On 12 July, on a somewhat sultry day, four stalwarts gathered at Hawes Pier, South Queensferry. Our destination was Inchcolm Island, a few miles east of the Forth rail bridge. Daily sailings are provided in the summer by the Maid of the Forth. The sea was flat calm and the 30 min crossing was uneventful apart from a few passing fulmars giving us their customary inspection. Closer to Inchcolm a few puffins and grey seals were spotted. The landing at Inchcolm was straightforward with no difficulties for anyone physically impaired.
The island almost comprises two smaller ‘islands’ linked by a narrow sandy isthmus. In summer, the western end is dominated by a large colony of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and is best avoided since the adult birds are very adept at defending their eggs and chicks. During our visit, many well-fledged young were hanging around the beach and provided entertainment for younger humans grown weary of all the historic stuff. Both eastern and western parts of Inchcolm have numerous disused wartime fortifications, including a lengthy tunnel.
The name Inchcolm means ‘Island of Colm’. In the later Middle Ages the name Colm was identified with St Columba, the 6th century abbot of Iona. A monastery was first established as a priory in the mid 1100s and received abbey status in 1235. The Augustinian brethren who founded the priory were not monks, but canons. The abbey consists of several closely interconnected buildings of different ages, including the12th century bell-tower, but, of the very first building, only the nave remains. The main domestic buildings of the abbey are arranged around a central quadrangle surrounded by a cloister walk, which apparently is the best preserved medieval cloister in Scotland. The chapter house is an octagonal building on the east side of the cloister and is the only surviving cloister building from the 1200s. It was the meeting place of the community and one can easily imagine the lively debates that took place here. The abbey underwent various misfortunes, being repeatedly raided by the English during the 1300s and was eventually disbanded after the Protestant Reformation.
After some hastily consumed sandwiches, our Portobello contingent made directly for the abbey. The bell-tower is a powerful attraction because the upper part is completely accessible and provides superb views of Fife and the Lothians. However, access to the first- and mid-level is via a very narrow helical stairway and is not to be recommended to those with ample hips! The modern stairway to the upper level is steep and ‘three-points of contact’ are needed to ascend and descend without mishap. But the climb was worth it. Only two real stalwarts from Portobello made it!
On the return trip the Maid of the Forth took us on a wide arc to inspect the foundations for the new (3rd) bridge across the River Forth, before landing back at Hawes Pier. We had a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable day. It was not only good to have time for members of the congregation to learn about the history of this little-known part of Scotland, but also about each other. It could be the fore-runner of other such trips.