Inchkeith is one of those places I’d been desperate to reach for a long time. When you look across at it from Leith or even from higher points in Edinburgh it looks so close, but I’d not made it there. That was until the very end of last month! Bob had made contact with Forth Sea Safaris about attempting to go out and they had agreed to take us, weather permitting of course.
We arrived at Burntisland, our departure point, and I was extremely pleased to see the water so calm. The boatman, Stewart, had said that it was looking like it would be better than it had been for a long time. Sometimes you get very very lucky with these trips. Other times not so much. We met up with our island-bagging friend Charlie who had signed up to join us and quickly introduced him to the inner light in the harbour. It’s not changed much since we were last there, still rusty!
Stewart arrived and off we set, waving goodbye to the resident seal in the harbour (and her pup). We sailed nice and close to the lighthouse on the end of the west pier. This one is looking very good and Stewart informed us that this one has had some work done to it fairly recently, including modernisation of the light. It was great to be able to see this one as it’s visible from the harbour, but still just a little too far away to get a good picture of.
After leaving the harbour I mentioned the old lighthouse that used to live in Burntisland harbour and is now on display in Leith Docks to the others. Stewart said he recalled there being something on the end of an old breakwater. After a minute or two he realised that he’d actually walked right past the tower in Leith Docks just a few days before. Imagine walking past a lighthouse and not thinking anything of it!
Now, the main target for the day was Inchkeith, but seeing as we were in the area anyway and I’d not been very close to Oxcars lighthouse we went along to that one first. It was, in fact, the addition of Oxcars to the itinerary that meant such an early start that day as we wanted to catch it at low tide – for landing, of course! There was no doubting the water was calm enough for landing and the RIB had a nice little platform on the front, which was very helpful for getting onto and off of islands. We were stepping off onto seaweed unfortunately, but it wasn’t so bad and within a short time we were there at the bottom of that fascinating tower.
It looks so different at low tide. I’d only seen it at high (or higher) tides before and never realised just how much rock was there. We were able to walk out onto the two little jetties and get some pretty good pictures.
Stewart had told us that the ladder up to the base of the red and white banded section of the tower would be ok to climb up, but not to go any further as the ladder isn’t in a good way. That was fine with us (well me anyway). It was a similar experience to landing at the Barrel of Butter where you know you are somewhere that very few people go. Some people look at islands and think “I’d love to go there”, but they look at a bit of rock with a lighthouse on top and only the hardcore lighthouse and island “baggers” would really try to attempt it. What a wonderful lighthouse though and a real bonus for this trip. Just fantastic.
Stewart took us around Oxcars so we could get some pictures of the lighthouse with the new Queensferry Crossing bridge in the background. A very picturesque view.
Inchkeith beckoned and, as the tide was still dropping, we knew there would be a ladder to climb. When Bob had been to the island previously the ladder was loose at the top, but thankfully Stewart reassured us that it had been fixed. It was quite a long way up and I must have made the ladder on Oxcars look really difficult as Stewart very kindly offered me a rope. I politely refused – I must make it look harder than I actually find it!
The lighthouse was sitting up there looking all majestic as it does. I could tell immediately that this was a special place. For a start Inchkeith has a lot of history and there is evidence of that all around with the range of buildings in various states. One of my favourite tales from its history is the alleged research that was undertaken when a mute woman was put on the island with her two young children. I’m not sure how long they were said to have been there, but the aim was to see what language the children would speak. Again, I don’t know what the outcome was!
We walked up the path and wandered through a gate into a walled area containing what would have been the old keepers’ accommodation. Before we explored that we turned right towards a circular brick wall. It didn’t look like much, but it is the remains of an old experimental tower that was used for testing new light techniques. It was designed by Thomas Smith and built around 1785 and was used to test a new oil-burning reflector light system. The terracotta tiles on the floor are still there and the wall is still standing up to a point, so it is difficult to imagine what it previously looked like, but there is a picture showing it slightly more intact in the book At Scotland’s Edge by Keith Allerdyce.
The nearby cottages are not in a good way, missing doors and windows and just how you would expect rooms to look if they are open to the wind and rain for years on end. I’ve said numerous times before that it’s a shame that a lot of the cottages have gone this way, but I suppose they have served their purpose now and it would be a very difficult place for somebody to live now, although not really that far from civilisation. Presevation of the buildings would be wonderful, of course, but if there is no one to preserve them for… (apart from the occasional lighthouse enthusiast).
We crossed an overgrown stretch of foliage and then arrived at the archway the marks the entrance to the active lighthouse. The old air tanks for the foghorn are still there and the area looks very abandoned. Stepping through the arch you are then greeted with the lighthouse, uniquely painted entirely in the Northern Lighthouse Board’s bamboo/buff/etc. paint. The lighthouse is no longer owned or maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board after it was passed over to Forth Ports in 2013.
There’s no doubting it’s a fantastic tower, a little castle-esque.
I suppose, though, you are always aware that it is surrounded by neglect. The old engine rooms across the courtyard are exposed to the elements too and in a sorry state.
On the plus side, and a big plus side it is, the views of the lighthouse and across the Firth of Forth are simply wonderful from up there. I’ve spent a lot of time on islands off of the west coast of Scotland, but those on the east have a very different feel about them. They aren’t so remote for a start, but still feel away from it all. There’s also a lot more life there, we saw countless snails and even the resident chickens gave us a noisy welcome.
We decided to wander on over to where the old foghorn used to be. We’d recently seen the foghorn that was originally on the island at the National Museum of Scotland’s large item store in Granton. We had to navigate our way around some old wartime buildings to get there, but we made it to the old, and partially collapsed, lookout point. There were more wonderful views to be had from here.
Due to the tide being too low for us to get back off of the island for a while, we’d had plenty of time to explore and while the others went off for a more off-piste exploration of a different bit I was able to sit down, enjoy the views and soak in the loveliness of being in such a great place. It was sad to see so much neglect of buildings there, but it was also interesting to see how nature was taking control again as it does when there is no one there to stop it. A thoroughly enjoyable day and definitely well worth the wait. 🙂