Light Established: 1811 Engineer: Robert Stevenson Position: Latitude 56° 26.1'N Longitude 02° 23.1'W Character: Flashing White every 5 Secs Elevation: 28 metres Nominal Range: 18 miles Structure: White tower 36 metres high. Number of Steps to the top: 96
The Bell Rock Lighthouse is the oldest existing rock Lighthouse in the British Isles. The tower marks the Bell, or Inchcape, rock a long and treacherous reef lying in the North Sea, some 12 miles east of Dundee and in the fairway of vessels plying to and from the Firths of Tay and Forth.
In his account of the Building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, Robert Stevenson, Engineer to the Board, stated "there is a tradition that an Abbot of Aberbrothock directed a bell to be erected on the Rock, so connected with a floating apparatus, that the winds and sea acted upon it, and tolled the bell, thus giving warning to the mariner of his approaching danger. Upon similar authority, the bell, it is said, was afterwards carried off by pirates, and the humane intentions of the Abbot thus frustrated" Robert Stevenson went on however to state "of the erection of the bell, and the machinery by which it was rung, if such ever existed, it would have been interesting to have some authentic evidence. But, though a search has been made in the cartularies of the Abbey of Aberbrothock, preserved in the Advocates' Library, and containing a variety of grants and other deeds, from the middle of the 13th to the end of the 15th century, no trace is to be found of the Bell Rock, or anything connected with it. The erection of the bell is not however an improbable conjecture; and we can more readily suppose that an attempt of that kind was made..."
The erection of a permanent seamark on the Bell Rock presented some difficult structural problems. The surface of the rock is uncovered only at low water while at high water it is submerged to a depth of some 16 feet.
Work on the excavation of the rock was begun in 1807 but it was not until February 1811 that the light was first exhibited. The tower which is of stone quarried from Mylnfield, near Dundee, and from Rubislaw, Aberdeen, is 115 feet in height, 42 feet is the diameter at the base, tapering to 15 feet in diameter at the top. It is of solid dovetailed masonry for the first 30 feet, half of which is below high water and above are 5 chambers and the lightroom.
The original optical system used at the Bell Rock consisted of twenty four parabolic reflectors 25 inches in diameter with their inner surfaces silvered to better reflect the light. Each reflector had, located at the focus, an argand lamp having a circular wick of three quarters of an inch diameter. The reflectors were arranged in a rectangle with seven located on each of the major sides. The ten reflectors on the minor sides had red glass discs fitted to the outer rims such that the light emitted from these would be red in colour. The whole apparatus was caused to revolve by the action of a clockwork arrangement powered by a weight descending through the tower. As the optical system revolved a distinctive character of alternating red and white light was seen. This was the first revolving light in Scotland.
The parabolic reflectors were later replaced by a 1st Order Fresnel lens in which a paraffin vapour burner provided the illuminant. The paraffin vapour burner was replaced by an electric lamp in the mid 1960s. A Dalen optic in which a gas light is burned in a lens system was installed during 1988 with a range of 18 miles, the character is flashing white every 5 seconds, replacing the existing electric light installed in 1964.
The Lighthouse was demanned on the 26 October 1988 and is now remotely monitored from 84 George Street, Edinburgh.
Sir Walter Scott, when he inspected the Bell Rock in 1814, in the course of his duties as one of the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses, wrote the following short poem in the visitors' album:- "Far in the bosom of the deep O'er these wild shelves my watch I keep A ruddy gem of changeful light Bound on the dusky brow of Night The Seaman bids my lustre hail And scorns to strike his tim'rous sail"
Find out more about the Bell Rock at www.bellrock.org.uk