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Community / Grandson arrives in isles to explore century-old family ties to Sumburgh lighthouse

Harry Thomson has headed north to visit the Sumburgh lighthouse.

ONE hundred years ago Hugh Thomson was working at the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse as an assistant keeper.

And now his grandson Harry has arrived in Shetland on a tour of lighthouses around Scotland that Hugh worked in.

Despite having family connections to Shetland, it is the first time he has visited the Sumburgh lighthouse.

Harry’s tour around lighthouses his grandfather worked at will last for around four weeks.

Photo: Shetland Amenity Trust

Sumburgh was Hugh Thomson’s first light, back in 1921. He took up the job after being discharged from the Royal Flying Corps, having served at the Somme and Gallipoli.

His stay at Sumburgh ended in 1924 when he moved onto the new light at Duncansby Head at the northern tip of mainland Scotland.

“He was from a lighthouse family, having been born at Stornoway whilst his father was at Arnish Lighthouse,” Harry said.

“Initially he was apprenticed as a fitter at Clydebank, but the war intervened and after he changed direction.

“He didn’t serve on any other Shetland lights, but he married an Orkney lass and finished his time at Scapa and Graemsay in the 50s, retiring in 1958.”

Meanwhile Harry – who lives in the south of Scotland – also said his dad worked in cabling at Saxa Vord in Unst in the 1950s, where he met his mum, who was from Baltasound.

After his stint in Shetland Harry’s tour will take him to Orkney next weekend, before heading to the likes Caithness, Fraserburgh and the West Coast.

He has been planning the trip for some time, but the Covid pandemic got in the way.

Harry said despite not visiting the lighthouse before, he spent most summer holidays in Unst when he was a boy, and was back visiting in 2010 and 2013.

The Sumburgh lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson, and it was built in 1821. The light was fully automated in 1991.