Lighthouse rising out of the sea
Wikimedia Commons

Inchcape, or the Bell Rock, is a reef about eleven miles (18 km) off the east coast of Angus, Scotland, near Dundee and Fife, occupied by the Bell Rock Lighthouse. The name Inchcape comes from the Scottish Gaelic Innis Sgeap, meaning “Beehive isle”, probably comparing the shape of the reef to old-style skep beehives.[1] According to legend, probably folk etymology, the alternative name Bell Rock derives from a 14th-century attempt by the abbot from Arbroath (“Aberbrothock”) to install a warning bell on the reef; the bell was removed by a Dutch pirate who perished a year later on the rocks, a story that is immortalised in “The Inchcape RockBallad written by the English poet Robert Southey. Published in 1802, it tells the story of a 14th-century attempt by the Abbot of Arbroath (“Aberbrothock”) to install a warning bell on Inchcape, a notorious sandstone reef about 11 miles (18 km) off the east coast of Scotland. ” (1802), a poem by Robert SoutheyRobert Southey (12 August 1774 – 21 March 1843) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the Lake Poets along with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and England's poet laureate for 30 years from 1813 until his death in 1843 .

Bell Rock Lighthouse was built on the Inchcape reef in the early 19th century, and is named after the legend of the abbot’s bell. The main hazard the reef presents to shipping is that only a relatively small proportion of it is above water, but a large section of the surrounding area is extremely shallow and dangerous.

The rock was featured in a one-hour episode of BBC’s Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, which told the story of the Bell Rock Lighthouse’s construction. Work began in 1807 and was largely completed by 1810.


Inchcape is formed of the Old Red Sandstone exposed in the nearby coastal areas, and of which Arbroath Abbey is built. The main body of the rock is about 427 feet (130 m) long and 230 feet (70 m) wide, but the south-western part extends for another 1000 feet (305 m) or so. Robert Stevenson, the engineer who designed and built the lighthouse on the rock, estimated that the “greatest length, therefore, of the Bell Rock, which may be said to be dangerous to shipping, is about 1427 feet (435m), and its greatest breadth is about 300 feet (91.4m).”[2]