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Lighthouse Day

"When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
The Mariners heard the warning Bell;
And then they knew the perilous Rock,
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok"

~Robert Southey, Inchcape Rock, 1820

Of all the terrors known to mariners navigating the east coast of Scotland in olden days, the Inchcape Rock, otherwise known as the Bell Rock, was probably the one most dreaded! The fear of striking the rock was so great, that it is said that more ships were shipwrecked on the neighbouring shores trying to avoid it, than actually on it! The Bell Rock lighthouse, first lit in 1811 is one of the oldest sea-washed lighthouses still standing.

The lighthouse has been a staple of culture in the world since ships were built to sail the seas. Protection from fog, reefs, rocks and other hazards of the coastline have been signaled by lighthouses, even before the advent of electricity.


Originally, large fires were lit in the top of the early lighthouses, to warn ship captains against sailing too close. Some lighthouses even used early forms of light refraction to make the light spread farther out to see – polished metal acted as mirrors.

This tartan, designed by Stephen Patrick Sim in 2012 is for the oldest sea-washed lighthouse still standing, the Bell Rock Lighthouse, and was entrusted to the The Northern Lighthouse Board, Edinburgh, for use as their corporate tartan.


From the designers's notes:

The tartan was designed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, first lit on 1 February 1811.

The lighthouse lies on the treacherous Inchcape Rock (also called Bell Rock), 11 miles off Arbroath, on the Scottish east coast.

Designed and built by John Rennie and Robert Stevenson, but regarded as essentially Robert Stevenson's greatest engineering achievement. The lighthouse stands 35 metres tall. Built with a work force of approximately 110 men, the challenges faced in its construction led to it being described as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Industrial World'.

The tartan design reflects the flashing lights of the lighthouse:

White for the primary, white light, and red for the secondary, red light (when first put into operation the lighthouse flashed an alternating white and red light).

The muted dark blue and black shades represent the treacherous dark North Sea at night.

Solid black commemorates the 1000s of lives lost on Inchcape Rock as well as the men who died during the construction of the lighthouse.

The geometry of the tartan creates two different impressions of the lighthouse on the horizon:

When flashing white and when flashing red. When flashing white, 90 threads between the black and white represent the 90 courses of stone blocks that make up the tower.

When flashing red, the lighthouse is represented at a greater distance, standing on the horizon.

To build the lighthouse a number of railways were constructed on the rock to transport the massive blocks of stone. The longest railway (terminating towards the west of Inchcape Rock at Hope's Wharf) extended for 290 feet, represented in the pattern of the tartan, which has a total of 290 threads. 

For more about this historical engineering feat, click the painting by John Lowrie of a rain squall over the lighthouse, courtesy of the Northern Lighthouse Board.

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