The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


13 Mar 2010
  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. 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) but no traces have been found so far. Thanks to its strategical position, it still played a role as part of the WW2 defenses.

Inchcolm Abbey; a different angle

Fragments of carved stonework indicate that the island was inhabited by Christians since the '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, so I was better off, 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 fulfill 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; its bishop Gregory (1147-1169) oversaw the establishment 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. 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 cookies, too. And fresh strawberries. You can't beat those; there must be a special sort in the UK.
 
Comments:
What a cool looking place - thanks for sharing! I so want to go to Scotland some day...
 
Thanks for this site, I live vicariously through all the places you have posted pictures of.. with being stuck in the barely tamed wastes of North America I only get to see this sort of thing on my all too infrequent vacations across the pond.

I could spend my entire life in just one corner of just about any country in Europe and never run out of odd bits of stone or old buildings or whatever to look at.. But fate saw fit for that not to be my lot in life

P.S. Thanks for the posts at my blog.
 
Thank you, Daphne. You definitely should visit Scotland. )

Welcome to my blog, Lagomorph Rex, and thank you for the kind words. I'm very grateful that I live in a country so rich in history and that I can easily visit the neighbour countries as well. I'm glad to share my photos and information.
 
The horizontal rain is a regional speciality; Britain wouldn't be the same without it. I gave up on umbrellas years ago :-)

Inchcolm looks like a good place for a Roman watchtower, like the ones on the Yorkshire coast. Those are quite small structures and any traces would likely be underneath the abbey by now. I suspect there was a Roman watchtower under Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire, but no traces there either.

The abbey buildings look amazing. I've never visited Inchcolm, so thank you for the photos.
 
Yeah, those blasted Dark Age people who built their churches right over the Roman remains. ;)

But even without subsequent building activity, the traces of a wooden watchtower will have disappeared easily. I had guessed back in 2006 that there might be more Roman watchtowers along the Weser, and by now traces of two of those have been found - you just need to look very closely, and until the discovery of Hedemünden fort, no one had suspected Roman watchtower so far east in Germany.
 
Wonderful to see these photos. My wife and I visited Inchcolm in 2001 and were married there in 2004.

We visit it roughly once a year and it has a feeling of 'being ours' now...well a bit of it anyway!
 
I hope you had better weather.

There was to be a marriage in the abbey in the afternoon, and we met with the procession on their way to the ferry in Queensferry. The poor bride had chosen a dress that left the arms and part of the back bare - she looked very pretty in it but I'm sure she must have felt cold in that storm.
 
What a beautiful abbey! I love all these pictures. :)
 
What a fantastic place, and how great that it's been in use for so many centuries!

Carla makes a good point about the horizontal rain. ;)
 
Thank you, Louis and Kathryn. Yeah, the monks might have shaken their heads at picnics, and maybe even at weddings, but that way the place is still full of life.
 
Neat looking buildings. :) You're a brave woman to go sailing around those waters - and taking pictures. We appreciate your travels!
 
Och, Gabriele, she'll be puttin' her feet on his back to warm them soon enough!

(Its a penalty we men have to pay because as we all know, men all have central heating!)

Thanks for the pictures and the commentary. Pictures without commentary are just pointless!
 
Constance, fortunately I don't mind a few waves. :)

Stag, yes, men are some sort of central heating; I've heard that more than once.
I want this to be a history and travel blog with photos, not a photo blog, so there will always be comment though short ones sometimes, and sometimes a (hi)story. :)
 
So beautiful.
Thank you, Gabriele.
 
You're welcome, Bernita.
 
Great photos of these lovely historic sites.
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and central Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History, interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Lippoldsberg
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Lorsch
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Pöhlde
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Scharzfeld (Harz)
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Inchcolm
Arriving at Inchcolm Abbey

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To come


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Staffa
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Sea Gulls


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Coast of Norway: Hurtigruten-Tour
A Voyage into Winter
Along the Coast of Norway - Light and Darkness
Along the Coast of Norway - North of the Polar Circle

Norway by Train
From Oslo to Bergen
From Trondheim to Oslo

Wildlife
Bearded Seals
Dog Sledding With Huskies
Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord


The Baltic Sea

A Baltic Sea Cruise

The Curonian Spit in Lithuania
Beaches at the Curonian Spit
Geology of the Curonian Spit



Mediaeval History

General Essays

by Country
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- Denmark
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- Livonia
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Roman History

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Famous Romans
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Other Times

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Post-Mediaeval History
History and Literature
Geology


Mediaeval History

General Essays

Mediaeval Warfare

Sieges
Trebuchets

Weapons
Late Mediaeval Swords

Mediaeval Art and Craft

Mediaeval Art
The Choir Screen in the Cathedral of Mainz
The Gospels of Heinrich the Lion
The Hunting Frieze in Königslutter Cathedral
Mediaeval Monster Carvings
The Viking Treasure of Hiddensee

