Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2023

The Lighthouse Spectre of Pladda Island

By Debra Baldwin


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As recounted in The Long Eaton Advertiser on January 27, 1883.

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The main 95-foot-tall light on Pladda Island was ...

On the Southernmost point of a little island, off the south-east corner of the Island of Arran, on the Firth of Clyde, stands a lofty beacon-tower, which, from the name of the islet on which it is built, has been called Pladda Lighthouse. It is a columnar building, whitewashed outside and in, and surmounted by a cupola, composed chiefly of an orbicular window. At the base of the lighthouse are situated the lightkeepers’ dwelling-houses, magazines for oil, coals, and other necessary stores.

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The optic at Pladda Lighthouse is currently ...

In this lighthouse I was stationed as a watcher for about two years. An injury to one of my limbs had made it necessary for me to give up a seafaring life for a time at least. The novelty of my situation and new duties drove weariness from me for a time; but a yearning for a change began to creep upon me as the autumn sobered down. The novelty of my situation was then worn off.

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The lower light was deemed unnecessary in 1911 ...

My duties were becoming troublesome to me – not for their weight, but triviality. I had rigged a small schooner and brig; and was heartily tired of all reading, except the most exciting tales of the blood-and-murder sort. Magazines, furnished by the Commission Board, reached us monthly, and newspapers ofterner; but, as I had no one with whom to discuss their contents, they very soon failed to entertain.

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A storm is clearing off the coast of Pladda ...

My only companions on the island, I have omitted to mention, were the principle lightkeeper and his wife. The former was a morose, uncommunicative, middle-aged man-o’-war’s man. A jealous, querulous disposition was his, as I discovered soon after taking up my quarters with him; and, to give him no cause for disturbance, I had as little intercourse with him and his better-half as I could help.

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The Northern Lighthouse Board plaque at Pladda ...

The flowery months had passed away well enough; but as the autumn tints began to supplant those of the summer on the hills, my spirits succumbed to the pensive influences. I felt that my body as well as my mind was beginning to suffer, and that change I must, when an incident took place that delayed me for a little.

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This view of Pladda Lighthouse shows a closeup of ...

In a most desponding mood did I enter upon my watch on the evening of a breezy day in October. The sun had set ere I went upstairs to the lamp-room; and all I had to do was to sit by and see that the flame kept burning clear, bright, and steady.

Though our lamp was lit, there was still a good glimmering of daylight remaining outside. I went into the light-chamber, looked that things were all right, took my accustomed seat and position therein, and commenced the perusal of a few old numbers of a weekly publication, of no great repute, I must confess.

The story I chanced to light upon was one somewhat suited to interest me at the time; and as I finished the chapters in one number, I proceeded with the process of devouring mentally those in the succeeding. Now and again, as I reached the end of some dramatic sticking and stabbing piece of the tale, I rose, touched up the light, and looked out upon the night.

‘Twas fearfully dark, and the soughing of the wind was ominous. I returned to my seat to pore over the story. It told of an Englishman of fashion ruining a guileless maid; of his being hunted through many lands by her brother; and of a grand dénouement, as the story-books say, in which there was a plentiful spilling of blood and life.

The interest I felt in the consummation had so engrossed my attention that I was heedless of all objects around me. My excitement, not withstanding, was considerable; and my imagination was busy with the details so circumstantially set forth.

All at once I was recalled from the realms I occupied in imagination to the little room at the head of the long winding stair, by a rattling peal of thunder. At the same time, a wild shriek burst upon my ears; and, with the turn of my eye, I caught a momentary glance of a female form, clothed in white raiment, floating away on the wind from my window.

Oh! What was that? I felt it could be no real woman; and my belief in spectres was before that not great. That it was a spectre, however, I was not prepared to deny as I had seen a pair of burning eyeballs – a hollow cavity like that occupying the place of the nose in a fleshless skull, between; besides a pair of wide-extended, white-vested arms.

The entire figure – so far as my glance enabled me to discern – was draped in white. I thought my excited fancy might be playing a trick; so, I resumed my reading. The grand crash of the story I read was imminent, when again the arch above me rang with the weird, unearthly wail; and again, I caught a glimpse of the ghostly lady waving her white-robed arms about her head, and floating away on the wind.

