The Seals and Cliffs of the Isle of May

Finally, all snug in our drysuits and on our way to the Isle of May with only minimal splashing.


The five mile ride to the island was freezing cold but smooth, and so fun. It wasn’t long before the little smudge on the horizon loomed just off the front of the boat, and we could see her cliffs, fog horns and lighthouse.


And just a few minutes later we could see what we really came for. Wildlife!


During the winter, the Isle of May is home to a huge breeding colony of seals. Most of the animals we saw were females and fairly young pups, although we did spot one huge brown male on the North Sea side of the rocks just before we left.


Most of them were out on the rocks until we pulled up, then they wobbled themselves into the water. We’re still not sure if it was to put themselves in an environment where they could more quickly escape danger, or to come get a closer look at us. Probably both.


But they were certainly interested in our little boating party! All eyes were on us, whether from the rocks or from the sea. It was like having hundreds of very adorable, big, fat dogs watching us.

Like having big, fat adorable dogs watching us eat a hamburger. They were so interested.

We came at the island from the west, then circled around to the south along the steep cliffs where hundreds of thousands of birds make their nests during the spring and summer months.


The water was an unbelievably vivid blue-green and nearly wave-less. Brian was dying to jump in and dive around those rocks. He and Tam traded stories about the times they’ve done just that.


Somewhere along these cliffs is a split so deep and wide that you can swim all the way through it to the other side. They are braver men than me, and I loved watching their faces light up when they told us about it.

(Edited to add: Brian says it is Bass Rock, the bigger island nearby, which has the split he’s dived through. This one just has deep splits and caves, but not all the way through.)

The Bishop

That rock formation in the two photos above is called “The Bishop”. Can you see him? He’s completely free-standing, surrounded by water on all sides. I wish we could have taken the boat around the backside, but it was too tight of a squeeze.


The island geography is made up of a “fine grained” basalt, which gives the rocks this columned and blocked look.


Because of the high iron content in the basalt, the sea water corrodes it fairly quickly and stains the rocks that reddish color.


Most likely the island was formed at around the same time as Castle Hill and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.


As we circled around the eastern side and entered the waters of the North Sea, the waves picked up just a bit although we were still very lucky with how calm they were, and the rocks took on a more sloped shape. From the southern end you can clearly see the older of the two remaining lighthouses, built in 1816.


There were more birds in the eastern side of the island than there were on the cliffs. The water is reportedly rich in fish and other wildlife, so makes an excellent feeding ground, even in the winter.


Do you see that rusty stain just up the rocks a bit on the left? That’s what remains of a Danish ship called “The Island”, which was tossed well above the high tide mark during a particularly nasty storm in 1937. It sits more than thirty feet above the high tide line, but still isn’t clear of the seas. This past winter it was hammered again by wind driven swells and quite a bit of it was washed back out to sea.


The smaller lighthouse below is called “Low Light” and was built in 1843. It’s now open to guests who can stay for a week at a time, but it’s not for the faint of heart. There is no electricity, and no indoor plumbing.


As we swung back around to the northern coast we started seeing more seals again. Just like the ones on the other side, they were very interested in us. Quite a few flopped themselves into the water when we came into their view. Most kept close to the shore, although a couple of brave ones popped up only about 40 or 50 feet from us.


They didn’t stay close for long, and disappeared below the water before I could get many photos.

May Island Seals


Except for this guy. I think he lost a bet and was trying to prove to his friends that he wasn’t afraid.


Either that, or he was trying to impress a girl. Boys will do all manner of things to impress a girl.

Before we knew it, our tour was over and it was time to make the five mile trip back to Anstruther. The seas were still calm, the day was still freezing cold, and all of us were happy to have spent an incredible day seeing a part of Scotland that isn’t usually on the tourist route. With Edinburgh on our left, and Fife on our right we glided along and watched the birds play above the water as we passed.

Care to try it? We went with Osprey of Anstruther. Click on the name to go to their website, or call their UK phone number at 0133-331-0054.

This is not a sponsored post. We paid our own way (which was very reasonable), and all opinions are, as always, our own.

We went during the off season, which meant that there was no ranger on the island to give us the normal information talk or show us around, and we spent much less time on the island than we would have without that guided help. I’m still glad we went in the winter though, it’s a completely different world and one that is worth seeing.

