Start Point Lighthouse, Sanday, Orkney

Start Point lighthouse is found on a small tidal island on the Orcadian island of Sanday.  Located just beyond the bay at Scuthvie it is a reminder of the rocks and reefs that lay beyond the tranquil sandy beaches and undulating sand dunes that are a part of this small island.  Walking beyond the signs warning of coastal erosion eventually the causeway comes into view.  Isolating the lighthouse for half the day, gulls soar above surveying the intruders in their quiet home.


Start Point lighthouse started life a beacon.  An unlit masonry tower marked the nearby reefs but was inadequate and ships continued to wreck around the shores of Sanday.  It was decided that the light from North Ronaldsay a few nautical miles away would be transferred to Start Point. The ball from the original beacon was moved to North Ronalsday and is still there today. Robert Stevenson was apprentice engineer on the building of Start Point Lighthouse which was finally lit on 2nd October 1806.  The build was not without problems including the loss of all workmen (except for a cabin boy) when their ship "Stromness"  was wrecked near Flotta on their return to Leith in a storm.

Start Point Lighthouse

Start Point Lighthouse was the first Scottish lighthouse to have a revolving light which made it easy to distinguish from other nearby lighthouses.  In 1915 it was painted with vertical black and white stripes which makes it identifiable in daylight.  This is the only Scottish lighthouse to have this unique paintwork.  

The lens is a 4th Order Fresnel lens, made from polished crystal glass lenses in a bronze support.

The Principal keeper and an assistant lived with their families in the light.  They were almost totally self sufficient.  A hard life in this remote and wild landscape.

In 1962 the lighthouse was automated and the keepers moved away from the island.  More recently solar panels were introduced making the light powered totally from renewable energy.

Engineer: Robert Stevenson

Established: 1806

Character: Flashing (2) White every 20 seconds

Height: 23metres 

Status: Operational

Operator: Northern Lighthouse Board

Access: Island accessible at low tide.  Tours of lighthouse available through the Sanday Ranger

Visiting Start Point Lighthouse

Start  Point Lighthouse is a short walk from the last parking place at Thrave on the far north east of Sanday.  Beyond this the road is eroded and not suitable for vehicles.  The walk is along a grassy track that follows the pebbly beach below.  Eventually you come to a small hut that marks the start of the causeway.  This is exposed for a short while either side of low tide so always check times before heading across the causeway.

The Sandy Ranger organises guided tours of the lighthouse throughout the year, but this is the only way to access the tower itself.


Photography at Start Point Lighthouse

This lighthouse is at sea level so the stunning cliff top images are not possible.  However, this is made up for by the sandy beaches and ruined buildings surrounding the lighthouse.  

From a distance the lighthouse sits on a sandy beach and at sunrise it is perfectly lit from the main path on Sanday so tides are not essential.  

On the island are beautiful shell beaches with cowrie shells (groatie-buckies) that are great for photography and as you reach the island from Sanday the blue swathes of oyster-plants can be seen. These unique sea loving plants thrive on this sandy isolated island and their succulent leaves make great photography subjects.

U.K. Lighthouse Challenge

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

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