AT just 100m by 200m, Inchmickery is a dot amid the vastness of the Firth of Forth. But while the tiny island, a mile north of Edinburgh, is unpopulated, it has been as marked by the hand of man as much as any urban area of Scotland.
Although the concrete buildings put up during two world wars can make the isle look like a battleship from a distance, this spectacular new aerial view gives the bird conservation site a different shape, more reminiscent of a whale than a warship.
The image is just one of hundreds in a new book giving a bird’s-eye view of Scotland’s stunning natural landscape and how it’s been moulded by humans over the last 10,000 years.
From Stone Age villages in Orkney to royal castles and Victorian dams, Scotland’s Landscapes uses aerial photography to tell the history of Scotland, drawing on some of the most recent imagery from the National Collection of Aerial Photography, held by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).
Images include the Forth Bridge, with its cantilevered shadow stretching out across the water and Inchgarvie island – and, according to the book’s author, James Crawford, the feat of engineering proved man’s mastery of his environment.
“Our landscapes are a product of human invention and intervention,” he says. “The first farmers, who began to clear homesteads from the ‘wild woods’, saw landscapes of rich, fertile soil. The societies who created some of our earliest architecture – massive stone tombs and circles built in alignment with the sun, moon and stars – saw the landscape as a bridge to an afterlife.
“Millennia later, the philosophers of the Enlightenment judged the landscape as a resource to be changed and ‘improved’ for the sake of progress and productivity. The artists, poets and writers of the late 18th century pictured the landscape as the setting for poignant history and sublime romance.
“The engineers of the Victorian era took the landscape on as a challenge – terrain to be bridged, tunnelled and crossed, as a symbol of man’s all-conquering ingenuity. Sometimes in just one modern photograph, you can peel back the layers of history to tell how all of these people have shaped the landscape we look at today.”
The photographs, taken by RCAHMS aerial survey project manager Dave Cowley and RCAHMS photographer Robert Adam, cut across the Lothians, including the ruins of Mavisbank House in Midlothian and the still-palatial Hopetoun House near South Queensferry, referred to as the Scottish Versailles. Further west, the book shows the sweep of the Almond Valley viaduct as it cuts through harvest fields between Newbridge and Broxburn.
To East Lothian, there’s the bulbous coastline of Whitberry Point, north-west of Dunbar – known as St Baldred’s Cradle – on which a pillbox was built during the Second World War, the remains now hidden beneath a grassy mound, while to the west of the harbour town, at the sandy estuary of the River Tyne a line of anti-tank blocks can be seen running for nearly 2km through the Links Wood.
At the northern fringes of the Lammermuir Hills, the remains of White Castle can be seen casting shadows 2500 years since the structure was built in the Iron Age.
James, 34, adds: “There’s so much more to our landscapes than bits of rock and water and hills. It’s hugely important to record as, ultimately, the landscapes we see now are not going to be that of the future.”
• Scotland’s Landscapes by James Crawford, is published by RCAHMS, priced £25. For information about the national collection, go to www.aerial.rcahms.gov.uk