Setting Foot on the Isle of May

Half way around the Isle of May we pulled into the little harbor on the North Sea side of the island.


Brian and Tam had held back as long as they could, and finally had their fun by jumping in the water. In February. In the North Sea.

Certified nutters


I, however, am not a nutter. I took the path of the less crazy and just dipped my feet.


Now I can truly say I have been in the North Sea during the winter while wearing a dry suit, but didn’t have to risk hypothermia to do it. Perfectly sensible, don’t you think?

February is the off season for visitors to the island, so while we did really enjoy ourselves there were a few things we missed. During the summer there are rangers at the visitors’ center who can give you guided tours, or just informational talks about the history and wildlife. As it was, we did our own research and very brief tour, and still completely enjoyed ourselves.


This little sign at the harbor was a big help too.


The only thing we didn’t manage to see was puffins. I have a soft spot in my heart for puffins, but they don’t live here during the winter. During the summer the rocks are covered with between 45,000 to 100,000 breeding pairs as May holds the largest single breeding colony in all of the UK.


But in the winter there are none.

Edinburgh across the water


That left the island open for us to walk across carefully. The puffin nests are underground, so the soft soil is full of holes. We were really careful not to crush or collapse any burrows.


Once across to the west side we had a fantastic view of the cliffs we had just seen from the water. Looking straight down to the sea we could still catch a glimpse of just a few pairs of nesting Guillemots.

Isle of May Cliffs


We also saw dozens of huge rabbits all across the grassy areas. I wonder if they use the puffin burrows as their own little homes during the winter? Can they coexist like that, or would they interfere with each other?

Maybe we’ll have to come back some day during the summer so I can ask a ranger.

From the center of the island you can see for miles in every direction.

Looking south towards the eastern edge of the firth.


A small hike up the hill gave us this incredible view of the lighthouse, built in 1816 on the site of the original which was built in 1636.


There are so many stories about the history of the island. You can read more about them on Undiscovered Scotland, but this one is the most memorable to me:

During the last Sunday in January of 1791, tragedy struck the island lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper, George Anderson, lived there with his wife and six children. That night there was a huge storm and the coal fire fueled light burned all night through it, but the following night the fire was never lit. The weather was still too bad to send anyone to check on it, and it wasn’t until the Wednesday following that a crew reached the island to investigate.

What they found was that George and his entire family were dead except for their smallest child, a girl named Lucy who was less than one year old. She was found alive lying next to her mother’s body by a young man named Henry Dowie. The family had died after being suffocated by fumes from the smouldering ash pile that had built up against the walls of the lighthouse over several years.

Henry never forgot the incident, and apparently kept in touch with young Lucy. Nearly sixteen years later he proposed to her and they were married. Three years later they emigrated to New York in America and raised twelve children together.


 Scenic Weekends

P52 Weekly Shot

Black and White Wednesday

Weekly Top Shot #71

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About akil3655

A Scotsman and his American photographer wife traveling the world and writing about it. Tales, reviews, photos, interviews and crazy goings on. Because you never know what's going to happen.

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37 Responses to Setting Foot on the Isle of May

  1. Mary-My Life in Scotland February 18, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    WOW! What a story!! I wouldn’t have been able to forget that either. How wonderful that they were married and had so many children. At least something came of it.

    These pictures are amazing! I’ve always wanted to see a Puffin! I’ve been living in the city too long. I want to move out to places like this and drink in Scotland like I’ve been wanting to do for 5 years. I feel like I’ve barely seen anything!
    Mary-My Life in Scotland recently posted..A Chef in the MakingMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 18, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

      Mary, you’ve seen quite a bit! I’ve seen your pictures. Maybe what you’ve seen looks local to you, but it looks like beautiful adventures to me.

      Going to this island for Brian was not a big deal. He grew up in Fife and this was practically his back yard. Ho hum stuff that’s just out there every day. For me? A California girl? Huge adventure!

      It’s all in the perspective.

