Islands of the Forth

The Islands of the Forth are a group of small islands located in the Firth of Forth and in the estuary of the River Forth on the east coast of Scotland. Most of the group in the open waters of the firth , between the Lothians and Fife , with the majority to the east of the city of Edinburgh . Two islands lie further west in the river estuary.

The islands have a varied geology and history of both ecclesiastical connections and have been involved in military occupations throughout the centuries of recorded history. Various lighthouses and other aids to navigation have been erected on the islands and skerries, one dating to the 17th century, but only one of the islands is still permanently inhabited. The area has a diversity of bird and sea life and the scientific name for the northern gannet is derived from this bird’s connection to the Bass Rock .

There are few islands off eastern Scotland and most of all in this group. [Note 1]


Furthest east is the Isle of May , off the coast of Fife south of Crail . To the south in the outer Firth there is a group of islands off East Lothian near North Berwick and Gullane ; They are Bass Rock (also known as “The Bass” [1] ), Craigleith , The Lamb , Fidra and Eyebroughy . A second group in the inner Firth of Forth. Inchkeith and Inchcolm are off Kinghorn and Aberdour on the North Shore, Inchgarvie lies midway betweenNorth and South Queensferry , and Inchmickery and Cramond Island are nearer to Edinburgh on the south shore. Alloa Inch and Tullibody Inch are furthest west in the estuarine waters of the River Forth.

Only one of these islands, Inchcolm, has had a resident population in recent years, although there have been monasteries, hermitages, lighthouses and fortifications on most of them in the past. In the late 19th century the Isle of May had a population of over 20. [2] Many of the island names have the first element, “Inch-” (from Innis , the Gaelic word for “island”). [3] [Note 2]


Geologically, most of the islands are the remnants of igneous intrusions. The Isle of May’s rock is “fine grained basalt of a dark-gray color with tinges of green and greenstone “. [2] Fidra is also widely basalt [4] and The Bass is a volcanic phonolite plug . [5] Craigleith is a laccolith made up of essexite which is popular for making curling stones [6] and Cramond island is made up of dolerite . [7] Inchmickery and Inchgarvie are of igneous originpicrite . Studies of the landscape beneath the waters of the firth-have Revealed que la visible surface of Inchgarvie is only the top of a larger crag and tail structure similar in structure to Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile created by glacialaction. [8] [9] [10] The tidal islet of Eyebroughy is about 1.5 kilometers (0.93 mi) to the west of Fidra. [11] Its component rock is trachyte and Lower Carboniferous in origin. [12]

Most of Inchkeith is of volcanic origin but there are also sections of sandstone , coal , limestone and shale , the last named of numerous fossils. There are also several springs on the island. [13] Inchcolm is similarly varied, consisting of greenstone, sandstone, shale and limestone. [14]

Natural history

The Firth is an important area for nature conservation and has a range of habitats including extensive mudflats, shingle shorelines and saltmarsh. The last named, which is well developed on Alloa Inch, is typically dominated by saltmarsh rush , sea-club-rush , sea ​​aster and common saltmarsh-grass . [15] The inner firth is important for nationally and internationally important numbers of wintering wildfowl and wading birds and hosts populations of shelduck, knot , redshank , great crested grebe , teal and goldeneye . [16]The outer islands support significant numbers of nesting seabirds . The Bass Rock has more than 150,000 nesting northern gannets and is the largest single rock gannetry in the world. [17] When viewed from the mainland of the world (and their droppings, which give off 152 tons of ammonia per year). [18] The scientific names for this gannet, Sula bassana and Morus bassanus , are derived from the rock. The bird was traditionally known locally and considered to be delicacies. It is estimated that in 1850 almost 2000 birds were harvested from the rock. Other species on the rock includeguillemot , razorbill , cormorant , puffin , eider duck and numerous gulls . [19]

