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Cape Wrath Lighthouse

Lighthouse (19th Century)

Site Name Cape Wrath Lighthouse

Classification Lighthouse (19th Century)

Canmore ID 4722

Site Number NC27SE 3

NGR NC 25955 74726

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Durness
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Sutherland
  • Former County Sutherland

Archaeology Notes

NC27SE 3.00 25955 74735

Lighthouse [NAT]

Foghorn (to N, at NC 2595 7499)

FS (to N, at NC 2594 7477)

Mast (to SW, at NC 2591 7470)

OS 1:10,560 map, 1962.

NC27SE 3.01 NC 25971 74735 Keepers' Cottages

NC27SE 3.02 NC 25944 74660 Cottages and Support buildings

NC27SE 3.03 NC 25934 74621 Cottages and Support buildings

NC27SE 3.04 NC 25955 74782 Foghorn

(Location cited as NC 259 747). Cape Wrath Lighthouse: built 1827-8, engineer Robert Stevenson. A short tower of local granite on a semi-circular base, with a corbelled parapet.

J R Hume 1977.

The Cape Wrath lighthouse was built at a cost of £14,000 with a reflector system which alternated a light of natural appearance with one tinged red. It was often obscured by fog of low cloud so that the construction of a new (low) light was begun; this involved the construction of a vertical shaft in the cliff to accommodate a lift, a covered way over the rocks with two connecting bridges, and a tower and foghorn house on the extreme end of the reef. Blasting and quarrying had begun and the shaft sunk to a depth of 50ft (15.2m) in June 1914 when work stopped 'for the duration' in the face of a disagreement with the contractor; it was never restarted.

R W Munro 1979.

NC 25971 74741. Cape Wrath lighthouse was built in 1828 and was manned up until March 2000. The lighthouse is still in use and is in very good condition.

R Street 2001.

The lighthouse is depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Sutherland, 1874, sheet I), and the Object Name Book (ONB) describes it as 'This name applies to a house erected by the Commissioners for Northern Lights in the year 1825. The tower, or light house proper, is of a circular shape and about 50 feet high and has 24 lights, 12 white and 12 red revolving every minute. The house adjoining is occupied by the light keepers and stands at an elevation of three hundred feet above sea level. The property of the Commissioners of North Lights (Name Book 1874)'.

In addition the Object Name Book describes Cape Wrath: 'This name applies to the most north westerly point of land in Scotland. The coast at this point, and for several miles to the east and west is bold and rocky. The cliffs rising perpendicular at some places to a height of about four hundred feet. Previous to the erection of the lighthouse in the year 1825, on this headland mariners navigating these seas and who did not know the coast well were often driven on to these rocks and dashed to pieces. Since the erection of the light house 'wrecks' are of rare occurrance in this quarter. This promontory, or headland, is on his Grace the Duke of Sutherland's property (Name Book 1874)'.

Information from RCAHMS (ITMP), January 2008

This lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson in 1828, being one of his programme of eighteen new lights constructed between 1812 and 1833. It was converted to automatic operation in 1998. Situated on the NW point of mainland Scotland, and above high cliffs, it is distinguished by its height of 523ft (159m) above sea level.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 28 August 2008.

K Allardyce and E M Hood 1986; K Allardyce 1998; B Bathurst 1999; S Krauskopf 2001.


Construction (1828)

Light established 1828.

K Allardyce 1998

Aerial Photography (23 July 1962)

Oblique aerial photography by Cambridge University.

Aerial Photography (30 July 1975)

Oblique aerial photography taken by CUCAP (Cambridge University Committee for Aerial Photography)

Modification (31 March 1998)

Automated in 1998.

K Allardyce 1998

Aerial Photography (28 April 2004)

Oblique aerial photography by RCAHMS.

Publication Account (2007)

Cape Wrath Lighthouse

(Institute Civil Engineers Historic Engineering Works no. HEW 1709)

Cape Wrath Lighthouse, a 66 ft high stone tower completed in 1828 with its light 400 ft above sea level, is situated on the north-west tip of the Scottish mainland. The name derives, not as one might conclude from the angry waters of the area, but from the Norse word for ‘turning point’, for it was at this point that the Norsemen are said to have turned their galleys to the north-east to head for home.

The engineer was Robert Stevenson and the contractors, John and Alexander Gibb of Aberdeen. A small quay and store was built at a tidal inlet about a mile east of the lighthouse, connecting by a new road with the lighthouse, which served for bringing in by sea the building materials and equipment and afterwards for servicing the station. The light of 204 000 candlepower flashes at 30 second intervals and has a range of about 24 miles. The station includes a compressed air foghorn, now disused, and a Thomas Stevenson thermometer screen.

Unlike Dunnet Head, access to the lighthouse is difficult. Relief keepers and visitors can cross the Kyle of Durness by ferry and then travel some 12 miles along a 9 ft wide access road, also made in 1828, which can be extremely difficult to negotiate in winter. Numerous bridges on this road were built by Gibb under Stevenson’s direction, the largest being Kervaig Bridge of 32 ft span which is illustrated. A relief crew were first transported to the lighthouse by

helicopter on 17 January 1977. This became the regular practice until the lighthouse became unmanned.

R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Highlands and Islands' with kind permission from Thomas Telford Publishers.

Photographic Survey (4 August 2008 - 11 August 2008)

Photographic Record (4 August 2008 - 14 August 2008)

Digital images (photographs) taken during the course of the RCAHMS survey of the Cape Wrath Training Centre (CWTC) in August 2008, but featuring archaeological sites and buildings lying outwith the survey area.

Aerial Photographic Interpretation (January 2008)

Description of site derived from oblique aerial photographs.


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