Before crossing the Forth Bridge into Fife I had some unfinished business in the Firth of Forth – the island of Inchcolm. Actually this is one of several islands in the Firth of Forth, but it’s the only one that has regular public trips to allow those without a boat to visit. I believe there are occasional trips (often charters) out to the other islands in the Firth of Forth, so perhaps I’ll come back and visit those sometime too.
This was the first day of a 4 day trip I made to Scotland with the intention of walking the Angus coast. However having finished walking the (mainland) Fife coast earlier in the year I had decided to break up the long journey north to Dundee (where I was staying) at Edinburgh and take a trip out to Inchcolm Island first, before continuing on to Dundee.
I made an early start, taking the train into London Waterloo and two tube trains across London to London Kings Cross. From here I took the 8am train to Edinburgh Waverley, which I had booked a tickets for a couple of months earlier, for £24.
I had a pleasant journey up, once I re-located to a seat next to the window. It seems to me that even though I always select “Window” for my preferred seat on the website when booking train tickets, I always seem to end up allocated a seat in a row where the “window” seat was in fact adjacent to the wall rather than a window – as it turned out today. Once I’d found a better seat, I had a good journey. This is a journey I’ve made a lot and I always make a point of sitting on the right. This gets you views of Durham Cathedral and Castle, the Tyne and bridges at Newcastle and then the spectacular Northumberland coast, with distant views to Lindisfarne and the lovely village of Alnmouth. North of Alnmouth the line hugs the coast for a while, giving wonderful views as it goes right on the cliff tops.
I made a quick change of trains in Edinburgh and headed onto a local train to take me to Dalmeny, the nearest station to the pier where the boat departs. It was a little over a 10 minute walk from the station down to the waters edge, through woodland.
I was very impressed on reaching the waterfront with the massive Forth Bridge right above me.
You really don’t appreciate the size of this structure until you are close to it, it is vast and very beautiful, with the three red arches of metal and stone piers at either end.
I think the photo below gives it a bit more scale. Notice how tiny the train crossing the bridge looks!
There was also building work on the new Forth road bridge on going a little upstream, as the old bridge is apparently in a bad way and will likely have to be closed at some point in the near future, at least for a time, if not for good. (Thankfully since writing this the new bridge has since opened and the old bridge also remains open).
I had around 45 minutes before the boat, so wandered up the road and then down onto the foreshore to get some good views of this wonderful bridge, and then wandered back to the pier.
There was a ticket office here but having booked online I assumed this was enough, but thought I’d ask the staff to make sure. It turns out I was wrong and in fact I needed to exchange my E-ticket for a real ticket. I thought it rather quaint that it was exchanged for a proper ticket with my name already hand-written on, it seems someone has the job of writing out all the tickets booked online! I was told to head down the pier 10 minutes before the boat was due. Since it was due in 12 minutes I figured now would do, and from the pier you get a most wonderful view of the bridge. Soon the boat arrived and it was larger than I expected.
Everyone, myself included, made for the top deck as it was a warm day, but a few soon headed downstaris when we got underway, as there was more of a breeze.
It was quite a misty and hazy day which limited views of the coast either side, which was a shame, but it is very beautiful here. The boat had a commentary and we were soon passing under the wonderful Forth Rail bridge.
The sound of trains passing over the bridge, as it reverberates under the weight, can be heard from several miles away. The captain pointed out the piers for the new bridge now being built (the Queensferry Crossing, which has since opened) and a section of road ready to be joined to one of them.
He assured us we were watching history in the making as the section of road would likely be in place by the time we came back. He was spot on.
We soon passed the oil terminal on the right. It was very ugly, but the man doing the commentary seemed very proud of this and how much oil was pumped onto tankers here, and the size of them. Oil is big business in Scotland.
We continued past the new towns of Dalgety Bay, where I remembered walking before and could soon see the island ahead. It was larger and higher than I expected.
We passed another fuel terminal, this one for gas, which I also remember walking past when I walked the Fife coastal path. Soon we were getting close to the island and were passed by the RNLI rib heading at speed out to the open sea.
As we neared the island we passed some rocks on the right which the commentary told us was a common place to sea seals. I must admit I often take such statements with a pinch of salt (they usually mention puffins to, as this did, but you rarely seem to see them from boats). But as we got nearer there were indeed a couple of seals swimming in the sea, a lovely sight (you can just make them out in the photo below in front of the big rock).
We headed round quite a bit of the coast of the island before we reached the jetty where the boat moors, and the captain had to make a tight turn to get us along side. It took a while to get everyone off and we had around 90 minutes on the island. This seems to be the maximum length trip you can do but to be honest, another hour on the island would have been good.
The boat company (Maid of the Forth) includes admission to the island and ruined abbey in the ticket, so there was no more to pay and I just needed to pass my ticket stub to a warden as we left the boat.
I took the path up to the Abbey and was surprised at how intact it was. It was described as ruined, but in fact over half of it is still complete, including the central roof.
