Exposed and wild the coast of Lewis is buffeted by the storms of the North Atlantic. The Butt of Lewis is the most northerly tip of the Outer Hebrides and unsurprisingly features in the Guinness Book of Records for being the windiest place in the UK. To the north it is a straight run to the Arctic and to the West nothing stands between the rocks and the coast of Northern Canada.
Butt of Lewis
This remote location is a rugged and wild landscape. The Butt of Lewis is a collection of rocks and sea stacks with cliffs that rise 20-30metres above the boiling sea below. Even on a calm day the water smashes into the rocks and the wind howls across the cliff tops. The cliffs have amazing folded structures and are covered in nesting sea birds, soaring high into the sky on the thermocline. In storms the cliffs are buffeted by the Atlantic swell and it has been known to find a fish or two on the cliff tops.
This lighthouse was built by David and Thomas Stevenson between 1859 and 1862. It was a challenge as roads were small and all the red bricks were brought in by sea. The sandy beach nearby at Port Stoth became the landing stage for the materials. Sheltered from the wild weather it was close enough to move materials easily. Building the lighthouse was not easy. One of the ships carrying materials was wrecked on the rocks below the lighthouse. Shortly afterwards the spiral staircase builder went on strike, delaying works further. Even as late as 1960 the lighthouse was supplied by sea. It was also the communications relay for the lighthouse on the Flannan Islands further out to the west of the Isle of Lewis. Even today is the monitoring station for the more remote lighthouses..
The lighthouse is 37m high and is built of red bricks. This is quite unusual as most UK lighthouses are painted white. The light, installed in 1905 flashes white every 5 seconds although it may have been a fixed light before this date. The light ran on paraffin until 1976 when electricity reached the lighthouse. The lighthouse was manned by three keepers who lived in the cottages with their families until it was automated in 1998.
The trip to the Isle of Lewis is an adventure in itself. The easiest way by road is a drive to Ullapool in the North West of Scotland. This is just over an hours drive from Inverness. From Ullapool a ferry crossing with Calmac takes 3hours to Stornoway, the capital of the Isle of Lewis. It is then another 45 minute drive from Stornoway to Butt of Ness. These are rough times, photography stops are essential and the weather is unpredictable! The lighthouse is not far from the small village of Eoropie. In the village there is an amazing children’s play area. This is a great incentive before or after a trip out to the lighthouse with kids. Bring your own food when you visit as there is nowhere for lunches or the essential hot chocolate.
There is a small amount of unmarked parking at the lighthouse, plenty for the number of visitors who make it this far north. The tower was not open when we were there so it was a walking adventure along the cliff top and photography location. The cliffs are high and the paths are very close to the edges. This is not a place to come with those scared of heights or feral children. My boys were pretty well-behaved but there were a few heart in mouth moments.
The lighthouse is in a stunning location and lends itself perfectly to sunset shots with the sun setting in the west. It looks fantastic in silhouette against the setting sun. Care should be taken in this location when the wind is howling or there is a storm. The waves will break over the cliffs and with no protection it is easy to drift with the wind!
The lighthouse is great from the cliffs in either direction and the rock formations add an additional point of interest. The day I visited it was grey and overcast (and two bickering boys in tow). Not the best for photography by the vastness was still impressive. As with anywhere in Scotland the small details are also there. Lichen covered stiles, sea salted signposts and the beautiful hidden cove just a short walk away at Port Stoth are all there to be found.
Engineer: David and Thomas Stevenson
Character: Flashing white every 5 seconds
Operator: Northern Lighthouse Board
Access: The surrounding area is open at all times but care should be taken during storms
Geocaches Near the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse
Northern Light (Closer to the Edge) GC3KT8V
BOL Lighthouse GC5XD8W
Hebridean Adventure #6 GC744WZ
Harbour Walls GC7B4YQ