THEY are a shining example of Scotland's proud maritime past and, for centuries, have played a key role in safety at sea.

Now the remarkable history of lighthouses, their keepers and the engineers who made them possible are being celebrated in a major new exhibition.

One of the original Seven Wonders of the World, lighthouses have been a beacon of safety since the first was built in Alexandria, in Ancient Egypt, more than 2,000 years ago.

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‘Following the Lights’ – which has opened at the Scottish Maritime Museum, in Irvine – charts Britain’s iconic lighthouse design through centuries of innovation.

Among the designs featured are the first British lighthouse, which dates back to 1635, the 1821 Fresnel lens – dubbed ‘the invention that saved a million ships’ – and today's solar energy-powered versions.

HeraldScotland: A range of artefacts will be on display for Following the Lights exhibitionA range of artefacts will be on display for Following the Lights exhibition (Image: Scottish Maritime Museum)

Drawing on a collection of rare artefacts, letters, photography and memorabilia gathered by lighthouse enthusiast and photographer Peter Gellatly, the exhibition also offers visitors a unique insight into the working life of lighthouse keepers.

Highlights include a series of photographs of Scottish lighthouses taken between 1901 and 1929 by C. Dick Peddie, secretary of the Northern Lighthouse Board.

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Engineering artefacts include a lamp from the 1827 Buchan Ness Lighthouse, designed by the famous Stevenson family.

Miriam Matthews, exhibitions and events officer at the Scottish Maritime Museum, said: “Our lighthouses are such a familiar and, for many, much-loved sight across our coastline and it’s amazing to think that no two are the same.

“Each lighthouse has their individual 'character’. The colour and direction of the beam and even the speed and pattern of the flashing light create a code used by mariners to identify the lighthouse and navigate that particular area."

HeraldScotland: Following the Light exhibition has opened its doors at the Scottish Maritime MuseumFollowing the Light exhibition has opened its doors at the Scottish Maritime Museum (Image: Scottish Maritime Museum)

She added: "Whilst our lighthouses still protect seafarers from the dangers of stormy seas, treacherous reefs and wrecks, advances in electronic navigation systems have made many of these striking landmarks redundant.

“Following the Lights is a celebration of our rich lighthouse heritage and the wider seafaring history which they shine a light on.”

The exhibition can be seen at the museum's Victorian Linthouse building, on Irvine Harbourside, until June 18.