Michael’s Comprehensive List of Scottish Lights

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THIS LIST INCLUDES all the lights erected around the coasts of Scotland for the benefit of the mariner. This immediately discounts obstruction lights on high masts, which are erected for the benefit of the airman, although often listed in the official List of Lights and marked "aero." Meteorological masts, and lights marking windfarms, are also ignored; and so are lights mounted on oil installations in deep water, for such constructions, while substantial, are by their very nature only temporary; and they tend to be a long way from the coast.

Lights can be roughly divided in two ways, either as major or minor lights of greater or lesser brightness, or as tower or onastic lights, those supported by larger or smaller towers of some appreciable diameter and those fixed to masts or poles (on-a-stick, geddit?). Existing light lists, other than those issued by the competent authorities, tend to concentrate on major tower lights, although Alexander Trabas' list is a valiant attempt to illustrate every light in the world.

The official lists place Scottish lights in an anti-clockwise sequence around the coast. Details within the sequence depend to some degree on the mariner's convenience. Thus, for example, entering the Firth of Forth, the Admiralty list shows the lights along the south coast as far as the port of Leith, and then lists the leading lights on the north shore that direct large ships through the deep-water channel to the Braefoot terminal. After that, the remaining lights in the Firth and in the river are treated as a single line going upriver, moving from bank to bank as the normals from the centre line to the individual lights are reached. Having listed the furthest light upstream, the sequence recommences on the north side of the Firth just below Braefoot and runs in geographical order towards the open sea.

Michael's List is aimed, however, at the interested visitor to light structures, who will in general view them from landward. On the mainland of Scotland, all lights are treated in strict geographical order, based fundamentally on the same anti-clockwise principle. Lights on the south side of the Firth of Forth and of the river come before those on the north side of the river and the Firth. Lights on isolated rocks and islands within a few miles of the coast are treated as belonging to the coast they are geographically nearest to. Lights on the bridges, however, are treated as though the bridges were jetties rooted on the bank first reached in the anti-clockwise progression: lights on east-coast bridges, for example, are listed downstream side first, from south to north, and then upstream side, north to south.

Michael's List also contains all extant disused light towers, some of which have historical interest and most of which have some architectural value. They appear in the List in their geographical place. It is not always possible to determine where disused onastic lights may have been, and they are disregarded unless the discontinuation occurred after the website was begun. A few privately-owned lights in marinas and the like are also disregarded even if still in use.

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Geographical order

GEOGRAPHICAL ORDER needs to be closely defined with respect to the archipelagoes on the north and west coasts of Scotland. Within the island groups of the Orkneys, the Shetlands and the Outer and Inner Hebrides, a strict adherence to geographical order forces the structures on some islands to appear rather far apart. For the landlubbing lighthouse fan, it seems more valuable to place all the lights on a single island together, and to treat the islands as units in the geographical sequence. This affects Sections N to W of Michael's List: at the head of each of these Sections is a more detailed note about the order followed in each.

In general, the sequence runs northward along the east coast, with a diversion from Inverness along the Caledonian Canal, and then around the north and west coasts of the mainland all the way to the Solway Firth. Lights on outlying isolated rocks up to about ten miles offshore are placed at the point of the coast to which they are physically nearest.

Then come the island Sections: anti-clockwise round first the Orkneys and then the Shetlands, treating each island in turn. The lights very distant from the North Coast form a link to the Outer Hebrides, which are treated island by island from north to south, proceeding for practical reasons clockwise round each island usually from its north point. Next are the Inner Hebrides, treated quite similarly, and then the islands in the Firth of Clyde and finally the Isle of Man, which is for historical reasons the responsibility of the Northern Lighthouse Board.

Within this sequence, lights are arranged in strict order as they are met by a person walking, paddling or swimming round the coastline. Artificial constructs such as bridges and jetties are treated as an extension of the coast. Bridges across salt water, where lit, are treated as though they were jetties rooted on the coastline where they are first met, and their lights are described in order up one side and down the other.

