Arnish Point lighthouse
photo: © Wikipedia Commons

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Arnish Point
Barra Head
Butt of Lewis
Eilean Glas
Flannan Isles
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Tiumpan Head

Place of the lighthouse

Arnish Point Lighthouse marks the entrance to the harbour of Stornoway, capital of the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebredis. That is why the lighthouse is often referred to as Stornoway Lighthouse. The Isle of Lewis was owned by Seaforth Mackenzies, but after his bankruptcy, Sir James Matheson bought the island in 1844. By 1850 the town of Stornoway was developing as a commercial entity, providing the best harbor on the north west coast of Scotland.

Building of the Lighthouse

Initially, there was only a small beacon with an unusual light nearby, which became known simply as 'Beacon Rock'. The system consisted of a black cone-shaped stone tower, 30 feet high, supporting a glass prism - a projector shone it from the shore, making it glow, as if the light was produced by the prism itself. Local fishermen commented on this light exclaiming "The deception is so perfect we can't believe there is no light".

The location of the Arnish Lighthouse was a headache for the builders, as it was quite a distance from Stornoway and could only be reached over rough moorland and many miles from the Scottish mainland.

This made it difficult to find a contractor who was willing to take on the construction of the lighthouses. Four tenders were eventually submitted for an iron tower, ranging from £235 to £420, and there was only one tender for a masonry tower at £513.

The design of the Lighthouse and the Keeper's houses was entrusted to Alan Stevenson , a member of the Stevenson dynasty of engineers. An iron tower was preferred and the result was a pillar of iron plates fastened together and clad with wood. However, the lighthouse was not isolated and it was reportedly very cold in winter.

Port Stoth Slipway
Arnish point - Habour light Stornoway
Port Stoth Slipway
Arnish point - Habour light Stornoway

The lighthouse is a 17 meter high round tower, designed in the style of the other Northern Lighthouse Board lighthouses, latticed domed lantern and the front door with simplified neo-Egyptian frame, complete with the usual black and gold accents. In addition, the traditional stone Keeper's houses.

The facility at Arnish was also unique in another way. The Stevensons had been working for some time on an "apparent light," a new method of illuminating piers and sunken rocks. At that time many hazards were marked by beacons which were in effect sea markers with no warning light or sound. The Stevensons had discovered that glass prisms placed in the beacon and illuminated by a beam projected from a neighboring shore would produce a light that seemed to emanate from the beacon itself.

This new idea was tried at Arnish Point and was described by the fishermen of Stornoway as follows: '...The deception is so perfect that we cannot believe there is no light'. The prism beacon was first 'lit' when the Arnish lighthouse was lit in 1852. The beacon remained in use for fifty years. Arnish quickly became an important hub for maritime travellers.

The 'Sailing Directions' off the east coast of Lewis, dated 1867, describe a lighthouse, painted white, standing on the east horn of Arnish Point, on the west side of the entrance to the harbour; and from a height of 21 meters above high tide, a revolving white light is shown reaching its greatest brilliance every half minute. The light must be visible at a distance of 20 kilometers in clear weather.

The document goes on to say: 'From the lighthouse is a black cone-shaped beacon 30 feet (9 meter) high, surmounted by a prism, which emits a light from a window in the lower part of the lighthouse. This reflected light is similar in appearance to a 1st Order lens.

There is some confusion about the dates regarding the Arnish lighthouse. 1852 would be the year the lighthouse would have been lit for the first time. However, on an 1846 Admiralty chart of Stornoway harbour, a small sketch of the 'Light on Arnish Point' shows the iron-framed lighthouse. The discrepancy may well have arisen as a result of the Stevenson family's several years of trials and experimentation, before Arnish Point was registered as an official Northern Lighthouse Board lighthouse.

The lighthouse keeper's houses next to the lighthouse consist of a single storey three-family block, with flat roofs and flues. Also in neo-Egyptian style. The lighthouse was manned until 1963. After that, the lighthouse was automated and the Keepers were replaced with an automatic light, but the beacon (with prism) survived until 1971 when it was destroyed by a storm and replaced by a buoy.

Light characteristics

The lighthouse was lit in 1853 and flashed every 30 seconds, visible for 12 nautical miles. Later this character was changed to 1 flash every 15 seconds, visible for 21 nautical miles. Today the lighthouse has a light character of 1 flash with a white and red light. The white light is visible over 9 NM and the red light is visible over a distance of 7 NM.

The lighthouse can be seen very well from the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway and can be seen outside the town. The road to the lighthouse is several kilometers to the south. The signs indicate 'Arnish Industrial Estate'. The lighthouse is behind the factory.

In November 2008, Arnish Point Lighthouse came under the authority of the Stornoway Port Authority.

Additional information

By 1850 the town of Stornoway was developing as a commercial entity, providing the best harbour on the northwest coast of Scotland. In 1881 the timber quay at Stornoway was extended and further quays and wharves were built. The fishing industry was growing rapidly by that time. Matheson died in 1879 and the island was sold by Major Duncan Matheson to Lord Leverhulme in 1918.

Arnish Point lighthouse
Iolaire memorial opposite Arnish Point

In 1976 the outer limits of Stornoway Harbour were extended, for the first time since 1865. These now run from the southern point of Holm Island to the southern point of Rudh’ A’Bhaigh Uaine. The harbour has since been developed further with new facilities for deepwater vessels and marina moorings.

In 1919 the yacht Iolaire was sailing home with sailors who had fought in the First World War. As the vessel approached the harbour, she struck the Beasts of Holm rocks and sank. She was only a few yards away from land, and about a mile away from Stornoway Harbour. However, the sailors were unable to reach the shore, and 205 crew died, of whom 181 men were islanders. A memorial is located close by.

On the opposite side of the harbour is Lews Castle and Museum. The former 1st Order Fresnel lens from the Tiumpan Head Lighthouse is on loan to the museum.

Arnish Point


Character: Fl WR 10s 21m 9-7M
(fl. 0.5s - ec. 9,5s)

Arnish Point lighthouse
Lightcharacter of Arnish Point (click to enlarge)
Engineer: Alan Stevenson (1807-1865)

Lat, Lon: 58°11.477' N, 06°22.223' W

Established: 1853
Character: Flashing Withe/Red every 10 secs.
Range: Withe 9 NM ~ 16.6 km
: Red: 7 NM ~ 12.9 km
Elevation: 21 meters above sea level
Tower: 17 meters
Init. Costs: £ 6,380 19s. 5d.
Econ. Costs*: £ 22,460,000.00
*) According to:

Automated: 1963
Last Keepers: ? - PLK
: ? - ALK
: ? - ALK
Fog horn: No

Status: Operational
Authority: Stornoway Port Authority
Remarks: Cat.B listed - LB13328 - 25/03/1971

Arnish Point lighthouse
Arnish Point with Keepers houses

Arnish Point lighthouse
Arnish Point in early times

Arnish Point lighthouse
Arnish Point

Arnish Point lighthouse
Iolaire memorial

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