Tomorrow I’ll show you what we saw on the island.

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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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16 Responses to The Seals and Cliffs of the Isle of May

  1. Mary-My Life in Scotland February 14, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I always love your photos. You really make Scotland look gorgeous. As it is…but I take the worst point and shoot pics it almost isn’t worth it!

    This looks like an amazing adventure and if I didn’t have a toddler I’d be all over it. We need to start getting out more again. Our family dynamic is different now with a child! We’ve not been out much at all. I can’t wait to start showing my little one around more. This spring/summer is going to be great.
    Mary-My Life in Scotland recently posted..The Proof is in the PinMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 14, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      Mary, I remember those toddler days. I thought they would never end, and that my life was no longer my own. I promise it gets better! It’s bitter sweet, when they grow up and don’t need you anymore, but at least we have time to follow our own path again. It’s a trade off. I’d give anything to hug my toddler babies again, so I hope you enjoy that part of it while you can. :)

      And thank you for the compliment! That’s a couple of years of photography courses, and photo editing courses too, along with a good camera and a love of taking photos. That’s one of the reasons I blog, so I have a place to show them off, lol.
      akil3655 recently posted..The Seals and Cliffs of the Isle of MayMy Profile

  2. Jaime Oliver February 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    that looks like you had a great time :-)
    Jaime Oliver recently posted..My Week That Was – Project 365 Week 7My Profile

  3. Emma
    Twitter: emsyjo
    February 17, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Looks like you had a great time, I love the gorgeous colour of the water!
    Emma recently posted..Silent SundayMy Profile

  4. Coombemill - Fiona February 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    What dramatic and fantastic photography, it looks like you had a brilliant time.

  5. Eileen February 17, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Wow, what a great trip. Your photos are beautiful. And I love the cute seals. Thanks for sharing your tour. Happy Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead.
    Eileen recently posted..More of my Great Backyard Bird CountMy Profile

  6. abrianna February 17, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    My favorites were the shots of the cliffs and water. Usually you only see that kind of color in the Caribbean or South Pacific.
    abrianna recently posted..Signal CavesMy Profile

  7. Ellen Arnison February 17, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    I’ve wondered vaguely about the Isle of May, this year we’ll book a trip.
    Ellen Arnison recently posted..48/365 First bike ride of the yearMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 19, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

      Ellen, I hope you do! And I hope you let me know if you blog about it. I’d really love to read about your experience there. :)
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  8. mummyoftwo2
    Twitter: RaspberryGiggle
    February 17, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Wow, amazing pictures. I have been up to Edinburgh so many times didn’t even know this place existed! Such amazing scenery, really want to go and see the seals now!!
    mummyoftwo2 recently posted..Updated Diary of a Newborn and first food videoMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

      The seals were fantastic, and so curious about us! I hope you do go out to see them, and make sure you write about it. I’d love to read it!
      akil3655 recently posted..Setting Foot on the Isle of MayMy Profile

  9. Madge @ TheViewFromRightHere
    Twitter: MadgeBloom
    February 17, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    Wow, what fabulous images… I felt like I was right there… dressed warmly of course! I’ll try to remember to drop by tomorrow to see what’s on the island… I’m so glad you came by to share on Weekly Top Shot #70!

  10. i am pam February 19, 2013 at 1:41 am #

    Wow! I’m glad I discovered your blog. I love blogs that take places I will most likely never see in my life time (unless of course if I win the lotto). The photos are awesome and the brief description below was perfect. Thank you!
    i am pam recently posted..Long Weekend & WalksMy Profile

  11. Rebecca Cooper February 19, 2013 at 2:58 am #

    Gorgeous photos! :)
    Rebecca Cooper recently posted..Simple things Sunday Photo Link Party No. 119My Profile

  12. Where Roots And Wings Entwine February 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Wow stunning photos. I love the sea and you have beautifully captured stunning scenes :)
    Where Roots And Wings Entwine recently posted..Taking baby for a ride (Project 365 – 52/365).My Profile

  13. TheBoyandMe February 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Wow! The sedamentation and cracks in those rocks are amazing, I bet they’re awash with nesting birds. Love the frothy water at the back of the boat.

    Thanks for linking up.
    TheBoyandMe recently posted..Days 48-54 of Project 365My Profile