A fatal accident is waiting to happen if nothing is done to improve safety at a popular tourist attraction in the Western Isles, it has been claimed.
It follows a frightening incident recently where an elderly tourist visiting the Butt of Lewis lighthouse suddenly met a flock of sheep on its narrow cliffside path causing her to overbalance and stumble.
Thankfully, the woman fell towards the boundary wall of the 160-foot lighthouse but could have plunged 60 feet into jagged rocks if she had stumbled the other way.
Local councillor Iain Morrison, who is also an island coach operator, says something must be done now before the worst happens.
Speaking as he took yet another party of tourists to the lighthouse, he said the recent incident was a wake-up call for him and many people.
Visitors can go right up to the edge and there is nothing to hold on to if someone is caught by the wind or is startled, as the recent tourist was, by suddenly meeting the sheep on the path. It is an incredibly sheer drop and few would survive it.
Cllr Morrison said he had already negotiated with the education department to get the former railings from the former buildings of the Stornoway secondary school, the Nicolson Institute, which are now to be demolished following the opening of the new building.
He said: “The problem is who will assume responsibility. The council does not want it and I can understand why. They would then be under pressure to assume responsibility for the safety of many other sites and the costs could be prohibitive.”
The recent incident with the tourist had been very frightening and he said he himself had also recently seen a mother with a child peering over the sheer cliff – something he called “foolish” and “heart-stopping”.
The councillor is working to establish who actually owns the land by the cliff and he is currently making inquiries with local public landowner The Galson Trust and the light operator, the Northern Lighthouse Board.
Now an automated light, the buildings also house a marine radio station which provides weather and radiotelephone communication to vessels in the North Minch area.
The Butt of Lewis, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is regularly the windiest spot in the United Kingdom.
One feature which used to startle visitors to the area was the extremely fog horn. However, it was dismantled in March 1995.
There are thought to be nearly 50 years since the last fatal cliff fall at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse which was designed and built in 1862 by David Stevenson, then an engineer for the Northern Lighthouse Board.