A Lighthouse Story – The Bell Rock Enigma

A Lighthouse Story – The Bell Rock Enigma

The winner , Eleanor Kirkland

In it’s seventh year the National Galleries of Scotland’s writing competition, Inspired? Get Writing! asked beginning authors to write a story or poem based on one of the gallery’s paintings. This request fired the imagination of 1,200 entrants this year (2012).

Entries are judged in five categories: Under 12s, 12-14s, 15-18s, Adults Prose and Adults Poetry. The work must be inspired by a piece of art in the National Galleries of Scotland permanent collection, which can be viewed at any of the galleries or online. Prizes include writing workshops and free tickets to major exhibitions. Three collections of winning work from the competition have already been published.

Here is one of the winners from the youth category, and naturally it is a story about a lighthouse or it wouldn’t be here on this website.

This winning story was written by eleven year old (11) Eleanor (Ellie) Kirkland of Perth, Scotland. She had never been in a lighthouse before and had no idea of the inner workings, but her imagination inspired her to create this eerie short tale. I have been given permission to publish it here for you. I think it is very good.


The Bell Rock Lighthouse that inspired Eleanor Kirkland's short story
The Bell Rock lighthouse as it stands today - photo Wiki


ELEANOR KIRKLAND, 11, Craigclowan Prep School, Perth

 Inspiration: J. M. W. Turner’s1 Bell Rock Lighthouse

* * *

‘Hello,” croaked a hoarse voice at the other end of the line. “Is that Off-shore Electrics?”

“It is, how can we help you?” the bored receptionist replied.

“My name is William Mallord and I am the lighthouse keeper on Bell Rock. Can you please send out an electrician to examine the main beacon? I am very concerned that it is losing power and intensity, and it must be dealt with before the winter storms begin.”

“Of course Sir…”

“Oh, and send a kind, strong, good hearted young man please.”

That was the end of the call. Violet Collins sat at her desk in her tiny office, and thought to herself, “Nobody is ever going to sign up for such a risky job, who’d want to go to Bell Rock of all places? Who knows how long you could be stuck there?!” Still thinking, she went off to put up a notice about the job. She was not surprised a week later, when she found herself replacing it, at triple the pay, as no-one had shown any interest.

As he read it, Antony Harrison smiled with relief. He really needed money to buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Michelle. He was also going to need a lot of courage to propose to her, but he would worry about that later. Quickly, he signed up for the job and two days later he was on a boat, lurching his way towards the treacherous Bell Rock.

William Mallord was 80 years old and a sober looking fellow. His face was very pale, his eyes bloodshot and his spindly limbs stiff and cold. He was so thin and frail you could see almost every vein and feel just about every bone in his body. His wispy hair was the colour of sea froth, and his irregular breathing rattled and rasped like the stormy March winds. He was like an old, battered ship which had experienced many journeys and known many secrets, but had seen better days.

Antony arrived very late at night and as the boat sped off into the mist, he felt very alone, and a little nervous. After a short conversation with the old man, he went to bed, or rather, he curled up on a small, dilapidated sofa, gripping a thin blanket as tightly as his numb fingers allowed. When he finally dozed off, he dreamt of Michelle, of them getting married, having children and growing old together; his whole life seemed to flash before his very eyes. He woke suddenly, shivering with cold. “How does the old man not catch pneumonia?!” he thought to himself. As the pale dawn light crept above the horizon, he got his first chance to survey the room properly. It was rather bare, with only the little sofa and an old chair in one corner, a table set for breakfast and a small table with a telephone on it and an ancient radio. There were also two doors leading out of the room, he presumed that one led to Mr Mallord’s bedroom and the other to the light beacon and electrical systems. The walls were a gentle yellow, the ceiling white. Everything was old and tattered; the paint was flaking and all of the materials were faded and threadbare. There weren’t even any curtains at the large, drafty window, through which he could see a grey, restless sea and great dark clouds gathering in the sky; there would probably be a storm later. At breakfast he asked Mr Mallord why he stayed on this desolate island. His reply left Antony feeling slightly uneasy and a little sad. “It was my destiny to live here, I couldn’t possibly leave.”

The old man sank down into his chair. He looked tired and ill and as he quietly drifted off to sleep, Antony carefully ascended the steep, spiralling stone steps to take a look at the light. The old man was right, it was strangely opaque. He embarked on a methodical check of the lamps, lenses, mirrors, master switches and control boards. After a long and diligent search he slumped down against the curved wall, tired and confused.

Outside, a dense fog had descended and the ominous rumble of thunder rolled across the sky. The sea was like a ravenous beast, ready to engulf and devour any passing ships. As he gazed, mesmerised by the towering waves crashing on to the jagged rocks below, he wondered when on earth he would get back to the warmth and familiarity of home.

Downstairs, Mr Mallord was awake again. Antony entered, brows furrowed with frustration. “Mr Mallord, I’ve just been upstairs to take a look at the light and you were right, it’s definitely not as strong as it should be. However, what is puzzling me is that I couldn’t find any problem with the power source. Is there something that I am missing, a transformer perhaps?”

William gave a soft chuckle. “Haven’t you realised? It’s right in front of you.”

“Mr Mallard, I don’t quite understand…”

“You understand perfectly, you just don’t want to accept the truth.”

Those were his last words. Antony stared, paralysed with horror as the exhausted body fell limp. For a few moments, the room seemed frozen in time. The deafening silence was suddenly shattered by the desolate groan of a ship’s foghorn.

Antony felt as if his heart would burst out of his chest. Salty tears crashed down his ghostly face. He knew that only he could save the people on that ship but that to do so, he would have to live a long and solitary life. He would never marry Michelle and never have children. He would live and die alone.

The horn sounded again, much closer this time. Antony made his decision.


If you liked the story, please leave some comments so that the young lady will have some encouragement and may produce a masterpiece when she is older. Your opinion counts at this young age. I think it is a great story! (one vote!)


Rudha Réidh - photo Gordy Glen on Flickr
Map showing Rudha Réidh (upper left peninsula)

Eleanor’s mother, Mrs. J. Kirkland also sent some wonderful photos they took at the Gairloch Heritage Museum which show the lighting apparatus from a lighthouse near them, called Rudha Réidh (also seen spelled as Rua Réidha, Rubh’ReRua Reidh, and Rubha Réidha).  The lighthouse is about twelve (12) miles north of the museum. A bit more information is given on the Rua Reidh website.



1 Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. – Wikipedia

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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