The Mull of Galloway lighthouse sits on the southern most tip of Scotland, on a promontory high above the point where the waters of Luce Bay meet the Solway Firth. It is reached by a single track road, with passing places, that winds its way through fields of cows and sheep not far from the small seaside town of Drummore. To reach the light you must leave your car and walk for five to ten minutes across relatively rough ground to the cliff edge.
Designed by the famous lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson (grandfather of the author Robert Louis Stevenson a quote of whose is the inspiration for the name of this blog), construction of the tower began in 1828 and was completed in 1830. For the bargain sum of £2.50 visitors can either tour a museum of lighthouse history, housed in the tower’s old engine rooms, or climb the 115 steps to the top of the tower. For £4 you can do both.
It is a steep climb and not one for the weak of leg or faint of heart. At the top of the narrow spiral staircase is the Keeper’s control room just beneath the light, which opens out on to a balcony where the brave can circumnavigate the tower, 26 metres above the ground.
From the control room the unbelievably unrestricted access continues in to the light itself, reached by means of a ladder. Here, on a clear day, Scotland, England, the Isle of Man and Ireland are all visible at once. You are a dizzying, vertigo inducing 99 metres above the sea below, ensconced in 360 degrees of glass. I must confess that I had to sit on the floor to take my photographs, glad no other visitors were there to witness my barely contained fear.
The light is still in use but has been automatic since 1988 and is currently controlled remotely from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s headquarters in Edinburgh. The remarkably high cliffs on which the tower stands mean that the beam can be seen up to 28 miles away.
Back down to earth and, once your legs have stopped shaking and your heart rate has returned to normal, a path behind the lighthouse leads you down the cliffs to a platform jutting out from the side, home to an enormous horn, used to warn of the rocks below when sea fog descends. The horn and the collection of pipes that feed it, are futuristic pieces of industrial engineering that set the imagination running, so out of place do they seem in such a stronghold for nature.
Wildlife is everywhere on the headland, from snails that shelter under ledges on the lighthouse cottage walls, to rabbits, deer and the scores of sea birds that make this remote place their home. You can learn about them all from the informative and friendly rangers who run the RSPB hut a few minutes walk from the lighthouse. And, for those in need of sustenance, before or after their climb, there is a café adjacent to the car park whose large glass windows offer excellent, and sheltered views.
Stay tuned for more Scottish secrets. The previous post in the series can be found here.