Craigleith lies close to North Berwick’s harbor and historically was used as a rabbit warren. The rabbits were bred for food but they were wiped out by myxomatosis in the 1950s. The Atlantic puffin colony on Craigleith, one of the largest in Britain with 28,000 pairs, became endangered from 1999 onwards, due to an invasion of the non-endemic mallow plant, which choked the puffins’ burrows, preventing them from rearing their chicks, or “pufflings”. A five-year project, SOS Puffin, led by the Scottish Seabird Center at North Berwick, was launched early in 2007. Since then, hundreds of volunteers have been working on the seabed. Center during the winter months, when the puffins are at sea. There are signs that the puffins are starting to return to the island to breed. [20] Fidra, Inchmickery and Eyebroughy are RSPB reserves, the last being noted for its cormorants. [4] [12] [21] Over 240 species of bird and 60 types of seaweed recorded on the Isle of May. [2]


Several of the islands contain pre-historic remains created by cultures whose names are unknown. They have also been affected by the successive influences of Celtic , Norse and English -speaking peoples during the historic period and this is reflected in their names. The islands also came under attack from the Vikings during the early Historic period.

15th century

During the reign of King James IV Inchkeith was the site of an extraordinary experiment. According to the historian Robert Lyndsay of Pitscottie , in 1493 James directed that a dumb woman and two infants be transported to the island, to ascertain which language the infants would grow to speak when isolated from the rest of the world. It was thought that this would be the “original” language, or language of God. Lyndsay of Pitscottie reported that “some say they spoke good Hebrew”. [22]

In 1497 Inchkeith and Inchgarvie were used as an isolated refuge for victims of syphilis [23] and in 1589, the history of self-injurious inbred animals. (More than 1609 in 1799, Russian sailors who died from an infectious disease.) [24]

Inchcolm is mentioned in Shakespeare ‘s Macbeth where it is described as “Saint Colmes ynch”. [25]

English Garrisons

Inchcolm was raided by English troops during the 14th century Wars of Independence . [25] In the 16th century Inchkeith, Inchcolm and Inchgarvie all Suffered English occupation. The Earl of Somerset garrisoned the islands in 1547 after the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh . His force of marines were ordered to reinforce Inchkeith, and they built a large square fort, with corner towers, on the site of the present day lighthouse. His forces, mainly Italian mercenaries, were ejected by a combined Franco-Scottish force under General D ‘Essé in 1549. [26]

Later fortifications

Only Inchcolm was fortified during the Napoleonic wars. Inchkeith was fortified (along with Kinghorn ) in 1880. Inchgarvie was armed early in the 20th century. In the First World War and the Second World War Inchmickery , Inchcolm and Cramond Island formed part of a defensive line of anti-submarine guns covering across the river. [27]There is no evidence to support the popular belief that the defensive structures are designed to make the island look like a battleship from a distance: accommodation as possible for the garrision. These buildings were later used for filming scenes from the movie Complicity . [28]

Ecclesiastical associations

Many of the islands were said to have culinary connections, and had chapels on them. Various saints also have connections with the islands. St Thaney or Thenaw was reputedly the mother of St Kentigern and is said to be in the past by King Leudonus , which resulted in an abundance of fish in the seas nearby. [29] St Adrian of May was murdered there by invading Danes in 870 (who killed St Monance in the same raid). He was buried in a stone on the island of the island of England. He was buried in a churchyard at Anstruther . [2][30] The Isle of May has a long history of 13th-century Benedictine church. [2]

The Irish missionary Saint Baldred of Tyninghame resided on The Bass in the 8th century and there is a ruined 12th century chapel on Fidra dedicated to St Nicholas . [31] [32] Inchcolm has connections to St Columba and King Alexander I was marooned on the island, and decided to make it the site of an Augustinian monastery . [24] [25] In the 7th century Adomnán of Iona founded a “school of the prophets” on Inchkeith in the late 7th century having met St Serf there. [24] Inchmickery’s name may be derived from the Gaelic for “island of the vicar”.[24]


Many of the islands act as an aid to navigation. There are various lighthouses [33] and numerous devices to guide shipping in the ports of Leith and Rosyth .

