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Sunday 26 September 2010


This is a photo of Hoy Low lighthouse with Hoy High in the background, both on Graemsay. Yes I know, why not Graemsay High and Low? Well the lighthouses are built on the Hoy Sound and so take that name. Below is some information gathered from the Stromness Museum and also the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership who are preparing an "interpretation board" for visitor information at the Graemsay Pier.

Hoy High is 115 feet high and Hoy Low 40 feet high.  The lights are "leading lights" rather than more traditional revolving lights. This is because they were designed to guide the herring fleet into Stromness Harbour. When the lights are lined up correctly mariners have safe passage through the Hoy Sound to the harbour.  There are a number of skerries in the Sound which are hidden just beneath the surface at high water.  Although the lights look white from certain angles they appear red - again to ensure that ships enter at the correct angle.

The lighthouses were designed by Alan Stevenson, one of the "Lighthouse Stevenson's" who designed most of the Scottish Lighthouses which come under the Northern Lighthouse Board.  The lighthouse was built in 1850. The huge blocks were cut and shaped in Stromness and then shipped across to Graemsay to the slipway just below Sandside. The stone would have been transferred to the final location via ox cart on a rough road laid across the island for the purpose, before being put together like a giant jigsaw!

Inside the lighthouse towers the staircases were decorated with "angels". Below are two of the "Hoy Low Angels" which are now in Stromness Museum (Photo: Rebecca Marr)

The lighthouse keepers were also stationed out on Graemsay to tend to the lamps. However in the 1970's the both the lights were automated and so only one keeper was retained.  The last one being Tommy Thomson who retired a few years ago. Now the lighthouses are managed from Stromness, with a warning system alerting to faults which engineers come out to repair. Both the towers are painted regularly too and are still owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board.  However the Keeper's houses are now private residences and neither the lighthouses or the Keeper's houses are available to the public.

Hoy Low was also the location of a gun battery during WWII. I've posted about this before here. Below are the remains of the gun battery.  This was unusual as the gun emplacement had no roof cover and search lights were mounted in pairs. The battery operated between 1943 and July 1945 linking up with gun batteries on Hoy and Stromness to protect one of the entrances to Scapa Flow.

Gun Battery (photo courtesy of Tom Muir)

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