Butt of Lewis
Butt of Lewis lighthouse
photo: © Bob Schrage

Outer Hebrides

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Update: 29-03-2024

Compiled by:
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Place of the lighthouse

Lighthouse shield
The Butt of Lewis (Scottish Gaelic: Rubha Robhanais) is the most northerly point of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, the headland is often battered by heavy waves and storms and is the windiest place in the UK, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

The nearest populated area is the village of Eoropie, about 1.6 kilometers to the south. The road to the lighthouse passes through a sheltered bay called Port Stoth (see later). The Butt of Lewis contains some of the oldest rocks in Europe, formed in the Precambrian period up to 3000 million years ago. Southwest of the lighthouse is a natural arch called "Eye of the Butt" (Scottish Gaelic: Sùil an Rubha).

Building of the Lighthouse

A lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis was first proposed in 1853, but construction did not begin until 1859. As engineers of the Northern Lighthouse Broad, David Lillie and Thomas Stevenson designed this tower.

They specified that the bricks should be "similar to those used in the Edinburgh Gas Works chimney rather than regular brick". It was believed that plain bricks would be unsuitable for the site due to exposure to the salty air.

The contractor John Barr and Co of Ardrossan was contracted and work commenced, although little was accomplished in that first year (1859). This was partly due to the fact that a ship, which wanted to deliver materials for construction, sank near Port Stoth. A further delay was caused when the only man with the skills needed to build the 168-step stone spiral staircase went on strike. He won his claim for an additional 1d per day wages.

Port Stoth Slipway
Port Stoth Slipway
Port Stoth Slipway
Port Stoth brick storage building
Port Stoth, known locally as Stoth and pronounced Stow, is a sheltered inlet just southeast of the Butt of Lewis. It is the most northerly landing in the Outer Hebrides. A track leads down to a slipway which runs across the sandy beach.

Port Stoth is about 400 meter from the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. All the materials for the construction of the lighthouse (between 1859 and 1862) were brought by ship and landed in Port Stoth, due to lack of road infrastructure on the island of Lewis. The port continued to play an important role in bringing supplies to the lighthouse until about 1960. Supplies and fuel were brought in small cargo vessels when the weather allowed, and were unloaded in Port Stoth by crane. The concrete base still remains, as does a brick storage building. Until the early 1960s, all supplies were delivered by sea because of the poor road system on the island.

This 37 meter high lighthouse was completed in 1862. The lighthouse is unusual in that it is unpainted and the red-brown masonry is still visible. Yet there is a Northern Lighthouse Board style through the buff colored contours around the doors, windows and gallery and the black lighthouse dome. When the lighthouse was built, the houses for the three lighthouse keepers and their families were also built.

Warning systems (Light, Fog horn, Radar Beacon)

There was a controversy over whether the light should be solid or flashing. The Stevensons and Northern Lighthouse Board favored a flashing light, but the Board of Trade and Trinity House (who had a say in these discussions at the time) pushed for a 1st Order fixed light.

The NLB commissioners protested, saying the lighthouse would have to flash to distinguish it from the lights at Cape Wrath and Stoer Head Lighthouses. The NLB's arguments were overruled and a fixed light was installed in 1862 with a range of 16 Nautical Miles.

From the lighting of the lighthouse in 1862, vegetable or fish oil was used as fuel for the light. In 1869 this fuel was replaced by paraffin. This fuel was still used until 1976, when it was replaced by electricity. The lighthouse was automated on March 30, 1998. The current optical system is a Bi Form arrangement, consisting of a pair of 2 Tier high power LED marine lanterns that flash in sync, providing reliability and efficiency.

A siren fog signal, established in the early 1900s, was mounted on a slightly shorter, white-painted tower in front of the lighthouse. This service was discontinued on March 31, 1995. Apart from the circular base, little evidence of this fog signal can be seen today, although older postcards (see right column) do show this second tower.

From the early 1930s, Butt of Lewis Lighthouse also provided a radio link to the Flannan Islands Lighthouse, 50 miles to the west in the Atlantic Ocean. This radio link continued until 1971, when the Flannan light was automated.

From the mid-1990s until March 2022, the Butt of Lewis was one of the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLA) transmitting stations for the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS). The lighthouse is monitored remotely from NLB headquarters in Edinburgh.

In the 1970s, a cave was discovered under the lighthouse. With holes in the roof of this cave, this cave was injected with a special cement. During this work, temporary light was shown from the lighthouse.

Additional information for lighthouses in general or as a reference

In the book Halcyon in the Hebrides, author Bob Orrell tells of a funny incident when visiting Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. He was a keeper there in the 1950s.

He recalled being posted to the Butt by train, boat, and bus in 1956. "The next morning I borrowed the assistant lighthouse keeper's (ALK) bicycle and had barely gone a mile when, from croft after croft, old ladies ran up to me, shouting in Gaelic and hurling peat at my head." He cycled back to the lighthouse as quickly as possible and later learned that he had committed the mortal sin of cycling around the island on Sunday. He was publicly denounced at the next church meeting for riding a bicycle on the Lord's Day!

On his more recent return to the Butt, he set out to find the Bochan, an illegal watering hole he had once visited in the 1950s. It was an all-male gathering that met in the Bochan. Besides a few illegal drams, he had also been introduced to the acquired taste of guga, a delicacy of dried and pickled gannets collected from Sula Sgeir.

Butt of Lewis


A3968

Character: Fl W 5s 52m 21M
(fl. 0.2s - ec. 4.8s)

Butt of Lewis lighthouse
Lightcharater of the Butt of Lewis (click to enlarge)
Engineer: David Lillie Stevenson (1815-1886)
: Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)

Latitude: 58°30.938' N, 006°15.658' W

Established: 1862
Character: Flashing White every 5 secs.
Range: 21 NM ~ 38.9 km
Elevation: 52 meters above sea level
Tower: 37 meters, 168 stepst to the top
Init. Costs: £ ?.
Econ. Costs*: £ ?.
*) According to: MeasuringWorth.com

Automated: March 30, 1998
Last Keepers: D.A. Micheal - PLK
: E.M.M. Bruce - ALK
: J. Drummond - ALK
Fog horn: Siren, 1984 Electric emitter
: 2 blasts every 90 sec.
: Disacontinued 31/03/1995
AIS: MMSI No 002320799

Status: Operational
Authority: Northern Lighthouse Board
Remarks: Former DGPS station - till March 2022
: Cat.A listed - LB5768 - 25/03/1971

Butt of Lewis - Drone flight

Butt of Lewis lighthouse
Butt of Lewis - Jeanie Lazenby (2016)

Butt of Lewis lighthouse
Butt of Lewis on a clear day

Butt of Lewis lighthouse
Butt of Lewis with Foghorn tower in early days

References:
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