Alan Stevenson, 1852. 8-stage with lantern, circular-plan tapered tower standing to E of single storey, 8-bay rectangular-plan symmetrical keepers' accommodation block. Tower: brick, painted in thick, alternating, horizontal stripes with droved, polished and painted ashlar and concrete dressings; channelled ashlar at 8th stage. Base course; band course between 7th and 8th stages; thick band course below cast-iron railings around lantern balcony, supported by pointed, machiolations. Long and short margins to windows. Keepers' accommodation: harled with painted ashlar dressings. Base course; blocking course. Large rectangular-plan garden to rear (W) of keepers' block; semicircular-plan foghorn to E of lighthouse.
TOWER: openings to W side. Massive projecting, tapered door surround with string course below cavetto cornice and shallow pediment at 1st stage; deep-set part-glazed, 2-leaf, timber panelled doors. Window at each stage above, (pointed-arched window at 8th stage). Triangular-pane glass to cylindrical lantern above; hemispherical dome above.
INTERIOR: spiral stone staircase with timber handrail; timber and iron stair with brass handrail to lamp-room; original winding and lamp-revolving gear to centre of lamp-room; ventilators to lamp-room with decorative brass covers depicting heads of wind gods; decorative lattice walkway around lantern; triangular pane apexes bearing lion masks; riveted dome ceiling with central ventilator; stout horizontally boarded door with brass furniture to external balcony.
KEEPERS' HOUSES: E (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: bays grouped 2-1-2-1-2. Window in bays to centre. Deep-set, 2-leaf boarded door with small-pane fanlight in bays to left and right flanking. Window in penultimate and outer bays to left and right.
12-pane timber sash and case windows. Platform roof; tall, tapered ashlar stacks, grouped 2-2, with string course below cavetto cornice; tall cans; cast-iron rainwater goods.
INTERIOR: not seen, 1998.
BOUNDARY WALLS: random rubble wall with rubble cope enclosing rectangular-plan garden to W of accommodation block.
FOG HORN: tapered, short semicircular-plan block housing 2 foghorns, raised on steel gantries. Harled concrete. Square-plan operations hut immediately to W; boarded door to S.
Statement of Special Interest
At 42.3 metres, the North Ronaldsay is Britain's tallest land-based lighthouse. William Kinghorn of Leith tendered to build it for ?681 8s 7d. Due to the lack of raw materials available on North Ronaldsay, and the difficulties involved in transporting them, the Lighthouse Board chose to build the tower from brick, confining the use of stone to the base and the arched corbels of the external gallery. This gallery, along with the brass Grecian heads which decorate the lamproom and the massive, Egyptian-inspired tower entrance, are features which can be found at Hoy High on Graemsay (see separate list description), also designed by Alan Stevenson.
North Ronaldsay was the third lighthouse the Commissioners built, being preceded by Kinnaird Head and Mull of Kintyre.
Thomas Smith, an Edinburgh lampmaker was the engineer with Ezekiel Walker, an English lighthouse designer, to advise in the initial stages. Smith was assisted by his step-son Robert Stevenson, founder of a famous family of lighthouse engineers, and grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Smith chose to build the first North Ronaldsay tower at Kirk Jaing, the most easterly point of Dennis Head. The transport of workmen and materials from Leith slowed down the work, but by the autumn of 1789 the masons, John White and James Sinclair, had constructed 70 ft tower of local undressed stone, along with the lightkeeper's dwellings. The bill of the mason's work came to £199-12-6d.
North Ronaldsay was first lit on 10 October 1789 along with Eilean Glas lighthouse. The most advanced lighting system of the time was the catadioptric or reflecting system, which consisted of a cluster of lamps burning oil, with copper reflectors, the reflectors were cleaned with a soft linen rag and Spanish white or finely powered chalk until they were perfectly bright. These instructions were to be strictly adhered to, or a great part of the effect of the light was lost.
In 1806, a lighthouse was built at Start Point, and North Ronaldsay, then considered redundant, was extinguished in 1809, its lantern replaced by a great wall of masonry removed from Start Point in 1806. It still survives as a great unlit beacon, its sturdy walls a tribute to good masonwork.
As the years passed, it became obvious that this island, with its dangerous shoals, still required its own lighthouse. By this time, the sea around North Ronaldsay had been carefully surveyed, and the site for the new tower at Dennis Head chosen to give maximum warning of the Reef Duke and Seal Skerry.
"The necessity for giving an extensive range to the light at North Ronaldsay, which is to warn the mariner of his approach to the North Foreland of Orkney, combines with the lower level of land, to render a high tower unavoidable".
In a situation where there are no good materials for masonry and to which every thing must be transported by sea under all the disadvantages of bad anchorage and difficult landing, the elevation of 130ft, which I have found necessary to give to the Tower, must involve a larger outlay than usual. I have, accordingly, introduced brick work as affording greater facility of vesselment".
