Puffin Tours near Edinburgh

Visiting the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth to find Puffins, was one of the highlights of my scottish adventures. The island is very easy to reach from the city of Edinburgh by car or by train to North Berwick where you can walk to the harbour rendezvous point. 

puffins
Puffins, small winged seabirds that come ashore to breed @shutterstock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puffins have always been on my bucket list and the closest place to Edinburgh that I could find these cute birds was on the Isle of May. A protected island, run by Scottish Natural Heritage, it can be accessed from Anstruther by ferry or from North Berwick harbour, 40 mins from Edinburgh. If travelling from North Berwick the choices include a catamaran cruise to Bass Rock or a RHIB inflated boat to both Bass Rock and the Isle of May. Having tried the RHIB in Canada to see Orca Whales, I knew which mode of transport would be more exciting. There are also sperm whales and Minke off the shores of the Isle of May, and I was very hopeful for some sightings.

Seabird.org is the official website for the Scottish Seabird Centre and I booked online using their date planner. Click on the Isle of may website, then sailing times. It is important to remember that the Isle of May is a nature reserve and the number of visitors is restricted daily so advance booking make sense.

Puffins are sea birds from the Auk family and only come on land to breed. They can live up to 4o years and return to the same burrow. The season usually lasts from April till early August. When you book a boat trip it is weather dependant which can be tricky if you are planning a trip from overseas. I decided to book 4 weeks in advance and basically had my fingers crossed for good weather.

Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick Scotland
Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick@shutterstock

Arriving at The Seabird centre in North Berwick, I was slightly confused as the centre was closed but my sailing was due to leave at 10am. I discovered that you have to go across from the seabird centre on the same side, behind the offices to the harbour and there is another meeting point where everyone signs forms and are provided with waterproofs and life jackets. The group was quite small, 12 in total and it is very easy to chat with everyone. The guide was totally brilliant, you can see him on my video below. Very informative, funny, passionate and reassuring.

The crossing gets very cold out in the open water so make sure you have a sweater with you and proper clothes. You can change and bring a rucksack on arrival at the visitor centre. I loved the crossing, watching all the seals and puffins as we approached the island.

The trip guarantees you 2 hours on the Isle of May. Bring your own food, drink and snacks, as there are no facilities on the island except toilets. Visitors must also remove all their rubbish. There is a guided tour which I was keen to join, not having a clue where I was going. The guide also gives you tips on where is the best place to find certain birds and their habitats. For instance Puffins burrow. News to me, and if you want to watch them, sit down quietly and just observe before dragging out cameras and fancy video recorders. They will settle and allow you a greater insight into their habits.

The noise on the island is initially quite deafening but you get use to it quickly as your ears try to differentiate between the different shrieks, songs and notes. It is not easy, if like me your bird knowledge is limited to one Christmas bird spotting book and an uncle who raced pigeons! That is why the guide is so invaluable. There are over 280 species of birds recorded and up to 250,000 seabirds can nest here. The cliff tops are very dramatic and good walking shoes are essential. There is a lighthouse with accommodation that can be rented out for up to a week but I believe priority is given to bird enthusiasts and bird ringers.

Isle of MAY
Isle of May Observatory building and lighthouse

The other reason I choose the RHIB crossing was that it returned via Bass Rock, a volcanic rock that is home to 150,000 gannets. I have never seen Hitchcocks famous film “The Birds” and I was fine, but a few of my fellow passengers were quite frankly, terrified!

It is the most amazing sight. Gannets, are Britains largest seabird and when you encounter them in such vast numbers, circling above your head, it is slightly unsettling. For me I was in awe of Mother Nature.

I loved my day trip and was blessed with blue skies and would love to return. Good walking shoes are essential and the RHIB crossing is not suitable for people with back problems or pregnant ladies. I paid £48 for 4 hours and it was memorable and great value for money.

I made a short video of my day, click here to view.

If taking small children I would think they would be more suited to the one hour Catamaran trip round Bass Rock or Craigleith or the Anstruther Pleasure Cruise to The Isle of May. I have also tried the ferry crossing to Incholm island which had lots of children on board.

Bring some bird books or things to amuse any children on the crossing, it can be a long day for them. Anstruther allows children aged 4-15 on the May Princess. Look up Isleofmayferry.com/ and the RHIB Crossing allows children aged 7 and upwards.

There are opportunities to land on Bass Rock, and these trips for keen bird watchers, photographers and ornithologists are popular and run from Easter to Autumn. Be warned the smell and noise are pretty over whelming.

I hope you enjoyed my day trip. If you get the chance please go.

Thanks for reading.

Lou.

Useful numbers: Scottish Seabird centre Centre will be closed for refurbishment from 01 February to the start of April 2019. The contact number is +44 (0)1620 890202.

