Chanonry Point

Lighthouses of the East Coast of Scotland

In Salutem Omnium
For the Safety of All
Chanonry Point - Rosmarkie
Flag of Scotland
© Composted by:
Bob Schrage
updated: 02-10-2018

Kinnaird Head

Place of the lighthouse

Kinnaird Head (Scottish Gaelic: An Ceann Àrd, "high headland") is a headland projecting into the North Sea in Aberdeenshire on the east coast of Scotland. Kinnaird Head must have been an important landmark in the past for seafarers who had no sea charts and compasses or other nautical instruments to guide them on their travels. It is very likely that Kinnaird Head was a major recognition point in early years.

The construction of Kinnaird Castle, also known as Fraserburgh Castle or Kinnairdshead Castle, began in March 1570. The builder was Sir Alexander Fraser, 8th laird of Philorth, (c.1536–1623), who also transformed the fishing village of Faithlie into the burgh of Fraserburgh in the 1590s. Building the castle was very expensive, Sir Alexander was forced to sell the family home Cairnbulg Castle (formerly Philroth Castle) near Philforth river. The last people who resided in the castle were Henrietta Fraser (1698-1751), daughter of the 12th Lord Saltoun, and her husband John Gordon of Kinellar (1684-1764). In 1787 the castle was sold to the Trustees of the Northern lights; (precursor of the Northern Lighthouse Board), who turned it into Kinnaird Head Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse

In 1786, the Parliamentary Act for erecting certain lighthouses in the "Northern Parts of Great Britain" was passed, and the Commissioners for Northern Lighthouses were established. They were authorized to build four lighthouses in Scotland, of which Kinnaird Head was the first.

Orginally Kinnaird Head Lighthouse was designed by the Edinburgh Lamp Manufacturer, Thomas Smith (1752-1815). He was the first, part-time unpaid engineer, by the Northern Lighthouse Board. The design was later improved by three of the Stevenson lighthouse engineers, namely Robert Stevenson, Alan Stevenson and David Alan Stevenson. The structure was rebuilt in the 1820s, and superseded by a new lighthouse in 1991.

The whitewashed building has a floor area of 12.2 by 9.1 meters and has a corbelled parapet. It originally had five vaulted masonry floors and walls of 1.83 meter thick. The lighthouse has its own foundation and is separate from the castle. The granite tower has an outer diameter of 4.9 meters and has walls of 76 cm thick. The lantern is about 17.7 m above the ground and 36.6 m above the high water level.

Originally, the tower house provided storage accommodation and facilities for the keepers. Additions were made in 1821-30 by Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) to provide further accommodation and single-storey outbuildings suitable for a 'national establishment'. Robert Stevenson modified the tower in 1824 and constructed a new lantern, using Argand lamps with silvered copper reflectors, which necessitated removing the top floor of the keep. In 1851, Alan Stevenson built the first lighthouse keepers' cottages on the site. A Year later, his brother David Lillie Stevenson built more cottages.

Warning systems (Light, Fog horn, Radio Beacon)

A fixed light was first shown on December 1, 1787 and had an intensity of approximately 980 candelas, visible for about 20 km (10.8 nM). The light came from whale oil lamps. Although weak for current modern concepts, it represented a significant improvement on previously used open fires with coal as used on the May Island lighthouse (1636) and the lighthouse on Little Cumbrae Island (1757). It operated in that position until 1824 when internal alternations were made to the tower to accommodate a new lantern and additional buildings were constructed for the Light keepers. It was the first of a new set of developed oil lamps, each of them backed by its own parabolic reflector made up of a multitude of facets of silvered mirror-glass set on a plaster mould. Kinnaird Head was the most powerful light of its time, and contained 17 reflectors arranged in 3 horizontal tiers. To put this new lamp in place, the top floor of the lighthouse had to be removed.

