"Scottish Lighthouse Pioneers: Travels with the Stevensons in Orkney and Shetland" by Paul A. Lynn tells the story of the chain of eleven lighthouses that extend up through the Orkney and Shetland islands, from the Pentland Skerries lighthouse built in 1794 to Muckle Flugga, completed in 1858, taking in en route two on Fair Isle. It accomplishes this by approaching its subject from a number of different perspectives. The result is a fascinating book that brings together in one place an overview of everything you might need to know about the lighthouses of the Northern Isles.
After an introductory chapter, the author sets out a couple of pages about each of the eleven individual lighthouses, including a map and a colour photograph. There is then a chapter telling the story of the Stevenson family, whose successive generations built and maintained almost all of Scotland's lighthouses. Theirs is a story that has been told before, and at greater length and depth, but it is very helpful to have sixteen pages about them here. Their contribution to Scotland was so remarkable, and over such a long period of time, that no opportunity should be missed to sing their praises.
Two rather different perspectives on the story of the Northern Isles and their lighthouses then follow. In 1814 the author Sir Walter Scott accompanied a tour of inspection undertaken by the Northern Lighthouse Board's yacht "Pharos". At that time lighthouses were much fewer and further between then they became later, and the segment of the tour taking in the Northern Isles was as much about establishing the need for further lighthouses as it was about inspecting existing ones. The result is a fascinating insight into the Northern Isles at this point. The second "eyewitness" account comes from the author Robert Louis Stevenson, a member of the family responsible for the development of lighthouses across Scotland, but someone who wanted no part in the business. He did, however, take part in a tour of inspection of Scotland's lighthouses with his father in 1868, in a later generation of "Pharos", by now a paddle steamer. Things had moved on greatly from 1814, and RLS's account contrasts very nicely with that of Sir Walter Scott.
The book concludes with a chapter about the most northerly and most difficult of the lighthouses built in the Northern Isles: Muckle Flugga, built on a sharp fin of rock sticking out of the sea north of the island of Unst in Shetland. The story of its design and building is well worth telling in detail, and the result is a chapter that nicely rounds off the coverage in the book.