Posted on 06/11/2013
Known as the ‘Iona of the East’, Inchcolm Island lies in the Firth of Forth, north of Edinburgh and four miles east of the Forth Bridge. The island has a long history, with its former Augustinian abbey acknowledged as the best preserved medieval monastic house in Scotland. Three covered cloister walks still survive, as do the thirteenth century octagonal chapter house, dormitory and refectory.
Owned by Historic Scotland, Inchcolm Island welcomes visitors. With sandy beaches, craggy rocks and abundant wildlife, the natural beauty and tranquillity will leave a lasting impression.
Inchcolm Island derives its name from the Scots Gaelic ‘Innis Cholium’. St Columba is said to have visited Inchcolm in AD 567, and the island had links with early Christian and Danish settlers, who used Inchcolm Island as a burial site. Shakespeare’s play Macbeth refers to the Danes having to pay ten thousand dollars for the privilege, the medieval dollar still being in circulation.
The island became a hermit’s retreat, with cells dating back to the ninth century. When the Scottish king, Alexander I, became marooned on the island in 1123, he was looked after by a hermit. To show his gratitude, Alexander vowed to erect an Augustinian priory, but died in 1124. His brother, David, completed the task, in 1162. In 1235 the priory was elevated to abbey status.
Inchcolm Island was repeatedly raided by the English during the fourteenth century Scottish Wars of Independence. In 1335, a statue of Columba was stolen, along with other treasures. The escaping sailors almost foundered on rocks in a storm and, fearing the wrath of Columba had descended on them, returned their booty and departed on a calm sea.
The English first fortified Inchcolm Island in the sixteenth century. During the two World Wars, ‘Fortress Forth’ was again fortified to defend Edinburgh, Leith, the railway bridge and the Rosyth naval base. A tunnel was dug through the hill on the eastern end of the island by 576 Cornwall Works Company, Royal Engineers in 1916-17, and may be explored. The NAAFI remains, and is used by Historic Scotland as a souvenir shop.
Inchcolm Island is served by two ferry companies, operating between Easter and late October, from the Hawes Pier in South Queensferry. Landing time allowed on Inchcolm is ninety minutes. Unfortunately, due to the use of steps to board the vessels, wheelchairs cannot be accommodated.