After months of waiting for the time and right weather I finally got to do some island hopping. As you all know my lighthouse is on an island, which is the largest in the Shetland archipelago. Most of the time it doesn’t seem like an island to me. I think that is partly because I always fly here and how large the island is, taking over an hour and half to go from one end to another. You are never more than two miles from the sea at any given time so it is definitely looks like an island.
The island that I wanted most to visit was the Out Skerries that lays twenty-four miles and an hour and half ferry ride northeast of Mainland Shetland. This small group consists of three main islands - Housay and Bruray, the east and west isles joined by a bridge in 1957, and the uninhabited island of Grunay - together with many other islets and rocks. The Skerries’ total land area is less than two miles square, but a prosperous and active community of around 80 people reside there.
The driving force for my wanting to go was to see the Out Skerries Lighthouse, built in 1857at a cost of £21,000. It is Shetland’s easternmost point and the tallest lighthouse in Shetland (98 feet high). The first light was a temporary structure built on the island of Grunay in 1854 at the request of Her Majesty’s Navy when their Northern Squadron was engaged in the Russian War. The present lighthouse was completed on the island of Bound Skerry across from Grunay in 1858. The keepers continued to live on Grunay after the light was moved.
On 18 January 1942 at 11.45 am a single German bomber registered a direct hit on the Boatman’s house in the keeper complex. The house was completely demolished and the sole occupant at the time, the Boatman’s mother, was buried beneath the debris, sustaining injuries from which she died. The dwelling houses of the light keepers, outbuildings, and flagpole were badly damaged. The complex was rebuilt with the exception of the Boatman’s house and automated in 1972.
The Northern Lighthouse Board put the island of Grunay and the keeper’s accommodations up for sale in 1993. It has been sold twice since. The second and current owner has never visited the island. The damage their neglect has accomplished is easily seen in the picture. This damage is worse than any bomber could possibly do and could have been avoided. It sounds romantic to own an island, but along with ownerships come responsibility.
Next month, I will tell you about visiting with the Out Skerries attendant keeper and what we found in the rubble of the keeper’s accommodations.
This story appeared in the
June 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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