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Numbering in Michael’s List

PUBLISHED LISTS OF LIGHTS for the mariner, of course, classify lights by what he sees of the light itself. The Admiralty list distinguishes between major lights, those which are brighter than some arbitrary limit (in fact their brightness is such that they have a nominal range of 15 miles or more, about 18,000 candelas) and other lights, which are less bright—it would be unrealistic to describe any maritime light as dim.

Michael's List, however, is aimed at the lighthouse fan, for whom the form of the structure supporting the light is of first importance. The traditional image of a lighthouse is of a tall tower, usually but not always painted white, slim in relation to its height and yet of substantial thickness, carrying a glazed lantern on top by which the optical mechanism is protected from the weather. Structures of this kind are described as major towers in Michael's List.

Major towers are more closely defined as being more than 15 metres (say 50 feet) tall and of sufficient diameter to contain at least a means of reaching the lantern. Most of them, of course, contain storerooms and even what was originally intended as living accommodation. They may be constructed of stone, brick, cast iron or, in later towers, concrete. Within Michael's List they are given, in geographical sequence, a simple reference in the form Mxxx, where xxx is a three-digit number ranging from 001 to as high as it needs to go. To make these references stand out in the List, they are printed in red. The numbering starts with Section A in the far south-east of Scotland, and continues through succeeding Sections without a break. However, because Michael's journeys around Scotland are planned in no fixed order (after all, this is a hobby), the M-numbering starts afresh in each Section separated (with ordinary luck, temporarily) from the initial part of the List. Such numbers take the form MKxx where K is the Section reference letter. These numbers will be altered to take their place in the full sequence as the gaps are filled in.

Intermediate towers are defined as similarly substantial towers between 5 and 15 metres high (16 to 50 feet) and fairly large diameter. They also have a three-figure reference in the same sequence Mxxx as major lights, but they are printed in blue. Such structures may not have a glazed lantern, and many of them carry fully waterproof optical devices. The internal arrangements are usually a simple storeroom, not always with provision to reach the optics, which may have to be accessed over the exterior of the tower. Some smaller towers are not substantial at all, but consist of a framework structure covered by some sort of cladding, so that from a distance they appear as a tower; in the structure notes they are described as "framework tower."

Minor towers are entirely similar to intermediate towers, but are less than 5 metres high. Their details are printed in black. Most of them are now discontinued. Quite by chance, the very first structure on the Scottish coast is the discontinued minor tower on the east pier at Burnmouth, and this is given the reference M001.

All other lights, which means in practice all onastic lights, and those which do not have a supporting structure of their own but are simply fixed directly to a wall or to some member of a bridge, are defined as lesser lights. Their structures are given an intermediate reference in the form Mxxx-yy, where xxx is the number of the previous major light and yy is a secondary identifier indicating geographical order. Their references are printed in black. Onastic lights include those on poles, posts, small-diameter columns or framework masts without cladding, and their structures may be of any height.

Some lights are carried on a short post fixed to an older tower, the major optic inside the lantern having been discontinued or even removed. This is presumably an economy measure. The saddest such example is the Cloch Light at Gourock on the Clyde, the famous "homecoming" light for Scotsmen returning from distant seas. Such lights are referred to in Michael's List as hybrid lights, and they take the style of their supporting tower.

Discontinued lights take M-numbers according to the style of their structure and are printed in green; their M-numbers are suffixed with -D.

Finally there are one or two folly towers, built as imitations of the lighthouse structure, often very convincing imitations, but never having held any form of optic. Because there can be no guarantee that all of them have been found, they are shown in Michael's List with the reference number of the previous light-tower suffixed by -F.

All coloured reference numbers, and those of all the Admiralty's major lights even if not on a suitable tower, are printed in bold type in Michael’s List, and the nominal range or structure height that gives them their importance is emphasised also as appropriate.

