Arriving at Inchcolm Abbey
Inchcolm Abbey was presenting itself in best Scottish weather: stormy, wet, dark and brooding. But it suited the visit to an island where once a king got shipwrecked.
The waves in the Firth of Forth were more impressive than the ones a few days later on my visit to Staffa and Iona, which made taking photos from the ferry a bit of a challenge. After deboarding I got me a rain cloak in the Historic Scotland shop on the island, because balancing the camera and an umbrella in a futile attempt to block horizontal rain didn't work. Just well I consider weather like that to be fun nevertheless.
Inchcolm Abbey, seen from the ferry
Inchcolm, known as Aemonia to the Romans, is an island in the Firth of Forth. Thanks to its strategical position, it still played a role as part of the WW2 defenses. The Romans had a fort and probably a naval base in nearby Cramond (Alaterva) during the time of Antoninus Pius around 142 AD, but it is covered by houses and a church today. Some finds point at a reuse of the place during the campaigns of Septimius Severus in 211 AD. Inchcolm may have been used by the Romans (my guess would be a watchtower on the island; the Romans were no less clever than WW2 generals) but no traces have been found so far.Inchcolm Abbey; a different angle
Fragments of carved stonework indicate that the island was inhabited by Christians since the - misnomed - Dark Ages; the name 'Island of Colm' goes back to a monk or hermit, St.Colm, a rather shadowy figure. In the later Middle Ages legend aligned him with St.Columba who was said to have visited the place in 567, giving Inchcolm it epithet as 'Iona of the east'. But that was only a way to connect the place with a more famous saint.
A hogback stone dating to the late 10th century is probably Scotland's oldest Scandinavian monument. It brings to memory the lines from Shakespeare's Macbeth
:Sweno, the Norways' King, craves composition;
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed at Saint Colme's Inch
Ten thousand dollars, to our general use.
This refers to Sweyn Forkbeard, King of the Danes, who raided the coasts of England and Scotland, and was King of England during the exile of Ethelred the Unready. Sweyn died in 1014 and Macbeth became king in 1040, but that's Shakespeare for you, lol. Closeup of the abbey
It was a dark and stormy night .... well, not night, but it certainly was stormy when King Alexander I of Scotland crossed the Firth in 1123. His ship got blown off course and wrecked at the shore of Inchcolm. Alexander and his retainers were taken in by the resident hermit and spent three days on the island while the storm raged. The hermit shared what he had, but that wasn't much: the milk of one cow, mussels and some fish. Maybe Alexander and his men could count it toward the Lent fasting. I had packed lunch and hot tea, and modern boats take you back after two hours.
When the storm finally abated and the men could repair their ship and sail to Queensferry, Alexander thanked God for his deliverance and vowed to build a monastery on the island. But he died the year after, so it fell to his brother David to fulfil the vow. The exact date of the foundation is not known; the earliest known charter dates from 1165, at which point the Augustinian brethren were already well established. Inchcolm belonged to the diocese of Dunkeld, and it was bishop Gregory (1147-1169) who oversaw the establshment of the monastery. Inchcolm Abbey, seen from the boat pier
The monastery was raised to the status of abbey in 1235 and has undergone several renovations and enlargements during the Middle Ages. Later, Inchcolm came into the focus of the English and was attacked several times from 1296 onwards. After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the abbey was abandoned.
One of the abbots, Walter Bower (1418-1449) is the author of the Scotichronicon
, one of the most important sources for Mediaeval Scottish history. Bower began writing his history in 1441, adapting the annals of John of Fordun († 1387) and bringing them up to his own time. He also provided us with the specifics of Alexander's diet.
Inchcolm Abbey is the most completely preserved Mediaeval abbey in Scotland, now in care of the Historic Scotland Society. As usual, I got the guidebook, and there will be more photos and information. The ferry
The ferry operating between Queensferry and Inchcolm was the only bit of colour on that dreary day. But German tourists and Scottish kids don't allow the weather to spoil their fun. There was a group of kids with parents; a birthday party as it turned out - they have a picnic on Inchcolm every year, and in case the weather is bad, they just move into the old chapter house for that while the kids chase each other through the cloister in a very un-monkish way. I got some birthday champagne and very sweet cookies, too. And fresh strawberries. You can't beat those; there must be a special sort in the UK.