Saturday, 23 June 2012

Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway

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The Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway is owned by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society which is dedicated to the preservation of equipment and artefacts from the age of steam trains.

Bo'ness and Kinneil Station
Bo'ness Station

At Bo'ness there is a station and a railway museum with steam trains runing throughout the summer to Birkhill Station and, since 2010, to Manuel. The station at Bo'ness was originally situated in the village of Wormit on the south side of the Tay Rail Bridge and includes an authentic ticket office from the days of steam.

Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway Booking Office
The railway tickets are also authentic being made of thick cardboard, unlike the modern larger rail tickets today.

Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway Ticket
First or Second Class?

Passengers can either sit in the first or second class compartments for their journey. The first class seats are in small compartments and the second class seats are in an open carriage. We sat in the First Class seats on the outward journey and the Second Class on the return one.

Carriages on the Train
Steam Trains

Steam trains are different from modern diesel or electric trains in that they need some combustible, such as coal, to power a steam engine. The locomotive carries fuel and water supplies on its journey.

While waiting for the train to depart, there is usually plenty activity by the train crew stoking the boiler and adding water to the engine. This has to be done before every new journey.

Preparing the train for the journey
The Train Journey

When the train leaves Bo'ness Station, it runs along the coast before turning inland at on its way to Birkhill Mine. A ticket collector, dressed in a uniform from the 1950's is on board to check the passengers tickets. He carried a small punch to validate passengers tickets.

The locomotive pulling the carriages was a Caledonian Railway No.419 which was a 439 Class steam locomotive originally from the Caledonian Railway and was built at St Rollox Works in Springburn in Glasgow in 1907. It was designed by J.F. McIntosh and 92 engines of this type were built between 1900 and 1925 in Glasgow.

Caledonian Railway 419 Locomotive
The smell of the smoke from the engine adds to the enjoyment,as it leaves passengers in no doubt that they are on a steam train. Good views of the River Forth and the Ochil Hill can be seen during the journey.

Leaving Bo'ness Station
Kinneil Halt

The first stop on the journey is at Kinneil Halt and passengers can alight here to enjoy a walk along the shore or visit the Kinneil Nature Reserve - both of these provide excellent views across the River Forth to the Ochil Hills in Stirlingshire. The Kinneil Estate and Museum is a 15 minute walk from the Halt and worth a visit.

Birkhill Station
Birkhill Station and Mine

The next stop is Birkhill Station and passengers can alight and visit the clay mine or look around the station. The train stops for about 20 minutes before continuing on its way to Manuel. Most passengers left the train at Birkhill to visit the mine and travel back on a later train.

Points Changing
The last stop is Manuel but there is no station there and the train is reversed for the return journey. It is worth watching the points being reversed.

The return journey follows the same route as the outward one. The railway and locomotives have featured in many films and recently was used in the filming of the new Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman film.

Review of the Journey

This was a great day out and allowed passengers to be transported back in time when the railways were dominated by steam trains.

Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway

The Scottish Railway Preservation Society
Bo'ness Station, Union Street, Bo'ness, West Lothian EH51 9AQ

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Inchcolm Island and Abbey

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On a recent trip to South Queensferry we went on a ferry trip to the Island of Inchcolm on the Firth of Forth. This only takes 30 minutes and a ferry service is operated by two companies - 'Maid of the Forth' and 'Forth Tours'.

Maintained by Historic Scotland

This Island of Inchcolm is managed by Historic Scotland and an admission fee is charged. Historic Scotland and English Heritage members will have the this fee deducted from the ferry fare on production of their membership cards.

On the day we visited it was very warm and sunny in South Queensferry, but once on the ferry it turned much cooler. We sat on the deck, rather than in the heated interior, as we wanted to take some photographs.

The ferry journey took us under the Forth Railway Bridge and it was good to get a close-up view of it from the river. It was quite a spectacular sight.

Forth Rail Bridge 
Forth Rail Bridge

Island of Inchmickery

On the North Queensferry side of the bridge we saw a small island which resembled a warship due to the number of small buildings on it. This is the island of Inchmickery, which is now an RSPB reserve. Inchmickery is only 100 metres by 200 metres in size.

