Bell Rock Lighthouse: Stevenson’s Greatest Work


Every beautifully rugged coastline holds stories of the past and keeps secrets rich with hidden heritage. Shrouded in legend, Inchcape or ‘Bell Rock’ is no exception.

Legend tells the reef of the coast off Angus, Scotland, was so named ‘Bell Rock’ when an Abbot of Arbroath attempted to secure a warning bell to ward off unsuspecting sailors from the dangers hidden in the waves. The bell would ring in storms and high winds, warning seamen from the hazardous reef. Sir Ralph the Rover was a Dutch sea-pirate who envied the fame Abbot had gained from his good work. His desire was to pillage vessels along the coast, and so to put them in more danger and uncertainty he stole the bell, plunging the dangerous rocks once again into silent exposure. Little did Rover know he had sealed his own fate in doing so. One day he too became a victim of the rocks when his vessel crashed into them in the midst of a storm.

The poet Robert Southey captured the legend in a beautiful poem published in 1802. It was published in The Engineer on this day (16th May) back in 1879, and described “as narrated with exquisite grace and graphic power”:

imInchCape Rock Poem

The warning bell referred to in the poem caused the name ‘Inchcape Rock’ to fall into disuse, and become substituted with ‘Bell Rock’, a name chosen for the lighthouse that was to be built there.

Now renowned as the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse, Bell Rock (or Inchcape) Lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson between 1807-1810. It stands in the North Sea, 11 miles east of the Firth of Tay, and watches over Scotland’s wild coast of Angus.

Bell Rock was underwater most of the day with a few hours exception at low tide. Stevenson needed to produce a design that would withstand the wildest of storms and roughest ocean waves, but simultaneously shelter the men working on the structure during the fairer months of the year. Perhaps this remarkable work that’s survived 200 years without adaptation or replacement played a part in it eventually being hailed one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

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