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.


2013-03-17 08:58

Thanks for this article. This has been something I’ve wanted to do for ages. I’m definitely going to go soon. The Abbey looks amazing in the pictures.
2013-03-17 09:35

There should be more of this type of article on Newsnet as it shows off what Scotland has to offer. Thanks, I would like to pay it a visit, now.
Mad Jock McMad
2013-03-17 11:52

Ah, but, we Scots are a curbunculous lot who like to keep our gems to ourselves.

Hidden off Aberdour in this case, itself a wee gem of an East coast fishing village with an equally historic castle and not far from where Alexander III fell off his horse between there and Kinghorn and in effect plunged Scotland into the Wars of Independence. On a nice day there are the famous ‘Silver Sands’ and a nippy wee 18 hole golf course, with a stotter of a first two holes. There used to be a ferry from there to Inchcolm from the pier ..
Wes Wemyss
2013-03-17 15:43

I remember applying for the job of caretaker back in the early 80s. It was my plan to escape Thatcherism. Trouble is, everybody else had the same plan. I think they had something like 10000 applications!
2013-03-17 22:37

A return trip to Inchcolm is long overdue for me. The last time I was there was about the time Wes Wemyss was applying for the job.

One thing that grates with me is calling it Inchcolm Island. Inch comes from the Gaelic word innis which, in this context, means island. So, it is akin to referring to Loch Ness Lake.
2013-03-18 19:23

Fifes got everything just the place for tourists .
2013-05-08 07:57

Between 1440 and 1447 the abbot of Inchcolm, Walter Bower, worked on his history of Scotland, the Scotichronicon. Not one for false modesty, his closing words were, “He is not a Scot, by Christ, who does not like this book!”

The Scotichronicon has been criticised for some of its content and its style, but there is stuff in there that you don’t get anywhere else. And it contains the first mention in any written source of Robin Hood and Little John.


You must be logged-in in order to post a comment.