. From here, a boat took the supplies down the loch to meet a horse and cart at Burrafirth, where they were transported to the shore station. Finally, supplies were loaded onto the Flugga boat to reach the lighthouse. Later, a shop near Burrafirth provided provisions, and the keeper ashore would get the supplies from “Peerie Alex’s” shop.

The first boat to service the lighthouse would have been a six-oared rowing boat, known as a sixareen. This boat was capable of carrying a large number of provisions. Later a motorboat was used, which could carry fewer supplies. Sometimes the motorboat would tow the sixareen boat behind with additional supplies.

Once moored at the landing, a Blondin wire was anchored into an iron fitting concreted into a long jagged stack called Da Comb. This wire went 200 feet up to the winch house at the top, across the geo so that supplies could be hoisted straight up to the light. 

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse
Muckle Flugga Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

The boatmen provided the life support system for the lighthouse keepers. They were responsible for transporting people and supplies to and from the lighthouse. The boatmen were experts at judging the weather and tidal conditions. However, the lightkeepers would signal if they felt conditions were too dangerous to land. Everything, including drinking water and fuel, had to be carried up the 250 steps to the lighthouse.

The last of the relief boats was the Grace Darling, 36ft long and built in Leith in the 1930s. One of her skippers was Jonathan Wills, who took on the role aged 27 and learned from the experienced crew. He recalled that the boat was “heavy, immensely strong and difficult to steer when going astern”.

At that time, Wills recalled, the crewman’s wage was “just enough to buy you a bottle of rum from Alex Priest’s shop on the road from Burrafirth to Haroldswick.

Boat slipway
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Skipper Lowrie Edwardson rescued a Swiss girl who fell from the cliff at Hermaness. She later rewarded him by sending him a cuckoo clock. Edwardson often looked after the keepers’ children so that the wives could have an evening out or go shopping. He was also the best man to three keepers who got married during their time at the rock.

Landing by boat was always a tricky manoeuvre. Sometimes on rare calm days, a plank was laid across from the boat to the landing stage for keepers to walk across. On rough days they were hoisted across on a sling.

Automation came to Muckle Flugga in March 1995 when the keepers were finally withdrawn. The Muckle Flugga shore station at Burrafirth was later sold off privately. 

Burrafirth
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Shorehaven, the former boatman’s house, is located just below.

Burrafirth is a sheltered inlet, protected from the worst of the Atlantic weather. As such, the lighthouse itself is not visible from the cottage. Opposite the shore station is the Hermaness National Nature Reserve, which has many public footpaths that lead to the northwest part of Unst. From Hermaness are spectacular views of the lighthouse, approximately three miles away. A new boardwalk and visitor hub was opened in 2022.