In 1803, construction was begun of Inchkeith Lighthouse, designed and built by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson . The lighthouse stands 67 meters high and was operational by 1804. [34] The Fidra light was built in 1885 and automated in 1970. [35] The light on the small rock of Oxcars was automated as early as 1894. At that time it was controlled by a clockwork timer and was powered using gas delivered weekly from Granton gasworks. [36] A lighthouse was constructed on the Bass Rock in 1902. [5]

The Isle of May light has a long history of having been in operation since 1635 when a crude coal-fired structure was erected. The existing building was constructed in 1816, which was converted to a “rock station” in 1972 and automated in March 1989. [37] The island is owned by the Commissioners of the Northern Lights managed by Scottish Natural Heritage as a National Nature Reserve . [2]

None of the islands are accessible by public transport except Inchcolm, which has a regular summer service. [38]


Island Gaelic Name [39] Meaning of name leasing Area ( ha )[40] Highest point [11] Last Inhabited
Alloa Inch Unknown Alloa island grid reference NS871915 c. 33 <5 20th century?
Bass Rock Unknown Possibly from Gaelic bathais , meaning “forehead”. [5] grid reference NT602874 7.5 [5] 107 1970s [5]
Craigleith Creag Lita Rock of Leith grid reference NT555868 5 24 [6] Inhabitation unlikely
Cramond Island Unknown Island of the Fort on the Almond River[Note 3] grid reference NT194785 7.7 [41] 28 Possibly World War II
Fidra Unknown From the Norse for “feather island” [42] grid reference NT513868 10 20 1970 [4]
Inchcolm Innis Choluim Calum / Malcolm Gold Columba’s Island grid reference NT189824 9 34 First decade of the 21st century
Inchgarvie Innis Garbhach rough island grid reference NT136795 0.83 19 Probably World War II
Inchkeith Possibly Innis Cheith or Innis Coit .[43] [44] [Note 4] wooded island [43] grid reference NT294825 20 59 1986
Inchmickery Possibly Innis nam Bhiocaire Possibly “island of the vicar” grid reference NT207803 <5 14 Probably World War II
The Lamb Unknown From a common Norse name for a small island grid reference NT536867 0.5 15 Inhabitation unlikely
Isle of May Eilean Mhàigh Possibly “gull island” [2] grid reference NT653996 45 50 1989
Tullibody Inch Unknown Tullibody island grid reference NS862925 6 <5 Unknown

Outer islands

The Isle of May is in the north of the Firth of Forth, about 8 miles (5.0 mi) off the coast of mainland Fife. It is 1.8 kilometers (1.1 mi) long, less than 0.5 kilometers (0.31 mi) wide and has a total area of ​​45 hectares (110 acres) making it by far the largest of the Forth islands. Although often inhabited in the past, it has been recorded by the automation of the lighthouse. [2] [37] Rona is a tidal islet to the north by a bridge. Further north are North Ness, Mars Rocks and Norman Rock. Clett and the Middens are stacks to the east and The Pillow is a skerry to the south east. Maiden Rocks and Maiden Hair is just offshore to the south. [11]

The Bass Rock is about 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) offshore, and 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) north-east of North Berwick . This steep-sided island is currently uninhabited, but was lived on for many centuries. It has a castle dating from the 14th century, which was later used as a prison of 1491. The Lauder family owned the island for almost six centuries, and it now belongs to Sir Hew Dalrymple you purchased it in 1701. [5] The rock features in various works of fiction, Including Robert Louis Stevenson ‘s Catriona . At 7.5 hectares (19 acres) in extent the Bass Rock is the second largest of the islands of the Forth. The Middens is a small stack that lies just offshore to the northwest.[5] [11]

