By Mike Merritt

IT is consistently the windiest place in the country and makes maintenance tasks harder than in most locations.

But abseiling workers are bravely sprucing up one of Scotland’s most famous lighthouses after being thwarted by the months of lockdown.

Painters working for contractors Aberdeen-based TRAC International are hard at work inside and out at the top of the tower, with those inside climbing the 168 steps to reach the lantern itself.

They are rewarded not just by a job well done, but by the most spectacular views of the North Atlantic. Work on the £225,000 project is scheduled to be completed next month. 

During the lockdown period maintenance had been delayed or postponed to protect contractors, staff and the public. 

The three-month works include replacement of the lighthouse’s rotating optic with a static flashing LED to achieve more efficiency and lower maintenance costs.

There will also be the refurbishment and redecoration of the tower and mess facilities in the adjoining building. 

Alongside the technical work to be carried out at Ness is the external redecoration of the ex-keeper’s buildings, control block, engine room, tower light-room and dome. 

There will also be internal redecoration of the tower, watch-room and light-room. Broken glazing panels in the light-room will be replaced and an extension to the balcony walkway, installed for the old foghorn, will be removed.

Graeme Macdonald, project lead with the Northern Lighthouse Board, said: “Fortunately, a lot of the work has been external painting of buildings, so it hasn’t been difficult to complete the work while socially distancing, and the good weather for most of July has allowed them to make good progress.”

The Butt of Lewis Lighthouse at the most northerly headland of the Isle of Lewis and is known to mariners all over the world – and not just as a key geographic fix location.

One of the area’s claims to fame is that gusts of up to 106 mph have been recorded at the Butt and at one time it held the record for the highest recorded wind speed in Britain.

Designed by David Stevenson for the Northern Lighthouse Board,  it was first lit on October 15, 1862.

Unusual for a lighthouse in Scotland, its 121.4-feet high tower is constructed of red brick, and is unpainted.

The Butt of Lewis was once manned by three keepers who lived at the station with their families.

But the station was automated in 1998, one of the last to be converted. A modern differential GPS base station has been sited on a nearby hill to further aid navigation.

The Northern Lighthouse Board says little is known of the station’s early days, though the first light displayed was probably fixed rather than flashing.

A plaque in the lightroom indicated that when equipment was installed in 1905, the characteristics of the light was one flash every 20 seconds.

In 1869, paraffin is known to have replaced the vegetable or fish oil previously used as the light source, and indeed continued in use until 1976, when it in turn was replaced by electricity.

The light is fixed, and sits inside a large lens – in effect a giant magnifying glass.

The lens revolves around the light, thus giving the familiar flashing effect, and is visible for 25 nautical miles.

The station also became the radio link for the keepers on the isolated Flannan Islands in the early 1930s, and continued to function as such until 1971, when the Flannans was demanned, and the light made automatic.

The Flannan Isles were themselves at the centre of the greatest lighthouse mystery of all, in 1900, when three keepers disappeared without explanation.

A spokesman for the NLB added: “The Butt of Lewis Lighthouse has been guiding mariners safely through Scottish waters for more than 150 years. 

“This essential refurbishment and upgrade work means this iconic lighthouse will be fit for purpose for many more years to come.”