Sep 12 2008
As the name implies, this island lies off Cramond on the north-western edge of Edinburgh. Covering an area of around 19 acres, it is one third of a mile long and stands nearly a mile from the shoreline at the estuary of the River Almond. It is currently part of the Dalmeny Estate, and strictly speaking it is not a true island at all, but a tidal island being connected to the mainland at low tide and also by a long causeway. This allows easy access for intrepid walkers wishing to cross over and visit. At high tide the island is completely cut off from the mainland with the path lying several feet below sea level. It is safe to cross to the island during a time window covering 2 hours before low tide until roughly 2 hours after. If you do miss the tide, and are cut off, you will be staying the night there.The Cramond area is rich in history, and archaeological excavations there have uncovered evidence of habitation dating to around 8500 BC, making it the earliest known site of human settlement in Scotland. There is also evidence to suggest that the nearby island may have had special significance to the prehistoric peoples who lived along the coast of the Firth of Forth, as at least one stone burial cist has been found there.
Within the grounds of Cramond Kirk are the remains of a large Roman fort or station. This place was known to the Romans as Alaterva. A stone altar dug up in the grounds of Cramond House carries the Latin inscription Matribus Alatervis et Matribus Campestribus, a dedication to ‘the mothers of Alaterva and of the fields’. Around AD 142, the Roman forces under Emperor Antoninus Pius arrived at Cramond to establish a fort at the mouth of the River Almond. This fort would guard the eastern side of the land the Romans had managed to wrest from the hands of the iron age inhabitants in what is now south eastern Scotland, the Votadini. Nearly five hundred men worked on the site, building a fort that covered nearly six acres and a harbour for communication. However, the fort was only inhabited for perhaps fifteen years, before it was abandoned by the troops who were ordered to retreat south to Hadrian’s Wall.
In the centuries following the end of the Roman occupation, Cramond passed back into the hands of the Votadini and they gave the settlement the name it carries to this day. Cramond is derived from the brythonic (brittonic) compound Caer Amon, meaning ‘fort on the river’, referring to the Roman fort that lay on the River Almond.
At the outbreak of the second world war, Cramond Island – along with other islands in the Forth estuary – was fortified to protect the coasts in the event of enemy warships entering the channel. A large number of these buildings still remain on the island and can be explored by visitors. The line of concrete pylons on one side of the causeway were constructed as a submarine defence boom and are one of the most striking sights in the area. After crossing the causeway, the first structures that can be seen are the emplacements for a 75mm gun and its associated searchlight. More buildings can be found in the north-east corner of the island, including a variety of stores, shelters and gun emplacements, as well as two engine rooms that once contained all the equipment necessary to supply power to the military installations on the island. The debris from recent al fresco piss-ups, including broken glass, impromptu fireplaces and a certain ‘aroma’ does mar the interiors of many of these buildings. However, I still vividly remember being 17 and all that comes with it and therefore cannot frown too hard at this without engendering feelings of rank hypocrisy.
It may come as a surprise to many to learn that, until the 1930s, there was an inhabited farmhouse towards the centre of the island and that sheep were still present on the island until the 1960s. The remains of the stone-built farmhouse can still be found half hidden in trees. On the census of 1901 there are three people listed as resident on the island. James Hogg (59), the head farmer, his nephew Peter Hogg (29, son of his unmarried sister Helen) as his assistant and a Margaret Gibb (21), the housekeeper. Unsurprisingly perhaps, given the rather limited scope for meeting other young people, Peter and Margaret married in 1903, both “of Cramond Island”.
There are also a couple of secluded sandy beaches on the island’s western side. They command a good view down to the famous bridges over the Forth and also across to Dalmeny House. Cramond Island has also been used in more recent times as an informal venue for ‘Punx Picnics‘ but, with the addition of a stage built by the organisers of the European City of Punk, has now become a fully fledged venue. The island is reported to have also hosted a Terry Wogan lookalike competition in 2003. Terry himself was allegedly present, but unfortunately he only came third.
After your visit to the island I can recommend a visit to the Cramond Inn. A good cosy pub which serves some of the cheapest beer to be found in Edinburgh. The food is also worthy of note [edit: this is not the case in 2012, see comments below].