Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, Shetland

Further north than any other lighthouse in the U.K., Muckle Flugga sits offshore in the North Atlantic.  There is nothing other than Out Stack, a small rocky outcrop 600m further north between this lighthouse and the North Pole.  Legend has it that Muckle Flugga and Out Stacks were formed when two giants Herma and Saxa, fell in love with the same mermaid.  As is always the way, a fight ensued with large rocks being thrown one of which was Muckle Flugga.  Tired of the fighting the mermaid offered to marry whoever followed her to the north pole.  Both were keen and followed only to realise they couldn't swim and both drowned.  

Muckle Flugga and Hermaness National Nature Reserve

Muckle Flugga is located within the Hermaness National Nature Reserve.  A wild and remote area patrolled by bonxies and the home to a large and thriving gannet colony.  The name "Muckle Flugga"  comes from the Old Norse name Mikla Flugey, meaning "large steep-sided island" and it certainly lives up to its name.  The Hermaness National Nature Reserve has a number of habitats as well as the shore station for the lighthouse and a small but perfectly formed visitors centre. Whilst it is not possible to get to Muckle Flugga the Hermaness nautre reserve overlooks the island providing views of the lighthouse.


A lighthouse was planned for Unst in 1851 but finding a suitable location proved difficult and it wasn't until 1854 that any building work began.  The need for a light was a priority.  The Crimean War was in full swing and a light was needed to protect the British fleet.  A temporary lighthouse, 15 metres high, 66 metres above the sea was built on Muckle Flugga.  Lit on the 11th October 1854 it wasn't long before the winter storms were breaking over the top of the lighthouse's protective dyke and bursting open the doors.  The keepers were permanently wet with no dry living quarters.  Work on the new tower began in June 1855. 


Muckle Flugga lighthouse is 20m high with foundations 3m deep into the rock and walls nearly a metre thick.  As with other Scottish lighthouses it was built by David and Thomas Stevenson.  The permanent light was first lit on 1st January 1858.   In 1927 the static light was changed to the current group flashing every 20 seconds and in 1995 it became fully automated.  Orginally named North Unst Lighthouse in 1964 it became Muckle Flugga.

This lighthouse is also one of a few to have a shore station.  Added in 1969 to replace the original, basic accommodation it allowed for  3 lightkeepers to be stationed at one time. The lightkeepers worked in ‘1 month on – 1 month off’ shift patterns.  Provisions were shipped out every 2 weeks determined by the weather conditions. The later introduction of a helicopter service greatly eased the safe transfer of both lightkeepers and supplies.  Automation in 1995 meant the shore station was no longer needed as a residence for the light keepers.

Engineer: David and Thomas Stevenson

Established: 1854

Automated: 1995

Character: Flashing 2 white every 20 seconds

Height: 20m

Status: Operational

Operator: Northern Lighthouse Board

Access: There is no access to the lighthouse but the shore station has a small visitors centre



Muckle Flugga is an adventure in itself.  It is located off the island of Unst which is two ferries and a two hour drive from Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands.  

From the second ferry from Yell to Unst the road heads north towards Hermaness.  At the end of the road there is a car park and then the only way to see the lighthouse is on foot.  The path to the cliff top is boardwalk making the walk easy but once on the cliff tops it is unmarked.  At the end of the path from the shore station the rocks of Muckle Flugga can be seen to the right swirling in gannets.  Following the cliff top to the right will bring you to Looss Wick with views to the lighthouse.




The lighthouse is remote and wild.  Photography is more of a landscape rather than intimate nature for this lighthouse with views from Hermaness National Nature Reserve or more distant from the road to Saxa Vord.

The cliffs are steep here and the wind is constant.  Care is needed at all times for this lighthouse visit.


U.K. Lighthouse Challenge

This lighthouse is part of my U.K. Lighthouse Challenge.

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