Carraig Fhada Lighthouse on Islay

Written by Chris Thornton | 19th of February 2024
Carraig Fhada Lighthouse on Islay

Nestled on a rocky headland to the south of Port Ellen harbour, the Carraig Fhada Lighthouse stands as a striking beacon for travellers arriving in Islay via the Port Ellen ferry. This square lighthouse tower, constructed in 1832, is not just a navigational aid but a poignant memorial built by Walter Frederick Campbell, the Laird of Islay, in loving memory of his wife, Lady Ellinor Campbell, who passed away at the tender age of 36.

Unlike the traditional round towers that dominate Scotland's coastline, Carraig Fhada's square design sets it apart, making it the only lighthouse of its kind in Scotland. This distinctive feature is the work of David Hamilton & Son, a firm that also contributed to the memorial of Lady Ellenor in the Round Church in Bowmore. It's intriguing to note that the town of Port Ellen bears the mark of Walter Campbell's devotion, being named in honour of his wife.

The lighthouse's design follows an L-plan, stretching three storeys high with a main block measuring 5.5 meters square and a 3.4-meter stair tower. Its stone turnpike stair ascends to a landing below the second floor, leading to a flat roof where a beacon and lens were mounted. Remarkably, there is no lantern; a signal light shines from a mast atop the tower, guiding mariners safely to shore.

Transferred to the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1924 and converted to operate on propane gas in 1963, the lighthouse has since been automated, rendering the keeper's cottage unnecessary for operational purposes. This cottage now serves as a private residence, further embedding the lighthouse within the local community.

Walter Frederick Campbell

A touching inscription over the doorway eloquently expresses the depth of Walter Campbell's grief and his enduring love for Lady Ellinor. It serves as a testament to the lighthouse's original purpose as a beacon of love and guidance, both for those navigating the waters around Islay and for Campbell himself, as he navigated his own life's journey in the wake of his wife's death.

The inscription:

"Ye who mid storms and tempests stray in dangers midnight hour.
Behold where shines this friendly ray and hail its guardian tower.

Tis but faint emblem of her light my fond and faithful guide.
Whose sweet example meekin bright led
through this worlds eventful tide my happy course aright.

And still my guiding star she lives in realms of bliss above.
Still to my heart blest influence gives and
prompts to deeds of love.

Tis she that bids me on the steep kindle this beacons flame.
To light the wanderer o`er the deep who safe
shall bless her name.

So may sweet virtue lead your way that when life`s voyage is o`er.
Secure like her with her you may attain the heavenly shore.
"

For visitors, a trail leads from the shore to the lighthouse's base, offering a close-up view of this architectural marvel. Though not open to the public, its presence on the headland makes it an essential sight for anyone exploring Islay. The lighthouse's whitewashed walls, especially striking at sunset, capture the imagination and invite contemplation of its historical and emotional significance.

Beyond its immediate vicinity, a path winds around the coast to the Singing Sands, a sheltered beach where the sand 'sings' under certain conditions. This natural phenomenon and the lighthouse's solemn beauty offer a unique experience of Islay's natural and historical landscapes.

Islay Walter Frederick Campbell
The lighthouses design and stunning white paint really make it stand out.

FAQs on Carraig Fhada Lighthouse

Is Carraig Fhada Lighthouse the only square lighthouse in Scotland?

Yes, it is the only square lighthouse in Scotland. There are square lighthouses in England and Wales.

How to get to Carraig Fhada Lighthouse?

Travel to Islay: The island of Islay can be accessed by ferry or air.

  • By Ferry: Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) operates ferries to Islay from the mainland port of Kennacraig on the Kintyre Peninsula. There are typically two destinations on Islay for these ferries: Port Ellen and Port Askaig. For Carraig Fhada Lighthouse, choose the ferry to Port Ellen.

  • By Air: Flights to Islay Airport (ILY) are available from Glasgow International Airport (GLA). The airport is located near Port Ellen, making it a convenient option if you prefer to fly.

From Port Ellen: Once you arrive in Port Ellen, whether by ferry or from the airport (a short drive from Port Ellen), you can reach the lighthouse by car or on foot, depending on your preference and where you're staying.

  • By Car (6 minutes drive): If you have a car, you can drive towards the southern part of Port Ellen and follow the signs directing towards the lighthouse. The lighthouse is situated on a headland south of the harbour, and there should be a parking area nearby from where you can walk to the lighthouse.

  • On Foot (45-minute walk): Carraig Fhada Lighthouse is accessible via a scenic walk from Port Ellen. Look for the path that leads out of town towards the south along the coastline. The walk is relatively straightforward and offers beautiful views of the area.

Be aware the path to the lighthouse may be inaccessible and submerged at very high tides.

Google Maps location: Carraig Fhaha Lighthouse
What3words: ///outlooks.ample.averts

Can Carraig Fhada Lighthouse be seen from Port Ellen?

Yes, by looking west by southwest from Port Ellen, you should see the lighthouse as a white block across the bay. You will also see from the water on your left side if you arrive in Port Ellen via ferry.

Key information on Carraig Fhada Lighthouse

  • Carraig Fhada Lighthouse is located on a rocky headland south of Port Ellen harbour on Islay, a Scottish island off the west coast.

  • Constructed in 1832 as a memorial by Walter Frederick Campbell in memory of his wife, Lady Ellinor Campbell, who died at 36.

  • Unique square tower design, possibly the only of its kind in Scotland, by David Hamilton & Son.

  • Named in honour of Lady Ellinor, the town of Port Ellen reflects Walter Campbell's devotion.

  • Features an L-plan, three storeys high, with a main block and a stair tower.

  • No traditional lantern; a signal light shines from a mast atop the tower.

  • Transferred to the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1924; automated and converted to propane gas in 1963.

  • The inscription over the doorway highlights Walter Campbell's grief and love for Lady Ellinor.

  • It is not open to the public but accessible to visitors via a trail leading to its base.

Built by the Laird of Islay Walter Frederick Campbell
The path to the lighthouse can sometimes be blocked at high tide.

Conclusion

Carraig Fhada Lighthouse is more than a maritime waypoint; it is a monument to love, loss, and the indelible mark of personal history on the landscape. Its unique square design, historical significance, and poetic inscription over its doorway make it a must-see landmark for anyone visiting Islay, offering a window into the island's rich cultural tapestry and the timeless narratives of its inhabitants.

Images by Nigel Brown and Odd Wellies.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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