🎵Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A Tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship....
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour🎵
-George Wyle & Sherwood Schwartz
When I heard that the Forth Boat Tours trip to Inchcolm Island was a three-hour tour, I immediately thought of the Gilligan's Island theme song. And, although we didn't leave from a 'tropic port', we did leave from a beautiful Scottish port. We were also fortunate that our tour didn't end up like Gilligan's and his famous boat mates'. Instead, our Forth Boat Tour was a fantastic voyage. In fact, we can't wait to take another boat tour with them as they have other options available to Blackness Castle as part of a boat/train combined tour.
We purchased our 'Three Bridges and Inchcolm Island Cruise' tickets online the night before through the Forth Boat Tours website as we wanted to secure our afternoon spot. They offer a few different departure time slots from Hawes Pier in South Queensferry (stay tuned for a future post on that historic town). You can buy tickets for the boat trip, and, if you want to go ashore to Inchcolm Island (which we highly recommend), you must purchase a separate landing pass. Inchcolm Island is cared for by Historic Scotland. Therefore, if you have a membership with Historic Scotland or an Explorer Pass, landing at the island is free (we are annual Historic Scotland members and highly recommend this for locals and those who frequently visit Scotland).
The next morning, we headed out by car to South Queensferry, and it only took us about 25 minutes to get there from our home in Edinburgh. However, you can also take different public transport options such as ScotRail or Lothian Country bus service from the Edinburgh city centre.
Sailing the Firth of Forth
As I previously discussed in my Britannia post, I love everything about the sea and being on the water. For that reason, a cruise on the Firth of Forth (for those readers who might not know- a 'firth' is an estuary) was a long overdue trip. We arrived at Hawes Pier and headed out to the Forth Boat Tours docking location to wait for our boat.
Our boat ended up being the Forth Belle, a beauty indeed. There are many great places to sit on the boat, but we can attest to the great views from the front. And, there's so much to see as you cruise along the Forth. We were excited to have some great close-up views of the three magnificent bridges that cross the Forth. As a lover of history and trains, the Forth Bridge (aka the Forth Rail Bridge) is my favourite. It was finished in 1889 and has rightfully become known as a symbol of the region and Scotland. Hawes Pier is right next to this bridge, and we had been admiring the bridge and the trains crossing it while we waited for our boat to set sail. However, we really appreciated the iconic cantilever design from our vantage point on the boat as we sailed underneath it. It's not surprising that the Forth Bridge was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.
The other two bridges you can appreciate on this boat cruise are the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing. The Forth Road Bridge is a suspension bridge that was built in 1964. Due to structural issues, it is now only used as a 'public transport corridor' for buses, taxis, cyclists, and pedestrians. It's replacement, the new Queensferry Crossing bridge (shown below), was opened in 2017.
We love to be in nature and enjoy spotting wildlife in their natural habitats. And, let me tell you, you get to see some pretty adorable inhabitants of the animal kingdom when you go on a cruise with Forth Boat Tours. We were fortunate to spot some gorgeous seals sunbathing on a buoy.... you can't help but smile as they seem to pose for the cameras (look at that cheeky little one below).
We were also lucky that our captain spotted a lone puffin peacefully bobbing around in the water.
A helpful and interesting aspect about our boat tour was that we got to listen to a fascinating narration of the history of the Firth of Forth as well as current bits of information throughout our cruise.
After a wonderful boat ride, we were quite excited as we approached Inchcolm Island and its well-preserved Abbey came into sight; it was if the ancient stones were beckoning us to come ashore and learn more.
History Spanning Island
According to Historic Scotland, there is archaeological evidence to show that the history of Inchcolm (which means ' Island of Colm') Island as a place for human inhabitants dates back to the 1100s when it was first established as a priory. Of particular interest is the fact that "Inchcolm's abbey buildings are amongst the most complete in Scotland". We were certainly on one of our many 'explore and discover' missions as we eagerly disembarked and headed to the Abbey ruins. Here are some of the pictures from the site:
As I wandered around the Island, I noticed a small, stone building behind the other abbey buildings (see the two pictures below). It took a few minutes of exploration to find the entrance, but it was worth my time. I had come across what historians believe to be a hermit's cell or chapel. Inchcolm's early history is shrouded in mystery. However, as I mentioned earlier, it began as a holy place. Historic Scotland points out that it "was likely settled by hermits - early Celtic Christians, who lived solitary lives". Historic Scotland further states that, "it may have been the cell of the hermit who sheltered Alexander I in 1123. It was largely rebuilt in the Middle Ages and was used as a mortuary in the seventeenth century". This building is thought to be the oldest structure on the island, and I almost missed it! Proving how important it is to explore because you never know what you will discover.
What's particularly captivating about the history of Inchcolm Island is that it spans the centuries. Therefore, it isn't just ancient history that you can learn about there, but also more 'recent' history as well. For example, for any of you who might be interested in military history- Inchcolm Island has strong connections to both World Wars due to its strategic position.
There are ruins of various military structures around the island, and we climbed the steps seen below to get a better vantage point of some of them.
War shelters still exist which were used by the soldiers to stay under protected cover. The observation post is also still there, but we were not able to get access inside. I do want to share a word of warning when going up to explore these wartime structures- be aware of the sea gulls and stay on the path! Breeding season is every March- July and they are known to attack humans out of protection. We visited in July, and I can confirm that this is definitely true as one angry sea gull came quite close to my daughter's head even though we were on the path. So, just make sure to be careful if you visit this location.
Standing close to the observation post from the World Wars, we had lovely views of the Abbey. Our time on the island was drawing to a close. We headed down to Historic Scotland's facilities building before catching our boat back to the mainland. There, we found a lovely gift shop and wee museum that further outlined some of the Island's long history.
We were sad to leave Inchcolm Island, but we took some solace in the fact that we would be sure to visit again someday. As we sailed away, I smiled at the cute little sign set up on the rock 'island' just across from the boat docking area- it is for 'Inch Gnome'. You have to love that Scottish sense of humour!
We had such a wonderful adventure exploring the Firth of Forth and Inchcolm Island. The weather was magnificent, the boat ride thrilling, and the views spectacular. I know that I say it all the time, but you really must visit these places in person in order to experience it in all its glory. However, I also realise that that isn't a possibility for everyone, so I hope that this article (and the blog overall) helps to bring a little bit of Scotland to you wherever you are in the world.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!