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Kinnaird Head Lighthouse

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Kinnaird Head Lighthouses, 2008
Kinnaird Head lighthouses
© John Allan

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse is located on Kinnaird Head, Fraserburgh.

Two lighthouse can be found on the site, the original dating from 1787, and a replacement completed in 1991.

As seen in the pic, the newer light is on the left, with the historic original lighthouse on the right, built through an old castle tower.

The older light was the first to be built in Scotland by the Commissioners of Northern Lights, and the site gained a second 'first' in 1929 when a radio beacon was installed, the first in Scotland.

Prior to this, sailors had only had lighted beacons, such as coal fires, to help guide them near land.

First lighthouse in Scotland

The original light was established on 01 December 1787 and was the first to be built in Scotland by the Commissioners of Northern Lights (founded in 1786), credited to Thomas Smith of Edinburgh, father-in-law of Robert Stevenson (of The Lighthouse Stevensons, and grandfather of writer Robert Louis Stevenson), who would carry on to succeeded his in-law as Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB).

An article which appeared in The Scotsman of January 2017 (referred to in more detail below) give the precise time of lighting as: "On this day in 1787, the first modern lighthouse in Scotland was lit at 3.31pm with sailors up to 14 miles away instantly guided by the 17 lamps of burning whale oil".

This has a lantern set at a height of 120 feet (36.6 m) above the sea and was constructed on the remaining corner of a tower which was part of a castle owned by Lord Saltoun.

The NLB describes this installation as follows:

Fixed lights only were shown at this stage, produced by arrays of lamps burning whale oil, each of them backed by its own parabolic reflector made up of a multitude of facets of silvered mirror-glass set on a plaster mould. Kinnaird Head was the most powerful light of its time, and contained 17 reflectors arranged in 3 horizontal tiers. In clear weather according to Murdoch Downie's New Pilot of 1791, the light could be seen 12 or 14 miles off.

It operated in that position until 1824 when internal alternations were made to the tower to accommodate a new lantern and additional buildings were constructed for the Lightkeepers. In 1906 the light was converted to incandescent operation. The present light stands within the framework of the original tower.

- Northern Lighthouse Board - Kinnaird Head.[1]

This original installation was subject to continuous improvement:

1824 Internal modification to allow construction of a new lighthouse tower through the original castle tower. This supported a new lantern and reflector array by Robert Stevenson .

1851 Alan Stevenson (son of Robert) installed a first order dioptric lens at Kinnaird Head, stationary and of fixed character.

1853 First purpose built accommodation blocks added, designed by brothers David and Thomas Stevenson.

1902 Installation of a flashing lens apparatus by David Stevenson. A hyperradiant Fresnel lens giving one flash every 15 seconds, visible for 25 to 27 miles (about 43 km), designed by David and his brother Charles Alexander Stevenson, and manufactured by Chance Brothers. Of nine such lenses, only Kinnaird Head and Hyskeir retain the type (as noted in 2017).

1903 A foghorn was also built and was operational giving a 7-second blast every 90 seconds.

1906 the light was converted to incandescent operation.

Second light

The current light is the second to be built on the headland and was established in 1991, and lies only a few metres from the original, which now forms part of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses[2].

This comprises a white tower 10 m high.

Character: Flashing White every 5 seconds at an elevation of 25 m; Nominal Range: 22 nautical miles; Candle Power: 690,000.

First radio beacon

The location was also the site of the first Radio Beacon in Scotland, established in 1929.

World War I and II attacks and damage

A visit to the Lighthouse Museum includes a guided tour and access to the lantern, where visitors learn that the lighthouse was subject to attack and bombing during World War II, also described by the NLB entry:

During the war, Kinnaird Head Lighthouse received only one near miss by enemy bombers, which was rather surprising for the town of Fraserburgh was known as "Little London" because of the heavy bombing and machine-gunning attacks on the town due to the ammunitions work, also work carried out on Rolls Royce aircrafts (sic) engines and part for Bofors guns etc. The near miss happened on 19 February 1941 when two bombs from an aircraft exploded 50 yards from the Lighthouse Buildings. No one, fortunately was injured and the material damaged due to blast was as follows:-

"3 Lantern panes destroyed, the Radio Beacon aerial cut and several insulators broke, 41 panes of glass in the dwelling houses broken and frames damaged, 1 sliding bolt of balcony door broken. The Supernumerary Keeper's room ceiling was cracked and the ceiling of the first assistant's Kitchen was also cracked."

What possibly saved the Lighthouse from further attacks was the tall, solitary chimneys of a fish processing factory behind the lighthouse promontory from which the enemy raiders took their bearings in the black out.

- Northern Lighthouse Board - Kinnaird Head.[3]

The Scotsman details attack in both World Wars:

During WWI, enemy bombers struck the lighthouse only once despite repeated, heavy bombardments on the surrounding area due to Fraserburghís ammunmition (sic) works

Records show that on 19 February 1941, two bombs from an aircraft exploded 50 yards from the Lighthouse Buildings. Damage incuded (sic) 41 panes of broken glass.

- On this day 1787: Scotlandís first lighthouse is lit at 3.31pm - The Scotsman[4]

Fog signal

The Fog Signal was discontinued in 1987.

However, according to the museum guide, when it was in service the local children would sometimes use it as excuse to get off school if fog or mist was present. They were said to make their way to the shore, next to the horn (powered by diesel engines driving air compressors which filled large compressed air tanks) so that the audible warning, intended to be heard out to sea, would leave them temporarily deafened.


1 Northern Lighthouse Board - Kinnaird Head Retrieved January 21, 2017.

2 The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses - Fraserburgh Retrieved January 21, 2017.

3 Northern Lighthouse Board - Kinnaird Head Retrieved January 21, 2017.

4 On this day 1787: Scotlandís first lighthouse is lit at 3.31pm - The Scotsman Retrieved January 21, 2017.

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Aerial views



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