Place of the lighthouse
The LighthouseThe Noss Head Lighthouse is an active 19th century lighthouse near Wick in Caithness in the Highland council area of Scotland. It is located at the end of Noss Head, a peninsula on the north-west coast of Caithness that overlooks Sinclairs Bay 4.5 km north-east of Wick.
The need for the lighthouse was promoted by the Northern Lights Commissioners, and the light first entered service in 1849, and consists of an 18-metre-high cylindrical tower, which is painted white. It supports a single gallery and a lantern with a black cupola. There are 76 steps to the top of the tower. Adjacent to the tower are a pair of keeper’s cottages and subsidiary buildings, bounded by a walled compound.
The lighthouse was built by Mr. Arnot of Inverness, with the construction being overseen by the notable lighthouse engineer Alan Stevenson who for the first time used diagonal glass panes and framing for the exterior lantern. Considered to be both stronger, and less likely to interrupt the light from the optic, the design was employed as the standard for all future lighthouses built by the Board.
As a way to provide work for those local people who had been affected by the Highland potato famine, and needed Poor Relief, labourers were hired at a rate of 3s/6d per day (£15 as of 2017) to construct an access road from Wick to the lighthouse.
In 1987 the light was converted to automatic operation, and the keeper’s cottages were sold and are now used by the Clan Sinclair Trust as a study centre for research into the clan's history. The main keeper’s house and one of the cottages have also been converted to holiday accommodation.
Following automation, the original Fresnel lens and mechanical drive train from the lighthouse were removed and are now exhibited on two floors of the Wick Heritage Centre, one of the few lens and drive train from this period that are still in full working order.
Noss Head has long been recognized as a prominent coastal feature; in fact, the name Noss Head likely originates from the 10th and 11th centuries when Caithness and Orkney were ruled by the Norwegian Jarls and derives from the Old Norse ‘Snos’, meaning nose, which describes the shape of the headland.
To the south west of the property you can view the impressive remains of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe; historically one of the seats of the Sinclair family who governed the area as the Earls of Caithness. Perched atop a needle-thin rock peninsula that rises up to 18m above the sea in Sinclair’s Bay; it is accessible only by a bridge spanning a dry moat. The crumbling remnants of the castle are a popular local visitor attraction. Notably Castle Sinclair Girnigoe was listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the most important examples of an unchanged late medieval/early modern fortified complex in Scotland.
The following poem, written by James G Duncan, hangs framed in the lightroom:
To Noss Head Light As sweet to me as light of moon or star,
Is thy bright gleam, old trusty friend Noss Head
And doubly sweet, when o'er wide ocean far
The ray benignant on my course is shed
Blest be the hand that raised your steadfast tower
And he who trims you never-falling light
For oft when round me midnight tempests lower
Hope's pulse had failed, but for thy flash so bright
My gallant boat, though scare inch-thick her planks
Flies livelier on the track that heads her home
And dips her prow, as if in grateful thanks
When first you welcome ray reveals the billows foam
Long where the nights and weary were my watch
If from the lively deck thy flame I did not catch.
The Light was automated in 1987.Description Alan Stevenson, 1849. Lighthouse; medium height circular tower, all tooled coursed ashlar with contrasting painted ashlar dressings. Corbelled wallhead balcony with cast-iron balustrade and domed diamond-pane lantern. Semicircular, single storey building encircles part of base; projecting Egyptian style doorpiece to entrance. Keepers' Houses; pair single storey 4-bay houses; painted tooled ashlar, contrasting painted ashlar dressings. Each with projecting Egyptian porch with coved cornice, similar cornice to projecting outer bay and with lower single storey, single bay wings and rear channelled, battered angle pilasters. 12-pane glazing; tall corniced stacks; flat roofs. Lighthouse and cottages linked by low coped tooled ashlar wall enclosing centre paved court. Offices; single storey, 7-bay range comprising gighouse with segmental headed entrance, former stables and stores; later enlarged entrance at extreme right; all rubble with contrasting tooled dressings; mural vents; pair ridge stacks; corrugated asbestos roof. Statement of Special Interest Modern range of Keepers' dwellings not included in listing.
It should be noted that at some sites the Northern Lighthouse Board have sold some redundant buildings within the lighthouse complex and are not responsible for the maintenance of these building.
Character: Fl W 20s 53m 18M
(fl. 0.5s - ec. 19.5s)
|Engineer||: Alan Stevenson (1807-1865)|
|Lat, Lon||: 58°28.744' N, 03°03.046' W|
|Established||: 18 June 1849|
|Character||: Flashing White/Red every 30 s.|
|Range||: 33.3 km / 18 nM|
|Elevation||: 53 meters above sealevel|
|Tower||: 18 meters, 76 steps to the top|
|Init. Costs||: £ ?.|
|Econ. Costs*||: £ ?.|
|*) According to: MeasuringWorth.com|
|Last Keepers||: ? - PLK|
|: ? - ALK|
|: ? - ALK|
|Fog horn||: 6 blasts in 90 s.|
|: Discontinued in 2001|
|Authority||: Northern Lighthouse Board|
|Remarks||: Cat.A listed - LB14087 - 28/11/1984|