The Castles of Scotland by Martin Coventry | Goblinshead | A comprehensive guide to 4,100 castles, towers, historic houses, stately homes and family lands
The Castles of Scotland by Martin Coventry | Goblinshead | A comprehensive guide to 4,100 castles, towers, historic houses, stately homes and family lands
The Castles of Scotland
The Castles of Scotland 

Inchcolm Abbey

Fife: On island of Inchcolm in Firth of Forth, 2 miles south of Aberdour on north coast of Fife.

 

HES   NT 191827   OS: 66

 

OPEN: Open Apr-Sep, daily 9.30-17.30, Oct, daily 10.00-16.00; boat trip providers (www.maidoftheforth.co.uk / www.forthtours.com / www.seafari.co.uk ). Weddings.
Tel: 01383 823332   Web: Inchcolm website

Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey: from West Beach, Aberdour (© Martin Coventry)
Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey: from West Beach, Aberdour (© Martin Coventry)
Ground floor plan of Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey: plan of ground floor (MacGibbon and Ross)

Inchcolm Abbey, although ruined, is the best preserved monastic complex in Scotland, the cloister and octagonal chapter house being roofed and complete, along with the dormitory and refectory. There is a rare medieval fresco wall painting, dating from the 13th century, depicting a funeral procession in a tomb recess. A new range of buildings, including a square fortified tower, were added on the south side about 1609. The tower rises to four storeys, and has a parapet.

Plan of first floor, Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey: plan of first floor (MacGibbon and Ross)
Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey (old postcard)
Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey (MacGibbon and Ross)

The abbey was founded in 1123 by Alexander I, King of Scots, after he had been rescued here from the sea, his boat having capsized crossing the Forth at Queensferry. Walter Bower, the then abbot, wrote the Scotichronicon at Inchcolm in the mid 1500s, a  great history of Scotland. The abbey was repeatedly attacked and was sacked by the English in 1542 and 1547, and was garrisoned by the French in 1548.

Chapter house of Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Incholm Abbey: chapter house (old postcard)
Inside of chapter house, Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey: inside of chapter house (MacGibbon and Ross)

The property passed to the Crown at the Reformation in 1560. In 1581 a confirmation of the infeftment of the isle, abbey and mansion of Inchcolm mentions that the abbey at diverse times was taken by Englishmen, and served to them as a fortalice and stronghold against our sovereign lord’s good subjects. 

Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey (Pennant)
Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, inchcolm Abbey (MacGibbon and Ross)

The abbey had then been left deserted to be used by pirates and so was then granted to Sir James Stewart of Doune so that some use could be made of the place. The property was given to Henry Stewart of Beith in 1609. His son married the heiress of the Regent Moray, and became the Earl of Moray. He was murdered by men sent by the Gordon Earl of Huntly on the sands at nearby Donibristle, the deed recorded in the ballad ‘The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray’.

Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey (old postcard)

The island was later used as a naval quarantine station, fort, and Russian naval hospital, and was then fortified against German aircraft attacking the Forth Bridge and the Rosyth naval base in the two World Wars. In 1924 Inchcolm passed into the care of the State, is now managed by HES, and the picturesque island also has beaches, seals and other wildlife.

Inchcolm Abbey, a well-preserved and picturesque complex of buildings on an atmospheric island off the cost of Fife in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm Abbey: Inchcolm from Aberdour (© Martin Coventry)

The stretch of water between the island and the north shore of the Forth is known as Mortimer’s Deep. This is indeed a deep channel, and is reputedly where the coffin and body of one of the Mortimers from Aberdour Castle was pitched overboard.

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