The buildings in the island are from the World Wars when the Firth of Forth was deemed to be an area prone to attack by the German Navy, due to the proximity of the Royal Naval Base in Rosyth. The buildings housed the guns to defend the Forth in the event of an attack, which fortunately never occured.

Island of Inchmickery 
Island of Inchmickery

In recent years the buildings have been used in the film industry and the island was used recently in the making of the film 'Complicity'. The exposed rocks off Inchmickery are known as the 'Cow and Calves'.

Oil Tanker Platform

As we travelled along the Forth on the ferry, we got excellent views of both sides of the river. We passed a platform where oil tankers could unload crude oil from the Forties pipeline to a storage tank area. As we passed, a tanker was unloading its cargo.

Tanker Unloading Crude Oil 
Tanker Unloading Crude Oil

Basking Seals

We then passed a small rocky area and were fortunate to see some seals lying on the rocks soaking up the sun. The looked over at us as we passed by at a respectable distance so as not to disturb them. Some other islands had Cormorants, Gulls and other seabirds nesting on them.

Seals on the Firth of Forth 
Seals on the Firth of Forth

More seals

Seals on the River Forth  
Seals on the River Forth

The Island of Inchcolm was coming closer and very soon we had landed on it.

Inchcolm Island and Abbey 
Inchcolm Island and Abbey

Inchcolm takes its name from St Colm. 'Inch' is the Gaelic name for island. A monastry was established on the island in the 1100's and was elevated to an abbey in 1235. Parts of the building are very well preserved with the cloister being the best preserved of all the medieval ones in Scotland. After the Scottish Reformation in 1560 it ceased to be an abbey.

David I established a priory here in 1235 which are the best-preserved group of monastic buildings in Scotland. The island is also a great area for wildlife including seals and coastal defences from the two World Wars.

The Chapter House

The chapter house is also an impressive octagonal building and is the only surviving cloister building from the 12th century. The chapter house was the meeting place which was used to conduct the business of the community. The seats under the arches were for the Abbot, Prior and Sub-prior. The rest of the monks sat on the benches around the walls.

Interior of Chapter House 
Interior of Chapter House

The Cloister

The cloister is rectangular rectangular in shape with a gable at the top. It would have been used to house the domestic buildings of the abbey. It has two levels and contains a kitchen, refrectory, dormatory, latrine and washing facilities.

Inchcolm Abbey Cloister 
 Inchcolm Abbey Cloister

Most of the buildings in the cloister were built around the 1400's. It is the most complete cloister in Scotland and is particularly unusual due to the covered walkways on three of its sides.

The 12th Century Church

There are the remains of two churches. Parts of the 12th century church are still standing, including the nave and bell tower. In the 1400's it was no longer used as a church and became a residential area instead.

The 15th Century Church

Little remains of the the 15th century church, although the outline of it can still be seen, which shows that it was in the shape of a Christian Cross. It was built after the Scottish Wars of Independence, which were fought in the late 13th and early 14th centuries between Scotland and England.

15c Church 
15th Century Church

Bell Tower

Remarkably well preserved, the bell-tower was built around 1200 and is one of the outstanding features of the Abbey. While travelling to the island by ferry, the bell tower was the first part of the abbey to come into view.

Inchcolm Abbey 
Inchcolm Abbey

The Abbot's House

Abbot's House 
Abbot's House

The abbot's house is situated on the south side of Inchcolm Abbey, and is connected top the end of the east cloister. As the above photograph shows, it is a ruin.

The inside of the Abbot's House is barrel-shaped and there are the remains of a bakehouse on the north-east side.

Basement of Abbot's House 
Basement of Abbot's House[/caption]

Our visit was in late May and the Gulls were nesting on the island. Despite the many signs requesting visitors to avoid the parts of the island where the birds were nesting, many of them insisted on walking to the nesting areas. This caused the birds to act in an aggressive manner as nesting birds will always act aggressively to protect their nests.

