Section Index
Bicentennial - 2011
Visiting the Rock
Underwater Life
at the Bell Rock

"Inchcape Rock" by Robert Southey
Light-keeper's Duties "1823"
The Bell Rock Prayer
Sir Joseph Banks and Mutiny on the Bounty
Sir Walter Scott's visit, the "Pharos Loquitur"
"The Year without a Summer"
"Death of HMS Argyll"
Pharos Experience
Preparing for Automation
Life in the Bell Rock
Lighthouse (1865)

A Keeper's Account
'"A Quiet Night In"

A Keeper's Account
"Outdoor 'Excursions'"

North Carr Lightships
Lighthouses of the Forth
The Bell Rock Tartan

The Bell Rock - BEWARE!

Visiting the Rock

"There are some places where Mother Nature leaves pretty strong hints that they are off limits to mere humans."

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 at all!

The Bell Rock in moderate seas
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".

'Rising like a bulrush out of a pond'

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
". . . 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 Map

"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".

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Lighthouse Home The Stevenson Family Captain Taylor People Associated with the Lighthouse Arbroath Miscellaneous Please Sign the Guestbook Site Map