Stevenson Lighthouses

When you think about distinguished authors from Scotland, the names Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and, more recently, J.K. Rowling, come to mind. Each author has a life story to tell in addition to those penned.

Robert Louis Stevenson, for instance, might have been considered a disappointment/failure by his family because he did not follow in the footsteps of his forebears. His grandfather (also Robert Stevenson, father, and uncles David and Alan) are noted for a different kind of creativity. They designed and built lighthouses.

And expected RLS to continue the family tradition.

The need was great. Scotland is bordered on three sides by water. Hundreds of islands surround the mainland. The sea clashes with their borders as well. Rocks and reefs hide beneath the water. Shorelines are bombarded by treacherous waves. And, don’t forget the wind. Thousands of lives fed the sea.

Can you imagine a workplace more inhospitable for building a lighthouse? Or difficult (using 19th century tools)? Tons of stone were quarried and shipped to the construction site. It took 120 hours to dress a single outside stone and 320 hours to dress an inside stone. All done by hand. Working only in summer months when the tide was out.

Improvements in light, an essential element in marine safety, evolved.

Innovations in light sources, mountings, and reflector design increased visibility from 5 to 20 miles. Perhaps the most unique Stevenson breakthrough was the development of a rotation and shuttering system that allowed each lighthouse to project an individual signature, allowing it to be identified by seafarers.

The most notable lighthouse is Bell Rock. But this is just one of some 80 lighthouses attributed to Stevenson engineers. You could have a fabulous time skirting around Scotland visiting them. And, while you’re at it, book a lighthouse B&B.

If you don’t have time for a tour, stop in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and marvel at a Fresnel lens.

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