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24 August, 2017

Isle of May opens its doors

Isle of May opens its doors: I of May-D11661

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is opening the doors to the Isle of May on Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 September, offering a unique chance to find out more the fascinating island.

David Steel, SNH reserve manager said, “The weekend gives people a chance to see behind the scenes. There will be guided walks on the wartime history of the island and on its archaeology. Visitors can also explore the buildings which are normally under lock and key: you will be able to see inside the 200-year-old Stevenson lighthouse, the impressive engine rooms, and see where my staff and I live when we are working on the island.”

Visitors will also be able to see a display of artefacts which archaeologists excavated from the island in the 1990s. The exhibition charts the long religious and cultural history of the island as a focus for Christian pilgrimage, beginning in the 5th century AD. Housed in the Main Lighthouse, the free exhibition was set up to mark 2017’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology with items on loan from the National Museum of Scotland.

Peter Yeoman, consultant archaeologist, said:

“This summer is the first time that the fascinating objects from the May island monastery have ever been displayed. The excavations uncovered remarkable evidence relating to 1000 years of Christian community on this small island at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, including some of the oldest church buildings ever found in Scotland. Leading historian Dr James Fraser described the place as ‘St Andrews before St Andrews.’ One of the key discoveries was the remains of a pilgrim buried around 1300, with a scallop shell from Santiago de Compostela in Spain placed in his mouth.”

It’s free to visit the nature reserve, but you must take a boat trip to reach the island. Sailings are on the privately-run May Princess or Osprey of Anstruther from the Anstruther Harbour, the Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick or by Forthwild also in North Berwick.  

  • Anstruther - for tickets and details, see (May Princess) or (RIB Osprey).
  • North Berwick - for tickets and details, book online on the Scottish Seabird Centre website at or call 01620 890 202.
  • Forthwild - call 07399 218949.

Known locally as 'The May', this small island sits on the edge of the Firth of Forth. The island's importance for seabirds has drawn scientists to its shores for many years and the May is home to the oldest continuously running bird observatory in the UK. The May is also a regular haunt for grey seals, often seen lounging on the shoreline rocks. This island is a historical gem and it's been a place of pilgrimage for centuries with an early island monastery. The May was also the site of Scotland's very first lighthouse, built in 1636, while the current, castle-like lighthouse was designed by the engineer Robert Stevenson.

Helping more people experience and enjoy nature in this way is one of the priorities of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.



Contact SNH press & PR officer, Vicki Mowat, on 0131 316 2659 or (Tuesday to Thurs) or the SNH main press office on 01463 725 022 (Fri and Mon).

Contact information

SNH Media

Notes to editors

The Isle of May is one of about 50 NNRs in Scotland. NNRs are special places that look after some of the best of Scotland’s nature on behalf of everyone who lives or visits Scotland, and they provide unique opportunities to visit, enjoy and learn more about Scotland’s nature. For more information, see

Scottish Natural Heritage is the government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help people understand, value and enjoy Scotland's nature now and in the future. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

Tha Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba na buidheann comhairleachaidh dhan riaghaltas a thaobh nàdair agus seallaidhean-tìre air feadh Alba. 'S e an dleastanas a th' againn cuideachadh a thoirt do dhaoine gus tuigse, luach agus tlachd fhaighinn bho nàdar na h-Alba, an-dràsta agus san àm ri teachd. Airson tuilleadh fiosrachaidh, tadhail air  no lean sinn air Twitter aig


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