AFTER two years of building work the refurbished Sumburgh Head lighthouse opened its doors to the public for the first time on Friday morning.
Now a visitor centre that tells the story of the almost 200 years old lighthouse, the £5.4 million facility is seen as a main asset of Shetland’s tourism industry.
Friday’s opening was the (almost) final chapter in a 14 year long journey that saw the dilapidating lighthouse site being brought back to centre stage.
Shetland Amenity Trust was able to buy the site around ten years ago after the Ness 2000 conference expressed its wish to see the Head developed.
After years of planning and tracing funding sources outside of Shetland, restoring the various buildings to former glory started in earnest in 2012.
A delighted trust manager Jimmy Moncrieff said the visitor centre would be a jewel in Shetland’s crown.
He said he was delighted with the workmanship of Northern Irish contractors Corramore Construction who had delivered on time and below budget.
“This facility, we believe, is of international significance; it will help put Shetland on the map for heritage tourism, as the museum does, as our archaeology does, as our birds do already.
“This will be an added facility to help promote Shetland, to be a trigger for people to come to Shetland,” he said.
“We have one of the earliest Stevenson lighthouses in the country and the first in Shetland. It is a wonderful story of ingenuity, invention and the development of technology.
“And it is a continuing story. Although the lighthouse has been automated, we still have the development of GPS and other technologies that aid and assist navigation, and Sumburgh Head is part of that,” Moncrieff added.
But the focus on the lighthouse history is just one of the many aspects of the new heritage site.
There is an innovative wildlife exhibition that gives the visitor well illustrated insights into the ecology of the area, complementing the teaming wildlife visible from the new viewing platforms.
There is a small exhibition telling the story of the lives of the lighthouse keepers, and the refurbished radar hut where officers tracked down German aircraft on their way to bomb Scapa Flow harbour on 8 April 1940.
Those who had a look around on Friday were full of praise like Jenny and Mike Butler, from Derby, who are regular visitors to the isles.
“We first came in 2005, so we have seen it developing. What we have seen today is absolutely fabulous, and I am sure it will be very successful,” she said.
Local visitor Sarah Mundie added: ” It is incredible. I have been coming here since I was a peerie lass. It is amazing to see it all cleaned up with plenty of signage. It is great to see what they have been able to do.”
The Sumburgh Head visitor centre will be open from May to August daily from 10am to 4pm.
It will be officially opened by Princess Anne, the patron of the Northern Lighthouse Board, on 3 June.