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Bell Rock Reel

Joseph Mallard William Turner, Bell Rock Lighthouse, 1819, Scottish National Gallery

Lighthouse Day

Aug 7

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"My father was the keeper of the Bell Rock Light And he married a mermaid one dark night And from this union there came three A codling and a kipper and the other was me!" ~Alistair McDonald, The Mermaid's Tale, 1998

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, Scotland, is the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. Civil engineer Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) , a young Scotsman and ambitious architect designed the original Bell Rock Lighthouse, but had his plans dismissed by the Northern Lighthouse Board on the basis that the reef was too dangerous to build such a large structure upon, and that the cost would be too prohibitive. However, when the HMS York struck Bell Rock in 1804 and lost over 400 of its crew members, the Northern Lighthouse Board finally approved the plans and Stevenson's design was built between 1807 and 1810 on the Bell Rock (also known as Inchcape) in the North Sea by Stevenson and John Rennie. The masonry work on which the lighthouse rests was constructed to such a high standard that it has not been replaced or adapted in 200 years!

Bell Rock Reel

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, Scotland, is the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse, built between 1807 and 1810 by Robert Stevenson on the Bell Rock (also known as Inchcape) in the North Sea, 11 miles east of the Firth of Tay.


Standing 115 ft tall, its light is visible from 35 statute miles inland.

The masonry work on which the lighthouse rests was constructed to such a high standard that it has not been replaced or adapted in 200 years. 

The challenges faced in the building of the lighthouse have led to it being described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

According to legend, the rock is called Bell Rock because of a 14th-century attempt by the Abbot of Arbroath to install a warning bell on it. The bell lasted only one year before it was stolen by a Dutch pirate.

This story is immortalised in "The Inchcape Rock", a poem by 19th-century poet Robert Southey. The rock was the scene of many shipwrecks as it lies just below the surface of the sea for all but a few hours at low tide.

Civil Engineer Robert Stevenson (grandfather to Robert Louis Stevenson) drew the inspiration for his lighthouse design from the Eddystone Lighthouse off the coast of Cornwall.  His design was initially rejected by the Northern Lighthouse Board, but then reexamined after the HMS York was ripped apart on the rocks in 1804.  


On 17 August 1807, John Rennie, with Stevenson as chief assistant and some 35 workers set sail for the rock.

They could only work during the calm summer months, and even then their work was limited to around two hours each low tide. In between they waited, living on a ship moored just over a mile away - and all of them, with the exception of Stevenson, were almost constantly seasick.   

For more on the fascinating story behind the creation of this lighthouse, click the Bell Rock Lighthouse as it stands today.

Bell Rock Reel

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Bell Rock Reel

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