“I can’t think of any city in the world with bridges like ours”

The Flying Scotsman steam train arriving at North Queensferry station – Ian Rutherford / Alamy Stock Photo

“Forget the White Cliffs of Kent – ​​the Battle of Britain began at Queensferry. The Battle of Jutland too. And they prepared for D-Day in our quirky little town,’ said local history society enthusiast Stewart Norton, throwing his arm towards the mighty trio of bridges that spans the Forth’s Narrows to the northwest of ‘Edinburgh. “Then there is our pagan feast and Scotland’s only female saint. We have also lent a Prime Minister to Great Britain.

With so much going on, the lines become blurred: even the name is shrouded in the “haar,” the sea mists that often seep in with North Sea horror movie drama. Officially, it is Queensferry; to the rest of Scotland – and more than a few road sign designers – South Queensferry; to the locals, quite simply, “Le Ferry”.

The ‘Queen’ is Scotland’s only royal saint, its only saint too: Queen Margaret, who launched the first pilgrim ferry. These waters were also hobbled by the Vikings, Cromwell made his way to the Forth, and the fringes of the city feature Roman graffiti. During the construction of Queensferry Crossing in 2012, the remains of what may be Scotland’s oldest dwelling were unearthed, dating back over 10,000 years to Mesolithic times.

Bridge over a row of houses - DGB / Alamy Stock Photo

Bridge over a row of houses – DGB / Alamy Stock Photo

It is these bridges that dominate Queensferry, historically and viscerally, however. The parents half-joke that the local kids’ first word is always “bridge.” There are a myriad of different vantage points – the most stunning are from the decks of the Maid of Forth, a small family tour boat located below the spans.

It’s not just that Queensferry is framed by the Victorian Forth Bridge (a young Gustave Eiffel was inspired when he came for the opening), the 1964 Forth Road Bridge and the 2017 Queensferry Crossing. said local doctor Michael Ross: “Our bridges are more than just infrastructure – we’re talking about three bridges of architectural significance dating back three successive centuries. I can’t think of any city in the world with that.

View from the Firth of Forth of South Queensferry - John Peter Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

View from the Firth of Forth of South Queensferry – John Peter Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

But Queensferry is not just any town. A deep military lineage is forged through the ancient shale deposits that were once mined here when the region was at the heart of the world’s embryonic oil industry. It is also etched in the hard rocks that force the Forth into the straits that have attracted bridge builders.

Dalmeny House is one of a trio of country houses that have inadvertently created a green belt around Queensferry

Dalmeny House is one of a trio of country houses that have inadvertently created a green belt around Queensferry

Queensferry played a central role in both world wars of the 20th century. During the First World War, the Royal Navy left Queensferry for its fateful engagement with the German High Seas Fleet in 1916 in Jutland. A memorial board near the Forth Bridge tells the story. Britain may have lost 14 ships, but the Germans did worse. It was also off Queensferry that the German Navy assembled after their surrender in 1918, before sailing towards their scuttling in Orkney.

World War II saw more action when German bombers arrived in 1939 in the first Battle of Britain raid. Queensferry was relatively lucky. During the Phoney War, Hitler did not want civilian casualties. So their target, HMS Hood, was off limits, safely moored at Rosyth across the Forth. Instead, other ships in the river were attacked, leaving over a dozen dead, with their bloody noses choked by Churchill. Queensferry got its revenge by serving as a planning and training center for the D-Day landings.

The Bright Blue Hawes Inn pub against blue sky - Sally Anderson / Alamy Stock Photo

The Bright Blue Hawes Inn pub against blue sky – Sally Anderson / Alamy Stock Photo

Past and present constantly intertwine in the whirlwind neighborhood of Queensferry, a town whose cobbled main street has changed little except for storefronts since Robert Louis Stevenson came here to work on his novel Kidnapped , staying at the Hawes Inn and immortalizing it. The inn is still standing; Looks like Stevenson just left. Waiter Chris was more than aware of the connection: “It’s weird living in Queensferry and working here, like being in a movie or a book. History is everywhere – you can stay in Stevenson’s room and in our bar drink with the ghosts of the hundred or so men and boys who died building the Forth Bridge.

I emerged to find the glade and the giant iron overhangs of this unique, over-engineered leviathan springing from the Forth. Was it a drone from a German bomber, or maybe Richard Hannay jumping off the train onto the bridge in The 39 Steps? Or maybe Ian Rankin’s Rebus lamenting the local police station in “Question of Blood.” In this inspiring setting, everything seems possible.

A view of the site of the original Queen's Ferry

A view of the site of the original Queen’s Ferry

A short drift upstream – past the Sealscraig, where legends say a ghostly dog ​​mourns its lost owner during the Crusades, near the 17th century Black House, where a young woman was sentenced to death as a witch for having killed its tenant with its magic – is the Queensferry Museum. It’s a Tardis, where you’ll find the oldest Carmelite church still in use in the UK and the ‘Burry Man’, the Hulk-esque star of the week-long summer ferry fair who sports barely concealed pagan roots . Military history, of course, remains the center of attention.

'Bury Man';  the Hulk-esque star of the week-long Summer Ferry Fair who sports barely concealed pagan roots

‘Bury Man’; the Hulk-esque star of the week-long Summer Ferry Fair who sports barely concealed pagan roots

You also discover a trio of country houses that have inadvertently created a green belt around Queensferry. Hopetoun House is Scotland’s Versailles, a grand setting for Outlander. Dalmeny House often appears on screen too, but its aristocratic residents are notoriously unwelcoming to visitors, perhaps still figuring out that Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, has been evicted after just 15 months as as British Prime Minister after succeeding Gladstone. You can get married at Dundas Castle or simply walk through lands tinged with the ruggedness of the Highlands – just you, the birds of prey and the deer.

With more history per capita than probably any small town in the country, Queensferry should be inundated with tourists. Not so. The former destroyer base at Port Edgar has been refitted with a glitzy restaurant with stunning views across the bridges, but Queensferry remains a real town, an antidote to Edinburgh’s unreconstructed paganism and history.

Robin at the top of the Forth Road Bridge on a walk

Robin at the top of the Forth Road Bridge on a walk

A new Forth Bridges Trail (theforthbridges.org/visit-the-forth-bridges/forth-bridges-trail) stretched across Queensferry in early December. It’s easy to follow, but many visitors just want to savor the view, as Little Parlor owner Scott Goddard admits: “We just started an ice cream trail. I think more people will follow it than the story trail. Beginners are like rabbits caught in the headlights when they see the bridges – they just want to admire them with a cone.

I end my own exploration by looking at them too. Every New Year’s Day, the daredevil descend into the cold waters of the aptly named Loony Dook. This year the dook is back in local hands after being dumped from Edinburgh’s Hogmanay after more than a decade of service. That won’t bother anyone in Queensferry, a town that has always done things its own way, unfazed by the indelible imprints on the world it keeps waving beyond the Forth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *