Two hundred years ago, during the Napoleonic Wars, people had little—no cars, electricity, social work, NHS, trains, TV, benefits…not even a police force. What trade there was went by sailing ship or canal barge.
But engineering was a lively part of Scotland’s Enlightenment: Edinburgh’s New Town and our own Gosford House were newly built. Then a spate of shipwrecks on Inchcape reef or ‘Bell Rock’ had Robert Stevenson engaged to build a lighthouse to tame this scourge of shipping.
Sixty men spent four years building interlocking masonry of Aberdeen granite on the reef, 19km from land and 4m underwater during springs. Five died doing it. Exactly two hundred years ago today Bell Rock lighthouse was first lit. Harry Simpson, chairman of Arbroath’s Year of the Light, is awestruck by their audacity: “Even in this day and age, I can’t see it being done; not like they did it.”
On clear nights, its flash still lights our horizon. Those lucky enough to sail ELYC’s midsummer Bell Rock Race witness the brawny engineering and elegant beauty of an enduring monument to what we Scots can achieve if our hearts believe we can triumph.