Craftmanship
Goldsmithery
Medical Instruments

Feudalism

The History of Feudalism
The Beginnings
Feudalism in the 10th Century

Special Cases
The privilege of the deditio

The Hanseatic League

The History of the Hanseatic League
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Hall Houses (Dielenhäuser)

Goods and Trade
Stockfish Trade

Towns of the Hanseatic League
Riga
Stralsund
Tallinn / Reval

The Order of the Teutonic Knights

Wars and Battles
The Conquest of Danzig
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

The Vikings

Viking Material Culture
The Viking Treasure of Hiddensee

Viking Ships
The Nydam Ship


Essays by Country

Germany

Geneaology

List of Mediaeval German Emperors
Anglo-German Marriage Connections

Kings and Emperors

The Salian Dynasty
King Heinrich IV

Staufen against Welfen
Emperor Otto IV

Princes and Lords

House Welfen
Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors
The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen

The Landgraves of Thuringia
The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia

Dukes and Princes of other Families
Duke Otto of Northeim
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus

Counts and Local Lords
The Marshals of Ebersburg
The Counts of Everstein
The Counts of Hohnstein
The Lords of Plesse
The Counts of Reichenbach
The Counts of Winzenburg

Feuds and Rebellions

Royal Troubles
Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg

Local Feuds
The Lüneburg Succession War
The Thuringian Succession War
The Star Wars


England

Kings of England

House Plantagenet
Richard Lionheart in Speyer
King Henry IV's Lithuanian Crusade

Normans, Britons, Angevins

Great Noble Houses
The Dukes of Brittany
The Earls of Richmond

Contested Borders

Northumbria
King Stephen's Troubles with King David of Scots


Scotland

Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War, Part 1
King David and the Civil War, Part 2

Houses Bruce and Stewart
The Early Stewart Kings

Local Troubles

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding

Scotland and England

The Wars of Independence
Alexander of Argyll
The Fight for Stirling Castle


Wales

Welsh Princes

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

Wales and England

A History of Rebellion
Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Denmark

Kings of Denmark

House of Knýtlinga
Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Norway

Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

Feuds and Rebellions

Rebels
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Sweden

Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


Livonia
(Latvia and Estonia)

Contested Territories

Livonian Towns
The History of Mediaeval Riga
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


Lithuania

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas

The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390


Poland

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union

The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig


Bohemia

Royal Dynasties

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
King Sigismund and the Hussite Wars


Luxembourg

House Luxembourg
King Sigismund


Flanders

More to come


Roman History

The Romans at War

Forts and Fortifications

The German Limes
The Cavalry Fort Aalen
Limes Fort Osterburken
Limes Fort Saalburg

The Hadrian's Wall
Introduction
The Fort at Segedunum / Wallsend

Border Life
Exercise Halls
Mile Castles and Watch Towers
Soldiers' Living Quarters
Cavalry Barracks

Campaigns and Battles

Maps
The Romans in Germania

The Pre-Varus Invasion in Germania
Roman Camp Hedemünden
New Finds in 2008

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Museum Park at Kalkriese

The Battle at the Harzhorn
Introduction

The Batavian Rebellion
A Short Introduction

Roman Militaria

Armour
Early Imperial Helmets
Late Roman Helmets
The Negau B Helmet

Weapons
Weapon Finds at Hedemünden
The pilum
Daggers
Swords

Other Equipment
Roman Saddles


Famous Romans

The Late Empire

Alaric
The Legend of Alaric's Burial


Roman Life and Religion

Religion and Public Life

Religion
Curse Tablets and Good Luck Charms
Isis Worship
Memorial Stones
The Mithras Cult

Public Life
Roman Transport: Barges
Roman Transport: Amphorae and Barrels
Roman Water Supply

Architecture
Roman Public Baths

Domestic Life

Roman villae
Villa Urbana Longuich
Villa Rustica Wachenheim

Everyday Life
Bathing Habits
Children's Toys
Face Pots


Other Times

Neolithicum to Iron Age

Germany

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
The Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture
The Necropolis of Oldendorf

Bronze Age / Iron Age
The Nydam Ship

Scotland

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society

Scandinavia

Bronze / Iron Age
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd / Gotland


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


History and Literature

Germany

The Weimar Classicism
Introduction


Geology

Geological Landscapes: Germany

Baltic Sea Coast
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

Harz Mountains
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs
Sandstone Formations: Daneil's Cave
Sandstone Formations: Devil's Wall
Sandstone Formations: The Klus Rock

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations
Salt Springs at the Werra

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

Geological Landscapes: Great Britain

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Geological Landscapes: Baltic Sea

Lithuania
Geology of the Curonian Spit

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite (Czechia)



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