Back in June 2012 I took my first ever boat trip to explore the Isle of May, a national nature reserve which is also known as ‘The Jewel of the Forth’. Well that was my intention anyway! I had boarded the May Princess on a very overcast day and the skipper had warned that the sea may be a bit choppy. That might have been a tad of an understatement!! We got to the mouth of the landing jetty and the photograph below shows you what we were met with. Crashing aqua waves that would make for an impossible landing. So this is as close as I was to come on my first visit. I was so disappointed… Forward almost 2 years to the day and on Thursday the 19th of June I made my 2nd attempt to visit the Isle of May. I called the night before and booked myself one of the few remaining tickets for the 11.15am sailing. After an early start leaving Edinburgh with a 2.5 hour bus journey to Anstruther I arrived just in time to board. Things were looking altogether more promising for this trip – note some of the blue sky this time! We were off, myself and 98 other explorers/bird enthusiasts.This time we did land and after a quick introduction from the research staff on the island we were given the freedom to roam with care. The first hazard was to walk through the colony of nesting arctic terns who work tirelessly and noisily to protect their eggs/young. They do this by dive bombing and hitting you on the head with their feet or razor sharp beaks whilst making a furious sharp shrilling sound. Hat’s are a necessity and I quickly realised that there was safety in numbers. We made it to the other side of the colony with no major incident for the birds or us. New to the island for 2014 is a visitor centre but I confess I walked straight on past it and powered on up the hill towards Robert Stevenson’s Lighthouse and away from the other 98 people! I had a few moments of panic as I turned round to see no-one was following my lead. I assumed I was going off in the wrong direction but decided to carry on and see what I would find. And that was turned out to be a good choice, and one I’m not disappointed with. Here’s what my eyes were able to feast upon…sometimes it pays to head off away from the crowds :) Below you can see the remaining foundations of the original fire beacon which was replaced by the Stevenson lighthouse in 1816. And this little puffin to the right stands proud on the walls of the Low Light Lighthouse which is a seabird observatory and incidentally you can stay there too. You can find further details here. Further on I decided to take the advice of the wardens on the island and just sit down and experience these majestical little creatures in flight. It’s impossible to explain in words – or even photographs what it’s like to be surrounded by thousands of puffins flying around you and just going about their business. It was utterly fantastic. And I was alone. Not one solitary other soul passed for at least an hour!
As a few other people headed in the general direction I decided to head to the south part of the island and explore some of the rocky outcrops. It just kept getting better and better!
I had to keep reminding myself that there were a quarter of a million sea birds inhabiting the island and it’s NOT ALL ABOUT THE PUFFINS! Razorbills, guillemots, shags, fulmars and kittiwakes – they were all there and quite beautiful too.
But you know, there’s nothing like those little puffins. I was watching ‘Alison Steadman’s Shetland’ the other night (thanks for the recommendation Maz ;) and I discovered that puffins only ‘grow’ their colourful beaks for the mating season. “Like putting on our lipstick” she said! That’s ever so cute, who knew? But let’s be honest – who doesn’t want to see amazing photographs of these little dudes, especially with their little beaks full of sand eels?!!
Yip, just like this…. :)
So with every morsel of my senses truly indulged after 3.5 hours it was time to wander through the arctic tern colony and back onto the May Princess and for the return to Anstruther and to city life.
Taking a final tour around the South of the Island where we got fantastic views of the seabird covered rock stacks and the resident grey seals colony too. Wow, wow, wow. What an immense way to spend a day! After disembarking the May Princess I had hoped to have a fish ‘n’ chips at the harbour but there was a bus due and they’re only every hour, so I forwent being attacked by seagulls and headed on home instead :) I really wanted to see the images on the big screen anyway.
I’d highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area. It’s nothing short of spectacular. I’m left wondering when I will be going back… Jacqui x