It must be noticed that the classification within Michael's List takes no account at all of the intensity of the light. Major lights are those on major towers: they can be brighter, dimmer, or even discontinued. Conversely, the fifteen-mile-range leading lights at Braefoot in the Firth of Forth, mounted as they are on short posts on a jetty, are lesser lights to Michael. Nevertheless, the range of the Admiralty's major lights, that is 15 miles or more, is also printed in red in the second column.

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Arrangement of the List

MICHAEL'S LIST IS PRESENTED as a table with three columns. Lights that are conceptually grouped together, as being for example all at the same port or all on the same bridge, are visually boxed together, and are introduced by a header bar stretching across all three columns. The first column contains the reference numbers: Michael’s number, the Admiralty number from Volume A of the Admiralty’s List of Lights, and, to assist our American friends in lighthouse fandom, the reference in the American NGA Publication No. 114 dated 2015. This Publication in the main follows the Admiralty list, and contains the same errors where errors appear. Some lights are not given in the Publication, and these are marked by the conventional symbol "114-0". The Admiralty list is updated weekly, and the information given here has therefore at least the possibility of being totally correct: though this, of course, depends on Michael's determination and state of health.

Column 2 shows first the name of the structure, usually as shown in the Admiralty list, but in particular for discontinued lights often a mere statement of position; and secondly information regarding the light itself, starting with its character, that is its exhibited characteristic followed by two figures indicating the height of the focal plane above high water and the nominal range of the light in nautical miles (where these are given in the Admiralty list). Thus 5/30, 79m, 21 miles means group flashing (white implied: other colours are specified) 5 times every 30 seconds, 79 metres high, visible 21 miles when the meteorological visibility is 10 miles. For some lights, particularly those recently discontinued, an earlier characteristic may be shown with an appropriate date: such characteristics are italicised. Information regarding the arcs of coloured sectors, and the arc of visibility where this is less than 360 degrees, is also shown in this Column.

Column 3 gives information regarding the structure supporting the light, including the structure's height in metres, any supporting notes, including notes about the possibility of access to the structure, and a thumbnail photograph of any tower structure. Clicking on this thumbnail will transfer the focus to an enlargement of the same view, sometimes accompanied by other views of the same structure. Closing the enlargement will return the focus to the main list. The column contains only a link to the images of onastic structures.

Some structures in the official lists are wrongly or perhaps misleadingly described. These may therefore have unexpected reference numbers in Michael’s List. A relevant note is always provided, and will be found in Column 3.

At the end of Column 3 is the National Grid reference of the structure's position (instructions for use and a brief explanation of the National Grid appear on all Ordnance Survey maps, without which maps the National Grid is of little value), followed by a list of the maps and charts covering the structure's location. Ordnance Survey maps are referenced by the two commonly-used scales, LR (Landranger) at 1:50,000 and EX (Explorer) at 1:25,000. These maps may or may not mark the structure explicitly, but the National Grid reference will give a precise position. Map numbers are emphasised where the structure is accurately located. For every light, the Admiralty List gives the geographical co-ordinates (latitude and longitude), and these are converted using an application provided by the Ordnance Survey to give the grid reference to the nearest metre. Michael rounds this figure to the nearest 100m before printing.

Admiralty charts, which are at various scales depending on the extent of coverage, are referenced by the abbreviation CH followed by the chart number or numbers. Lights are shown on the chart in four different ways, reflected in the listing of chart numbers. The position of a light is shown by a small star with a flash of an appropriate colour (on earlier charts, usually magenta). Full details of a light are given in a string showing character, elevation and range: chart numbers of lights so annotated are printed in bold type. Chart numbers of lights with less than full details are printed in ordinary type. Where the name of a light is not given, the chart number is encased in brackets. Particularly on smaller-scale charts, some working lights are not shown at all: these are disregarded by Michael, but of course their larger-scale charts will be listed. Some discontinued lights are marked simply as a tower in elevation or as a circle in plan, without a coloured flash: for these, the chart number is italicised. Other discontinued lights are annotated "not charted", and no chart number is given.

