Dream job Scotland: Visiting lighthouse keeper for remote Cape Wrath and Stoer Head

A rare opportunity to become a modern-day lighthouse keeper in one of the remotest parts of the Scottish mainland is up for grabs.

The Northern Lighthouse Board is seeking a retained lighthouse keeper to make regular checks on Cape Wrath and Stoer Head lighthouses in north west Sutherland.

While all of Scotland’s lighthouses are now automated – Cape Wrath’s was among the last in 1998 – they have to be visited around once a month to ensure their equipment is working correctly and to report any weather damage.

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Up to 60 applications are expected for the position, with such posts only coming up every five to ten years. The keeper’s salary will be £2,043 a year for eight-hour visits once a month to each lighthouse.

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The two lighthouses’ last retained keeper retired five years ago and they have since been covered temporarily by another retained keeper.

Tam Cairns, the board’s delivery and planning manager, told The Scotsman: “Our retained lightkeepers are employed to check on the lights that are relatively easy to access, every four to six weeks, with duties including lens cleaning and upkeep of the station.

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"They are our eyes and ears, and the first line of defence should there be an issue, which they will report or escalate as necessary.

"There isn’t a specific ‘type’ of person who fills the role and it really varies.

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Cape Wrath lighthouse is on the north west tip of mainland Scotland. Picture: Ian Cowe/Northern Lighthouse Board

"We have people who are retired, employed and self-employed such as former lighthouse keepers, fishermen, Outward Bound activity instructors, engineers, nurses, plasterers and former board technicians and contractors.

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"It’s useful if the person has a technical background, but not essential.

“They will receive training from the senior technician as well as health and safety training, and personal survival training for boat access.”

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Retained lightkeeper Barry Miller said visiting lighthouses “you hear all sorts of howls and screams from the wind. It’s very atmospheric.”
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Among the board’s 17 current retained lighthouse keepers, Barry Miller looks after seven lighthouses including Ailsa Craig, Turnberry and Mull of Galloway.

The 74-year-old former secondary school biology teacher told The Scotsman: “It’s been close to a dream job.

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"I was instantly attracted when I saw it advertised – I thought it looked so interesting, and I’m also interested in the historic aspects.

"People think lighthouses now operate all on their own, but we have to do various checks to ensure everything is working properly.”

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Stoer Head is one of two lighthouses to be looked after by the successful applicant. Picture: Ian Cowe/Northern Lighthouse Board

Damage that he has encountered has included a bank of solar panels being blown off at Ailsa Craig.

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Stranraer-based Mr Miller, who has been a retained keeper for 20 years, said he loved visiting the lighthouses best “in a howling gale”.

He said: “You hear all sorts of howls and screams from the wind. It’s very atmospheric.”

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Climbing the towers’ steps to the lights – there are 127 at Corsewall, near Stranraer, which he also looks after – also keeps him fit.

He said: “When I was visiting St Paul’s Cathedral in London, I found myself sprinting up the spiral stairs to the dome when everyone else was puffing their way up.

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"As long as I keep passing my medical, I’d like to continue as long as I can.”

Mr Miller visits his mainland lighthouses alone, but keeps in touch with the board’s headquarters in Edinburgh who monitor his movements, while he also carries a personal locator beacon.

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However, he is accompanied to the offshore lighthouses, such as Ailsa Craig, by boatmen.

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