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Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scotland

Barra Head Lighthouse

The highest lighthouse in Scotland shines from an abandoned island. 

The island of Barra Head is the southernmost in the Outer Hebrides, and is unprotected from the ravages of ocean storms. In the fall of 1833, the Barra Head Lighthouse flicked on for the first time, meant to help sailors near the island’s cliffs deal with the extraordinary waves.

As settlements rose and fell around it, the beacon housed keepers steadily for over a century. Many hosted guests who had come to study the island’s flora and fauna, or just to see what life was like. At least one keeper buried family members there, in a small stone-walled cemetery near the tower.

But the lighthouse couldn’t save everybody: After World War II, scraps from a Blenheim bomber were found on the face of the cliff. In October of 1980, a crew came out to the lighthouse, converted it to automatic operation, and brought the last keeper back with them. No one lives at Barra Head anymore, although people still brave its waters to visit. 

Though long-empty, the light—the highest in all of Scotland—still spins once every 30 seconds, sweeping over the quiet island. Fans of historic buildings are trying to upgrade and preserve the lighthouse, fearing the storms will bring it down too.