The Isle of May and the Sea Roads

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Before cars, trains and planes, roads, rails and flight paths, the fastest and surest way of travel was by boat. Rivers, estuaries, lochs and the sea would have all seen constant traffic and the Isle of May was in the middle of the busiest spaghetti junction of its time with sea roads going past the island in all directions.  Local boats would have criss-crossed the Forth, travelers going north or south would have taken boats to cross the Forth rather than go around it or moved up and down the East coast while travelers heading across the North Sea would have past the island going in or out of the Forth.  It was a bit like that bit of Scotland today where the M9, M8, A8 meet right next to Edinburgh airport when international, national and local travelers all cross.

This way of travel turned the land inside out, the opposite to the way we view the island and the coast today. Now it is right on the periphery of everyday life, off the coast, on the edge of our daily view but go back more than a thousand years then the interiors weren’t well known so the land was viewed from the sea with a familiarity that few see today. Navigation was rudimentary back then, before compasses, gps and even charts. Sailing instructions related to natural features such as stars, daily bird flights, tides and also the shape of the coast itself. Sailing along the East coast and the May would have been a major signpost along with the Bass Rock and Berwick Law to the south and Fife Ness to the north that gave a traveler their exact location. Except on a foggy day.

It is good to think of the island in these human terms, not on the fringe but as a travel hub because that is how the birds and sea mammals view it and it can help in our understanding of how the island figures in their lives.

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