Marking time

Marking time in July 2007

Monday 16 July 2007

Muckle Flugga

I want to go there. Muckle Flugga: a rocky islet near Unst in the Shetland Islands, site of the northernmost lighthouse in Scot­land, at Latitude 60° 51.3′N. The light was established to guide ships carrying British troops to the Crimean War. Bella Bathurst describes engineer David Stevenson’s visit in the 1850s:

One glance at a map of Scotland reveals how much David’s reservations were justified. The Admiralty were demanding a light on the last piece of land between Shetland and the Arctic Circle. Unst is closer to the Faroe Islands than it is to Edinburgh. By the lines of latitude, it is farther north than St Petersburg or Greenland’s southern cape. The Admiralty wanted a lighthouse built on a rock just off the north­ern­most tip of the island, a place known with quaint charm as Muckle Flugga. The rock itself, the ‘Great Precipice’ is less charming. It forms part of a large reef protruding ver­tic­ally out of the sea like a range of miniature Alps. The main rock is not a flat shelf as the Bell Rock and Skerryvore had been, but a steep triangle rising sheer from the water. The seas in the area were so atrocious that it was commonplace during winter for unbroken waves to sweep right over the 200-foot summit of the rock, a height 50 feet above the top of Nelson’s Column. While David was conducting his initial survey he made note of a six-ton block of stone which had been torn from its moorings eighty feet above sea level and hurled into the sea below. This, he reported drily, ‘clearly proves that on these coasts we have elements to encounter of no ordinary nature.’ [The Lighthouse Stevensons, page 204].
Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, Unst, Shetland, undated gelatin silver photo postcard by J D Raltar.

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