Boat at jetty with view of abbey on Inchcolm Island, Scotland
Nature Scotland

Inchcolm Island: Braving The Firth Of Forth’s Seagull Hell

With a particularly ear-splitting shrill, the seagull dive bombed, narrowly missing me before it wheeled around to attack again, and again. More seagulls lined the path, their angry screeches building into a deafening cacophony as I advanced. It was clear the seagulls at Inchcolm Island were not fond of visitors.

The seagull chicks were another matter entirely. Completely oblivious to their parents' distress, these mottled balls of fluff quietly shuffled around in the long grass. A few confidently tottered out onto the path, curious to see who, or what, was passing.

Seagull chick in long grass at Inchcolm Island, Scotland

Seagull Chick

Negotiating the seagulls was hard work. It didn't take long before I decided there was no need to get to the end of the headland, just to see more seagulls. Perhaps a stroll around the wartime fortifications at the other end of Inchcolm Island would be more relaxing.

It wasn't.

Exploring The Wartime Fortifications At Inchcolm Island

First, I tried the coastal path around the eastern end of Inchcolm Island. Wildflowers bloomed, seagull chicks pottered about and the occasional squawking adult wasn't a problem. I even made it as far as one of the buildings from WWII. Had it not been for the metal shutters covering the windows, this sturdy concrete block would have had a great view across the bay to the other seagull colony at the far end of the island.

Shuttered windows of WWII Building on Inchcolm Island, Scotland

WWII Building

It wasn't long however, before a dark shadow appeared on the neatly mown path in front of me. Another enormous seagull was hovering right above my head. The dive bombing started and I hastily made my retreat.

Inchcolm Abbey: A Seagull Free Haven

Like the eye of a storm, the centre of Inchcolm Island was an oasis of calm.  We explored Inchcolm Abbey, from the open-air remnants of the abbot's residence to the surprisingly intact dining hall in the cloister house.  Oystercatchers and razorbills hopped around on rocks.  We even ate our picnic lunch by the beach without encountering a single seagull.

Inchcolm Abbey seen from across the bay in Firth of Forth, Scotland

Inchcolm Abbey

Tunnelling Under The Seagulls

Keen to see some more of the wartime relics, I decided to take a different approach.  I followed an old brick tunnel that curved through the hillside, conveniently bypassing the seagulls.  Built in WWI, the tunnel provided a convenient route from the barracks to the guns overlooking the headland.  Emerging into the sunshine I saw a narrow metal track, all that remains of the ammunition railway, snaking across the hillside towards the concrete gun emplacements.  The guns themselves are long gone.

Entrance to WWI tunnel in grassy hillside at Inchcolm Island, Scotland

Entrance To The Tunnel

Just a short distance down the path, a familiar shadow appeared in front of me.  I heard a shriek and felt the downdraught from the seagull's wings ruffling my hair.  I withdrew, just in time as a chilly fog rolled in.

Leaving Inchcolm Island

Chugging out of the dock, our boat passed Inch Gnome Island.  This tiny rocky outcrop was decorated with a comical collection of garden ornaments and a fine splattering of seagull poo.  We then left the seagulls behind as we cruised back to the marina.

Gnomes on the rocks at Inchcolm Island, Scotland

Inch Gnome Island

We saw puffins diving and popping up again moments later with beaks full of silvery fish.  The excitement was short-lived however.  We were still some distance away when they took off, wings flapping frantically as they disappeared into the distance.  The seals were much more relaxed.  Lazing on the base of a shipping buoy, they barely moved as we pulled alongside them.

The final highlight of our cruise was passing beneath the three iconic bridges that span the firth.  On our way out, the views had been spectacular.  Coming back however, another bank of fog swept in and the bridges disappeared.  All except the tips of the towers, which appeared to be floating in mid-air.

Three seals sunbathing on shipping buoy in Firth of Forth, Scotland

Sunbathing Seals

Negotiating The Seagulls On Inchcolm Island

There are seagull colonies at both ends of Inchcolm Island.  The centre of the island however, is relatively seagull free.  Most visitors stay around this area enjoying the views and the ruins of Inchcolm Abbey.  There are picnic tables, a gift shop and toilets.

As there are no hedgehogs or stoats to steal the eggs, many of the seagulls nest in the grass.  Be sure to stick to the paths to avoid trampling the nests.

The seagulls are particularly aggressive during the breeding season, from March to July, so take extra care at this time.

Adult seagull and chick on grass at Inchcolm Island, Scotland

Seagull Family

Inchcolm Island Travel Tips

Whilst you may be able to purchase drinks and snacks on the boat, once you arrive on Inchcolm Island there is very little available.  Bring your own supplies with you.

With the exception of a few rooms at Inchcolm Abbey, there is no shelter on the island.  Come prepared for changeable weather.

If you want to get a close-up look at the seabirds, particularly if you're lucky enough to see puffins, bring binoculars.

On the day we visited, the cruise boats were running behind schedule.  We were given extra time on the island and arrived back at the marina considerably later than expected.  Allow time for delays.

Bridges over Firth of Forth near Edinburgh, Scotland

The Forth Bridges

How To Get To Inchcolm Island

Inchcolm Island is only accessible by boat.  We took a '3 bridges and Inchcolm Island' cruise with Forth Boat Tours.  Book your cruise online in advance to avoid disappointment.

Forth Boat Tours regularly offer discounts so check the offers page on their website before you book.

The final sailing each day does not include a stopover at Inchcolm Island.  Bear this in mind when you book.

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