Thursday, 21 February 2013

Coals to Cumbrae - the old lighthouse

We set off from the Generator House on a track which leads to the summit of Little Cumbrae, where the oldest of the three lights on the island is located.

First lit in December 1757, this was one of Scotland's first lights and was commisioned by the merchants of Glasgow to aid the passage of ships and was built by James Ewing.  A toll was charged for each ship passing through the Cumbrae Gap.

A plaque on the wall of the tower gives a few details of the history.

From inside the circular tower the remains of the stone stairway leading to the top can be seen.  This was a coal fired navigational aid, the "light" being a fire in a brazier on top of the tower.  The coal was mined in nearby Ayrshire, transported to the coast and shipped across to Little Cumbrae then brought up to the top of the island by pony, and finally to the top of the tower by manpower.

It's a steep and rough climb over tussocky, springy grass to the summit of Little Cumbrae, and full kayaking drysuits are hardly ideal hillwalking kit on a mild day.  We were fairly warm when we reached the top.  Douglas took the opportunity to test the springy qualities of the grass, claiming that the wee lie down was "for photographic composition purposes"!   :o)

The luxuriant growth of both grass and lichens up here on an exposed summit gives a clue to why the original site of the lighthouse was abandoned after less than forty years - and it's something that any mariner could have foreseen.

As for most of the day we were here, the top of the island was in thick mist.  For many days of the year, in conditions when a lighthouse was most useful, it was simply not visible.


  1. It's astonishing for us to think of a light house that once guided marine traffic over 250 years ago. Canada is not yet 150 years old as a country. And coal-fired? You bring out so much historical texture in your postings, Ian. Thank you for that. Duncan.

  2. Hi Duncan, I'd not really thought about this aspect, but the fact that this light is older than Canada is quite a startling fact!

    Warm wishes to you and Joan