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Inchkeith

Leith Docks & Inchkeith Island
©2014 Gazetteer for Scotland

Leith Docks & Inchkeith Island

An uninhabited island in the middle of the Firth of Forth situated 2 miles (3 km) south of the Fife coastal town of Kinghorn and 4 miles (6 km) north of Leith. Capped by a lighthouse erected in 1803, it is a mile (1.5 km) long, extends to an area of 22.9 ha (56.6 acres) and rises steeply to a height of 60m (190 feet).

Said to have been the seat of Pictish Kings and then a base for early Christians, the island is named after Robert de Keith to whom it was granted in 1010 by Malcolm II in return for his efforts in fighting off marauding Danes. Later, between 1549 and 1560, it was known to French soldiers garrisoned there as L'Isle des Chevaux ('The island of Horses'). King James IV trained his hawks on Inchkeith and in 1497 the island was used as a refuge for victims of the plague transported from Edinburgh. In 1547, at the time of the 'Rough Wooing', Inchkeith was occupied by English troops who began building a fort as a base for attacks against Scotland. In 1549, Mary of Guise with French support occupied the island and went on to complete the fort. Thereafter, until the end of World War II, it was used as a military base. Further defensive positions were built in the 1880s, with guns wedged in rock-cut ditches which could effectively prevent enemy ships entering the Firth of Forth. During the First and Second World Wars, Inchkeith became part of an integrated defensive structure known as 'Fortress Forth' and at its peak 900 men were stationed on the island. Today parts of the walls of the 16th century fort survive, now a scheduled ancient monument, and the island is littered with the remains of ruined military structures. There is also a memorial to Lord Herbert of Lea (1810-61), the Secretary of State for War who had brought about the fortification of the island to defend the Forth and the Port of Leith.

Inchkeith was visited in 1773 by Boswell and Johnson, Johnson stalking 'like a giant among the luxuriant thistles and nettles,' and in 1817 by Thomas Carlyle who described it as 'prettily savage'. At this time, the island was part of the Granton estates of the Duke of Buccleuch, who was eventually to sell it to the War Office c.1890. Military use of the island came to an end by the mid-1950s and ownership passed to the Northern Lighthouse Board. When its lighthouse was automated in 1986 the island was bought by entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer.


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