Fair Isle Lighthouses

There are two lighthouses on Shetland: Fair Isle North at Skroo and Fair Isle South at Skaddan.

Fair Isle is located between Orkney and Shetland and is three miles long by a half-mile wide.  It has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 1954.

The western side of the island sees cliffs rising up to 660ft.  On the eastern side, Sheep Rock rises to 433ft.

North Lighthouse

Fair Isle North Lighthouse
Fair Isle North Lighthouse
Photo: Keith Morton

Fair Isle North Lighthouse is located at Skroo on the northeastern tip of the island.  

Fair Isle North Lighthouse is 47 feet high, much shorter than its counterpart on the southern end of the island, due to its elevation of 215 feet.  Both Fair Isle North and South Lighthouses were built in 1892. David A and Charles Stevenson were responsible for the design of both lighthouses.

Photo: Keith Morton

On 28th March 1941, the South Light cottages were hit by an enemy plane, and the Assistant Keeper’s wife was killed, and their daughter was injured.  Another keeper’s wife also died during a raid. 

Principal Keeper of the North Light, Roderick Macaulay, walked three miles to the south light from his station.  He and his daughter had narrowly escaped an air raid. Macaulay walked through snow and gale-force winds to help restore the South Light to working order.  He then returned to the other end of the island in the dark to take over his watch.  He was awarded the British Empire Medal for his outstanding service.

The original optic and mechanism were removed in 1980.  The Fair Isle North optic was the first Scottish lighthouse to have a hyper-radial optic.  In 2019 the optic was moved to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh.

Following automation in 1983 the cottages were later demolished.

Fair Isle North
Photo: Keith Morton

South Lighthouse

Fair Isle South
Fair Isle South LIghthouse
Photo: Keith Morton

Known for its famous knitwear, Fair Isle is probably less well known for its six-hole golf course, brought to the island by the lighthouse keepers. The game on the Skaddan grounds had to be played three times to get a full eighteen. It was said that spare broomsticks were used as pins, and pudding tins were used as cups.

On 31st March 1998, Fair Isle South Lighthouse became the last of the Scottish lighthouses to be automated. Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal was at the official ceremony attended by the last Scottish Lighthouse Keepers. One of those, Angus Hutchison, had joined the service in 1962 following his uncle, father, grandfather and great grandfather. Between them, the family had clocked up around 160 years of lighthouse service.

During the automation ceremony, a plaque commemorating those killed during the War was erected by the Northern Lighthouse Board and the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses on the boundary wall.

Fair Isle South
Photo: Keith Morton

The engine room housed generators, with no mains electricity on the island, other than a wind generator. The compressed air fog signal sounded a blast of 1.5 seconds every 60 seconds.

The South Light optic was removed in 1981 and is now at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh. The optic was unusual in that the static lens was surrounded by vertical prisms which rotated around the central lens.

During automation, the fog signal was replaced with an electric emitter, which was discontinued in 2005.

Tours may be available from the cottage owners.

South Lighthouse
Photo: Keith Morton

Fair Isle is a stopping-off point for migrant birds.  The bird observatory opened in 1948.  A new observatory opened in 2010 but was destroyed by fire in March 2019.  It is featured in crime writer Ann Cleeves’ book Blue Lightning, and the South Lighthouse is featured on the front cover.

Access to and from the island may be delayed due to inclement weather, so be prepared for delays in flights or boat trips.  Dogs are generally not allowed as the lighthouse is in open sheep country.

Fair Isle South LighthouseEstablished: 1892 Discontinued: Engineer: David A and Charles Stevenson Tower Height: 26 metres Light Character: Fl (4) W 30 s Range: 22 miles Fog Signal: Discontinued Elevation: 32 metres Automated: 1998
Fair Isle South LighthouseEstablished: 1892 Discontinued: Engineer: David A and Charles Stevenson Tower Height: 14 metres Light Character: Fl (2) W 30 s Range: 22 miles Fog Signal: Elevation: 80 metres Automated: