A Boat Trip on the Firth of Forth

After an equally thought provoking and fun day on the recent #ShoreYouCare beach clean earlier this month at North Queensferry we got to end the day with a boat trip on the Firth of Forth. After our afternoon talks finished we left the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel and made the short journey over the Firth to South Queensferry to meet our boat at Hawes Pier. We were joining a boat trip with Forth Boat Tours, which was actually one of those things I'd wanted to do since we first moved to Edinburgh but just never got around to organising so I was delighted to finally have the chance to do it. We were met at the pier by Alastair the boat tours sales and marketing manager who gave us a brief overview of the company's history and of the tour we were about to go on. 

Forth Rail Bridge with Inchgarvie Island beneath it

Once we were underway we were soon passing underneath the UNESCO World Heritage Forth rail bridge and enjoying a very interesting commentary as we travelled too. I had no idea just how much history there was around the Firth's shores until I joined this tour and it was great to learn a bit more about the area. There are a lot of tiny islands in the Firth too and the first of these that we saw was right underneath the rail bridge, the little island of Inchgarvie. When boats were the only way to cross the Firth of Forth Inchgarvie's position on the route between North Queensferry and South Queensferry made it a strategically important one. It has been inhabited at various times, though you probably won't be surprised to learn that it isn't now, but the earliest records of habitation date from the 15th century. It has been armed with coast defence guns at various times as well as being a prison and a place of exile for the plague-stricken. Just one of the islands here with a fascinating story to share.

I was hopeful whilst on the boat that I would get to see some of the wildlife that calls the Firth home but sadly suffers too as a result of the plastic pollution in our seas and on our beaches. Forth Boat Tours aim to ensure everyone gets to see some of it if at all possible. Luckily we weren't disappointed, getting great views of these two seals basking on a buoy (definitely the highlight of the trip for me) and a variety of seabirds, including puffins. They were a bit too fast for any decent photos but I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've seen them in the wild. Whilst the boat tour company obviously want everyone onboard to see and enjoy the wildlife they also want this to be done responsibly. We were able to get these fantastic views of the seals thanks to them turning off the boat engine as we approached and, of course, reminding everyone to dispose of any rubbish whilst on the boat carefully. Sadly though even on this part of our day the rubbish that ends up in our seas was all to evident with the very obvious sorry sight of plastic bottles bobbing along in the water.


As we continued on we heard many more interesting stories about the area, including that of Barnbougle castle, a place with a story I was already familiar with thanks to my previous walk towards Cramond island. Forth Boat Tours offer several boat trip options, ours took us underneath the three bridges that cross the Firth and out to Inchcolm island. An island that, in the days when boats were the only way to cross the Firth, was a lot less isolated than now, being on the main ferry route between Lothian and Fife. It, like many of the other islands here, was used as part of the defences of the Firth of Forth in the First and Second World Wars and in its past was also used as a prison. What I didn't know though was that there is an incredibly well preserved Augustinian abbey on the island too, Scotland's most complete surviving monastic house in fact and from the boat you get some beautiful views of it. We were on the last tour of the day so only stopped there to pick up some other passengers but I made my mind up that we need to come back again on an earlier tour so we can get off at the island to have a bit more of an explore of it and the abbey. Plus we do also need to eventually go in the opposite direction and do the boat tour towards Blackness castle too. 

Inchcolm abbey

Can you see the gnomes?

As well as the many larger islands that have had various uses through history there are just as many that are nothing more than a few rocks jutting up out of the sea. One of these has become a bit of a novelty and earned itself the name of 'Inchgnome' thanks to the fact that someone has covered it in garden gnomes. It seems to be a bit of a mystery as to who started this but nonetheless it's quite amusing to see the seagulls etc. mingling with all the gnomes on this little crop of rocks.



Despite the weather having taken a bit of a turn for the worse from the sunny, warm start to the day the boat trip was great fun, helped, no doubt, by the lovely cream tea we got to enjoy onboard as well as the wildlife we saw and interesting stories about this area that we heard from the onboard commentary. It was a lovely way to end a great day, filled with lots to think about going forward as well as the opportunity to do our own beach clean and play our part in clearing the plastic polluting our seas and coastlines. Thanks again to Susanne, writer of the blog, Adventures Around Scotland for organising such a brilliant day.

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