Inchgarvie Island sits directly underneath the Forth Rail Bridge and was the site of Thomas Bouch’s original foundations. However, the history of the island goes back much further than this. In the 15th Century King James IV built a castle on this island to fortify its position, and between 1519 and 1671 it operated as a state prison. In 1580, by order of the Privy Council, it was made a place of exile for those stricken by the plague. Charles II visited the island in 1651 to inspect the defences constructed on it to oppose Oliver Cromwell, but after his defeat these defences fell into disrepair. During the World Wars they were reconstructed to protect the Forth Bridge and Rosyth Dockyard from air attack. Today Inchgarvie is uninhabited and famous for its wildlife, such as fulmars, herons and cormorants.
Inchmickery is one of the smallest islands on the Forth and was used during WWI and WWII to host gun emplacements. These emplacements were specifically designed to look like a battleship to scare off any attempted invasion of the Forth. The island is now a RSPB Nature Reserve and is home to a huge variety of seabirds.
Inchcolm is the most famous of the Forth islands as a result of its 12th Century Abbey. Prior to this being established it was the home of a religious community linked to St Columba. These hermits provided hospitality to King Alexander I when he was stormbound on the island in 1123, and as a result he promised to found a monastic settlement there. Alexander died before he could fulfil his promise but his brother David I later founded this priory and gifted it to monks of the Augustinian order. The abbey, and indeed the island itself, has seen its fair share of excitement since then. In 1547 during the Rough Wooing it was occupied by English forces, whilst during the Napoleonic Wars it was fortified against French invasion. Despite all these wartime interruptions, the abbot Walter Bower still found some peace to write his famous Scotichronicon here in the 1400s. The Abbey is now a popular Historic Scotland tourist site and it is possible to access the island via your own boat.
Cramond is the only island of the Forth that can be accessed on foot at low tide. The causeway extends for just over 3/4 of a mile into the river from the village of Cramond. Whilst this island is now uninhabited, it is believed to have been used by the Romans as they built a fort and harbour at Cramond itself. By the 1800s the island was used to graze sheep and a farmstead was built towards the northern end; traces of which can still be found to this day. During WWI and WWII the island was requisitioned and used as part of the defences of the Firth of Forth. Most of the structures that were built at this time are still standing on the island today.
This island was named after Robert de Keith who was granted the island in 101 by Malcolm II as a reward for fighting off the Danes. It has an extensive history of royal relations and was even used by King James IV as a place to train his hawks. During the Rough Wooing it was occupied by English soldiers who started construction on a fort as a base of attacks against Scotland. Ironically, this fort was completed by Mary of Guise and her French supporters in 1549. During the World Wars, Inchkeith was integrated as a defensive structure called Fortress Forth. At its height about 900 men were stationed there. Today, portions of the 16th Century fort walls still exist and other military structures remain visible on the island as well. Inchkeith Lighthouse, which was erected in 1803 by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson, is the most visible structure from the Forth and the main tourist attraction on the island.
Fidra is an uninhabited island off the coast of North Berwick in the Forth. It exists as an RSPB reserve, with remotely operated cameras which send live pictures to visitors at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. It is thought that Robert Louis Stevenson based his Treasure Island map on Fidra, as he was known to frequent the beaches of the area.
This intimidating island is a volcanic plug that rises to a height of 313 feet and is famous for its Gannet colony. The first inhabitant of this rock was a monk from Lindisfarne who was sent to the area in the 8th Century to promote Christianity. The island was gifted to the Lauder family in 1297 by William Wallace as a token of his appreciation for their help in defeating English forces. The ruins of the castle on the gentler slopes of the island date back to 1405, whilst the chapel was added at the later date of 1541. The Bass Rock was used by the Scottish monarchy throughout the centuries: from James I who held prisoners on the island, to Mary Queen of Scots who used it as a garrison to defend Scotland from her rival Elizabeth I. The lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson and the Bass Rock itself featured in the book Catriona by his grandson, Robert Louis Stevenson.
Isle of May
This island is an important protected wildlife reserve, where you will hopefully catch a glimpse of puffins and seals. The Isle of May is known for its religious history as in the 7th Century a monk named Adrian made it his base from which to Christianise the local heathens. He met an unlucky end, however, as he was hacked to death by marauding Vikings in 669: a small shrine on the island is probably dedicated to him. A priory was established there in 1145 but gradually fell into misuse as the monks spent more and more time on the mainland, and it was eventually pillaged and torched by English invaders. Despite this, it remained a place of pilgrimage, most noticeably to James IV who visited it frequently between 1490 and 1509. It is home to “The Beacon”, Scotland’s first lighthouse, which was built in 1636 by Alexander Cunningham of Barns. This was made redundant by Robert Stevenson’s “Main Light” in 1816, but not demolished as Sir Walter Scott made a plea for its survival. During the World Wars it was incredibly used as a “stone frigate” named HMS May Island due to its strategic position at the mouth of the Forth. Nothing much remains of the island’s military defences, except for the odd plinth here and there used by the puffins!