Mull of Galloway Lighthouse

IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2020 Nominee

Location: Scotland. Stranraer. Drummore. Photo credit: Ian Cowe

Lighthouse Operator: Northern Lighthouse Board

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Lighthouse Description and History

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by The Northern Lighthouse Board in 2020)

The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse stands 26 metres high and 99 metres above sea level and is located at Scotland’s most southerly point. It was designed and built by Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson, a member of the famous family of engineers responsible for building most of Scotland’s lighthouses. Work began in 1828 and it took two years to complete at a cost of £9000. The light was first lit on 26 March 1830.

Several changes have taken place at the Mull of Galloway since it was built. At one time the lamp was a combination of shining brass and sparking crystal, turning through its two and three quarter minute revolution on beautifully made rollers – so perfect that the 5 ton of lens could be moved by hand. The lamp was as simple as the familiar tilly, lit by hand with paraffin and then pumped up, for all the world like a camp-cooking stove. But there the resemblance ended, for the surrounding prisms which gave off myriad rainbows on a sunny day, caught the light and magnified it to the power of 29,000 candles. This lens was removed in 1971 when the station was converted to electric operation and replaced with an array of sealed-beam electric lamps. In 2019, these lamps were replaced with an LED optic in order to achieve more energy efficiency and lower maintenance cost.

During the Second World War, on 8 June 1944, a Beaufighter aircraft crashed into the lighthouse stores building and ended up in the sea. Both the pilot and his passenger were killed.

The Lighthouse was automated in 1988 and is remotely monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s headquarters at 84 George Street, Edinburgh.

In 2012, the Northern Lighthouse Board considered selling the site, with the exception of the actual tower. The South Rhins Community Development Trust, the Trust responsible for the management of visitor attractions at the Mull of Galloway, made the decision to go for a Community Buy Out. At this point the Mull of Galloway Trust was formed. They submitted an application to purchase the site which was accepted by the Scottish Government. After a ballot of the community resulted in 98% of those who voted being in favour of the Buy Out, a successful application was made to the Scottish Land Fund and 95% of the purchase price of £300,000 was awarded by means of a grant. The local community then raised the final 5%.

On 4 July 2013, the former three lightkeepers cottages, the former engine room which is now an exhibition area, the RSPB centre, Fog Horn and 30 acres of heathland at the Mull of Galloway was successfully bought by the community. The Northern Lighthouse Board still own and operate the lighthouse but are not responsible for the surrounding property and land.

Reason For Nomination

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by The Northern Lighthouse Board in 2020)

Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse

The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse is designated as one of Scotland’s Outstanding Lighthouses, an initiative developed by the Northern Lighthouse Board to promote and drive tourism to Scotland’s coastal communities and increase awareness of the role and history of NLB’s unique heritage.

The Lighthouse, known as a Stevenson Tower is a wonderful example of a Stevenson engineered lighthouse. It is situated in a stunning location where wildlife is abundant and is one of the best places in the UK to view dolphins, porpoises and many sea birds.

In agreement with the Northern Lighthouse Board, the Mull of Galloway Trust gives tours of the lighthouse. The public can climb the 115 steps to the top of the Lighthouse, where they will be rewarded with a spectacular view from the balcony and lightroom. The old engine room houses an exhibition on the lighthouse and the engines and foghorn are now fully operational following a refurbishment project. There are regular blasts and engine demonstrations throughout the year.

Tours of the engine room create a unique opportunity to experience working foghorn engines and air compressors and to get an insight into the lives of Lighthouse Keepers and the rich history associated with the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse. The Exhibition has achieved 4-Star visitor attraction status from Visit Scotland and attracts tour groups, independent travellers, local groups and schools. Visitors come for the whole Mull of Galloway experience: RSPB centre, café, lighthouse and coastal walks.

Two years ago a licence was granted to enable couples to get married in the lightroom.

The Trust also runs three former Lighthouse Keepers’ cottages as holiday houses and these bring in a high rate of occupancy which in turn is beneficial for the local community and the economic development of Scotland.  The Trust has ensured that the Mull of Galloway has become a major visitor attraction in the area, and this creates a valuable asset to the local economy.


The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse is an iconic and valuable part of the community and has been guiding mariners safely through Scottish waters since 1830. The Northern Lighthouse Board recently carried out a major refurbishment to ensure the lighthouse continues to serve the mariner for many more years to come.