Inchcolm's Role in Conflicts

There are buildings remaining from the World Wars which were used to defend the Forth from attack. The Forth estuary was the most heavily defended in Britain to prevent attack from German warships. The buildings were situated in the nesting areas so we respected the birds privacy and stayed well away from them.

The island has also been used in previous conflicts including the Napoleonic Wars and in the 1790's a hospital was established on the island to provide medical support for the Russian fleet which was stationed in the Forth.

This small island certainly has had a chequered history!

Review of Our Visit

The time allowed on the Island before the ferry returned to Queensferry was 1.5 hours. This was not nearly enough time to explore the Island fully. We intend to return in June or July when we will have a great chance of seeing Puffins.

One thing to remember is to bring plenty of drinking water as there is no running water on the Island. The small Historic Scotland shop does sell bottles of juice and some snacks as well as non edible goods such as china mugs, tea-towels, books, Scottish shortbread and small ornaments.

The visit to the Island is worthwhile and very enjoyable.

Further Information

Historic Scotland:

Ferries to Inchcolm:

Maid of the Forth

Forth Tours

Friday, 15 June 2012

Cramond Island and Village

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On a visit to the Firth of Forth I went to Cramond Island. Cramond Island is one of a number of islands in the UK which can be accessed by a causeway during low tide. It is situated north-west of Edinburgh City.

Causeway to Cramond

 The causeway to Cramond Island is about 1 mile in length and takes a reasonably fit person about 20 minutes to walk to from the mainland. Before walking to the island, it is advisable to check the safe times for visiting. These are displayed at the start of the walkway and should be studied before walking over the causeway.

The tide can come in at a fast rate, so ignoring the safe times can result in an extended stay on the island. The lifeboat at nearby South Queensferry spends much of its time rescuing people from the island.

The island itself is quite small,  being only 1/3 of a mile long and has the remains of buildings from the Second World War. The Firth of Forth was the most heavily defended coastal area in Britain during the war.

Buildings from the Second World War

Causeway from Above

On the causeway there are concrete blocks which were installed in the Second World War to prevent attack from German U-boats. These can be seen in the photograph above.

Buildings from the Second World War

Buildings from the Second World War

There are still many buildings remaining from the Second World War. These can be explored, as there are no doors or windows in them. The remains of the tarred roadway from the War is also still visible and a small landing platform could be seen on the north of the island.


The island of Inchmickery can be seen in the distance. The island resembles a warship, due to the many buildings remaining from the World Wars. This island is now a Special Protection Area and home to a range of breeding seabirds including shag, eider and fulmar and puffins. The island was formerly a tern breeding colony and habitat management work is underway to restore nesting terns here.

Inchmickery Island

Activities on the Island

As the island is quite small, walking round it is not too strenuous. There are a few hills, but they are not very steep. The paths are well-defined and it would be difficult to get lost on the island. It is also a good place for a picnic, but drinking water needs to be taken as the island does not have a source of drinking water.

We left the island at 15.00, giving enough time to get back to the mainland without getting caught by the incoming tide.

Cramond Village

The village of Cramond is very picturesque and includes a small harbour, a hotel and some old-fashioned inns. The author JK Rowling lives in the village.

Cramond Kirk

Cramond Kirk is build on the site of a Roman Fort from the time of  Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in AD208. The Romans abandoned Cramond in AD212 and the settlement was then used by the locals.

Cramond Kirk

The oldest part of the kirk is the tower which dates from the 1400's. The kirk was rebuilt after the Reformation. The interior is superb, but unfortunately there was not enough time to investigate further.

Further information

Cramond is situated north west of Edinburgh near South Queensferry. The times of the tides should be consulted before going to the island.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Lochleven Castle

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Recently I visited Lochleven Castle in Kinross, Fife. The castle is situated on a small island on Loch Leven in Kinross, Fife. It was the castle in which Mary Queens of Scots was held prisoner between 1567 and 1568.

The castle is maintained by Historic Scotland, a government body responsible for maintaining ancient monuments and buildings. A small ferry is operated by Historic Scotland to take visitors on the 10 minute journey to the island.

