Robert Louis Stevenson

Sharon Beck (RCAHMS) – East Lothian

East Lothian ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

East Lothian ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Sharon Beck, RCAHMS

Sharon Beck, RCAHMS

Fidra Island

When I played at Yellowcraig as a child, I had no idea that I was following in the footsteps of one of my favourite authors, Robert Louis Stevenson. Like me, Stevenson used to holiday in East Lothian, playing on the same beaches and picking up inspiration from his surroundings. Stevenson formed the foundations of one of his most famous stories, Treasure Island after several visits to the Island of Fidra, which can be seen from the coast of Dirleton. It has been claimed that the map of Treasure Island was modelled on Fidra, which sits in the Firth of Forth, approximately two and a half miles west of the seaside town, North Berwick. Stevenson’s visits to the island were around the time the Lighthouse was being constructed in the 1880’s. RCAHMS’ archive holds the original plans which are signed by Stevenson’s father, Thomas and cousin, David who were the engineers responsible for the construction.

Aerial view centred on Fidra, taken from the NW. Copyright RCAHMS (SC916492)

Aerial view centred on Fidra, taken from the NW. Copyright RCAHMS (SC916492)

 

One of several islands on the Forth dubbed ‘The Little Jewels’, from the coast, Fidra Island looks nothing more than a lump of rock in the middle of the sea with a lighthouse that is still used to this day. However; after looking through some of the Ordnance Survey Name Books on Scotland’s Places I discovered that this little island offers a lot more than first meets the eye. In around 1165, a chapel was built on the island and dedicated to St. Nicholas, and frequented by monks from Dryburgh Abbey, as well as the Cistercian nuns from the local Convent at North Berwick, who used to make pilgrimages to the Chapel. The Chapel was also possibly used as a quarantine hospital for sick sailors, and for people suffering plague; however it now sits in a state of ruin with only one wall remaining. There is also part of a railway, which I found particularly fascinating considering it’s a fairly small island. What the railway would have been used for I cannot say, as very few records seem to be available. Fidra is also home to Castle Tarbet, a pillar reaching 40 feet from the sea, with sheer drops on three sides. It’s little wonder that Robert Louis Stevenson found the island so intriguing and inspiring enough to influence his work, or perhaps it was just a tribute to his family who constructed lighthouse so iconic of the island today.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.