      Besides, you’re in the middle of the biggest adventure of all – raising a toddler! :)
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  2. gerald
    Twitter: hydedaily
    February 19, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    I never got to visit the Isle of May but I have seen puffins on the Farne islands so that is an abiding memory for me.
    gerald recently posted..Red car outside iFoodMy Profile

  3. Pieni lintu February 19, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    That place looks so beautiful!!
    Pieni lintu recently posted..Tones on TuesdayMy Profile

  4. ladyfi February 19, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    What fabulous shots – such a gorgeous place.
    ladyfi recently posted..Snow fairiesMy Profile

  5. Gemma Wiseman February 19, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Looks like an amazing adventure! What a scenic place!
    Gemma Wiseman recently posted..Red EarthsMy Profile

  6. Molly February 19, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    What a beautiful place, truly stunning scenery and that is a wonderful story about the child ‘Lucy’ I wonder how many descendants of theirs there are in the USA now!

    Molly recently posted..Day 50 – StonedMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 19, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

      I’d have to guess that there are hundreds at least! If you follow the link to that story it tells you that one of their descendents went back to visit the island, and tried to find out where the family was buried. What a journey to find your great, great grandparents!
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  7. Paul O'Rourke February 19, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Great blog and photographs. I have never been to Isle of May but after reading the blog I want to go there. Really like the second last shot of the cliffs looking down, spectacular!


    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 19, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

      Thanks, Paul! I hope you do go out to the island. It is most definitely worth the trip! Make sure you let me know if you blog about it, I’d love to read someone else’s experience. :)
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  8. Müge February 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Dear Peg and Brian, this is my first visit to your blog and I am glad to have discovered it. What a beautiful island, an interesting story, together with all these beautiful photos. I will follow your blog and am already curious about your next post. Greetings from Istanbul/Turkey,

    Müge recently posted..Onu bana ver, Donne-le-moiMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 19, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      Muge, thank you! I’m glad to hear you like the blog and will continue to read. I will also spend time on your site as your photos are stunning. :)
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  9. Boom & Gary February 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    Great tour of a beautiful area. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.
    Boom & Gary recently posted..2012 In Photographic Retrospect ( Part 2 ) At The Vermilon River.My Profile

  10. sylviakirk February 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    What fascinating history, terrific captures and a wonderful post for the day!! I really enjoyed this! Thanks for sharing with us!!

    sylviakirk recently posted..Five Rules To Remember In LifeMy Profile

  11. emily February 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    What a story and what pretty scenery! Thank you for sharing!

  12. Tamar February 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    How beautiful! I would love to see a puffin in person!
    Tamar recently posted..Winter ScenesMy Profile

  13. Fun60 February 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Really enjoyed reading your post. Quite a remote island by the looks of it. What persuaded you go to that particular island? Would like to follow the rest of your adventures.

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 19, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

      Brian chose the island because he had been there and knew it was our best chance of seeing puffins (which is on my bucket list). We didn’t see them as it’s the wrong season, but that just means we’ll get to go back another day. :)

      I’d love it if you came back to read more about our travels. I’ll also be taking a look at your site. Looks like you have been, and will continue to be very busy!
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  14. Mindy February 20, 2013 at 12:29 am #

    I have always wanted to go to Scotland, and this island looks like the perfect place to troll around and spend some time! lovely photos!

  15. Sharon February 20, 2013 at 4:13 am #

    What stunning photos! I love the one of the cliffs looking down. And the lighthouse. Complete with a story. You are having some fabulous adventures! Thanks for sharing!
    Sharon recently posted..A Kiss to RememberMy Profile

  16. Cathy Kennedy
    Twitter: greeneyestale
    February 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    To travel the world in a boat must be an awesome adventure. You’re living the “dream life” for many. Your photos are absolutely stunning. I love lighthouses so I was especially delighted to see you had some in today’s post. Since you’re an American, then you may know that Maine is a good spot for Puffin watching. We have visited Maine three times and have yet to see one. That would be so awesome. I’d like to see a moose, too.

    Dry suit or not, I would think jumping into cold water is still cold feeling. Am I right? You know how guys are, though – always doing something stupid, right? lol We, women, tend to be more reserved when it comes to daring stunts or at least I know I am. I totally chicken out.

    Well, it was certainly nice to meet you through the WW hop! I shall be looking forward to more of your travel pix!

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 23, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

      I’ve been to over 30 states in the US, but never have yet made it up to Maine. Someday! I didn’t know they had puffins there, but now that I do I might just have to arrange a trip up to see them if we’re ever back over that way. I agree that seeing a moose would also be really cool, but they make me kind of nervous. Big, unpredictable beasts!