 Lochleven Pier

The castle dates from the 1300's and is one of the oldest castles in Scotland. Among the important visitors to the castle were King Robert the Bruce, David lll, Mary Queen of Scots, James Douglas and the 4th Earl of Morton. However, the castle will forever be associated with Mary Queen of Scots because of her imprisonment and escape from the castle. The life of Mary Queen of Scots was eventful, to say the least.  

Mary Queen of Scots Early Life

Mary Queen of Scots was the daughter of James V and Mary of Guise. Mary was brought up in France, the country of origin of her mother, which was at the time, the most sophisticated court in Europe.


In 1558, when she was fifteen, she married the King of France - Francis II. He was fourteen, but died two years later on 5th December,1560. On 29th July 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley in Mary's private chapel at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh in a Catholic ceremony. 

Murder of Lord Darnley

However, on 10th February 1567, Lord Darnley was murdered in Kirk o' Field in Edinburgh and it was believed that James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell was behind Darnley's death.

Marriage to the 4th Earl of Bothwell

Bothwell was later acquitted of the charge in April 1567, and in the following month he married Mary. However, the couple were unpopular in Scotland and this led to Mary's imprisonment in Lochleven Castle. On 24 July 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son, James. Mary escaped from the castle on 2nd May 1568.

Escape from Lochleven

Mary escaped from Loch Leven with the aid of George Douglas, brother of Sir William Douglas, the castle's owner. After her escape she rallied a large force which cumulated in the Battle of Langside on 13th May 1568. Mary's troops and after this, Mary left for England to get support from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Mary Queen of Scots was executed on 8th February, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.

Back to Lochleven Castle in the 21st Century

In the 16th century, the castle would have covered most of the island, as the island was much smaller than it is today. The water level on the loch was lowered by a meter in the 19th century and causing land was exposed. The castle is a ruin, but is still worth visiting because of its historical significance.

Lochleven Castle
After disembarking from the ferry, we had a look at the external of the castle before entering the internal part of the castle. At the entrance, there are two small cannons which are a modern addition and date from around the 1800's and the Napoleonic Wars. They do add some character to the castle.

Lochleven Cannons

Entering the castle, there are the ruins of some of the buildings and the tower, which had been quite well preserved. We first climbed the steps to the tower. This is where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive. There were originally four floors in the tower and Mary was kept in the upper stories. The wooded floors have long gone, but the outline of the features such as the fireplaces are still intact.

Mary's Oratory

We climbed the modern wooden stairs to the room where Mary was kept captive. There was a window which Mary used as a prayer area and we stop to have a look at it. This window looks out on the curtain wall and is also interesting in that it was specially organised for her spiritual needs. For example, there is a small piscina, which was a basin used to wash alter items after Mass, and a small cupboard for keeping valuables.

Access to the upper floor of the tower was by a wall which remains today but visitors are not allowed to walk on it. 

Catholic Queen of a Protestant Country

Mary was a Roman Catholic at a time when Scotland was embracing the Presbyterian church of the Reformation. By 1560, a provisional government was established and the Scottish Parliament renounced the Pope's authority and the Catholic mass was declared illegal. Scotland had officially become a Protestant country. John Knox, the Scottish Protestant reformer had heated arguments with Mary Queen of Scots to renounce her faith, but the Queen refused.

Glassin Tower

Glassin Tower

This is situated at one corner of the castle and dates from 1550. It is an impressive structure and was built to improve the appearance of the castle and also to improve the defences.

The tower has a vaulted basement which is defended by a gun hole, and two small rooms above. It is possible to walk up the internal staircase to the upper floors of the tower.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

The original castle had a great hall which was where Mary's jailer lived while she was confined in the tower. All that remains of the great hall is a window and a fireplace. This can be seen in the photograph above.

Review of Visit

The visit was very enjoyable and allowed us to get a better understanding of important events from history. It also made us look into events from Scottish history to gain a better understanding of these. 

Further Information: 
Region – Perthshire, Kinross and Angus Postcode: KY13 8UF 

Opening arrangements

Summer 1 April - 30 September, Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm  
October 1 - 31 October, Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun, 9.30 am to 4.30 pm