Isle of May ferry from Anstruther: info@isleofmayferry.com – 07957 585200

 

 

 

 

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Rosslyn chapel, Knights Templar and Vin Diesel Fast & Furious 9.

I have always wanted to visit Rosslyn Chapel, this stunning building with its mysterious references to the Da Vinci code (made popular by Dan Browns novel), the Knight’s Templar and the Holy Grail.  It is a popular location for filming and has recently attracted more attention with the arrival of Vin Diesel in the city of Edinburgh filming Fast & Furious 9 directed by Justin Lin.

Vin Diesel the actor has released a short video stating that “he and the top executives from Universal had a sacred meeting about Fast 10 here at Rosslyn Chapel”.  With 57 million followers on Instagram, Rosslyn Chapel I suspect is only going to get very busy.

Rosslyn Chapel Edinburgh
Rosslyn Chapel Edinburgh@shutterstock

If you are expecting a large, imposing building you will be surprised to discover that it is in fact, quite small.  Rosslyn Chapel, formerly known as the Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew, is a 15th-century chapel.  Located in the village of Roslin, Midlothian it is around a 20 min drive from Edinburgh City.  Easy to reach from the city by car or local bus follow the brown tourist signs. The easiest place to catch the bus is on the Bridges (No 37) in the city centre. There are no trains to this location.

Rosslyn Chapel attracts attention in part to its elaborate carvings and  a sequence of 213 cubes or “boxes” protruding from pillars and arches with a selection of patterns on them. Many people believe that they are a coded message and the position on east of west facing walls are pieces of a bigger jigsaw as yet completed.

It is also believed that the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order known for their skill in fighting in the Crusades were connected to Rosslyn Chapel and that the treasures of Knights Templar were removed from Paris in secret and hidden in a Scottish Temple.

There is a village near Rosslyn called Temple, which was once the  genuine headquarters of the Scottish Knights Templar, the place was known as Balandtradoch.  This is from the Scottish Gaelic, ‘Baile nan Trodach’ which translates as “Town of Warriors”.

Green men in Rosslyn Chapel
Green men in Rosslyn Chapel

There are over 100 Green men inside and outside of Rosslyn Chapel a traditional feature of medieval churches.  It is said that the green man symbolise the capacity for great goodness and for significant evil. However, these faces  have also been found in important buildings since Roman Times… fuelling the theory that there is a historical connection.

The interior of the building is exquisite and has a fascinating history especially the Apprentice Pillar.  This stunning column has a sad story which I will not recount to you as it will spoil your visit but believe me you will love the ornate and beautiful carvings within Rosslyn Chapel.  Photographs or filming are not permitted inside the chapel or the Sacristy underneath. However you can film the exterior.

Ornate statue outside Rosslyn Chapel
Ornate statue outside Rosslyn Chapel

There is small visitors centre, shop with gift souvenirs and small cafe with outside decking looking over Roslin Glen.  I had lunch and the soup, tea and cakes were delicious.  There is a small interactive area but I think to get the most out of the chapel, a tour would be ideal, these are available throughout the day with the admission price.

The other connection that the Chapel has, is the discovery of sub terrain caves known as the Gilmerton Coves. Highlighted in the Edinburgh news, these caves run much further and deeper than originally thought. Some people think they are connected to the Chapel and that Mary Queen of Scots sought refuge in them before her imprisonment and secret tunnels were used by the Knights Templar.  Fact or fiction …or just another theory?

It’s a fascinating place and if you do visit remember that you can spend time walking through the Glen, looking at the many beautiful and fascinating graves and statues behind the Chapel.

To access the Castle ruins, follow the road down the side of the car park,  its a ten minute walk, steep and uneven, not suitable for dodgy legs or walking sticks or wheelchairs.DSC_0326

The Castle is a ruin but there is a  mansion within the castle walls, which can be rented from the Landmark Trust as a truly memorable Scottish accommodation, overlooking the Glen. The castle is virtually unseen unless you walk down into the pretty Glen where you will discover its true magnificence.

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If you walk into the Glen look our for Grandma tree and Grandpa tree, ancient trees that many travelling people say have special energies… they are pretty awesome and do not remove any of the fairies or pretty stones that you see hanging from the branches as you may incur the wrath of the tree spirits.

To see my full  portfolio click here on Shutterstock. 

Tips and notes

Rosslyn Chapel guides  provide talks throughout the day, which are included in the admission price. These are at Monday to Saturday:
10am, 11am, 12.15pm, 2pm, 3pm & 4pm. 

Sundays:
1pm, 2pm, 3pm

Opening hours are Sept – Dec – 9.30- 5pm and Sundays 12-4.45.

June – Aug – 9.30 – 6pm and Sundays 12 – 4,45pm.

It gets busy inside so mid week will be quieter.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your time.

Lou Armor