The Isle of May is a nature reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and lies in the outer part of the Firth of Forth. It’s accessible by ferry from the beautiful town of Ansthruther in Fife. I’ve seen it from afar a number of times when visiting North Berwick and Bass Rock, but this was my first visit.
Isle of May Map
The trip out
I sailed on the May Princess, operated by Ansthruther Pleasure Cruises (See here), the crew were great and the boat even had a bar! (although my shots are sometimes blurry without the addition of alcohol). It takes about 45 minutes to reach the island and normally they’d sail by the cliffs for closeups of the nesting birds before landing, but as the wind was between 30-40mph it was too choppy.
What’s to see
Plenty! Many of the reviews I’d read said the same thing, it’s great but there isn’t time to see it all. Your length of stay is dependant on the tide, and we were lucky to have 3 hours on the island. I, like most, had gone to see nesting seabirds, but as you can see from the photos there’s a lighthouse (two in fact) and horns on the south and north of the island.
The island’s far larger the Inner Farne (somewhere I go most years) so has more locations to photograph the birds from. There also seemed more lichen and moss on the rocks which looks great in the photos. Unfortunately, like the Farnes, you can’t go when the light is at its best, but that shouldn’t put you off.
You’re given a map that shows where the best viewing points are and the various paths – which you aren’t allowed to leave, because of nesting birds, burrows etc. I decided to head to the South Horn, for no particular reason and was glad I did because there was a really great spot nearby. The cliff cuts into the island in a narrow U-shape, with one side higher than the other, meaning you can stand and look across for great closeup views of the nesting birds. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a wider angle shot of this, but it’s right next to the South Horn, if you want to find it.
After spending some time there, I wandered down to Lady’s Bed, this was a good spot for seeing puffins just beyond the end of the path plus a pair of oyster catchers. By this point there was only just over an hour left, so I walked briskly up to Mill Door which gave great views of the cliff face at Greengate, although some distance off, the amount of nests viewable was impressive. From there I walked back to the boat, stopping off at a spot near Green Face which gave good views of puffins and a razorbill.
Isle of May video
I covered only a small area of the island, but this short video should give you an idea of what to expect if you’re planning a visit. Hopefully the wind won’t be as strong when you go! The high winds played havoc with my microphone, so I gave up trying to record any audio.
The bad thing about the Isle of May
I saw only a quarter of the island but that was enough to make the Farne Islands look a bit less impressive. I’m only comparing the two because they’re both within reach of where I stay in the borders. It often feels like there’s more people on the Farnes than birds, there’s no jostling for position on the Isle of May. The boat holds 100 passengers and once you’ve all dispersed, you can often go quite awhile without seeing anyone … just you and the birds, the way I like it.
I only saw a small part of the island and only took a couple decent photos (as I seem to spend more time shooting video these days), but I was happy with what I took in the space of 3 hours (which felt more like 30 minutes). There’s no point running around trying to film and shoot everything and coming back with nothing worth showing. I’ll definitely be going back, but this time I’ll book 2 or 3 consecutive days and work may way around the island.
…The Isle of May? more like the Isle of aMAYzing! (cheesy I know, but I couldn’t stop myself).
Cameras: Nikon D850, iPhone, Sony Rx100, Canon Legria
Lenses: Nikon 80-400mm
Software: Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Premiere Pro, Filmstro Pro.