Salty matters

There is no guest picture today as I have more than enough of my own.  The leading picture shows an old windmill at St Monans, just down the coast from Anstruther.


Our plan for the day was to take a boat trip to the Isle of May, an island in the Firth of Forth which had appeared in our sight every time we had looked out to sea during our stay.  It is a national nature reserve inhabited by a ranger and several research scientists and is served by a daily boat from Anstruther.

The departure times depend upon the tide and our time was one o’clock so we had some time to spare after leaving our holiday cottage. We filled it up by driving a short distance down the coast to St Monans to investigate the windmill, which we had seen while out cycling.  You might think that the mill was for grinding corn but it turned out to be for pumping water from the sea to settle in salt pans.  We could see the remains of the pans below the windmill.

salt pans St Monans

A helpful signboard told us that at one time salt was the third most valuable trade in this part of Fife after wool and fishing and that there were many salt pans dotted along both sides of the Forth coast.

The windmill showed signs of the fierce weather it is exposed to.

windmill st Monans

It was rather cold and windy on this occasion on the shore so we walked back to the village in hope of a coffee and a sit down out of the wind.

St Monans

The village was well looked after.  This colourful house…

St Monans

…was one of the original ‘little house’ restorations in the 1960s which did so much to bring life back to a rather neglected area.

But there was no coffee shop so we had to drive back to Anstruther for warmth and refreshment.

We went to have a look at the boat which would carry us out to the Isle of May.

May Princess

It looked rather small to us but when the time came, about thirty to  forty people squeezed on board and we set off.  The captain had assured us as we came down the gangplank that we were in for choppy conditions and he was absolutely right.  The little boat bobbled and wallowed and zig-zagged about so alarmingly in the strong winds that I was not alone in calculating how long we might survive in the chilly waters if it toppled over.

We were told to keep a fixed eye on the horizon if we felt queasy and Mrs Tootlepedal managed to do this well enough to survive the hour long crossing in good order  but from where I was sitting, all I could see were other passengers rising and falling and in the end it became too much for my system and I was very seasick.  As a result, I arrived on the island feeling extremely cold and miserable and not looking forward to the return journey in any way at all.

Every cloud has a silver lining they say and on this occasion the silver lining was the fact that the weather was so bad that none of the 90,000 puffins on the island would be tempted to go off fishing in the sea.  The Isle of May is not very big and it soon became apparent, even to me in my feeble state, that everywhere you looked, there was a puffin…


…or two.


The island is treeless and has a network of paths which visitors have to keep to in order to avoid harming the puffin nests which cover almost every inch of the ground.


We wandered the paths until we came to a shelter erected for the protection of visitors from the elements and there we sat for a while until a little food and drink had warmed me up enough for some sightseeing.

There were lots of sights to see.  There were other birds about.  This is a shag…


…though it was hard to avoid getting a puffin in shot.

There was a fine Stevenson lighthouse, now solar powered.

isle of may lighthouse

 We walked up a narrow path to the lighthouse and noticed a large cast iron pipeline.

isle of may lighthouse

This turned out to be for carrying compressed air to sound a fog horn.  There was a pipe system running the whole length of the island…

pipe for fog horn
Notice the puffin nest holes

..which served two fog horns, one at either end.

fog horn

fog horn

There was an artificial loch…

Isle of may loch

…filled to the brim with eider ducks warbling love songs at their potential mates.

eider ducks

On each side of the loch were steep cliffs….

Isle of may Loch

…and the birds nesting on the cliffs and swooping above the loch were kittiwakes and on the cliff tops….


…there were puffins.

It may have been the worst day of the season for getting to the island but it was definitely the best day of the season for seeing the puffins when you got there.

There were birds everywhere and you did have to be careful where you put your feet.

eider on nest

There was so much more to see and enjoy but this will have to wait for another post tomorrow as tiredness has caught up with me.  I will say though that the crossing back to Anstruther was a great pleasure after the torment of the outward journey.  The wind was almost as string but the direction of the seas made life a lot more comfortable.

It will probably come as a bit of a surprise to the reader but today’s flying bird is a puffin.

flying puffin


Published by tootlepedal

Cyclist, retired teacher, curmudgeon, keen amateur photographer.

32 thoughts on “Salty matters

  1. Hope all the exciting birds on the island more than made up for being so sick. I am a very poor sailor so think you were very brave to go at all. You took some wonderful pictures and am very much looking forward to the next episode.

  2. I’ve never taken a long boat ride, so I can only imagine what you went through. I have survived amusement park rides which were more like torture chambers, so perhaps I would be alright.

    So many birds! beautiful photos. Are your working lighthouses still manned by humans or are they all automated now as I hear many are over here?

  3. Am I right in thinking that it’s eider ducks which make the Frankie Howerd “Oo-oooooooh”? (I can in no way describe the infection of that.)

  4. There is nuffin like a puffin. Excellent puffins, and the windmill and salt pans are very good too. Imagine not having a coffee shop in this day and age 🙂

  5. You did very well to recover enough to take all those pictures. What a wonderful sight. I agree with Annie. Glad indeed to hear that the return journey was less uncomfortable than you feared.

  6. With all the other Wonderful photos that you posted from your holiday, I had forgotten that you had this trip planned. I would say that the scenery and lighthouse were worth the trip, but then I didn’t have to suffer from seasickness to get there. Your photos of the cute puffins are excellent, and I loved all the other birds as well.

  7. The island must have been your idea of heaven (once you got over the icky bit of the sea crossing). Such a relief the return journey was very different. Looking forward to more photos.

  8. I’m with Annie – no coffee shop?! Unthinkable!
    The puffins are wonderful, like the Mr Potato Head of the bird world. I’m also rather keen on lighthouses and that one looks like it was built to last. The fog horns, though, look a little scary though I’m not quite sure why.

  9. I am so sorry you were seasick – a horrid sensation. I am very impressed by all the puffins – I have seen them when on holiday in Northumberland and Pembrokeshire but never that close.

  10. I went deep sea fishing once for an entire day and was sea sick the entire time so I know how you must have felt.
    I think it was worth it though, considering all the excellent photos. All I had from my trip were 4 fish called cusk, or “poor man’s lobster,” and I gave them away.

  11. What a delightful post. As far as I am concerned, you can’t have too many puffin photos, especially taken with the right equipment and by an expert cameraman. What a wonderful island.

  12. LOVE your puffin photos, Tom! What a treat to see so man!! Great because of the weather, but so sorry on the rough seas. I know what it feels like to be seasick, it is no fun. My grandfather used to tease me when we fished in rough waters in his small boat and I was so seasick, to “keep on chumming, the fish are coming!” Isn’t that just awful??!!!! Today, I have great sea legs after boating for 30 years. 🙂

  13. The small islands are lovely – it’s getting to them that is the problem when the weather is bad. Rough seas mean an uncomfortable journey.

  14. I’m fortunate that I don’t suffer from seasickness but poor CJ only has to look at a boat. Even the jetty makes him queasy on a stormy day. The puffins were well worth the trouble though I should think.

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