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Wonder Light in the Darkness

On February 1, 1811, Bell Rock Lighthouse shone its first mirrored light. On this first night, its light could be seen for over 24 km (15 mi). This is remarkable to imagine since the light originated from a single argand oil lamp with a wick about 2 cm ( ¾ in) in diameter, intensified through the principal use of 24 silvered, parabolic reflectors. These were all mounted on a revolving base driven by a weight-powered clockwork.

On the east coast of Scotland, the Bell Rock Lighthouse is considered one of the industrial wonders of the world, right along with the Brooklyn Bridge, Panama Canal, and the Hoover Dam.

Why this lighthouse? Engineers John Rennie and Robert Stevenson managed to build this structure that, in its day, was the tallest offshore lighthouse in the world, over 11 storeys high. With hand tools!

The lighthouse is built on a deeply creased rocky surface that for most of the day is hidden beneath 4.8 m (16 ft) of water. Since the building crew couldn’t work during the night on the last low tide, that left an average work time per day of just over four hours during the first low tide… when there wasn’t a storm! And 17.7 km (11 mi) from shore.

The foundation was chiseled into the reef by pickaxe. Each granite block in the lighthouse base was carved to dovetail and lock into its position in the circular wall. Each block could weigh up to a ton and there were hundreds of them. Not one stone has ever been replaced or reshaped in over 200 years. The angle of its construction has handled two centuries of the roughest seas and storms without collapsing. It continues to stand watch today, completely automated with the latest lens and murk-piercing power lights.

Since its creation, no ship has run aground on Bell Rock’s almost invisible reef. Two-hundred-year-old engineering and hand-craft – accommodating great heavy seas; acknowledging natural forces; and from a coast-respecting distance, keeping sailors from harm.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage