The epic story of how Robert Louis Stevenson’s ancestors built the lighthouses of the Scottish coast against impossible odds.
‘Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880. ‘When the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father!’
Robert Louis Stevenson was the most famous of the Stevensons, but not by any means the most productive. The Lighthouse Stevensons, all four generations of them, built every lighthouse round Scotland, were responsible for a slew of inventions in both construction and optics, and achieved feats of engineering in conditions that would be forbidding even today. The same driven energy which Robert Louis Stevenson put into writing, his ancestors put into lighting the darkness of the seas. The Lighthouse Stevensons is a story of high endeavour, beautifully told; indeed, Bella Bathurst writes like a dream and this should be one of the most celebrated books of the season. As one reads the mesmerising account of the establishing of the Bell Rock lighthouse one almost feels the floor swinging like the sea beneath one; as a unique history that evokes the exact feel of time and place, it is quite exceptional.
‘My own interest in the Lighthouse Stevensons is threefold. Firstly, from the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, who turned his family’s trade into the raw gold of all his best fiction. Secondly, from various trips around Scotland. The country’s coast is a mass of storm-beaten rocks and treacherous headlands on which even the seagulls have trouble landing. It is impossible not to speculate what combination of courage and skill built the lighthouses around such an environment. And thirdly, because somewhere in there, unrecognised and unsung, is the most wonderful story!’