So Alan Stevenson wrote to his "Report on the Offers for North Ronaldsay Lighthouse January 8, 1852". In his thorough-going manner, Stevenson had also designed an iron tower, so that the Commissioners might choose the more economical structure, at the same time he voiced the misgiving that in high winds the vibrations of an iron tower might affect the apparatus.
On Stevenson's recommendation, the Commissioners accepted the lowest offer of £6,181-8-7 for a brick tower from William Kinghorn, a "respectable builder" of Leith.
Kinghorn had first to build a stone jetty of half-a-mile with the help of locals. North Ronaldsay possessed what is still the highest land based lighthouse in the British Isles. Soaring to a height of 139ft, the gleaming red brick tower must have been a source of wonder to the inhabitants of the island. It dominated the low lying crofts, its revolving beam sweeping over the lighting up and the land as well as the sea, to the benefit of night visitors.
In 1889, the red brick tower was painted with two white bands to distinguish it as a day mark.
There have been many changes since a light was first shown in 1789. In 1907, the light was change to incandescent. A Radar beacon was added in 1932, and in 1971 further improvements were made to this.
North Ronaldsay Lighthouse was automated on 30 March 1998.
North Ronaldsay is the northernmost island in Orkney archipelago, off the northern coat of Scotland. With an area of 690 hectares (2.7 sq mi), is the fourteenth largest. Mentioned in the Orkneyinga saga, in modern times it is known for its historic lighthouse, migratory bird life and unusual breed of sheep.
North Ronaldsay lies around 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) north of its nearest neighbour, Sanday at grid reference HY759542. The island is around 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) long along its length and is defined by two large sandy bays; Linklet Bay on the eastern shoreline and South Bay at the south. The west of the island is very rocky with many skerries. Low-lying and exposed, the island's climate is extremely changeable and frequently inclement. The surrounding waters are stormy and treacherous, and have been a notorious "graveyard" for vessels (hence the unusually early provision of a lighthouse on the island).
Hollandstoun at the south of the island is the most sizable settlement lying roughly equidistant from the airfield and the pier. The island is also home to a bird observatory.
North Ronaldsay has a unique dry stone dyke that surrounds the island whose purpose is to keep the seaweed-eating North Ronaldsay sheep off the arable land.
Blaeu's Atlas of Scotland, published 1654
A well-preserved Iron Age broch known as the Broch of Burrian is located on the southern tip of the island. Excavations in 1870-1 uncovered a large number of Iron Age and Pictish artefacts, with occupation continuing up to the Norse occupation of the Orkney islands in the 9th century.
According to the Orkneyinga saga, Torf-Einarr, the 10th century Norse Earl of Orkney, killed Hálfdan Longlegs on North Ronaldsay in revenge for Hálfdan and his brother Gudrød Ljome's slaying of Rögnvald Eysteinsson, Torf-Einarr's father. Hálfdan and Gudrød, who were the sons of King Harald Finehair of Norway had trapped Rögnvald in his house and set it alight. Harald, apparently appalled by his sons' actions, overthrew Gudrød and restored Rögnvald's lands to his son, Thorir Rögnvaldarson, whilst Hálfdan fled westwards to Orkney and displaced Torf-Einarr. From a base in Caithness, Torf-Einarr resisted Hálfdan's occupation of the islands. After a battle at sea, and a ruthless campaign on land, Torf-Einarr spied Hálfdan hiding on North Ronaldsay. The sagas claim that Hálfdan was captured, and sacrificed to Odin as a blood-eagle.
Holland House was built in 1727 and the Old Beacon dating from 1789 was the third lighthouse to be built by Thomas Smith for the Commissioners of the Northern Lights.
Dennis Head, in the northeast of the island, is home to an historic lighthouse known as the Old Beacon. The light was first established in 1789 by Thomas Smith. It was to be the first of many island lighthouses for Smith (he had previously worked on the lights at Kinnaird Head and Mull of Kintyre). Smith received assistance with the North Ronaldsay light from Ezekiel Walker and from his stepson Robert Stevenson.
The Old Beacon
In 1809 with the construction of other nearby lighthouses it was decided that the North Ronaldsay light was no longer required and it was extinguished. The round stone tower was retained as a sea-mark, however, and the original beacon chamber at the top replaced by a vaulted roof capped by a remarkable ball finial. The stone spiral staircase which once led to the beacon was demolished. The original keepers' houses, roofless but largely complete, survive below the tower. In 2006, it was one of the neglected buildings selected for the Restoration TV series.
However a new lighthouse was built nearby just 43 years later in 1852. The modern lighthouse lies at the north of the island at Point of Sinsoss and boasts Britain's tallest land-based lighthouse tower. The old fog siren with notable red trumpet was replaced by an electric diaphragm type horn. That horn was discontinued in favour of a Tyfon horn consisting of 8 mini-trumpets installed on the building that once housed the fog siren. The Tyfon horn gives three blasts every 60 seconds. The electric beeper horn is now lying flat on the ground next to the fog signal building. The fog signal is still in service today.
Character: Fl W 10s 43m 24M (fl. 0.3s - ec. 9.7s)
Lightcharacter of North Ronaldsay (click to enlarge)