This time I started to my feet, and peered through the glass into the murky midnight – “darkness there, and nothing more.” Once I thought I saw the white figure gleaming in the rays of the lamp; but almost as quickly disappeared. This time I resolved to wait the reappearance of the white demon; and, laying down my book, I sat with gaze intently fixed upon the window.

Another clap of thunder shook the house from the cupola to its rocky foundation, and the rain began to hum around me. It was an eerie situation. My eyes became sore with watching. Meantime, conscience – which makes cowards of us all – was chilling my heart, as memory summoned before me, in that lonely hour, all the heinous offences against God and man which I had committed in young, thoughtless, wild seafaring life.

It may be readily conceived that my mental distress was waxing greater and greater. Cold sweat broke out upon me – drops heavy, cold, glittering as pearls, stood on my forehead. The thunder boomed along the cliffs of the Arran shore, and combined, with the storm now raging, to shake the lighthouse.

For relief I closed my eyes; but, just as I did so, there was a crash at the window, and again, the awful, despairing, heart-rending cry quavered on the gale. I started to my feet – eyes and mouth wide open – to behold the phantom raise its arms in an apparently agonized manner about its head, and then drop down, down, down though the darkness to the waves champing at the rocks below.

I remained in an unusual physical and mental state till about half an hour of the time when I should be relieved from my watch. By the time I had put the lamp right and composed myself, my comrade came to my relief; and I retired to my bed, but not to rest.

It struck me that all the appearances had been made during the period of time intervening between midnight and three o’clock, which made me the more inclined to believe in the supernatural character of my visitor.

When I rose, about my usual hour in the forenoon, the storm of the preceding night had moderated. After breakfast, I went out for a stroll round the cliffs, and to see what waifs had been driven ashore by the gale.

In a natural bay, formed by projecting rocks, I found, cast upon a bed of shingle, a solan goose or gannet, in beautiful feather, white and pure as snow. I picked it up, and examined it carefully to try and ascertain how it had come by its death. No shot of other wound was visible, and its body and the condition of its feathers showed that it could not have been long in the water.

How came it there? I took it up to the house, but my neighbors, who had been much longer in the lighthouse than I, evinced no concern about it, and casually laid my demon by, remarking that most likely it had flown against the lighthouse window.

Possession of the key made the solution of the riddle easy. The poor bird, driven from its resting-place by the storm, had been flying about in the darkness when it noticed the light. Following a natural inclination, it flew towards it; and, in its efforts to reach the object of its attraction, became my ghostly visitant. Its eyes glaring in the lamp-light were the fearsome orbs of the spectre; the black bill was its nasal cavity; its snowy plumage the floating white vestment!

Often since that occasion, have I been startled by seafowl against the window, and have found them dead on the outside of the lighthouse in the morning.


Six weeks after the Pladda Lighthouse ghost story appeared in The Long Eaton Advertiser in Derbyshire, England in 1883, a book of poems by Scottish poet William Thomson was published. Thomson had visited the Island of Arran during the summer of 1876 and wrote 10 sonnets inspired by his impressions of the area where Pladda Island sits close by. His “Pladda Lighthouse” poem mentions ghost-like sails of ships and the eerie screams of snowy seabirds; however, it was very doubtful that Thomson saw the Advertiser story, since he had “for some time been incapacitated for mental exertions by serious illness” at the time of the story’s publication and his book of poetry was likely already at the printer’s by then. Tragically, William Thomson died at the very young age of 22 due to consumption (tuberculosis), only three short months later. 


Pladda Lighthouse 

How sweetly solemn was the scene to me,

When Pladda lighthouse burst upon my view! 

Far from its steadfast, lofty tower it threw 

A long red gleam of light across the sea; 

And giant ships that passed it in the night –

Some outward bound and some returning home –

Their white sails gleaming o’er the restless foam, 

Seemed ghost-like as they lingered in the light; 

Around its top, with wild and eerie screams,

The snowy sea-birds flew. The billows crashed 

Against its base, and, rising higher, dashed

Their waters almost to the lantern’s beams; 

But all immovable it stood the shock, 

And shed its welcome gleam from Pladda rock.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2023 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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