Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Nova Fifae Descriptio  
Pagination: 80-81
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Translation of text:

of the same name on the south coast. Balmerino, offspring of the famous and ancient house of Elphinstone, on the estuary of the River Tay; and in its vicinity Lindores, who descends from the family of Rothes. The titles of Earl of Dunfermline are held by a famous and noble young man of the name and family of the Setons, having inherited it from his father, not so long ago Chancellor of the kingdom. Baron Sinclair owns from antiquity Ravenshaugh Castle; his genealogy is ancient and noble, for his ancestors held Shetland and the Orkneys with the title of earl: to this family the present Earls of Caithness and all others with the surname Sinclair, trace their origin. There is also the Earl of Leven of the Leslie family, different from the Leven on the Firth of Clyde; this man, distinguished in the arts of war, was raised to this honour not so long ago by King Charles. Baron Balcarres in the eastern part is of the family and name of the Lindsays. Baron Burleigh on the bank of Loch Leven, who has restored the family of the Balfours by marrying an heiress. If there are any others, let them pardon my ignorance, as I am half-foreigner in knowledge of this region, nor do I experience in these researches the assistance that is due by all.

On the boundary of this province, on the public road which crosses to Strathearn, not far from the village of Abernethy, is a stone structure of ancient work, called in the vernacular Clan Macduff’s Cross, that is the Cross of the family of Macduff, of which these rights are recorded: whoever reached within the ninth degree by blood of that great Macduff, once the most powerful earl of this province (by whose labour the tyranny of Macbeth was largely overthrown), accused of homicide and fleeing as a suppliant to this altar, was freed of the accusation on producing and giving a defined, and that quite small, number of cattle. There was extant an old inscription, now worn away with age, in half-Latin verses, which if it were not tiresome and rather lengthy I could set down in full, but to no purpose, since I judge that it could not be understood by any mortal man, nor do these barbarisms mixed with Latin suggest any modern language, put down now six hundred years ago.

At the town of Kinghorn not so long ago in a rock on the shore was found a spring of the clearest water, held to be healthy for the eyes and believed to cure other diseases of unhealthy organs, and not a few confessed, or boasted, to have felt benefit from its use. But somehow today it has become worthless.


Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth (which was called Bodotria by the ancients), about the middle of the channel between Fife and Lothian, lies from north-west to south-east and stretches in length to 1½ miles, in width on the north side to ½ a mile, on the south to no more than one-fifth. With rich soil particularly fertile for grass, but still uncultivated because of the lack of interest of the owners, it lies mostly on the level and profusely grows plants, of which the principal ones are Good King Henry, sorrel, greater knapweed, wild thyme, yellow horned poppy, lime-grass, greater and sea plantain, thrift, scurvy-grass, ground ivy, dandelion, English stonecrop, carroway, daisy, stork's bill [?], burdock, groundsel, sticky willy, broad-leaved dock, woodsage [?], viper's bugloss, white hoarhound, henbane, milk thistle. It has four springs of very clear water, and the same number of harbours, facing the four cardinal winds (Acknowledgement). The middle of the island rises to a peak, which Francis and Mary, kings of the French and the Scots, fortified very strongly with a thirteen-angled work, the walls of squared stone rising to a height of nine feet, with a depth of about half that; the diameter of the area is about one hundred feet. In the circuit of the walls there are three outstanding towers; in their bases quite large guns can be so conveniently located that besiegers are kept from closer approach. It has a well of fresh water within thirty five yards of the foot of the walls, with easy fetching of water. On the inside the land equals the height of the walls. Queen Mary’s own arms, cut into the stone on the walls, may still be seen, with this motto below: Sa vertu m’attire. The part of the walls which faces north either has fallen through the damage of time or has been intentionally pulled down: the same fate has befallen also the buildings which once stood in the area of the fortification. Among the rocks is a quarry of blackish stones, which give off a smell of sulphur when they are cut, but are highly commended for building work. Around the island in the winter months there is a very abundant catch of oysters; in summer fish of various kinds swim round in dense shoals like ants, a rich haul for the fishermen.

The island’s name comes from the noble family of Keiths, whose progenitor, according to the writers of our chronicles, received from Malcolm II king of Scots about 1010 A.D. both it and the barony of Keith Marischal in Lothian, with the hereditary dignity of Marshals of Scotland, as reward for their courage and brave deeds against the Danes in a battle at Barry in Angus. This lordship was transferred by his posterity to the Lyons, chieftains of Glamis; the head of that family, John Lyon, received the barony of Kinghorn on the Fife coast opposite Inchkeith from Robert II king of Scots as dowry along with the daughter of the same king. By his heirs the same island was sold in 1649 to John Scot, Baron of Scotstarvit, Director of Chancery of the kingdom of Scotland and Senator in the Supreme Court; under his auspices the fortification above mentioned and its buildings are beginning to be restored and to rise again. In the histories of the French it is called Isle des chevaux, Island of Horses, because horses are here brought to condition very successfully.


