The Pentland Skerries are a group of four uninhabited islands lying in the Pentland Firth, northeast of Duncansby Head and south of South Ronaldsay. Pentland Skerries Lighthouse is situated on Muckle Skerry, the largest of the four islands. The lighthouse was established in 1794 by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson. The lighthouse tower is listed as a building of Architectural/Historical interest.
1794: The Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses funded a double light on Muckle Skerry. This enabled a new shipping route to be opened in the Pentland Firth, as a more efficient alternative to the longer route around Orkney. The structure was assembled by Orkney masons and comprised two towers of 80ft and 60ft, separated by a distance of 60ft. These works were superintended by Robert Stevenson as his first project with the Northern Lighthouse Board. The lighthouse was subsequently rebuilt between 1821 and 1830.
1870: Experiments in using paraffin as a light source were conducted at this site.
1871: Assistant Keeper, Donald Montgomery, rescued a boy from the “boiling tideway” on the east side of the island after the crew of the Good Design of Wick had taken to their boat and the boy was left behind. For this act of heroism, Montgomery was presented with a Royal Humane Society bronze medal.
1884: When the Vicksburg ran aground on Muckle Skerry, the four keepers risked their lives in a rescue attempt and successfully saved 12 of the 21 lives aboard.
1895: Fixed lights were no longer regarded as suitable for the great landfall and coastal lights and the old double lights were discounted on the installation of powerful group flashing lights.
1929: When the Principal Lightkeeper was taken ill during stormy weather, two young assistants kept the light and foghorn in continuous operation for 12 days before landing was possible. In order to maintain the light through blizzards and high seas, they did not have a full night’s sleep and instead took turns to rest on the engine room mats. The winds and tides of the Pentland Firth often delayed a landing.
1939: The light was converted to be operated electrically. Power was produced by three diesel generators, though the station’s power requirements could be fully supported by one of these.
1941: On 22 February 1941, the lighthouse building was struck by an enemy machine-gun. Fortunately, there were no injuries and the structure sustained very little damage.
1965: The lives of lightkeepers had become less monotonous than they were previously. This was due not only to the availability of amenities such as radio and television, but also to the development of more sophisticated navigational aids, which they were required to operate. There remained opportunities to show courage and initiative, such as the occasion on which the 10,300 tonne motorised vessel Kathe Neiderkirchner ran aground in thick fog on the west side of Muckle Skerry. The two lightkeepers ensured the safety of the 50 crew members and passengers by climbing down the cliff, boarding the ship’s lifeboat and guiding it to safety at the east landing.
1972: By this time, amenities were transported to the island by a helicopter named Fingal. Prior to this, the lighthouse was relieved by ship, which could involve a lengthy wait.
1994: The lighthouse became fully automated.
Longhope Lifeboat Disaster of 1969