Speculative geology in the Firth of Forth: Uri Geller’s cosmic island and other tales

This post is scaffolding for a small musing-project on the multinatural histories of a set of islands that lie in the Firth of Forth, the fjord sea inlet around Edinburgh.

The islands lie strung out along the coast.

Their patchworked histories incorporate Benedictine monasteries (Isle of May), dumping grounds for syphilitics and plague-carriers (Inchkeith), lighthouses to domesticate the choppy waters (Fidra), anti-Nazi gun emplacements (Incholm); they are places of murder and imprisonment, refuge and retreat for heretics, hermits and birds. I will try and land on as many as I can in 2014, be it in person, spirit, or through the archive.

But the island are no remnants, consigned to history.

In the last few decades fresh land has sprung, steely, from the deep: islands of metal scaffolding, serving new gods – North Sea oil and gas.

North Sea gas terminal, off Peatdraught Bay
North Sea gas terminal, , off Peatdraught Bay
Liquified Gas facility spilling down from hills at Braefoot Bay
Braefoot Bay marine gas terminal © Copyright Simon Johnston and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

The islands of the Firth of Forth are a growing family, histories continuing to fold, one on another.

The gods of energy security may or may not bring fracking to the Firth of Forth. The pulse of geology ebbs and flows: for recently Braefoot was retrofitted to drink deeply of the North American shale gas boom, replacing its steady gorging of local, fossilised sea-critters.

Geology is not done with the Firth of Forth.


In 2009, the Palestinian mystic and spoon-bender Uri Geller bought Lamb Island, an uninhabitable basalt lump some 20 miles from Edinburgh. He paid the knock-down price of £30,000.

Lamb island viewed from Berwick Law

The spoon-millionaire ordered his island direct over the telephone from Japan, presumably in a peak of late-night shopping.

I like to imagine Geller’s perplexed reaction when the title deeds arrived on the doorstep of his Berkshire mansion months later, much like the unexplained book that arrives weeks after you’ve forgotten you even ordered it. In any case, Geller gamely declared that “I can’t believe that the Scottish Government let it go. But it’s mine now!”

Geller had read that, apparently, an exiled ancient Egyptian princess buried treasure somewhere on the island, as part of ancient pact between Scotland and Egypt.

According to press coverage at the time, Geller’s purchase was influenced by an article in Atlantis Rising [a journal of the occult…].

The gist of the article is that Lamb is one island in chain of three that matches the crooked line traced by the Egyptian pyramids at Giza (you can read Uri’s account here)… Even more mysteriously, Lamb itself sits at the confluence of two crucial ley lines. The author, ‘historical investigator’ Jeff Nisbet, asks:

“What are the chances that the freemasonic numbers 23.5, 33, and 47 would lead us to a small patch of the globe containing three islands laid out in the pattern of Orion’s Belt, near a very pyramidal hill just three feet shorter than the Great Pyramid, only 20 miles to the east of a Sphinx-shaped extinct volcano with Arthurian connections, in a city that is the acknowledged world capitol of Scottish Rite freemasonry — all in a land with an much-decried Egyptian foundation legend?”

Quite. Atlantis Rising does a good line in occultist marginalia and conspiracy. In any case, Geller became convinced that Lamb Island was animated by a cosmic energy.

It’s easy to ridicule though. But these occult histories animate the island as much as the now-settled geological controversies surrounding their birth, and have come to direct Lamb Island’s future: for they hooked Uri Geller. Such histories need not be true (or even barely credible) to have an effect on the world.

Uri on Lamb
Uri Geller (left) on Lamb

Certainly, Geller was a step up from the Brazilian businessman who owned Lamb Island before him. Although, we should have more democratic control over who gets to own Scotland’s land.

Having bought his island, and determined to visit, Geller scheduled a helicopter ride.

Luckily, he was persuaded by the local Seabird Centre to land instead by boat, to avoid upsetting the many protected bird species nesting there.

Landing on the island on a cold February in 2010, Geller exclaimed:

“How incredible it is to own an island. It’s just mind-blowing – look at it! Look at all these seagulls. Are these seagulls mine? … What are these called?”

He then spent one night on Lamb Island, feeling “the energy of the place”.

He has not been back since. The birds are still there.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock
The Bass Rock, June 2013

The gannet, a bird adapted for diving into the sea after fish, is anchored to another of these basalt islands, which lies a little over five miles to the east along the coast from Lamb. The gannet is anchored by a name, Morus bassanus; the ‘bassanus’ following the ‘Bass’ in Bass Rock.

No incarnation of eternal, universal nature, this beast of the sea/air borders is freighted with our desire for epistemic rooting, flying gamely through our scientific and naming  histories.

Each Spring, gannets flock to Bass Rock, returning from their winter hunting grounds off the coast of West Africa, or the balmier parts of the North Sea. The colony, 150,000 strong, makes its seasonal homes every year to raise chicks. Or just have a lot of ‘unproductive’ sex.

The dark rock is turned white by feathers and shit. Biology overwhelms geology.

And every year 280,000 human tourists sail out and around the island, each entering for a short time a world thick with caw-cawing divers, their smell, and their aerial energies.

Bass Rock skies
Bass Rock skies

On such a trip, when the boat approaches the Bass Rock the anticipatory tourist babble ebbs away, the commentary becomes more reverential: a sense of something different creeps over the boat. Reaching the Bass Rock we enter another world, becoming – perhaps – differently human: sharing some part of another creature’s life-world by enhancing the powers we have, or getting newly sensitive, if only for a time. The visitor enters a zone of proximity. In the gannet we glimpse a way of being that while radically different to our own, involves sharing territory: sharing the earth.

DSC00381Yet, at the same time we feel our distance and the impossibility of ever meeting in the same world, even as our different worlds come together, briefly, boating round the Bass Rock.

Something taints this meeting: The skies, immediate and full of birds, juxtaposed against an injunction to worry about the fragility of abundance, and the possibilities of extinction.

Leaving the Bass Rock, we can answer Uri Geller’s question:

No, these gannets are not ours.