Bishop Rock – Isles of Scilly, England - Atlas Obscura

Bishop Rock

Isles of Scilly, England

At high tide, the base of the lighthouse covers practically every inch of the island. 


Twenty-eight miles off the coast of southwestern England lies an archipelago of islands called the Isles of Scilly, the southernmost point of the United Kingdom and the westernmost point of England. Comprised of 145 islands, only six of the isles have been inhabited at one point in time, the smallest of which, Bishop Rock, is a mere 0.000736 square kilometers — under 8,000 square feet at low tide.

On this minuscule island stands a single lighthouse that covers nearly every inch of the island. It was the permanent home of a small team of lighthouse keepers from its construction in 1858 until the year it became automated in 1991. Nowadays, it serves as both a beacon of light for sailors and a miniature hotel for any group of four eccentric history buffs looking to live in complete isolation for a few weeks.

Why was this thing constructed in the first place? Shipwrecks. It started in 1707, when the HMS Association and three other ships crashed into a rock nearby Bishop Rock, killing 1,550 people, the worst crash in the history of the British Isles. Over 100 years later, Bishop Rock itself was struck, twice. The wrecks prompted the construction of a lighthouse, on the westernmost rock to warn incoming ships as early as possible.

The lighthouse on Bishop Rock must have been extremely difficult to build. At high tide, the base of the lighthouse covers practically every square inch of the island, giving no room for proper footing. After three years of construction, a storm in 1850 blew the lighthouse off the ground, destroying 12,500 pounds (modern day $1.9 million) of work.

But after being completed in 1858 and renovated in 1887, the structure has been dubbed “King of the Lighthouses.” It is indeed a beauty—- the second tallest in the UK, at 167 feet. Its ten floors hold a water tank, two oil rooms, a living room, a bedroom, and even a helipad on top. 

The lighthouse has also collected world records. When inhabited, Bishop Rock can qualify as the world’s smallest island. And year-round it has the peculiar distinction of being the world’s smallest island with a building on it — that is until someone decides to build a structure on an even smaller isle.

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