Between the designer label stores and boutique fashion shops on Edinburgh's George Street, you may notice a small building which still retains a low-key residential-looking frontage. The only obvious indication that the property is more than an original New Town townhouse is the functioning model of a lighthouse above the front door. A brass plate confirms that this is the headquarters of the Commissioners of Northern Lights, or less romantically/more formally the Northern Lighthouse Board.
From this building all the lighthouses around the coast of Scotland are managed and maintained remotely, ensuring the safety of naval vessels in the waters around the country.
Recently I had the pleasure of spending a week in a former lighthouse keeper's cottage, at the Covesea Skerries Lighthouse, near Lossiemouth on the Moray firth. The cottages are now managed by the National Trust for Scotland as holiday cottages, and the lighthouse makes for an attractive and unusual location for a short Highlands holiday.
The Covesea lighthouse, like many of the lighthouses around Scotland, was designed and built by one of the most significant engineering families of the nineteenth century, the Stevensons, whose family home was in Edinburgh.
The Covesea lighthouse was constructed slightly against the better judgement of the Northern Board of Lighthouses, who felt an installation on the Moray coast wasn't necessary, despite 16 vessels being lost to storms in the month of November 1826 alone. Public opinion weighed on the side of the sailors, and the site at Covesea was chosen for the lighthouse, which opened in 1846.
Alan Stevenson, the designer and engineer who was responsible for the construction of Covesea, as well 12 other lighthouses, was the uncle of novelist Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert chose not to follow the family line into engineering, instead pursuing a career in law before becoming famous for his literary works.
The Covesea lighthouse was finally decommissioned in 2012 after over 160 years service. Alan Stevenson is buried alongside other members of the Stevenson lighthouse family in Edinburgh's New Calton burial ground.
Robert Louis Stevenson (notably) rests in peace 10,000 miles away on a Samoan island in the Pacific Ocean, having continued his family's connection with the high seas on a more landward basis...
Take a customised walking tour of Edinburgh to find out more about Robert Louis Stevenson.
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