Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, Shetland

Heading south from the airport, Sumburgh Head Lighthouse is the last building on the southern tip of Shetland Mainland.  In good weather it is idyllic with wildlife everywhere and views north as far as the eye can see.  However, in the winter it is a wild location being buffeted with everything that the north Atlantic has to throw at it.

Sumburgh Head Nature Reserve

Sumburgh Head is a nature reserve run by the RSPB.  It has a colony of puffins and gannets as well as Shetland wrens and wild rabbits. In late spring the cliff is pink with sea thrift and yellow from colts foot.  From the cliffs it is possible to see passing whales and dolphins as well as orca.  Seals haul out at the base of the cliffs and play in the surf.  The nature reserve is almost as much of a highlight as the lighthouse itself


The lighthouse was first constructed in 1821 by John Reid, a builder for Peterhead and was the first to be built on Shetland. The location was first identified in 1814 when Robert Stevenson was surveying the islands for a suitable lighthouse location.

When it was first built it consisted of the Lighthouse Tower and "Pavilions" for the lighthouse keepers and their families.  There was a smiddy that was used as a workshop as well as accommodation for visiting keepers.

Despite the presence of the lighthouse there have still been shipwrecks on the nearby cliffs of Dunrossness.  One was in 1864 when the "Queen Victoria" foundered in fog on the rocks.  After this a donation was made by the captains family of a bell which was used in foggy conditions until an automated fog horn was installed in 1906.

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse is a solid little structure.  Built with double thickness walls it is one of the shorter lighthouses in Scotland at just 17 metres high.   It was built with thicker walls to withstand the extreme weather and dampness that the light is exposed to.

The lighthouse is 91metres above sea level and is visible for up to 23 nautical miles and flashes every 30 seconds. The light is Stevenson's equiangular refractor, which has 26 reflectors instead of the normal 21.

The last keepers left in 1991 when the light was automated.

 Engineer: Robert Stevenson

Established: 1821

Automated: 1991

Character: Flashing 3 white flashes every 30 seconds

Height: 17metre high tower, 91m above sea level

Status: Operational

Operator: Northern Lighthouse Board

Access: The lighthouse is part of Sumburgh Head Nature Reserve and there is accommodation available in the keepers cottages



Sumburgh Head Lighthouse is easier to visit than other lighthouses.  There is a 'proper' road all the way to a car park.  From here it is a short walk up to the lighthouse itself.

The lighthouse is now fantastic accommodation managed by Shetland Lighthouse Holidays. The perfect chance to see the lighthouse as it changes in the magical Shetland light.

There is a visitors centre and a cafe with good cakes!  However this means there are lots of visitors.  Come in the evening or out of season if you want a quiet and peaceful visit.

In the lower car park is the old Muckle Roe lighthouse.  No longer working as it has been replaced by a modern light it is now in 'storage' in the Sumburgh Head car park.




Photography at Sumburgh Head is possible throughout the day and starts before you even reach the lighthouse.  Driving in from Toab and past the airport the lighthouse is visible on the headland in the distance.  However when planning there is a huge hill between the airport and the lighthouse which can obscure the lighthouse for a while as you drive through Grutness.

Walking north along the cliffs to the west of the lighthouse also provide fantastic views when looking back and because of its position facing south the lighthouse is captured at both sun rise and sunset.  

Aerial views are also possible from the Loganair flights that arrive into the islands.  Just ensure you have a window seat and hope the flight path gives you a view.

Wildlife at Sumburgh Head is one of the big attractions.  The puffin colony is located on the cliffs around the lighthouse and there are viewing platforms to make views over the walls possible. 

There is also a cliff cam which enables you to see the goings on from the comfort of your living room!  Cliff cam 1 shows the puffins to the south of the lighthouse, cliffcam 2 shows the cliff top and sea to the north and cliff cam 3 provides a view of the landscape to the north.  Ideal for watching the northern lights in the winter months.


U.K. Lighthouse Challenge

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