Cantick Head Lighthouse

Cantick Head Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Cantick Head Lighthouse marks the southern entrance of the southeast coast of the island of Hoy.

The Pentland Firth separates the islands of Orkney from the northeastern tip of Scotland. This dangerous stretch of coastline has some of the most treacherous eddies and currents anywhere in Britain.

View from Cantick Head Lighthouse lantern

One of the world’s finest natural harbours is Scapa Flow, which is almost encircled by islands. It was a vital anchorage during both World Wars. In 1914, Scapa Flow became the base for the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, and it is where the German Fleet was interned in 1919.

The Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses approached Trinity House and the Board of Trade in February 1854. They received approval almost immediately for their proposals to build a lighthouse at Cantick Head. However, lengthy correspondence ensued, delaying its construction until February 1856.

Keepers cottages

Cantick Head Lighthouse was first exhibited on the night of July 15, 1858. David and Thomas Stevenson designed and engineered both the lighthouse and keepers’ cottages.

The foghorn, which sounded every 30 seconds, was established in October 1913 and discontinued in 1987.

Lightning occasionally struck the tower, and the brasswork in the lantern room turned black on several occasions. It took some work to clean it all again and restore it to its former brilliance.

Bothy and hot tub
Hot tub with a view!

The two single-storey cottages were originally the Assistant Keepers’ quarters. The back-to-back houses have a double apex roof. Both have been renovated, keeping the traditional design of the buildings, with Victorian-sized rooms.

The former Principal Keeper’s cottage is just across the courtyard. Visiting engineers and trainee keepers used another smaller dwelling adjoining the PK’s cottage. The light was automated in 1991.

Ruff Reef
Ruff Reef Beacon
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Just around the corner from the lighthouse is Ruff Reef Beacon, which can be accessed at low water.

The nearest village to the lighthouse is Longhope, three miles away. There is a general store, post office, church and pub (there is only one shop and three pubs on the island). Longhope is also the nearest passenger ferry terminal.

The nearest car ferry operates from Lyness, six miles away. En route from Houton to Lyness via boat you can see Cava Lighthouse and the wonderfully named Barrel of Butter Lighthouse a little further in the distance.

Cava Lighthouse
Cava Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

The Longhope Lifeboat Museum is worth visiting, and the Lifeboat station is nearby.

Established: 1858
Tower Height: 22 metres
Light Character: Fl W 20 s
Light Range: 13 miles
Elevation: 35 metres
Automated: 1991