Craigleith lies north of North Berwick Harbor. It was also purchased by Sir Hew Dalrymple, from the North Berwick Town Council in 1814. [45]

The Lamb is an uninhabited island about 100m long by 50m wide, flanked by the skerries North Dog and South Dog. There are other skerries between it and the shore including Bubbly Buss, the Law Rocks and the Hummel Ridges. [11] In February 2009, the island was bought by the Israeli paranormalist Uri Geller for £ 30,000. [46] [47] [48]

Fidra, archaically Fetheray, [49] is 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) north-west of North Berwick. It is the result of volcanic activity and has a substantial seabird population. [4] It can be accessed via a primitive jetty on the eastern shore. [24] It is said that RL Stevenson based on Treasure Island on the shape of Fidra. [4] The island is also attended by the North Dog and South Dog and Castle Tarbet is another islet to the south of the country. [11]

Inner islands

Inchkeith is close to the shores of Fife. Its history has been dominated by religion, its use as quarantine and military events (see above). It is currently owned by Tom Farmer , founder of Kwikfit , but he does not live there. [24]

Inchmickery lies about 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) east of Inchkeith and it is about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 mi) north of the city of Edinburgh. It is only about 100 meters by 200 meters in size. Rocks known as the Cow and Calf are related to the Oxcars, a hazard identified by a permanent light. [11]

Incholm is the only island in the Firth with a recent resident population of Whom Were there two in the 2001 census [50] ALTHOUGH There Was No Recorded usually resident population at the time of the 2011 census . [51] There is a resident Custodian employed by Historic Scotland who runs the island and runs the shop during the summer. [2] In the 14th century John of Fordun records the name “Euomonia” (referring to the Sancti Columbe monasterium in insula Euomonia ). [52] There are various skerries in the sea to the north Including Swallow Craig For Craig, Meadulse and Craigdimas. [11]

Inchgarvie’s name is from Innis Gharbhaidh which is Scottish Gaelic for “rough island” or possibly “Garbhach’s island”. [3] This island has a long history of fortification and is now incorporated into the Forth Bridge . In 1878, foundations for Thomas Bouch ‘s Forth Bridge were laid on Inchgarvie but after the Tay Bridge Disaster these plans were abandoned. When construction of the bridge recommenced in 1882, the west end of the island was extended with a pier and used for the foundation of the cantilevers. The island was also used for a building office and the castle buildings were re-roofed to accommodate workers. Some of the stone from the former castle was used to build the caissons of the bridge. [2] [53]

Cramond Island in the Almond is a tidal island that is 7.7 hectares (19 acres) in extent and is currently part of the Dalmeny Estate. [41] It is about a mile from the shore and is a popular recreation area. The speed with which the water rises can catch visitors unawares, leaving them stranded. [54]

Alloa Inch is an island in the tidal reaches of the River Forth near Alloa which consists of reed beds and salt marshes. There is a smaller farmhouse on the island and the Scottish Wildlife Trust has managed the island as a nature reserve since 1996. [55] [56] Just upstream is the smaller Tullibody Inch – both are part of the Firth of Forth SSSI , which also includes the John Muir Country Park . [15]

Small outliers and former islands

There are various other small islets and skerries in the Firth. Along the north shore, Preston Island near Culross is an artificial former island. This reclaimed land was created c. 1800 for salt production. More land was then reclaimed using ash slurry from Longannet power station from 1970 onwards and it is now part of the mainland. [11] [57] Just offshore are the Craigmore Rocks at grid reference NT001845 , which were called “Kraig Maur” in Blaeu’s Atlas . “Dow Kraig” on the same 17th century map of Dunsyre House at grid reference NT116817[58] [59] NearbyRosyth Castle is a tidal island [60] and Long Craig is now part of the Forth Road Bridge . [11]

