Historic Inchcolm

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By Norrie Hunter

Inchcolm Island in the middle of the Firth of Forth may not be as well known as the Isles of Bute, Arran or Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde but this small outcrop has one of the best preserved 12th century ruined abbeys in Scotland … and a history that many will find difficult to trace in traditional books on bygone Scotland.

Accessible by two commercial boats – we travelled on the Maid of the Forth, a family-owned ferry operation – Inchcolm is only 25 minutes from the slipway terminal located directly below the towering Forth Railway Bridge at South Queensferry.  Seals and dolphins are usually visible en route across the Forth.

The original monastery – the island’s sanctity goes back to St Colm – was elevated to abbey status in 1235 and throughout the 1300s was often raided by marauding English forces.  In 1385 the island was attacked and plundered by the English who were later cornered, apprehended and ‘dealt with’ by Scottish knights on the South Queensferry shore!

Inchcolm was also used, in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a place of quarantine for plague victims and during the two great wars and played its part as one of Scotland’s coastal defences.  There are still remnants of what was a formidable artillery battery dotted around the island.

Inchcolm is still inhabited but only by Historic Scotland’s caretaker and his wife, both of whom, with a small band of helpers, keep this small outcrop in immaculate condition for visitors to enjoy.  There’s a small visitors centre and a well stocked souvenir shop.

There are eight main islands in the Firth of Forth.  Looking eastwards from Inchcolm, the famous Bass Rock with its colony of 150,000 gannets can be seen and even closer is the island of Inchkeith, owned by Sir Tom Farmer of ‘Quickfit’ fame.

It’s true, we often look to foreign shores for holiday destinations … but Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and places like Inchcolm Island should not be missed.  After all, they are on the doorstep … Inchcolm is well worth a visit.