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Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

Shetland Isles

Location Guide

This is the oldest Shetland Lighthouse.

Sumburgh Lighthouse is perched on a headland at the most southerly tip of the mainland of Shetland, not far from Sumburgh Airport. It dominates the landscape and seascape for miles around.

The area around the light station is a reserve managed by the RSPB and their office is located in one of the keeper's houses.

The Lighthouse dating from 1821, was the first lighthouse to be built in Shetland, and was constructed by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson.

It was built with walls of double thickness to keep out the damp. It also had 26 reflectors instead of the normal 21, and it was commented by visitors to the light in 1823, 'everything is so exceedingly clean and bright that the eye get dazed by the reflection'. The annual cost of running and maintaining this light in 1822 was 650,000.

The most serious offence of a lighthouse keeper was to fall asleep on watch, as the light may go out and this could have serious repercussions. 15 cases of 'falling asleep' that were recorded, took place in the second half of the 19th century at this lighthouse. The worst case was in 1871 where two light keepers agreed not to report the other for sleeping, one of which was a Principal Light keeper with 23 years service and who should have known better. They were both dismissed on this occasion.

It was automated in 1991 and the keepers

Photo by David White

left. The houses and outbuildings now belong to the Shetland Amenity Trust, and some have been converted into holiday accommodation.

The Northern Lighthouse Board own the tower and run the light, but the Shetland Amenity Trust own the site.  In February 2008 the Shetland Amenity Trust announced that it would spend 1.5 million to restore the lighthouse and provide a visitor centre, improve road access, and additional accommodation. These improvements were assisted by a grant of 683,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund in October 2009.

Sumburgh Head is the most northerly transmitting station for the Marine differential GPS Service (DGPS), a satellite based navigation system.

Approaching the Lighthouse at Sumburgh Head

Photo by Andrew Wood

The lighthouse sits on the site of an ancient fort, above Sumburgh Head, an RSPB reserve, which is home to over 15,000 seabirds in the summer months, including 2,000 Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Shags. It is also home to 13,000 gannets and 1,000 fulmars. It migrant birds also visit during the spring and autumn migration periods and it has a reputation as a whale-watching site. Shetland has long hours of summer daylight so more time to see and watch the wildlife.

Lighthouse information Grid


Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, Shetland Isles

Current status:


Geographic Position:

059 51.231'N   001 16.515'W

Grid Reference:


Ceremonial County:

Shetland Isles


White tower lantern painted black.

Map Link:


Aerial photo:

Other photos:

photos     closeup      distant view 

Originally built:


Current lighthouse built:

Height of Tower:

17 metres

Height of light above mean sea level:

91 metres

Character of light:

Flashing (3) White every 30 secs

Character of fog signal:

Range of light:

23 nautical miles

Owned / run by:

Northern Lighthouse Board

Shetland Amenity Trust

Getting there:

Located at the southern tip of Shetland Mainland about 1.5 miles south of Sumburgh.


Accessible by road. Site open, tower closed.



Other Useful Websites:

Wikipedia (Lighthouse)     Wikipedia (Sumburgh Head)  

Holiday Accommodation

Other Relevant pages:

For more articles, lists and other information see the Lighthouses Section

Lighthouse Map of Scotland

Featured List of lighthouses - Scotland 

List of minor lighthouses and lights - Scotland  


Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Grid or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Tracey Park   Section:  Lighthouses Section Key:
Page Ref: Sumburgh Topic: Lighthouses Last Updated: 06/2010


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