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Inchcape or the Bell Rock is a notorious reef off the east coast of Angus, Scotland, near Dundee and Fife (56°26.052′N 2°23.236′W / 56.4342°N 2.387267°W / 56.4342; -2.387267Coordinates: 56°26.052′N 2°23.236′W / 56.4342°N 2.387267°W / 56.4342; -2.387267). Bell Rock Lighthouse, an automatic lighthouse, occupies the reef. The construction of the Lighthouse began in 1807 and was largely finished in 1810.

Both its names probably refer to its distinctive shape, Inchcape coming from Scottish Gaelic Innis Sgeip, meaning "Beehive isle", probably referring to the old style rope beehives. The main problem with the reef is that a relatively small proportion of it is above water, but that 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.

Southey's Poem

According to legend, probably folk etymology, the rock is called Bell Rock because of a 14th century attempt by the abbot from Arbroath ("Aberbrothock") to install a warning bell on it. The bell lasted only one year until it was removed by a Dutch pirate. This story is immortalised in The Inchcape Rock (1820), a famous poem by Robert Southey. [1] (verses 3 & 4):

The Abbot of Aberbrothok [i.e. Arbroath]
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.
When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
The Mariners heard the warning Bell;
And then they knew the perilous Rock,
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok

In the poem, the bell is cut off by someone known as "Ralph the Rover", out of spite. When it is cut off, Ralph says, "The next who comes to the Rock, Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok." But in a case of just deserts, Ralph and his ship are eventually scuppered by the rock that they helped to remove the bell from. In classic 19th century Romantic style, the ships sinks dramatically, and Ralph hears Hell calling (last two verses):

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair,
He curst himself in his despair;
The waves rush in on every side,
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.
But even in his dying fear,
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.

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