The Abandoned Island of Inchkeith: From Military Fort to Plague Refuge

inchkeith from sea (Image: treefell (website:, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

The Island of Inchkeith lies in the Firth of Forth, Scotland. According to sources it had been inhabited, intermittently, for 1800 years before its relatively recent abandonment. It was an important island, strategically and militarily, and therefore suffered many attacks from the 14th century onward, first during the Scottish Wars of Independence, right through until World War Two.

buildings inchkeith (Image: Richard Webb, cc-sa-3.0)

However, Inchkeith’s use was not limited to the military. On several occasions it was also used to quarantine the sick; first in 1497 when people suffering from grandgore, modern day syphilis, were sent to the island, only to return, or so they thought, when God reinstated their good health. It is probably safe to assume most if not all died out on the island.

bunkers inchkeith (Image: Richard Webb, cc-sa-3.0)

In 1589 Inchkeith was used as an enforced isolation refuge for sufferers of the plague. During the reign of James IV the island was also used for a linguistic experiment. The king sent a mute woman and her two infants to the island, to see which language the infants would speak. He assumed it would be the language of God, the ‘original language’. In the end, the children never spoke.

gun emplacement inchkeith (Gun emplacement. Image: Richard Webb, cc-sa-3.0)

First and foremost, the island served a military purpose. The most thorough efforts to mobilise and fortify Inchkeith were made over the course of World War One and Two. Numerous large gun emplacements, artillery houses and other military fortifications can still be found in various states of disrepair. The lighthouse, built in 1803, is not manned but is still in working order. Military use of the island  ceased in 1967, after which Inchkeith was used as a farm for for some time. It is now completely abandoned.

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