Blast from the past at Sumburgh

The foghorn at Sumburgh Head lighthouse sounded again today for the first time in nearly 30 years.

An invited crowd gathered for the event which is something of a personal triumph  for Brian Johnson who has spent the past few years off and on restoring the foghorn apparatus which last sounded in 1987.

Mr Johnson, who was a long serving employee of both the Northern Lighthouse Board and the Amenity Trust is back with the NLB, as the only lighthouseman now in Shetland with responsibility for keeping all the isles’ lighthouses in running order.

Sumburgh is believed to be the only operational foghorn of its type in Scotland, if not the world,  though it fell out of use in the 1987 when technology superseded the good old-fashioned foghorn.

Parts were cannibalised from the identical Bressay foghorn and donated from the Fraserburgh lighthouse museum to help restore the Sumburgh horn, which was installed in 1905 and was built to last for 100 years.

According to Mr Johnson, who was first employed by the NLB as a lighthouse keeper before becoming an “artificer” it is a “very simple and efficient” mechanism.

Mr Johnson, who was recovering from a recent major operation, explained the operation of the foghorn to the guests before firing up the station’s three Kelvin engines and then setting off the foghorn’s unique sequence of seven-second blasts every 90 seconds.

Captain George Sutherland, an ex-chairman of the NLB, described the restoration  as a “pet project” of his. It is the latest step in Shetland Amenity Trust’s restoration of the Stevenson built lighthouse and it is hoped that, birds and RSPB allowing, the foghorn will continue to give the occasional teeth-chattering blow into the tourist season.


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