It was a fascinating place to look around but as it was the first place everyone headed to, it was also busy.
I had quick look round inside too and was surprised how much was still intact.
Having head a look around the Abbey I decided to head out to the far end of the island. There were good grassy paths and these gave good views.
At the far end of the island there was a high viewpoint which as you might expect gave good views. From here the path rather disappeared but I carried on a bit until I was almost at the end of the island.
From here I returned on the path on the other side of the island and looked at a few of the old World War II buildings nearby. This included a lookout and round concrete bases where guns would have been mounted. It reminded me a lot of Steep Holm in Somerset except that here the guns had been removed.
Returning to the Abbey I had a good look round now it was quieter including the roofed cloisters and old nave.
You could go up and down several levels, but the best bit is that you could get to the very top (albeit via a narrow spiral stair case). My large rucksack (I had 4 days of clothes and maps with me) was proving a problem squeezing up this, but I made it in the end to a landing. From here a steep wooden stair case has been built, to take you further up. This goes up through the middle of a big room and is almost a ladder. Emerging at the top you first go into a small room and then up another metal staircase to the roof.
I hadn’t expected there to be such a good beach on the island, but it had two sandy beaches, one of which was quite large.
It was great to see more or less all the island and I was surprised at how much World War II remains existed on the land ahead, which I hadn’t yet explored. The island is in fact almost two, with a low strip of land between the Abbey with beaches beside it, and higher land on either side (this photo taken from earlier in the day shows this clearly I think).
I headed back to the barracks building and then took the path around this other part of the island, where there was a small navigation light at the end and continued to come to some derelict old World War II buildings.
Re-tracing my steps I headed up to the top of these and got good views over the island and especially back to the abbey. I then headed back the other side and came across much larger derelict buildings.
These still had some of the originally crinkly paint peeling off the wall inside and it made me wonder what it must have been like to be here in the war.
The commentary on the boat had mentioned an old tunnel you could explore, so I headed back down and managed to locate this too. It was bigger than I expected, with plenty of head height (I had assumed you would have to duck to get in it).
It was also longer than I expected and dark enough in the centre you really couldn’t see where you were walking and just had to aim more or less for the portal at the end, since I couldn’t really make out the walls either as my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark. Once out, all that remained was to go to the shop in the barracks, where I bought the guide book (perhaps it might have been an idea to start there, oh well).
The boat was leaving at 16:20 although in fact it arrived about 5 minutes after this. This time I was a bit earlier in the queue so managed to get a better sea outside, and this time sat on the right, as I had sat on the right on the way out but then found you got by far the best views on the left. This time the boat took a different route back, passing nearer the south, so I didn’t get quite the views I had hoped.
However as it was getting later in the day the mist had started to close in and I got the most wonderful views of the Forth bridge in the mist ahead, with the sun still glinting off the water.
We headed back under the railway bridge and this time the captain carried on taking us under the road bridge, where you could here the traffic rumbling overhead.
It made quite a noise and he explained that the cables in the bridge were corroding quickly and also suffering because the bridge is now carrying twice as much traffic as it was designed for. The new bridge is built to replace it and then the old bridge will be closed, possibly for repairs or possibly for good, but since it needs to be closed to inspect it, it is only when this is done can it be worked out how much work is needed and whether it is viable (though to date, 5 years after I wrote this the old road bridge is still open).
The new bridge is apparently of a different design which is much easier to replace the cables, and so should hopefully avoid this problem. We then carried on to view the construction site for the new bridge and as predicted earlier, the stretch of road was now in place, as you can see below.
We were told the large crane carrying out this work costs £20,000 per day to hire, so they are keen to get on with the work to avoid racking up any more costs!
The boat then headed back to the pier heading back to the Forth Rail Bridge.
I wondered about going straight on to Dundee where I was staying, but decided to walk along the promenade and see some of Queensferry first. This turned out to be a good choice, for it is a beautiful town, with lovely old buildings and a nice cobbled street.
It was doubly good in fact because it was some sort of Forth festival going on meaning the road was closed to traffic, so it was nice to be able to wander about without any traffic.
I had a nice look around and then stopped for dinner at the 3 Bridge Pub on the right. I then made my way up the hill back to the station to take the train onto Dundee. This took around an hour and was surprisingly expensive, over £16 (2/3 of the cost of my ticket for the much longer journey from London to Edinburgh!)
Having earlier passed underneath the Forth Rail bridge I was now travelling over it and managed to get a few photos from the window of the train.
I had to change at Kirkcaldy, where I changed onto a London – Aberdeen train which was surprisingly busy, although there were still seats.
I soon arrived at Dundee and then took a bus to my hotel. All in all an excellent day and I would high recommend a trip to the island, as it is packed with history and very beautiful too.
Here are details of the transport needed for this walk:-
Maid of Forth – 3 hour boat trips operate daily from Easter to the end of October from Hawes Pier which is just to the west of the Forth Road Bridge in Queensferry on the south side of the Firth of Forth. You can book on their website.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link