Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on our shores and waterways; celebrating all they have to offer and encouraging people to explore Scotland’s natural beauty.
Each month we’re showcasing the people who live, work and have a passion for our waters and in celebration of International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend, we’ve spoken to a few people with a special connection to Scotland’s lighthouses.
Kinnaird Head Castle Lighthouse and The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh has a rich history. We caught up with Lynda McGuigan, Manager of the museum and lighthouse, to find out more about the site and learn what she enjoys most about her job.
Can you tell us about the history of the site?
Kinnaird Head Castle is one of the best preserved castles of the ‘nine castles of the knuckle’ built along the Buchan coastline. This 16th century castle, built by the Frasers of Philorth, fell out of use and was then sold to the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1787 and converted into Scotland’s first mainland light. As far as we know it is the only castle in the world with a lighthouse built through its heart.
We also have the wine tower on site and this building is also pre-reformation and the oldest building in Fraserburgh. The tower is built directly onto the rocks and has some of the most unique plaster hangings in Scotland on its roof. The wine tower is also the backdrop for Fraserburgh’s most well-known legend which involves a fatal love affair, Fraserburgh’s own Romeo and Juliet story.
What role do lighthouses play today and why do you think people have such a fascination with them?
Lighthouses play an important role in the safety of mariners around our coastline. They are iconic buildings which represent the best of Scottish engineering history, particularly the famous Stevenson family of engineers.
Lighthouses are strangely comforting, flashing through the darkness in some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes in the country. People certainly have an emotional attachment to them, and they symbolise ‘safety in a storm’ and ‘a light to show the way home’. They can be symbolic to some people of safety and security in the face of adversity. They signify strength similar to the strong waves which they withstand.
Today’s fishermen tell me it’s great when they see the modern lighthouse at Fraserburgh flashing every five seconds because it means they are home. Each lighthouse has its own sequence of flashes, Kinnaird Head Castle Lighthouse had a ‘character’ of one flash every 15 seconds.
Can you tell us about your role and how you first got involved with the museum?
I first came to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in February 2015. My background is in heritage management and I have held positions with NTS and HES managing castles and another museum. My role here is wide-ranging and I oversee the management of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses and Kinnaird Head Castle and Lighthouse. The museum holds the national collection of lighthouse lenses and objects as well as a large amount of archival material.
I also do a lot of partnership work across Scotland, across the region and locally. We provide community work experience and employability opportunities; we are the only museum in Scotland to hold an Autism Friendly Award and we are a Disability Confident Employer. I also chair the local Tourism Group, DiscoverFraserburgh. I might add though that although I steer the ship through all this and more, my staff are right behind me rowing like crazy.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the diversity of my job - no two days are ever the same. I love the banter that goes on between all of us in the team - I think we could write a great sitcom about working together. The team have been with me for years now and we all love coming to work. I love the community work we do, and I definitely love lighthouses now, especially this one.
Are there any particular facts you enjoy sharing with visitors?
I love to share all the ‘firsts and only’ facts with our visitors: we were the first lighthouse on mainland Scotland. We are the only lighthouse in the world built inside a 16th century castle. We are the only dedicated lighthouse museum in the country. We are the only preserved and manned lighthouse in the country today. We are also the only lighthouse open for tours which displays a hyperradial lens (the largest size of Fresnel lens in the world). We’re the only museum to hold three hyperradial lenses in our accredited collection and we look after a fourth one.
What impact has Covid-19 had on the museum?
Coronavirus has had a massive impact on my role and on the lighthouse and museum. Our whole operational model has changed in that the priority is now on safety of our staff and visitors without damaging the visitor experience. In fact, one of the positive outcomes is the very individual tours we are offering to our visitors now. We can only take ‘bubbles’ up the lighthouse tower now and that means much more personal tours for our visitors. We are now operating online bookings only and a one-way system in the museum. Social distancing applies everywhere, including in our café. The feedback we have had so far has been fantastic.
Do you have a favourite place or memory connected to Scotland's coast or waters?
Kinnaird Head is definitely one of my favourite places but also, I love all the little bays and beaches along the coast of Buchan between Fraserburgh and Banff and beyond. There are wide open beaches with stunning rock formations and rock pools, caves and plenty of wildlife.
Just up the coast from here is Troup Head the largest gannet colony on the mainland of Scotland. You can surf, kayak or dolphin and bird watch on our coast and every day the landscape and the light is stunning, summer or winter. This coast is perfect for walking, cycling, water sports or just building sandcastles and dipping your toes in the water, I love it!