I confess that this was my first and only visit to the Isle of May, taking the ferry from Anstruther with friends, including author Hamish Brown. We did not realise how fortunate we were, because the following day was the last day trip to the island in 2022. The warden David Steel @Steelybird, who I follow on Twitter for his amazing photos, needed to shut the whole island down due to bird flu. Tragically, this has decimated the population of sea birds up and down the east coast of the British Isles, especially on nearby Bass Rock, famous for its gannet population.
I say that this is a confession. When walking the coastal path and writing The Healing Paths of Fife we walked most of the way between the Forth Rail Bridge and St Andrews, but there were a few wee sections which were purely in my imagination, alongside some timely research, and one of these was a trip to the Isle of May.
How the island helped me in Mind, Body and Spirit
The boat trip over was a matter of mind over body as the boat rolled in the stormy waters. Hamish, however, was bobbing up and down, eating his sandwiches and pointing out various sightings of puffins, other sea birds and even seals. I was sooo relieved to be on terra firma and so was my husband!
We had brought a stick with us because we had to walk through a colony of nesting terns. The stick was not to thrash about, as it was explained to us; the birds go for the highest point and so an umbrella would do just as well. I was mighty glad not to have my head dive bombed, I can tell you.
Once we had safely navigated both of those assaults to our bodies, we set off at a pace following Hamish to a favourite spot he knew where the puffins hung out, called Bishop Cove. It was magical. They are such heart warming creatures. We sat among them watching them waddle to their burrows, peer out to sea or dive down to the water, skimming the surface in search of a place to fish. It was as if a calm had descended. We sat on the rocky ground eating out picnic, absorbing their world all around us, almost at eye level with them. They made us smile. They made us laugh. We hardly spoke as a silence crept over us. We certainly lived in the moment.
How I was inspired by the island
The Isle of May as a place of pilgrimage has always inspired me; its location at the mouth of the Firth of Forth en-route between Lindisfarne and St Andrews. One day, I believe, my writing will take on the direction of a pilgrimage in days gone by, just as it did in The Healing Paths of Fife; a personal fantasy memoir and pilgrimage describing when we first relocated from Bedfordshire to Fife including ‘meeting and talking with famous folks along the way. The lives of saints, whose unusual names have also intrigued me since moving to Scotland; St Mungo for example sounds like a perfect subject for fact/fiction. His name crops up in so many places we have visited and his birth is a legend in these parts.
Meanwhile, I am still searching for the direction my writing journey should take in the here and now; but I do believe I’m edging closer to feeling at peace in knowing the way I should take next.
On our journey home it was as still as a pond and I fell fast asleep. Unusual for me.