Lighthouses exert a remarkable attraction, which in a sense is a little odd as their one and only role in life is to warn mariners not to approach them. Nonetheless they do, and Scottish lighthouses seem to exert an even greater attraction. There are many great Scottish lighthouses, but the one that has always seemed to fascinate people most is the Bell Rock Lighthouse. This was built between 1807 and 1810 on a tidal rock 12 miles south east of Arbroath in Angus. Its role was to warn mariners of the presence of the rock on which it stands, which lies right in the shipping lanes approaching the Firth of Tay and which, by the end of the 1700s, was sinking up to six ships each year, with enormous loss of life. As the author says: "The construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse made the name of the Stevenson family, a dynasty of lighthouse engineers who dominated Scottish lighthouse engineering for 150 years. Robert Stevenson was the first man on the reef and the last man off, a personal commitment which saw the Bell Rock's actual Chief Engineer, John Rennie, almost deleted from the building's history."
The fascination with the Bell Rock Lighthouse means that in more recent times it has been the subject of a number of books. Why, therefore, should you consider going out and buying "Bell Rock Lighthouse: An Illustrated History" by Michael A. W. Strachan? The simple answer is because this really is a very good book. It has obviously been very well researched; it is well written in an accessible style; and there is (as you might expect from an "illustrated history") a nice balance of text and images. The images range from modern colour photographs back through B&W photographs, drawings, and paintings of some of the key players.
The contents are set out chronologically, We start with "Before the Bell Rock Lighthouse" , before moving through two chapters about its building. We then look at its early operational history; ways in which it was improved as a functioning lighthouse over time; and the lives of the keepers who manned the light. Chapters follow looking at the role of the lighthouse in two world wars; at modernisation in the 1960s; and at the role of the last keepers in the years up to the automation of the light in 1988. The book ends with a look at the operation of the Bell Rock Lighthouse today; and a brief conclusion. There are probably longer and more detailed books out there about the Bell Rock Lighthouse, but we doubt if there is a better one.