There is another Long Craig south of Dalgety Bay and Haystack lies between it and Inchcolm. The Common Rocks are in Silversands Bay at Aberdour and West Vows, East Vows and another Long Craig lie off Kirkcaldy. Much farther along the coast there is another West Vows and East Vows at Earlsferry . The Carr Brigs are a hazard to the Fife Ness . [11]

There are fewer skerries on the south coast of the Firth. Little Ox lies off Musselburgh and the Black Rocks, including the Middle and Eastern Craigs lie just outside the Port of Leith . [11]

See also

  • All pages beginning with “Inch”
  • Scottish island names
  • Lamba – an island in Shetland
  • Sula Sgeir , an islet in the North Atlantic from which the men of Ness, Lewis take an annual harvest of young northern gannets.

References and footnotes


  1. Jump up^ Other east coast islands includeMugdrum Islandin theFirth of TayandInchcape, a notorious reef off theAnguscoast – for a full list seeList of outlying islands of Scotland.
  2. Jump up^ Innisalso means “meadow”.
  3. Jump up^ Macan Tàilleir (2003) provides for the island itself but states that “Cramond” is from theBrythonic Caramondmeaning “fort on the Almond”.
  4. Jump up^ Recorded as “Insula Keth” in the 12th centuryLife of St. Serf. Macan Tàilleir (2003) and Watson (1926) suggest that the root is the Brthyonic “coed”. The derivation would appear to be more than attested and the modern form isInnis Cheith.