The Bass Rock, eight miles distant from the Isle of May to the south, seems to be part of Fife rather than of Lothian, because it is certain, that it was the old patrimony of Macduff Earl of Fife; after his forfeiture the King and the Bishop of St Andrews divided his whole patrimony between them, so that the superiority of this island is even now divided, half of the island was held by the King, the other half by the Bishop: now that Bishops have been driven out, the whole has returned to the King. Lauder of Bass, who although he had many other estates both in Lothian and in Fife, nonetheless took his title from this rock, and for many centuries was called Lord of the Bass, so that it is proved to belong to Fife. The same Lord of the Bass not so long ago sold the barony of Scania[?] and Leven in Fife to Lord Alexander Gibson.

The island itself is sheer all round and inaccessible at every point except at the south-west, where though with difficulty one man alone, helped by a rope, can climb to reach the house. The house is quite firm in its foundations, and nonetheless is strengthened by some iron ropes. When once you have passed the house, it narrows ever more and more to a cone at the summit.

On the actual summit is a small chapel and a clear spring, it scarcely nourishes 20 sheep. In winter they have no coal, but more often make fires from birds’ nests. Apart from the birds which we have said the Isle of May produces, it has one much to be admired, commonly called the Bass goose, somewhat smaller than common geese and much fatter; for it lives on herring and retains their taste when it is eaten. In fatness it easily surpasses all birds, of whatever kind. In the month of April or May these geese gather at this island, and then everything must be quiet, but when they have begun to build nests, they fear no noise. Their feathers are good for filling mattresses and are sold at quite a high price to people around; in Edinburgh they pay 25s. for one goose. Each has one egg, and that only once a year. They place it with such skill, that if a man hanging from a rope once takes it from the rock, he will not be able to put it again into the same spot. They do not sit on the egg like other birds, but put the sole of the foot above it, and thus cherish and bring up the chick; the younger ones are of an ashy colour, the adults are white. They have a longish neck like a crane, a pointed beak the length of the bigger finger and yellow in colour.

The bone which in the vernacular we call de Bril, can in other birds be separated from the breastbone, but in this not at all, so that it cannot be wrenched off by any force, being so fixed to it in order that when jumping into the sea while chasing herring, it should not by its excessive violence break its neck. If it is placed in any spot out of sight of the sea, so that it cannot see the sea, it cannot lift its body from the ground or fly. In the month of August chicks are removed and sold to neighbouring people for a high price, the remainder fly off till the following year. However many of them are killed in this way: sailors smooth down a piece of wood and whitewash it, and fix herring to it; they tie this wood to the prow of the ship; the geese seeing it and trying to snatch it with their beaks, stick the beaks so firmly into the wood that they cannot tear them off, but are captured, or rather capture themselves.


The Isle of May was once the inheritance of the Balfours of Mountquhanie, later of Alan Lamont, who sold it to the uncle of the Lord of Barns in the name of his ward, and so it belongs to the Lord of Barns. It was once dedicated to St Adrian, and there was there a chapel and convent of monks, where sterile woman came yearly to salute St Adrian and on their return became fertile; whether the holiness of the place was the cause of that, the wise may judge.

There is found in the royal register of James IV, King of Scots, a charter of some lands granted to Andrew Wood of Largo, under this servitude, that he was ready at the king’s summons (for he was a skilled sea-captain) to accompany him and his wife to visit St Adrian. It extends a mile from north to south, and is a quarter less in width, and is seven miles distant from the mainland of Fife. It has a gushing spring and a small loch; no crops grow there, but in the summer about 100 sheep and 20 cattle are grazed. The western part is inaccessible because of sheer cliffs, the eastern is flat. There are four places where boats can land, viz. Tarbethole, Altarstones, Pilgrims Haven and Kirk Haven.

The laird has a house that is quite suitable for him and his family, for in it is a place for brewing beer, kitchens, etc. Round it there are many seals, especially on the eastern side, where they are quite often shot. Fishing round this island is very common, for they fish from every Fife shore throughout the whole year, and on each day. The best anchorage for ships is near the east side when the west wind is blowing hard. The more frequent birds living there are skarts, dunters, scouts, kittiwakes; the last, the size of a dove, is so named from the sound it makes, and being of an excellent flavour, better than

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