A Foghorn has been present at the Mull of Galloway since 1894.  It last sounded as an aid to marine navigation in November 1987. During its working life, the Foghorn would be operated by Lighthouse Keepers should seaward visibility drop below 4 miles. Three Kelvin K2 Diesel Engines produce the compressed air necessary to sound the Foghorn. Following a period of restoration the engines are now running again after 30 years of remaining silent. It is currently the only operational Foghorn on mainland Scotland.

Public Access and Education

As well as lighthouse tours and exhibition, the engine room exhibition and the lighthouse holiday cottages, the Mull has one of the last remaining sections of natural coastal habitat on the Galloway coast and as such supports a wide variety of plant and animal species. It is now a nature reserve managed by the RSPB. The Mull of Galloway Trail, one of Scotland’s Great Trails, is a 59 km (37 mi) long-distance footpath that runs from the Mull of Galloway via Stranraer to Glen App near Ballantrae, where the trail links with the Ayrshire Coastal Path.

The Mull of Galloway is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific interest (SSSI) and an area of national and local importance for the local community and holidaymakers and visitors to the area.

The Trust employs 10 local people at the Mull of Galloway and has put them through a World Host training course on customer care to ensure that they have the skills required to interact with visitors to the Mull.

By working in partnership with the RSPB and the local Drummore Primary School, the Trust provides opportunities for youngsters to visit the Mull on a regular basis.  Whilst there, they undertake a variety of project – from building bug hotels, nature trails, learning the history of the Lighthouse and the families who lived there to checking out wildlife on the Reserve, marine life and wildflowers.  They are out in the fresh air planting bulbs, walking and having fun.  The Trust encourages the school to take part in a wide variety of events. For example, by providing workshops in the summer so they can learn to make art and crafts using items found on local beaches.

Kirkmaiden Parish is relatively remote and there are very few employment opportunities so the Trust has provided seasonal jobs, to 10 local people with the RSPB and Gallie Craig providing around another 10 to 15 jobs.  Volunteers with the Trust plant and then supply potatoes to senior citizens every summer and encourage them to visit the Mull.

The Trust holds regular board meetings to which the public are welcome and  produce a quarterly newsletter to ensure local people and those who live beyond are kept advised of what is happening at the Mull of Galloway.  By listening to the local community, the Trust make decisions at the Mull which are of benefit to them but also to the growing number of visitors coming every year.  The Trust works together with the community council, Information Centre, Harbour Trust and other organisations to ensure that this community makes the most of their assets. The  Mull of Galloway is community owned with increasing visitors every year and any profit is ploughed back into the local area.  Job opportunities are advertised locally.

In order to keep attracting visitors, the Trust is looking at refurbishing the Exhibition and Quarterdecks.

Everything done at the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse brings benefits to the local coastal economy by way of employment, increased spending in the local area in shops, guest houses, pubs and other attractions.

The following is a list of events held at the Mull of Galloway and shows the diverse range of activities taking place:

–           Three-day Festival at the Mull to thank the community for their support in carrying out a community buyout – the first in South Scotland

–           Mock Evacuation of Tower by local Fire Service – safety drill now adopted by NLB
–           Ministerial visit presenting defibrillator to the Trust

–           Smugglers Festival

–           Hollywood film ‘The Vanishing’ staring Gerard Butler, Peter Mullen, Connor Swindells and Gary Lewis
–           Baldy Bane theatre Group
–           Community Arts & Crafts workshops for schools, local community and visitors
–           Switch-on of restored foghorn engines
–           Thomas Telford Celebration

–           Vintage car rally
–           Foghorn restored and blasted publicly for first time at event at Easter
–           Armistice Commemoration event
–           Great British Railway Journeys – visit by Michael Portillo
–           Scottish Rural Parliament delegate visit

–           The Walnuts band, with TV Presenter Matt Allwright, played at the Mull
–           Presbytery visit by folk from Czech Republic
–           BBC TV Springwatch filming
–           Border Life –programme on history, community buyout etc

–           Pop-Up restaurant scheduled for Sunday 17 May
–           Year of Coasts & Waters celebration on 25 & 26 July

Annual events include:

–           International Lighthouse Heritage Event
–           Community Land Week
–           Doors Open Day

Photos and Diagrams