Inch Keith is the first chapter of Samuel Johnson's book Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, about a trip he took in 1773. The next chapter is St. Andrews.
I had desired to visit the Hebrides
, or Western Islands of
, so long, that I scarcely remember
how the wish
; and was in the Autumn
of the year 1773
the journey, by finding in Mr. Boswell
would help my inquiry
, and whose gaiety
, in countries less hospitable
On the eighteenth of August we left Edinburgh, a city too well
known to admit description, and directed our course northward,
along the eastern coast of Scotland, accompanied the first day by
another gentleman, who could stay with us only long enough to show
us how much we lost at separation.
As we crossed the Frith of Forth, our curiosity was attracted by
Inch Keith, a small island, which neither of my companions had ever
visited, though, lying within their view, it had all their lives
solicited their notice. Here, by climbing with some difficulty
over shattered crags, we made the first experiment of unfrequented
coasts. Inch Keith is nothing more than a rock covered with a thin
layer of earth, not wholly bare of grass, and very fertile of
thistles. A small herd of cows grazes annually upon it in the
summer. It seems never to have afforded to man or beast a
We found only the ruins of a small fort, not so injured by time but
that it might be easily restored to its former state. It seems
never to have been intended as a place of strength, nor was built
to endure a siege, but merely to afford cover to a few soldiers,
who perhaps had the charge of a battery, or were stationed to give
signals of approaching danger. There is therefore no provision of
water within the walls, though the spring is so near, that it might
have been easily enclosed. One of the stones had this inscription:
'Maria Reg. 1564.' It has probably been neglected from the time
that the whole island had the same king.
We left this little island with our thoughts employed awhile on the
different appearance that it would have made, if it had been placed
at the same distance from London, with the same facility of
approach; with what emulation of price a few rocky acres would have
been purchased, and with what expensive industry they would have
been cultivated and adorned.
When we landed, we found our chaise ready, and passed through
Kinghorn, Kirkaldy, and Cowpar, places not unlike the small or
straggling market-towns in those parts of England where commerce
and manufactures have not yet produced opulence.
Though we were yet in the most populous part of Scotland, and at so
small a distance from the capital, we met few passengers.
The roads are neither rough nor dirty; and it affords a southern
stranger a new kind of pleasure to travel so commodiously without
the interruption of toll-gates. Where the bottom is rocky, as it
seems commonly to be in Scotland, a smooth way is made indeed with
great labour, but it never wants repairs; and in those parts where
adventitious materials are necessary, the ground once consolidated
is rarely broken; for the inland commerce is not great, nor are
heavy commodities often transported otherwise than by water. The
carriages in common use are small carts, drawn each by one little
horse; and a man seems to derive some degree of dignity and
importance from the reputation of possessing a two-horse cart.