For centuries sailors who sailed around Arbroath, Eastern Scotland were terrified of becoming shipwrecked on what was known as ‘Bell Rock’. This rock was actually an underwater reef, invisible from the surface of the water until the Bell Rock Lighthouse was built upon it in 1807.
Its construction wasn’t finished for three years, but once it was standing, the Bell Rock Lighthouse began saving lives of fishermen and sailors in the area (estimated at six ships per winter season). At 115 feet tall, the lighthouse is hard to miss and can be seen from buildings on land. It warns ships to this very day, that there is a rock below that extends 1427 feet in length under the surface of the water. It was lit on February 1st 1811; well over 200 years ago, and was capable of an intensity of 1,900,000 candela. This incredibly bright light reached up to 34 miles out to sea.
The Bell Rock Lighthouse is not just a conical shaped tower, either. Inside its Aberdeen granite walls are five compartments, not including the light room that stands upon its summit. This also contains glass panels and light reflectors, to increase the range of the light that was once emitted from it to warn ships who come close.
Apart from when a helicopter crashed into Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1955, the lighthouse has been operating since its construction over 200 years ago. It is is still in use today, having had no alterations or repairs to its structure.
Robert Stevenson, a young Scotsman and ambitious architect designed the original Bell Rock Lighthouse, but had his plans dismissed by the Northern Lighthouse Board on the basis that the reef was too dangerous to build such a large structure upon, and that it would cost £40,000. However, when the HMS York struck Bell Rock in 1804 and lost over 400 of its crew members, the Northern Lighthouse Board awarded the job of building Robert Stevenson’s Bell Rock Lighthouse design to John Rennie; a revered and most respected British engineer at that time.
To this day it’s uncertain who should take credit for the Bell Rock Lighthouse design and construction, considering Robert Stevenson still worked on the project, but only as Rennie’s assistant. They based their eventual design on John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse which had already been standing for 50 years.
The seas around Bell Rock were so harsh that construction could only take place in summer, in two hour bursts during the day before the workers had to retreat back to calm(er) water. Rennie was barely seen during this time, only having visited the rock twice, and the rest of the time Stevenson and the 60 construction workers fought through their seasickness and the awful conditions they built under. After a while of trying this system, the team decided to build a beacon house on the rock, so that they could reside there and not have to keep sailing to and from Bell Rock. The project, in total, cost around £61,339, which was the original budget, plus 50%.
How to Get There:
As you can imagine, visiting the Bell Rock Lighthouse itself is not recommended, as it marks the spot where thousands of sailors have died. The seas in Arbroath are very choppy, even in the calmer summer months, and the risk of being smashed against the huge Bell Rock reef is simply too high.
You can, however, get close to the Bell Rock Lighthouse by joining a fishing trip in a large boat. To get to Arbroath you will need to fly to Dundee Riverside Airport, and then catch a taxi to Arbroath for no more than £30 ($49).
Where to Stay:
The Rosely Country House Hotel is one of the best hotels to stay in, in Arbroath and is located on Forfar road. This Victorian style luxury hotel has single bed and breakfast rooms starting at just $73 per night, or double rooms from $97. This is great value for the quality of stay you will enjoy, even though you will need to call a taxi or rent a car to get to the center of Arbroath.
The Inverpark Hotel, on the other hand, is located right on the coast where you may be able to get a room with a view of the Bell Rock Lighthouse itself.