Noss Head
Noss Head lighthouse
photos: ©

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Lighthouse shield

Place of the lighthouse

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.

The Noss Head Lighthouse is an active 19th century lighthouse near Wick 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 (predecessor of the NLB).

To the south west of the lighthouse 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 (see below).

Building of the Lighthouse

Under the supervision of Alan Stevenson (engineer of the NLB), the lighthouse was built by Mr. Arnot of Inverness. The lighthouse consists of an 18 meter high cylindrical and white painted brick tower. The tower has a corbelled wallhead balcony with cast-iron balustrade and a domed diamond-panes lanternhouse. At the base of the tower, a semicircular one-storey building surrounds a part of the tower. The entrance to the tower features a projecting Egyptian-style door frame.

First use Daimond pane
Toward point 1812

Alan Stevenson used these diagonally glazed windows for the first time in a lighthouse. This construction was considered stronger and less likely to interrupt the light from the optic. The design was then used as the standard for all future lighthouses built by the Northern Lighthouse Board. On the left photo the usual windows with straight windows until that moment and on the right the daimond pane as first used at the Noss Head

Opposite the entrance to the lighthouse is a building where the lighthouse keepers lived. The building consists of a number of 4 room houses, painted white with contrasting painted stone connections. The houses have protruding Egyptian cornices, both at the front and the rear. The lighthouse and cottages are connected by a low carved stone wall that encloses the cobbled courtyard.

Apart from that, on the right side of the cottages is the engine room of the lighthouse. In the past, the air was compressed there for the fog horn. This foghorn stood between the lighthouse and the sea and was demolished in 1985.Behind the lighthouse is the workshop. Around the buildings is a large walled garden where the lighthouse keepers could grow their own vegetables and possibly keep livestock.

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.

It should be noted that at some sites the Northern Lighthouse Board have sold some redundant buildings within the lighthouse complex and is not responsible for the maintenance of these building.

Operational Status

The light was first lit on 18 June 1849. 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.

Until November 2017, the light from this lighthouse had a white, red and covered sector. The white light had a range of 25 Nautical Mile(NM) and the red sector had a range of 21 NM. The red sector mainly concerns the Sinclar bay. On the land side, the light was covered, so that the residents would not be affected. In December 2018 the original 2nd order Fresnel lens was replaced by an LED optic. At the same time, the range of the lighthouse has been reduced to 18 NM.

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. The lens is one of the few as well as drive train from this period that are still in full working order.

Noss Head 360 view
Noss Head lightroom 360 view
Noss Head Whisky
Whisky and Lighthouse

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.


Additional information - Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Noss Head and Sinclair Castle
Remains of Sinclair Castle and Noss Head lighthouse
To the south west of the lighthouse are 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. The castle was built by William Sinclair, 2nd Earl of Caithness, from 1476 to 1496. His father, who was also called William Sinclair, built Rosslyn Chapel.

The castle was one of the most important castles of the clan Sinclair and was given the name Girnigoe Castle. William Sinclair fought with James IV of Scotland at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513 and died there. He was succeeded by his son.

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.

Noss Head


Character: Fl WR 20s 53m 18 NM
(fl. 0.5s - ec. 19.5s)

Noss Head lighthouse
Lightcharacter of Noss Head (click to enlarge)

Engineer: Alan Stevenson (1807-1865)

Lat, Lon: 58°28.744' N, 003°03.046' W

Established: June 18, 1849
Character: Flashing White every 20 s.
Range: 25 NM ~ 46.3 km
Elevation: 53 meters above sealevel
Tower: 18 meters, 76 steps to the top
Init. Costs: £ 12,149, 15s. 8d.
Econ. Costs*: £ 47,660,000
*) According to:

Automated: 1987
Last Keepers: A.J. Strachan - PLK
: I.W. Longmuir - ALK
: ? - ALK
Fog horn: Diaphone, 3 blasts every 90 sec.
: Discontinued 1985 and demolished

Status: Operationel
Authority: Northern Lighthouse Board
Remarks: Cat.A listed - LB14087 - 28/11/1984

Video Noss Head lighthouse

Noss Head lighthouse
Noss Head at sunset

Noss Head lighthouse
Noss Head lighthouse at early times

Henry Sinclair

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