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Shining a light

IT’S CURIOUS the things you remember from long ago. At my very first Scottish History lecture at Edinburgh University our professor, Gordon Donaldson, showed us slides of lighthouses from all around the shores of Scotland. He did this not simply because of his love of the sea and ships (thanks to his Northern Isles ancestry), but because he wanted us to realise just how much the geography of a country plays its part in that country’s history. And it was a good lesson to learn. History and geography are very much two sides to the same coin.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited many lighthouses, including the most westerly lighthouse on mainland Scotland at Ardnamurchan and even to Cape Leeuwin the most southerly lighthouse in Western Australia. When my parents lived in Out Skerries, the easternmost of the Shetland Isles, we climbed the lighthouse there. Then there’s the Kyleakin lighthouse on Eilean Bàn, former home of the eccentric otterloving naturalist Gavin Maxwell. Or the lighthouse on remote Cape Wrath, complete with the café at the edge of the world! Or even the distinctive lighthouse on the Sõrve Peninsula on the Estonian island of Saaremaa. And just last month we visited the most southerly lighthouse on the Scottish mainland, on the Mull of Galloway. Standing on a cliff-edge, with a dizzyingly sheer drop of nearly 300 feet to the water below, the area around the lighthouse is home to thousands of seabirds – and you can’t miss them.

The noise is tremendous: the shrieks of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, cormorants, accompanied by the soaring gannets from the nearby Scaur Rocks. Listening to the cacophony of weird sounds echoing off the cliff walls, it’s easy to understand how the cries of seabirds became woven into myths and legends! As they soar on thermals they seem almost magical. A sight to behold. Not surprisingly this area is now an RSPB nature reserve.

Listening to the cacophony of weird sounds echoing off the cliff walls, it’s easy to understand how the cries of seabirds became woven into myths and legends!

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