Swilkie Point
Swilkie Point (Stroma) lighthouse
photos: © Marinas.com

North Coast

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Update: 26-02-2024

Compiled by:
@ Bob Schrage

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Cape Wrath
Duncansby Head
Dunnet Head
Holborn Head
Pentland Skerries
Strathy Point
Swilkie Point

Place of the lighthouse

Stroma is an island off the north coast of mainland Scotland. It is the southernmost island of the Pentland Firth between the Orkney Islands and the county of Caithness, the north easternmost part of the mainland. The name Stroma comes from the Old Norse Straumr-øy and means "island in the [tidal] stream".

At the northernmost point of Stroma lies the Swilkie, the most dangerous whirlpool in the Pentland Firth, caused by the meeting of four or five opposing tides. The Pentland Firth is the sea between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. According to Icelandic legend, the Swilkie is where the salt that maintains the saltiness of the oceans is ground in a giant quern, stolen from King Frodi by a sea king named Mysing.

Building of the Lighthouse

In 1890, a lighthouse was built at Stroma's northern tip. It was only operational for six years before being replaced by a new lighthouse. Little is known about the structure and construction of this former lighthouse. The unmanned lighthouse originally housed a Trotter-Lindberg lamp which burned petroleum spirit or lythene. The fuel supply was stored in cisterns near the lantern, which was regularly recharged at least fortnightly by the local fishermen or crofters. It was one of the first lighthouses in Scotland to use this type of "scintillating" light.

Stroma lighthouse
The lighthouse in early times
The lighthouse was replaced in 1896, possibly on the same site, by a new lighthouse built to a design by David Stevenson as part of a major programme of construction works around northern Scotland. Stevenson's lighthouse consists of a circular white-painted stone tower standing 23 meters high at an elevation of 32 meters above Mean High Water with a number of buildings nearby to house generators and the lighthouse keepers. The light was converted to a paraffin lamp when the former lythene lamp was found to be unsuitable. An oil store was installed in the lighthouse tower, ending the need for a separate building to hold the fuel.

Warning systems (Light, Fog horn, Radar Beacon)

Until 1961 the lighthouse was administered as a shore station, that means the family of the lighthouse keepers also lived on the island. After the resident population of Stroma had left the island in 1962, the lighthouse became a rock station. The family of the lighthouse keepers no longer lived on the island but on the mainland of Scotland (see later).

In 1972 an electric lamp with a maximum power of 1.1 million Candela was installed, utilising a sealed beam optic mounted on a gearless revolving pedestal. Also, a helicopter pad was installed to enable supplies and personnel to be flown in. In 1997 the station was converted to automatic operation, utilising a 250-watt metal halide lamp which rotates on a gearless pedestal. A former lens system from Sule Skerry lighthouse, 4th order lens system, was refitted in the Stroma lighthouse. The current light flashes two times white every 20 seconds and can be seen from a nominal range of 20 NM ~ 48 km

A fog warning system was installed in 1897. The old air-driven fog horn was removed and replaced by an electric fog signal which was installed on the balcony of the lighthouse. The fog warning system is discontinued in 2005 and removed. The remains of the air-driven fog horn can be seen at the picture in the right column. The lighthouse station's power, which was formerly obtained from generators, is now provided by batteries which are charged at regular intervals.

Stroma Island and lighthouse
Click on the photo to see a nice video of Stroma on Youtube.

Additional information about the island of Stroma

Stroma Croffters house
One of the Crofterhouses on Stroma.
The island's population fell from 375 people in 1901 to just 12 by 1961. The last native islanders left at the end of the following year, while Stroma's final abandonment came in 1997 when also the lighthouse keepers departed. Ancient stone structures testify to the presence of Stroma's earliest residents, while a Norse presence around 900–1,000 years ago is recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga.

It has been politically united with Caithness since at least the 15th century. Although Stroma lies only a few miles off the Scottish coast, the savage weather and ferociously strong tides of the Pentland Firth meant that the island's inhabitants were very isolated, causing them to be largely self-sufficient, trading agricultural produce and fish with the mainlanders.

Most of the islanders were fishermen and crofters; some also worked as maritime pilots to guide vessels through the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth. The tides and currents meant that vessel wrecks were frequent—the most recent occurring in 1993—and salvage provided an additional though often illegal supplement to the islanders' incomes.

Stroma is now abandoned, with the houses of its former inhabitants unoccupied and falling into ruin. Its population fell gradually through the first half of the 20th century as inhabitants drifted away to seek opportunities elsewhere, as economic problems and Stroma's isolation made life on the island increasingly unsupportable. The island is now owned by one of its former inhabitants, who uses it to graze cattle and sheep.

Swilkie Point (Stroma)


Character: Fl(2) W 20s 32m 20M
(fl. 0.3s - ec. 3.6s, fl. 0.3s - 15.8s.)

Swilkie Point lighthouse
Lightcharacter of Swilkie Point - Stroma (click to enlarge)
Engineers: David Alan Stevenson (1854-1938)
: Charles Stevenson (1855-1950)

Lat, Lon: 58°41.750' N, 003°07.000' W

Established: 1896
Character: Flashing(2) White every 20 secs.
Range: 20 NM ~ 37 km
Elevation: 32 meters above sealevel
Tower: 23 meters, 80 steps to the top
Init. Costs: £ ?.
Econ. Costs*: £ ?.
*) According to: MeasuringWorth.com

Automated: March 1997
Last Keepers: PLK - A. Paton
: ALK - R.S. Philips
: ALK - J.M. Meil
Fog horn: Horn in 1897, 2 blasts every 60 sec.
: Super Air Chimes-12 horns
: Discontinued 28-06-2005
AIS: MMSI No 992351092

Status: Operational
Authority: Northern Lighthouse Board
Remarks: .....

Overview lighthouses of Pentland Firth

Video of the Stroma island

Stroma lighthouse
Stroma lighthouse with Duncansby Head at the background

Stroma lighthouse
Stroma lighthouse with NLV Pharos at the background

Stroma lighthouse
The lighthouse with remains of the foghorns (at the right)

Stroma lighthouse
The lighthouse with remains of the foghorns
Island of Stroma - Drone flight- Sophie Robertson