The Skerryvore lighthouse, built between 1838 and 1844, has been described as 'the most graceful lighthouse in the world'. At 156ft or 48m high it is the tallest lighthouse in Scotland and it is also one of the most remote, standing on a wave-washed reef 12 miles off the hebridean island of Tiree. The story of the lighthouse, and of the man who built it, Alan Stevenson, is a fascinating one, and Paul A. Lynn tells that story in an informative and highly accessible way. A quirky and personal style draws the reader in, while the use of contemporary quotations (many from Alan Stevenson's own 1848 account of the building of the lighthouse) and a large number of excellent (and often also contemporary) maps and drawing and more recent photographs really helps bring the subject matter to life.
Alan Stevenson was a member of the famous "Lighthouse Stevensons", the family that dominated lighthouse development and building in Scotland from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. Yet despite Skerryvore being one of the twin pinnacles of the family's achievements over their century and a half of endeavour, neither the lighthouse nor its designer are nearly as well known as they deserve to be. This is in stark contrast to the family's other great achievement, the Bell Rock lighthouse, built by Alan's father Robert Stevenson three decades earlier. There are many reasons for this, including Robert's greater enthusiasm as a self-publicist and the more more prominent location of the Bell Rock lighthouse, in the approach to the Firths of Tay and Forth.
"The Lighthouse on Skerryvore" leads the reader through the background to lighthouses in Scotland and the role of the Stevenson family, before turning to the problems presented to shipping off the west coast by the notorious Skerryvore Rock. We are then taken through the lessons and precendents provided by the Eddystone lighthouse off England and the Bell Rock lighthouse, before embarking on an account of the preparations for, and then the construction of, the Skerryvore lighthouse itself. Paul A. Lynn is an engineer, and his admiration for both Alan Stevenson and his most famous work shines through the book. But what is particularly nice is the understanding that emerges of Alan Stevenson as a man and not just as an engineer. A great deal has been published in the past about Scottish lighthouses and about the Stevenson family. This book is a thoroughly worthwhile addition to what has gone before that, and one takes a rounded view of two very underappreciated subjects.