Pentland Skerries Lighthouse

Pentland Skerries Lighthouse
Photo: Keith Morton

Pentland Skerries Lighthouse is located on the island of Muckle Skerry, the largest and westernmost of the Pentland Skerries islands. 

The Pentland Firth poses major hazards to vessels, with the other option being to pass around Orkney.  The Pentland Skerries lie in the entrance to the Firth. 

Pentland Skerries Lighthouse was first lit in 1794 and designed by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson.  It was Stevenson’s first commission for the Northern Lighthouse Board.

Two lighthouse towers were built 60 feet apart from each other.  The High Light was 80 feet high and the Low Light 60 feet high.

The lighthouse was rebuilt in 1821 and again in 1830, and in 1870 experiments using paraffin were carried out.

Pentland Skerries
Photo: Keith Morton

In 1871 Donald Montgomery the Assistant Keeper rescued a boy on the eastern side of the island.  He was later awarded a Royal Humane Society bronze medal.

In 1884 the four keepers at Pentland Skerries Lighthouse were involved in rescuing twelve crew from the Vicksburg of Leith.  The vessel ran aground, and a further nine men perished.

The two lights operated initially as fixed lights, and in 1895 group flashing lights were installed. 

Periods of relief were often delayed due to bad weather, but in 1929 the Principal Keeper was taken ill.  It would be twelve days before a boat could land and come to his aid.  During this time his two young assistants kept the light and foghorn working.

On 22nd February 1941, the lighthouse buildings were targeted by enemy fire.  Fortunately, there was little damaged and no one was injured.

In 1965 two keepers rescued 50 crew and passengers from the vessel Kathe Neiderkirchner, which ran aground in thick fog.  They climbed down the cliff and boarded the ship’s lifeboat, guiding the boat to safety.

Two lighthouse towers

The lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1939, using three diesel generators.

Until 1972 reliefs were carried out by boat.  However, after this time helicopter reliefs were introduced, making reliefs much more predictable.  NLV Fingal continued to deliver stores, fuel and water.

In South Walls, Orkney, at Kirk Hope Cemetery is a memorial dedicated to the eight crew of the Longhope Lifeboat.  In 1969 they lost their lives during a rescue.  On 17th March the steamer Irene was drifting out of control for three days.  The lifeboat was later found floating upside down.

The lighthouse was automated in 1994 and is listed as a building of Architectural and Historical Interest.

Established: 1794
Engineer: Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson
Tower Height: 36 metres
Light Character: Fl W (3) 30 s
Light Range: 23 miles
Elevation: 52 metres