D A Stevenson, completed 1893, lighted 1895. 5-stage on plinth, circular-plan lighthouse tower, with outsize lantern (see Notes). Painted brick. Stone flight to canted plinth with window to each flank; door at 1st stage; small-pane window to 2nd, 3rd and 4th stages; cantilevered walkway with cast-iron railings between 4th stage and lantern; evenly disposed portholes around tower below lantern; large, glazed lantern with domed roof and short weather vane.
INTERIOR: not seen, 1997.
Statement of Special Interest
Britain's most remote lighthouse, lying 40 miles west of Orkney and 37 miles NE of Cape Wrath. Its isolated position made it unsuitable for the accommodation of keepers' families; hence provision was made in Stromness (see separate list description). Designed and constructed by David Alan Stevenson, a member of Britain's foremost lighthouse engineering family, the Sule Skerry light answered a need for increased protection of the 'north-about' route around Britain, owing to additional congestion and resultant collisions in the English Channel. Although Sumburgh and North Ronaldsay were already lit, and the eastern side of Orkney being fairly well protected, the 160 miles of seaboard between the Pentland Firth and Muckle Flugga were dangerously unlit. Consequently, a series of important lights was built around the northern fringes of Britain - 2 on Fair Isle in 1892, Sule Skerry and Ratray Head in 1895 and the Flannan Islands in 1899. Sule Skerry island is fairly low lying, rising to 45 feet above high water, and is almost out of sight of land, the combination of these two factors necessitated the need for an extra-powerful light source on top of the 88 foot tower. To this end, lighting was delayed for a year after completion of the structure, while the Board of Trade and Trinity House argued with the Commissioners about the cost and character of the apparatus. As larger burners were used to increase the intensity of the light, they produced too much heat for the compact optical apparatus. As a result, the Stevensons increased the focal distance between the centre of the light source and the 'cage' of glass to 52 inches in what they called a 'hyper-radiant' apparatus. They also employed an arrangement of equi-angular prisms which caused less light loss and divergence than other types of lens. The lantern therefore required was larger than any previously designed for lighthouse service, being 16 feet in diameter instead of the normal 12. Stevenson's plans show how the lighthouse was divided internally; beneath the plinth was the water and provision store; the coal store was sited at the 1st stage, providing the all-important fuel to keep the lamps lit; a dry store was located above that, with the bedroom situated high, below the lamp room. With no accommodation structures outside the lighthouse, Stevenson provided a multi-bed chamber for the keepers within convenient reach of the lamp room. Plans show that three layers of paired bunks were stacked above two layers of paired drawers; a compact solution to manning a lighthouse with no accommodation block. Stevenson's plans also show the existence of fluted columns supporting H-girders in the lamp room. Now automated and unmanned.
Sule Skerry is a remote skerry in the North Atlantic off the north coast of Scotland.
Sule Skerry lies 60 kilometers west of the Orkney Mainland at grid reference HX621244. Sule Skerry's sole neighbour, Sule Stack, lies 10 km to the southwest. The remote islands of Rona and Sula Sgeir lie approximately 80 km further to the west. Sule Skerry and Sule Stack are both a part of the Orkney Islands council area.
Sule Skerry is 16 ha in area and about 0.8 kilometers long along its length. It reaches a height of 12 meters. It is formed of Lewisian gneiss.
Sule Skerry together with Sule Stack are listed as a Special Protection Area as they are home during the breeding season to thousands of puffins and gannets and smaller numbers of the rarer Leach's storm petrel and storm petrels. Note that Leach's petrel visit the island but breeding is not proved. Since the first visiting birds in 2003 there is now a large breeding population of gannets; a possible overflow from nearby Sule Stack.
Every year the puffins and other seabirds on sule skerry are monitored by a team of birders called the sule skerry ringing group. They have been monitoring the seabirds on the island since 1975.
The island is tree-less, since few trees would withstand the high winds of winter and salt spray environment. The dominant plant is maritime mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum).
Sule Skerry with lighthouse from the south (drawing)
Landing Place, July 15, 1967
There is a lighthouse at the centre high point of the island and a number of small cairns around the periphery. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the Sule Skerry lighthouse was the most remote manned lighthouse in Great Britain from its opening in 1895 to its automation in 1982. Its remote location meant that construction could only take place during the summer, thus it took from 1892–94 to complete.
A meteorological buoy used in Met Office's Marine Automatic Weather Station (MAWS) Network is located off Sule Skerry. Results from the buoy are used in the vesselping Forecast.
The lighthouse is listed as a building of Architectural/Historical interest.
Some 40 miles west of Orkney, and as far north of the coast of Sutherland, Sule Skerry lies in the track of vessels passing through the Pentland Firth on passage to or from the Iceland seas. With a surface area of 35 acres and rising in the centre to 45 feet above water, it is almost out of sight of all land. About four miles away rises the stack, 140 feet high, and 15 miles farther south is the sunken Nun Rock, 13 feet below water. Sule Skerry is the home of innumerable puffins and seals and the ground is covered with them - also it has a great variety of fauna and flora. Here the most isolated lighthouse in the British Isles was built in 1892-94 by David A Stevenson and brother Charles. It is 88 feet high with a huge lantern (16 feet in diameter) made to accommodate a powerful 'Hyper-radial' lens. This was replaced with a Dalen Operated gas light with a 4th Order Lens giving a character of Group Flashing (2) white every 15 seconds.
Sule Skerry had the distinction, acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records of being the remotest manned lighthouse in Scotland (in fact in Britain). Its position is given in the publication as being 35 miles (56kms) offshore and 45 miles (73kms) north west of Dunnet Head, Caithness.
Two seasons were needed for building the 88 foot tower, completed during the exceptionally fine summer of 1893. Winter work was ruled out by the short daylight and stormy weather.
The next year was devoted to internal fillings and work connected with the landing-places and a tramway for carrying heavy stores. Lighting was delayed for a year while the Board of Trade and Trinity House argued with the Commissioners about the cost and character of the apparatus. A hyper-radiant was added as well as an arrangement of equi-angular prisms invented by Charles Stevenson, which caused less loss of light and less divergence than in other forms of lens. The new light was observed from Cape Wrath, 35 miles away, on 60 evenings during the first 3 months. The lantern required was larger than any hitherto designed for any lighthouse service. Sixteen feet diameter compared to the normal 12 feet and this gave Sule Skerry a profile new to the Northern Lights. Pigeon post was tried as a means of communication but was not successful! Lack of sun hindered an experiment with a heliograph made by Assistant Lightkeeper Tomison.
The first permanent Radar beacons in Scotland were established in 1929 at Kinnaird Head in March and Sule Skerry in October. The Boards Notice to Mariners stated that they would transmit continuously in thick weather and at ½ hour intervals in clear weather, in order to afford facilities to Mariners for obtaining bearings.
The monthly relief of this lighthouse was carried out by the Pole Star. On many occasions Sule Skerry had been cut off for days by heavy seas, preventing any landing. But since 1973 this remote lighthouse was relieved fortnightly by helicopter. The Sule Skerry families lived in Stromness from 1895 until the station was automated in 1982.
The station was attacked on 5 February 1942 by a twin engined enemy bomber, which dropped three HE bombs on the island about sixty yards north of the lighthouse. No one was injured and damage was minimal. On 18 November 1944 a floating mine drifted ashore and exploded.
Sule Skerry was made fully automatic in December 1982