Alan Stevenson (1807-65) installed a diopter (lens) light in 1851. The light used paraffin as a fuel from the late 1890's. In 1906 the light was converted to glowing effect. The following year, David Alan Stevenson (1854-1938) introduced a new lens assembly, rotated by a clock mechanism.

Kinnaird Head Foghorn
The Kinnaird Head Foghorn

The light of the old lighthouse was decommissioned in 1991. However, in 2004 the Northern Lighthouse Board indicated that the lighthouse could be returned into operation. A new automatic light was established in 1991 on a 10 meters' tall tower not far from the former structure (see foto).

As the 1990s approached people were aware that manned lighthouses were reaching their end, and all the technologies stripped out for the purpose of automation. When the idea of a Lighthouse Museum was floated, the idea was that Kinnaird Head Lighthouse would be preserved as a manned light as all the technologies used by the keepers were still there. The lightroom had been practically untouched since 1902.

If they had chosen to automate the old tower at Kinnaird Head the majority of the parts would need to be removed in order to install a cost effective and viable light. This would likely have included the removal of the lens which rotated on rollers. Therefore a new light had to be built in order for the old to be left intact for the purpose of the museum/visitor experience. The Lighthouse was eventually sold to Historic Scotland after a few years of negotiation to become part of Scotland’s Lighthouse Museum.

The new light is 25 meter above sea level and shines with an intensity of 690,000 candelas, visible for almost 41 km (22 nM). This light has a light character of 3 flashes of white light repeating every 5 seconds. (Fl (3) W 5s). The light has a range of 41 km / 22 nM.

A pneumatic foghorn was constructed in 1903 for use during poor visibility. The fog signal is discontinued in 1987, but all of its machinery and air tanks have remained intact and have been well preserved since. The fog horn can still be heard with this link.

The first radio beacon in Scotland was attached to Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in 1929.

Operational status

One point of importance with regard to the original light is that in 1787 a master James Park, vessel master was appointed as 'Keeper of the Light' for 1 / - per night. Provided that he had to clean the lantern every night, or any other person he had to instruct, to light the lamps and monitor them. The last keepers left in 1991 when the light was automated. The Light is now remotely monitored from the Board’s headquarters in Edinburgh.

Ownervessel and Accessibility

The original lighthouse at Kinnaird Head is now home to The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, which incorporates the original lighthouse and a modern building housing collections of lenses and other artifacts from many lighthouses across Scotland.

The museum of Scottish Lighthouses
The museum of Scottish Lighthouses
The museum of Scottish Lighthouses

The Wine tower of Kinnaird Head

Kinnaird Head - Winetower
Kinnaird Head - Wine tower
The Wine tower is a small three-storey tower located approximately 50 meters from the Kinnaird Head Lighthouse. The tower has been dated to the 16th-century, and may have gained its name through use as a store associated with the castle. The tower is accessed via the second floor, and contains elaborate carved stone pendants. It is reputed that in the cave below, one of the Fraser family imprisoned his daughter's boyfriend, leaving him to drown there. The daughter then jumped from the roof of the tower. There is red paint on the rocks below to illustrate her blood. According to local tradition, the tower is said to be haunted.

World War II

During the Second World War, the Kinnaird Head Lighthouse was attacked only once by an enemy bomber. That was astonishing because the city of Fraserburgh itself, known as Little London, was regularly attacked because of the presence of war equipment facilities. For example, there were Rolls Royce factories for aircraft engines and parts for Bofors guns. In the attack on 19 February 1941 two aircraft bombs were thrown about 50 meters from the lighthouse. Fortunately no one was injured and afterwards the following damage was reported:

"Three lantern panels were destroyed, the radio control and a number of insulators broke. 41 windows were damaged, some images were damaged, and a latch of the balcony door broke down. The ceiling of the house of the 2nd lighthouse keeper was cracked and the ceiling of The first assistant's kitchen was also cracked.

What possibly saved the lighthouse from further attacks were probably the high freestanding chimneys of a fish processing factory behind the lighthouse grounds. It might be a better goal for enemy aircraft.

