Caught by the River

Lighthouses of the UK #12: Muckle Flugga

Ben Langworthy | 7th May 2019

Illustrator Ben Langworthy continues his mission to draw each of the 300+ lighthouses which pepper the UK coastline

This is a tale of giants and buried treasure.

Due to their nature, lighthouses can be found in some of the most remote and wild places imaginable. Here, at the periphery of the world, the boundary between the real and the imagined can seem paper thin; these are the places of myths and stories. If, like the wavering compass needle, you are drawn invisibly north, you may eventually find yourself looking out at such a place: Muckle Flugga, the most Northerly lighthouse in the British isles.

At the very top of the Shetland Islands, just North of Unst, the tiny Islands of Muckle Flugga and Out Stack rise sharply out of the sea. Atop the former stands the small white tower of a lighthouse.

The current building, which was completed in 1858, was designed by the famous engineers Thomas and David Stevenson, and replaced an earlier structure which was all but destroyed by storms.

Thomas later revisited the island in 1869 and brought along his 19-year-old son: Robert Louis Stevenson. Many believe that the craggy shoreline and mystery of the area inspired the young man in his writing of Treasue Island, but there are far older and stranger tales surrounding this place.

The story goes that the two rocky islands came to be when two quarrelling giants, Herma and Saxastarted, throwing vast boulders at one another. It seems that the pair had both become infatuated with the same mermaid and were competing for her affections. Understandably unimpressed by their squabble, the mermaid decided to stop their fight by tricking them. She offered them a contest: Whichever could follow her to the North Pole first, she would marry. The dull-witted duo promptly gave chase, wading ever deeper into the icy sea until they both eventually drowned. Apparently giants can’t swim.


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