  1. Jump up^ “The Bass Rock” . History of Leith . Retrieved 20 October 2009 .
  2. ^ Jump up to:j Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 490 Cite error: Invalid<ref>tag; name “HS490” defined multiple times with different content (see the help page ).
  3. ^ Jump up to:b Macan Tàilleir (2003) p. 64
  4. ^ Jump up to:e “Fidra” . Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 18 June 2008.
  5. ^ Jump up to:g Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 495 Cite error: Invalid<ref>tag; name “HS495” defined multiple times with different content (see the help page ).
  6. ^ Jump up to:b “Overview of Craigleith” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 8 February 2008 .
  7. Jump up^ “Guided Walks Program 2011″Geowalks. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  8. Jump up^ Corbet, Niall (1999) “Management Statement for Inchmickery SSSI”. SNH.
  9. Jump up^ Watson, Jeremy (8 April 2007)”Revealed: volcanic island beneath the Firth of Forth” The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  10. Jump up^ Tyrrell, George Walter (1916). “The Picrite-Teschenite Sill of Lugar (Ayrshire)”. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society . 72 : 84-131. doi :10.1144 / gsl.jgs.1916.072.01-04.09 .
  11. ^ Jump up to:l Ordnance Survey maps.
  12. ^ Jump up to:b “Eyebroughy” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 5 September2010 .
  13. Jump up^ Grant, James (1880s)”Old and New Edinburgh”. London. Cassells. 6Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  14. Jump up^ Howellet al(1861) p. 35
  15. ^ Jump up to:b “Firth of Forth SSSI Management Statement” (2004) Scottish Natural Heritage .
  16. Jump up^ “SSSI Firth of Forth Midas Reference 8163”. Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  17. Jump up^ “Welcome to the Scottish Seabird Center” . Scottish Seabird Center . Archived from the original on 6 February 2006 . Retrieved 13 May 2008 .
  18. Jump up^ Blackall, TD (2007) “Ammonia emissions from seabird colonies”Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L10801
  19. Jump up^ “Bass Rock Lighthouse” . Northern Lighthouse Board . Retrieved 9 May 2008 .
  20. Jump up^ Ian Johnston (March 2, 2007). “£ 235,000 lifeline for puffins driven out by ruthless march of the mallow” . The Scotsman . Retrieved 8 February2008 .
  21. Jump up^ “Inchmickery”. Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  22. Jump up^ “A Bizarre Island Experiment”BBC History. Retrieved 6 Feb 2011.
  23. Jump up^ Pearce, JMS (April 1998). “A note on the origins of syphilis” . Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry . 64 (542): 542. doi : 10.1136 / jnnp.64.4.542 . PMC  2170021  . PMID  9576552 .
  24. ^ Jump up to:f Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 488-89
  25. ^ Jump up to:c “Inchcolm” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 27 July 2007 .
  26. Jump up^ “The story of Leith – XXII The Siege of Leith” . Electric Scotland . Retrieved 22 June 2007 .
  27. Jump up^ “Overview of Inchkeith” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 28 December 2007 .
  28. Jump up^ “Complicity – Inchmickery”. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  29. Jump up^ “Isle of May”. Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  30. Jump up^ “St Monans”. Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  31. Jump up^ “Banff – Berwick (North): Bass, Isle” , A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland , pp. 101-123, 1846 , retrieved 26 December 2009
  32. Jump up^ “Faifley – Fifeshire: Fidrey Isle” , A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland , pp. 411-428, 1846 , retrieved 26 December 2009
  33. Jump up^ “Lighthouse Library”Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved 14 July 2007.
  34. Jump up^ “Inchkeith Lighthouse – History” . Northern Lighthouse Board . Retrieved 2007-04-20 .
  35. Jump up^ Martine (1890) pp. 50-51
  36. Jump up^ “Automation”Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  37. ^ Jump up to:b “Isle of May” . Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  38. Jump up^ “Trips to Inchcolm: The Iona of the East” Retrieved 13 Feb 2011.
  39. Jump up^ Macan Tàilleir (2003) various pages.
  40. Jump up^ Estimate from Ordnance Survey maps unless otherwise indicated.
  41. ^ Jump up to:b “Cramond Island” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 22 August2010 .
  42. Jump up^ Ryder, NL”Displacement of bone waste by seagulls”(pdf)Circaea: The Bulletin of the Association for Environmental Archeology. 6No. 2 (1990) University of York. p. 85. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  43. ^ Jump up to:b Watson (1926) pp. 381-82
  44. Jump up^ “The Life of St. Serf” Retrieved 27 Dec 2010.
  45. Jump up^ “Craigleith Overview” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 6 February2011 .
  46. Jump up^ “Uri Geller to hunt for treasure in Forth” . BBC News. March 5, 2010 . Retrieved 7 March 2010 .
  47. Jump up^ “Spoon-bender buys Scottish island” . BBC News. February 11, 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2009 .
  48. Jump up^ Shân Ross (12 February 2009). “Mystical force stirs spoon-bender Geller to splash out on ‘pyramid of the Forth ‘ ” . The Scotsman . Retrieved 14 February 2009 .
  49. Jump up^ Skene, WF (November 1862) “Of the early Frisian Settlements in Scotland”. Antiquaries of Scotland. 4Part 1.
  50. Jump up^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland’s Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No. 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands . Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  51. Jump up^ National Records of Scotland(15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland – Release 1C (Part Two) . “Appendix 2: Population and Households on Scotland’s Uninhabited Islands”. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  52. Jump up^ Watson (1994) p. 104
  53. Jump up^ “Inchgarvie”. Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  54. Jump up^ ” ‘ Social networking’ revellers stranded on tiny island” . BBC News. 6 June 2010 . Retrieved 6 June 2010 .
  55. Jump up^ “Alloa Inch” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 9 August 2009 .
  56. Jump up^ “Stirling Members Center” Archived23 July 2011 at theWayback Machine. Scottish Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 27 Dec 2010.
  57. Jump up^ “Preston Island” . Gazetteer for Scotland . Retrieved 10 September2010 .
  58. Jump up^ “Blaeu’s Atlas” [ permanent dead link ] Retrieved 6 September 2010.
  59. Jump up^ “View up Firth of Forth, showing Dubh Craig and Rosyth Castle in distance.” Site of new naval works. ” ArchivedJuly 17, 2011 at theWayback Machine. RMA-H70. St Andrews University. Retrieved 6 September 2010.
  60. Jump up^ “Rosyth Castle”Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 9 September 2010.

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