City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Inchcolm Island


Abbey Front

Inchcolm Island is a tiny island in the Firth of Forth, between Edinburgh and Fife to the North. It is best known for its ancient and well preserved Augustinian Abbey. The Abbey is currently looked after by Historic Scotland, who run sightseeing, boat trips to the island from April to October.

Considering that Inchcolm Abbey dates back to the 12th century it is in remarkably good condition. The "Iona of the East" (Inchcolm literally means Columba's Isle) has some of the best-preserved monastic buildings in Scotland.

Under David 1, Augustinian canons established a priory on the island, which was raised to full abbey status in 1235. However, its location, like the Isle of May, in the centre of the Firth of Forth, meant it was frequently attacked by the English from 1296 onwards.

The brethren spent increasing amounts of time on shore in Fife, and the abbey was abandoned after the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Due to its location, the island remained an important defence outpost for Edinburgh during the Napoleonic war and the Second World War. The Abbey is now run by Historic Scotland.

The Abbey, which sits high above sea level, is well maintained, and gives you a strong sense of what monastic life might have been like. The cloister - a central greenspace in the middle of the Abbey - is the most complete in Scotland. Three covered cloister walks survive, and many of the rooms survive too, giving a sense of the spartan, isolated life here.

As well as two Historic Scotland stewards, there is a huge population of seagulls and fulmars on the island. Seals can be seen on the approach to the island.

Edinburgh impressario Richard Demarco set a production of Shakespeare's Macbeth at Inchcolm Abbey at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1987 and 1988. The island is mentioned as a burial ground for the wealthy in Macbeth:

That now Sweno, the Norwayes King,
Craves composition:
Nor would we deigne him buriall of his men,
Till he disbursed, at Saint Colmes ynch,
Ten thousand Dollars, to our generall use