Shining a light on maritime heritage

By Adrian Darbyshire

Visitors to Sumburgh Head had a rare opportunity to step inside its historic lighthouse tower as part of an event to celebrate the isles’ maritime heritage.

Tours of Shetland’s oldest Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1821, were led by retained lighthouse keeper Brian Johnson.

Brian said it has been a long time since the public had last been able to go inside the tower.

He said the three tonne mechanism, with its Fresnel lens, floats on a 200kg bath of mercury.

Regular checks had been carried out in the last couple of weeks before Sunday’s open day to ensure levels of mercury vapour were well within safety limits, Brian explained.

The plan is to open the lighthouse tower again on special days.

Sunday’s event saw Shetland Community Wildlife Group join forces with a number of organisations for the Maritime Day celebration, one of a number taking place across Europe.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Shorewatch team helped visitors look out for whales, dolphins and porpoises from two vantage points around the lighthouse.

Shorewatch’s Katie Dyke said five or six porpoises had been spotted with more seen from further down the hill.

She said porpoises don’t surface very often and the calm sea provided the ideal conditions for seeing them.

RSPB wardens and members of Shetland Bird Club were on hand to answer questions about the seabirds that visit the cliffs at Sumburgh Head.

Julie Redpath from Shetland Bird Club said the puffins had put on a good show.

She said it was too early to say whether it will be a good season for them.

“A lot of people have wanted to ask questions about the birds, it’s been really good with the children getting excited about the puffins,” she said.

Among other events on the day were guided walks by a Shetland Amenity Trust ranger and a pirate-themed treasure hunt for young explorers.

Jane Outram, site supervisor for the visitor centre, said it had been a very busy day.

She said: “I’ve never seen the car park so full. It was perfect conditions for the whole day. I think it is just amazing that you can see and hear so much here.”


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