"There are some places where Mother Nature
leaves pretty strong hints that they are off limits to mere
The Bell Rock is not a place to be taken for granted;
neither did Stevenson built his lighthouse there just for
the fun of it! It was then, and still is, regardless of
the Lighthouse and its reasons for being there, one of the
most dangerous places in that part of the
world to effect a safe landing! And to those
who would venture anywhere near it, remember that the Rock
lies over 11 miles out in the open sea, uncovers on average
only 2 hours every low tide - and during *neap tides, hardly
The Bell Rock in moderate seas!
Photo by Colin Stewart (Arbroath RNLI)
Following BBC2's programme on the building of the Lighthouse,
many people (via the website's guestbook and emails) have
asked about the possibility of getting out to the Rock.
Although it is still possible to charter a boat out of
Arbroath (the nearest port), the cheapest and easiest way
would be to join one of the angling trips which go out mainly
at the weekends, and ask the skipper if it would be possible
to fish as near to the Rock as safety permits. Either way,
landing is unlikely and inadvisable, for apart from the
problems of tides, currents and weather conditions, and
because it is now automated and unmanned, any landing there
is actively discouraged by the Northern Lighthouse Board,
as no access to the actual House itself is possible. The
Bell Rock these days is lonelier than it has been for the
last 200 years!
*neap - "the tide just after the first and third
quarters of the moon when there is least difference between
high and low water".
However, let R. W. Munro in his book "Scottish
Lighthouses" paint the picture of a routine
landing of stores in happier days when lightkeepers still
attended the light:
"To those who have visited the Bell Rock, or seen
the lighthouse rising 'like a bulrush out of a pond' as
R, M. Ballantyne put it, it must remain a remarkable
monument to the ingenuity and perseverance of the men
who built it. Their achievement is less likely to be forgotten
because Stevenson and his men gave names to every ledge
and pinnacle, each 'port' which could hold a boat or two,
the 'tracks' which lead to them, 'wharves' where they reach
the sea, most of them recalling some incident or individual.
". . . like
a bulrush out of a pond"
At the Bell Rock today there are five places were in daylight
boats can approach the gratings at low water or half-ebb
- Taylor's Track, almost opposite the doorway on the south
west of the tower, has become The Fairway, with Macurich's
Track to the west of it; two more, Port Hamilton and Stuart's
Track, to the south; and Johnny Gray's landing on a spur
of the gratings which project to the east of the doorway
and can be reached from the north east side of the tower
by Wilson's Track and Port Stevenson." See the Interactive
"Approaching the lighthouse in the half-light of a
winter's afternoon, you will find the seas breaking on a
wide expanse of jagged ledges, while others are hidden from
sight or marked by simple guiding posts. Nearer the base
of the tower, small yellow figures are made out, as the
boat turns in towards them, to be not inanimate beacons
but two of the lightkeepers in oilskins posted at the end
of the gratings waiting for the boat's arrival amid the
churning foam. It is a moment for skilful boat handling.
Heads are ducked as lines spin on board with which to tie
up alongside, and bookhooks are out to fend off the rocks.
Fresh water casks, oil tanks, and miscellaneous stores are
quickly landed, and the boat's crew help the lightkeeepers
to manhandle them along the gangway less than two feet wide
as waves sweep below it over the hidden rocks and break
up now and again through the lattice-work in a swirl of
spray. In less than half an hour during a normal relief
the men are making their way back to the boat. The tide
has turned, and there is little time to look around on the
welter of water sweeping over the rocks and breaking in
a surge of foam and spray over many of them.
Those who know it most intimately say that the best
view of the Bell Rock is over the stern of a ship".