AN INLAND lighthouse on the shores of Loch Ness is to be turned into holiday accommodation in an ambitious renovation project.
Bona Lighthouse, one of only two inland lighthouses in Scotland, was built in 1815 by Thomas Telford and was operational for more than 160 years but was vacated 11 years ago after its function had been replaced by a marker beacon.
Since then, what was once Britain’s smallest manned lighthouse fell into disrepair. It suffered weather damage and its wooden jetty crumbled into the loch.
Now the lighthouse, which has an unusual octagonal tower, is in line for a £450,000 conversion agreed between the owners, Scottish Canals, and the Hereford-based charity Vivat Trust, which restores and converts historic buildings.
The proposals, which have been approved by Highland Council, involve restoring the building to its original condition and transforming the interior into six-bedroom holiday accommodation.
Josie Saunders, for Scottish Canals, said: “Bona Lighthouse is a hugely important building for Scottish Canals and has real historic significance for the area. We are working with the Vivat Trust to bring it back to life. We hope to be on site within the next few months.”
Laura Norris, a director of the trust, said: “Bona is a seriously stunning building in a fantastic setting. Putting it on the holiday-let market means heritage is sustainable, it pays for itself with regard to future maintenance, and people get to live in it.”
Under the terms of the deal, the lighthouse will be open to the public at certain times of the year. The trust and Scottish Canals are each investing £150,000 and £80,000 has been awarded by Historic Scotland towards the project. The remainder was made up of fundraising over the past three years.
Highland Labour MSP David Stewart, who has campaigned to save the lighthouse, welcomed the move, and described the plans as “imaginative”.
He said: “The site is steeped in the history of the development of the Caledonian Canal. It is in a wonderful location but has just suffered from gross neglect.”
Construction of Caledonian Canal, linking the 60 miles between Inverness and Fort William, began in 1803.
It was a huge undertaking and by 1805 as many as 500 men were employed at Clachnaharry. They reached Loch Dochfour by 1814 before the canal opened through to Loch Ness in 1818, when horses pulled up to 10 vessels a day along the route.
It is likely that the structures at Bona were built around this time, dating the lighthouse to 1815.
Telford had already conceived a template for octagonal toll houses in England, and the engineer and his superintendent on this section of the Caledonian Canal, Matthew Davidson, may have intended a tollhouse to allow canal commissioners to exploit the crossing.
The light was fuelled by acetylene from 1934 and then electrified in 1964. The marker beacon placed on the headland signalled the demise of it as a working lighthouse, although it was used as a residence until 2002. Since then, the building has deteriorated almost to the point of dereliction.
A campaign was launched to save it and Scottish Canals decided to go ahead and transform Bona into holiday lets.
The restoration will include the main building, stables, the toll house structure and a walled garden.