Light shines from a break in the weather

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse occupies the most westerly point on the UK mainland.
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse occupies the most westerly point on the UK mainland.

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I flicked the windscreen wipers on. At each swish, a teal seascape was briefly resolved from the muddle of raindrops.

It had been an early start, and Radio 2 was lurching into a third, eyeball-popping rendition of Feliz Navidad. Even as my fingernails cut grimly into the leather of the steering wheel, I was humming it under my breath.

I opened the car door and took refuge in the white noise of the wind.

To my right, 35m up, a light blinked. Daybreak had been stalled by rain clouds, and now the granite tower blushed pink in the reddish cast of dawn. We stood quietly together, looking out to sea.

Whaleback islands broke the horizon. Above each, sheets of rain lingered like strange exhalations. I turned to my companion; taking in the proud collar of carved arches, the clipped smile of white railings, the cornea of tessellated triangles. Like any good shepherd, its attention was fastened on its distant flock.

Life is hard in the Hebrides. For me, it is a land of extremes, in which the pendulum swings between periods of extraordinary opportunity and cavernous uncertainty. Perhaps you know the feeling: pulling your winter clothes tighter about you, blowing hot breath onto your hands, and noting with chagrin that the lovely scenery has not yet offered to pay your electricity bill.

You can’t eat beauty, after all.

Pushing my fists deeper into my pockets, I questioned the wisdom of doggedly trying to pursue a career in such a seasonal place. I was wearing my interview coat and it wasn’t very warm. After four months without a job, the prospect of having to move away again loomed large – like the silently blinking column beside me.

The lighthouse on Ardnamurchan was designed by Alan Stevenson. It is famed for its attractive decorative flourishes, which follow the Egyptian style. Egypt might seem an unlikely architectural muse for a Scotsman; but the Pharos of Alexandria, completed in 283 BCE, was the shining exemplar of lighthouses and an acclaimed wonder of the ancient world.

At around 117m in height, this imposing structure guided ships safely into Alexandria’s harbour for 1600 years – until it was largely reduced to rubble by an earthquake in the 1300s.

Lighthouses therefore occupy a unique and ancient outcrop in human consciousness. The sweeping buttresses of modern towers are shorthand for a physical solitude that few will ever experience. Yet, perversely, we all inhabit our own lighthouse; fingers pressed to the glass and watching, as life’s waves transmogrify from glittering ripples into thundering leviathans.

We have no choice but to brace ourselves against such onslaughts; hoping that our foundations will hold, and the weather will soon temper.

It is ironic that buildings so synonymous with isolation, so redolent with loneliness, also characterise human compassion: when we’re all at sea, the kindness of others can keep us from the rocks. That’s how it is in remote communities.

The common annual passage from the exhausting industry of summer, to the lean make-do of winter, encourages people to shine a light for their neighbours. Having basked in that friendly glow, I felt loath to leave it; despite the challenges of remaining here.

My spell of rough weather finally broke when I was offered the job. I’ll be spending a lot of time with the lighthouse going forward, so I’m pleased that we made our proper introduction alone, on that blustery December morning.

Entering this new decade, I’m tasked with helping to ensure that the site’s future remains as elegant, as intriguing and as relevant to West Coast communities as its past.

So, Prospero año y Felicidad, and I do hope you’ll come and visit.