Charts are listed in order of scale, smallest (most wide-ranging) first. The smallest scale of any Scottish chart is 1:3,500,000, about 55 miles to the inch, which is used on Chart No 4102, Western Approaches to the British Isles; the largest is 1:2,500, about 25 inches to the mile, used for the harbour plans of Rothesay (Chart 1867-2) and Aberdeen (Chart 146). For ease of comparison in the list, Michael classifies chart scales as

  • Small-scale (preceded in the classified lists by (SSc): 1:200,000 (about three miles to the inch) or smaller (31 charts covering Scotland)

  • Large-scale (LSc): 1:20,000 (about three inches to the mile) or larger (134 charts)

  • Medium-scale (MSc): anything in between (115 charts)

Many of the large- and medium-scale charts are simply panels of different scales shown as a group on a single chart, or as an inset on a smaller-scale chart; but each is treated as a unit in the lists of chart numbers.

This process is ongoing and will be announced in the News paragraph on the Home page as it is implemented in each Section in turn.

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THE ADMIRALTY'S LIST is not always consistent in describing light structures, and Michael's List adopts the following conventions:

  • A tower has a substantial diameter, say five feet or more. Some towers are in fact a framework structure with sheeting (usually in the form of GRP panels) surrounding it (see below)

  • A column has a lesser diameter but is still of appreciable size, say a foot or more

  • A post is a small-diameter metal object, either round or square in section

  • A pole is a (usually round) wooden post

  • A framework tower is a metal framework structure, with three or more near-vertical legs and bracing between them forming a girder frame; it is entirely covered with sheeting so that from a distance it looks like a tower, and it reaches the five-foot diameter required for a tower. A large-diameter framework without or with only partial cladding is called a framework structure. A framework of lesser diameter is called a lattice mast. Framework towers receive M-references applicable to towers; structures and masts are treated as onastic.

  • A pile structure has a number of legs, usually braced together, often splayed well out from the vertical. It usually supports a more or less substantial platform, and is usually below the high-water mark

  • A perch is a post or column situated near or below the low-water mark

  • A beacon is an irregular structure of any height, clearly without interior hollow

  • A tube-light is a specialist light arranged to mark a leading line, with characteristics that vary according to the angle from which it is viewed (see the section Tube-Lights, on the Technicalities page)

  • The term seamark is reserved for unlit structures

  • The term pillar is not used

The light-producing device at the heart of a light structure, be it powered by oil, gas or electricity, is referred to as the lamp. In older major lights, the lamp is surrounded by a circular lens or reflector, which rotates about the fixed lamp to generate the characteristic flash. The lamp-and-lens assembly is called the optic. The practice is growing of replacing the traditional optic by a number of individual sealed-beam units, like car headlights, mounted on a rotating frame (see "Sealed-Beam Units," on the Technicalities page). The whole assembly is surrounded by some kind of weatherproof transparent housing which can take various forms, the lantern. If the lantern is big enough for a man to move about in, it is a lanternhouse.

The reader will notice that Michael's List does not define the concept of "lighthouse," an idea which has given rise to some discussion and occasional difficulty. If forced to a conclusion, Michael would define a lighthouse fundamentally as any substantial structure that supports a lanternhouse: it has a glazed structure that encloses the lamp and its lens if any, provides space for an attendant to move about, and protects its contents from the weather. There is certainly no need to extend the meaning of house to include the idea of domicile, as some commentators have suggested. This simple definition, however, would omit those intermediate towers that look substantial and even end in a flat top carrying the lantern, but have no superincumbent glazed structure. Michael does not wish the structure on Elie Ness, in the shadow of which he asked his wife to marry him, to be dismissed into some secondary status.

Notice that in the UK we distinguish between leading lights, fixing a direction to be followed, and lights in line, fixing a line which acts as a reference direction to a danger or as a boundary of some kind. American practice seems to identify both these usages as a range, and some commentators have been misled.

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