The Kinnaird Head Lighthouse is unique amongst the more than 600 lighthouses that punctuate the darkness around the coast of the United Kingdom, or those elsewhere around the globe for that matter. It is the only lighthouse in the world to have been built on top of a castle. Located at the far north-east corner of Scotland, the promontory on which it stands has been an important marker for mariners since before Ptolemy drew up his map in around AD 150. From 1571 it became home to a castle built by the local landowner Sir Alexander Fraser: who gave his name to the town that lies on the coast here, Fraserburgh. In 1787 it became the location of the first Scottish lighthouse to be built by the newly-formed Northern Lighthouse Board. The wave of automation that overtook Scottish lighthouses late in the last century passed Kinnaird Head by. Instead it became, in 1995, part of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, and is now said to be the most visited lighthouse in Scotland.
"Kinnaird Head Lighthouse: An Illustrated History" by Michael A. W. Strachan tells this story over the course of 96 well-written and nicely illustrated pages. We are taken through the centuries in a chronological way, beginning with the story of the Castle of Fraserburgh, before moving on to the foundation of the Northern Lighthouse Board and their building of a lighthouse here. From here on the history of Kinnaird Head Lighthouse becomes deeply entwined with that of the Stevenson dynasty, a family who provided four generations of chief engineers for the NLB and who between them built most of Scotland's lighthouses.
The story at Kinnaird Head was one of improvement over time, mainly with a better light, and a foghorn. Later we read of the role that the lighthouse played in two world wars, including the WWII fears of residents of heavily-attacked Fraserburgh that even with wartime limitations to its operation, the lighthouse was attracting air raids to the town. In the post-war era we read of the last lightkeepers, of the automation of most of Scotland's lighthouses, and of the establishment of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses and the role that Kinnaird Head Lighthouse played in that, and continues to play in it.
This is a well written and engaging account of a fascinating subject: a subject that feels just right in scale and scope to be handled within the format of this book. The plentiful illustrations have been well selected and add hugely to the book. This is a book we'd highly recommend.