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Isle of May Town Information

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The Isle of May, about 5 miles off the coast is now a nature reserve and sea bird sanctuary. With vertical cliffs on the west side sloping to sea level on the east, it provides excellent habitat for many types of bird. The cliff ledges are ideal for the large breeding populations of Guillemots, Shags, Kittiwakes and Razorbills whilst the flatter areas are more suitable for Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Puffins nest in burrows on the north and east of the island.

A bird observatory was established in 1934. The studies of bird migration, varied seabird breeding populations, the island's own breed of mice and the island plant communities are all added attractions for visitors.

Puffins on the Isle of May - Photo © Norrie Adamson
Puffins on the Isle of May -
Photo: Norrie Adamson CCL

The approach to the Isle of May - Photo © Norrie Adamson
The approach to the Isle of May - Photo: Norrie Adamson CCL

In the 12th century, King David I founded a Priory on the island which was inhabited for nearly 200 years before the monks eventually moved to Pittenweem. Today, little remains as evidence of the island's religious past other than fragmented remnants of the 12th century St Adrian's chapel.

The Island's first lighthouse was a beacon established in 1635 when King Charles I granted permission for its erection and the collection of dues from local shipping to cover its upkeep. Despite being considered one of the finest in existence, this coal-burning brazier was not terribly efficient, consuming 400 tons of fuel each year and requiring three men to tend it constantly.

It was replaced in 1816 by a new lighthouse built by the famous Robert Stevenson. In 1885, improvements were made to double the accommodation to provide for three more light keepers and their families. Additional buildings were erected including engine house, boiler house, workshop and coal store. Two new generators were installed and the new light was shown from December 1st 1886. Converted to an unmanned station in 1989, the present buildings look like a small castle with protective battlements.

If you fancy seeing the island close up, The May Princess sails from Anstruther harbour to the Isle of May during May to October. The impressive vertical cliffs all along the west coast are teeming with seabirds including a large colony of puffins and you can also see a colony of grey seals.

The Bishop, Isle of May - Photo © Steve Johnston
The Bishop, Isle of May -
Photo: Steve Johnston CCL