“ Address: Ellwyn House, Athelstaneford, East Lothian, Scotland, EH39 5BE / Type: Boat tour „
I was delighted when I saw that a trip on The Forth Belle was offered as the deal on the day on Groupon for just £9 for two adult tickets instead of the normal price of £11 each. I had previously travelled on The Maid Of The Forth to Inchcolm island and had a whale of a time but this boat is no longer in operation and it looks like the Forth Belle is the only boat offering a service to Inchcolm. Please not that in this review I am discussing the boat tour only; when sailing using a Groupon deal we had to book in advance and on the day it was cold and rainy and foggy so we decided to stay on the boat and not land on the island as we had originally planned.
The boat tour lasts for 75 minutes and departs from Hawes pier in South Queensferry. There is limited parking along the seafront but this is a historic town not designed to be accommodating to cars so make sure you get to the village in plenty of time to find a space. The pier itself runs next to the famous Forth rail bridge and was surprisingly slippery with moss and sea spray so care was needed when walking. The gangway to the boat was only a few feet long but very narrow and had steps on it making it unsuitable for wheelchair users.
The boat has both indoor and outdoor seating and can hold a maximum of 215 passengers. Outdoors you can sit right up the front of the boat on benches but this area is uncovered so you are open to the elements. We chose to sit here as it had the best view of what was going on. The mid-section of the boat is indoors and heated with comfy benches and tables with large windows so that you can see the view. The back section of the boat is outdoors but also has a cover over the top which will protect you from showers or the sun. There is a small café area downstairs in the boat which serves drinks and snacks. It doesn't have a huge choice but really you don't need more than a drink and chocolate bar anyway. The boat does look pretty old and you are not traveling in luxury but it is comfortable enough for a short cruise.
The boat first goes underneath the Forth Road Bridge and out to a small island where you can sometimes see seals basking. You can also see the ferry port at Rosyth and the enormous crane which is used at the dockyard. The road bridge seems tiny from below and the noise of the traffic overhead is very loud. The tour gives details of the building of the bridge and the industrial life of the Forth.
The boat then turns back on itself and heads east under the road bridge again and then under the famous Forth Rail bridge which is stunning from the different angles. It continues east along the estuary and the commentary tells you about the history of the area and which landmarks on the shore you are passing.
When the boat reaches Inchcolm island it travels around the perimeter of the island before landing at the pier for people who choose to land for an hour and a half to tour the island and monastery. Puffins nest on the rocks of the island during several months of the year but unfortunately not during October. All the old military buildings from the second world war are also visible as the island was used in the defence of the nearby naval base.
I was disappointed not to see more marine life in the Forth, part of that may have been because in October there was less to see but I also think if the trip had taken a different route then we might have seen more. We did see several seals which was nice but hardly any birds, my friend did manage to identify a couple of species of seabird but none were pointed out during the tour.
Overall a trip on the Forth Belle was pleasant enough but not nice enough that I would recommend it as a stand-alone trip. I will use the Forth Belle again as a means to go and land on Inchcolm as I have been before and the island is lovely but if I want to take a boat trip I will choose one of the specialised ones which have more focus on wildlife.