      As for who’s crazier with the stunts, I’m not sure. I’ve known some pretty wild women, so I’m not going to count them out, lol. However, Scottish MEN so far seem to be taking the lead with the stunts. :)
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  17. Lori_Z February 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    What a beautiful place and photos.

  18. Deborah February 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    Came by way of Black & White Wednesdays, and what a treat!! And such a great title to your blog, too! Love your images, the history, and reading of your travels! My husband is a bit of all three … Scotch, Irish, and Welsh, and I know he will enjoy reading this, as well! We’d love to travel like you do, but in the meantime, we’ll enjoy keeping up with you here, so we’ll be following! Thank you so much for sharing your adventures, and your wonderful images!! Travel on ….. :)
    Deborah recently posted..Black & White Wednesday || … on a road less traveledMy Profile

  19. HansHB February 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    Lovely serie of photos. Nice to study all the details!

  20. Zosia February 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    I love Scotland. Lived in Edinburgh for 6 months once. Your photos took me there. Thank you!
    Visiting from the Weekly Top Shot.
    Zosia recently posted..Saturday Postcard from Poland / Sobotnia pocztówka z PolskiMy Profile

  21. Carol L McKenna February 23, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Wow ` What a beautiful place and you all look like you are having a delightful time ~ Glad! Great photos for WTS ^_^
    Carol L McKenna recently posted..Art, Poetry and Photography WeekendMy Profile

  22. jeanne stone February 23, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    Absolutely love this post and will be following you on facebook… did not see another way to join your blog, but don’t want to lose track of you. Do you have google connect that I am missing? Would love to add you on my reader. Love you adventurous natures…. but the North Sea in winter…. wow. Hope that was a fur lined wet suit.
    Don’t the puffins winter out to sea? They are so charming to watch.
    Such a fascinating story about this lighthouse too.
    Would love for you to stop by my blog also if you get a moment and the inclination. I live in Texas ( more of the time than you do probably) Hope to get to know you.
    jeanne stone recently posted..ITALIA ON MY MINDMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

      Thank you so much, Jean! Yes, the puffins winter out at sea, so we missed them this time but it was still well worth it to go out to the island!

      I took a look over at your blog, and I love your photos as well. I’ll be checking back in to see more!

      You can add us to your reader by clicking the orange “Subscribe to RSS” link at the top right of each post, just below the header. Thanks for liking our Facebook page too, we try to keep the conversation going over there. :)
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  23. Dragonstar February 23, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    Welcome to the Challenge – though finding a black and white photo each week isn’t much of a challenge compared with the life you lead! You show us such a beautiful place. Your black and white photo is a fine composition, and it’s great that you give so much history. I love strong contrast, but I also love reflections – and you certainly have a perfect example!
    Dragonstar recently posted..The Weekend in Black and White.My Profile

  24. Laura Hegfield February 23, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    What a beautiful series of photos. The story about the lighthouse keeper and his family is so terribly sad. It is amazing the little girl survived. How fortunate you are to travel to such an interesting place rich in beauty and history:-)
    Laura Hegfield recently posted..EstherMy Profile

  25. Linda Makiej February 23, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    really wonderful images!!!
    Linda Makiej recently posted..Simple. Tasteful. Tulip.My Profile

  26. Nancy@livininthegreen February 23, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    These photos are gorgeous and I really enjoyed your tour of the island!
    Nancy@livininthegreen recently posted..Tulips in FebruaryMy Profile

  27. Kay February 23, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    Beautiful shots of a wonderful place! I’d guess that it is very different during spring and summer, a lot more lively. Puffins are always a treat to see and that alone would warrant a return visit. Great lighthouse story – sad, but at least there was one happy outcome. (Visiting from Weekly Top Shot.)
    Kay recently posted..Five Acre goats revisitedMy Profile

  28. Ginny February 23, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Some really beautiful photos. I used to live in Scotland, and your photos made me miss it.
    Ginny recently posted..Sophie Attends A Garden PartyMy Profile

  29. Laurie Kazmierczak February 23, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    Very interesting post♫ Glad I stopped in…Happy week-end♥
    Laurie Kazmierczak recently posted..Tic Tac Toe SkyscapesMy Profile

  30. Madge @ The View From Right Here
    Twitter: MadgeBloom
    February 25, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    What a starkly beautiful place… what a sad story… Thank you for sharing on Weekly Top Shot #71!
    Madge @ The View From Right Here recently posted..Buoys – Weekly Top Shot #71My Profile