Eilean Glas Lighthouse is located on the island of Scalpay. It was one of the first four lighthouses built by the Northern Lighthouse Board after they were formed in 1786. The other three lighthouses being Kinnaird Head near Fraserburgh, North Ronaldsay in Orkney and Mull of Kintyre.
Designed by Thomas Smith, the lighthouse was first lit on October 10th 1789 and housed 28 oil lamps and reflectors. The first keeper was Alexander Reid. He retired in 1823 after 34 years’ service and was reported to have been “weatherbeaten and stiff by the long exposure on the Point of Glas”.
The current lighthouse was built in 1824 by Robert Stevenson. Two lighthouse keepers were required, and so a pair of granite cottages were built alongside the new tower. The former two-storey house attached to the original tower was reduced to one level and used as a wash house and storerooms.
In 1852 a new lighting system was installed, housing a first-order fixed dioptric light. By 1898 the distinctive red bands had been added, making it highly visible as a day mark.
A fog signal was installed in 1907, sounding one blast every 1½ minutes. This required the services of a third keeper. As a result, a new engine room, radio room, workshop and Principal Keeper’s house were built in 1907 opposite the 1824 cottages. At the same time, a new revolving first order dioptric lens was installed. The character of the light changed to three white flashes every 20 seconds. The light was visible for 17 miles at 130ft above sea level.
When the lighthouse was automated in the 1970s, the optic was replaced with an array of sealed beam units. The 1907 optic is now displayed in the Science Museum, London. The keepers’ cottages here were sold off by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1983 and are privately owned.
Access to the lighthouse is via boat or by a walk from the village of Scalpay, the same route the keepers’ families would have made. There is a small church where the road ends. From here, it is another 1½ miles across peat bog and moor, marked by posts.
One of the former keeper’s wives recalled how once a month, they would go to Stornoway to do their shopping. “First,” she said “, we had to walk over the moor to meet the taxi on the road. If we had been soaked on the moor, then someone in the village would take our coats and dry them for us until we came back. Sometimes we would stay with our friends at the halfway house if the weather was too bad to cross the moor back to the lighthouse”. The grocer apparently came once a week by boat. If he couldn’t make it by boat, he would walk instead. Once a week, the wives would go to the village to get meat.
Eilean Glas Lighthouse is featured in the 2019 Christmas special of the TV series Call the Midwife.