Description Description: A complex of buildings including a 4-storey tower house with integral lighthouse, three former keepers cottages, an engine house and a fog horn, situated on a cliff site at the north of Fraserburgh. The site is now a museum (2016). The tower house is likely to have been built by Sir Alexander Fraser of Philorth around 1570 and contains a circular lighthouse within its northeast side with the domed lantern section projecting through the roof. The lighthouse was first built in 1787 by Thomas Smith and remodelled in 1824 by Robert Stevenson. The tower house is harled rubble with a corbelled parapet and with round bartizans at the corners and square bartizans at the centre of the elevations. The lighthouse is situated within the tower house and is a granite ashlar tower with a projecting lantern. The lantern has two encircling walkways above a ground floor, each with metal railings. The lower walkway is corbelled. The glass of the lantern above is diamond paned. The window openings are irregularly spaced and there is a large window to the stair tower. The windows are mostly timber sash and case with 6-over 6-pane glazing pattern. There are some smaller windows. The interior was seen in 2016. The lighthouse tower has an internal stone spiral staircase with metal balusters and a timber handrail. The lantern holds a large circular brass frame which supports the lens. The basement is vaulted. The other rooms were converted into keeper s accommodation in 1830s and have 6-panel timber doors. The former keepers cottages and the engine house lie to the north, southeast and south of the lighthouse. The pair of cottages to the southeast date from 1824 and the others from 1902. All are single-storey, symmetrical, flat-roofed buildings in white, harled, coursed rubble with contrasting mustard margins. All have a base course, blocking courses and quoins. The 1824 cottages have central, hexagonal chimney stacks. A coped rubble boundary wall lies to the east, west and south of the keeper s cottage to the south. The windows are mostly timber sash and case with a 4-pane glazing pattern. The interiors were seen in 2016. The former houses retain small rooms with some 4-panel timber doors and carved fire surrounds. A fog horn built in 1902 is situated to the north of the site, on the cliff edge, facing out to sea. It is a concrete semi-circular structure with a metal horn on its roof. Statement of Special Interest Kinnaird Head Castle was probably founded in the early 1570s by Sir Alexander Fraser, 8th Lord of Philorth to protect the new Fraserburgh harbour. It was acquired by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1786 (Walker et al. 2015). The former Kinnaird Head lighthouse was originally constructed in 1787 for the Northern Lighthouse Board by the Edinburgh engineer Thomas Smith. It is constructed within the northeast side of the tower house of the former Kinnaird Head Castle. The Canmore record notes that the older lighthouse was largely of a timber construction and the whale lamps within could cast light for up to 14 miles. The 18th century lighthouse was replaced in 1824 by Robert Stevenson, who built the current lantern and lamp and reconstructed the stair tower within the castle. The light was replaced in 1851 by Alan Stevenson and again in 1902 by David Stevenson. David Stevenson also built the fog horn and the engine house which works it. He also built a new house for the principal keeper. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1991 and an automated light constructed to the north.


Character: Fl W 5s 25m 22M

EngineerThomas Smith (1752-1815)

Lat, Lon57°41.862' N, 02°00.237' W

Established1 December 1787
New Light build in 1991
CharacterFlashing White every 5 secs.
Range41 km / 22 nM
Tower10 meters
Elevation25 meters above sealevel
Fog hornDiscontinued in 1987

AuthorityNorthern Lighthouse Board
RemarksCandlepower 690.000 cd
Lighthouse and Winetower:
Cat.A listed - nr: 31888/9 - 16/04/1971

Kinnard Head lighthouse
Kinnard Head lighthouse
Kinnaird Head Castle
Kinnaird Head map
Kinnaird Head map


Fraserburgh Castle- Fraserchief website
Survey of Kinnaird Head- Lighthouse Museum
Foghorn Kinnaird Head- Tim Delpans