South Queensferry, a small picturesque town, on the shore of the Firth of Forth between the Forth Rail Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge is a truly Scottish gem, not to be missed when planning your trip to Edinburgh.
The town provides an unforgettable experience, a rich historical background, unique architecture, old narrow streets, monumental bridges, stories and legends of ghosts and witches, as well as the famous Hawes Inn, featured in “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The sense of pride and strong local community can be found in all corners of the town. As Doug, a local construction worker and a frequent visitor to the Staghead Hotel pub explained, “We’re a very small community. People here are very friendly. We’ve always got a few stories to tell about Queensferry over a pint or two. You just need to ask us.”
Queensferry is often referred to as “the Passage of the Queen”, meaning Queen Margaret, the wife of Malcolm III, who established a ferry service operated by Carmelitan monks, for pilgrims travelling north to St Andrews in the 11th century.
The town started attracting merchants, herbalists and visitors from remote parts of the world, such as the Baltic states and India.
Although the original crossing place, behind St Mary’s Church, is now a public car park, one can still admire the view of the Forth bay, with the Forth Road Bridge on your left and the Forth Rail Bridge running across the bay on your right.
The original ferry services were sidelined significantly with the coming of the railways to Scotland, and the construction of the world’s first major steel bridge from 1883 – 1890 by Sir William Arrol.
The bridge was complemented by the construction of another big suspension bridge built over Firth of Forth from 1958 – 1964, known as the Firth Road Bridge & built by the same company, Sir William Arrol & Co, at a cost of £11.5 million.
Following its construction, the Forth Rail Bridge was instantly hailed as the World’s 8th Wonder and has become a testament to and a remarkable example of human achievement and the hunger for new technologies during the Industrial Revolution in the mid 19th Century.
According to Engineering Timelines, a Registered Charity promoting awareness of engineering heritage of the British Isles, “The construction challenges posed by the Forth Bridge were immense. The spans necessary were almost four times as large as any railway bridge previously built in the United Kingdom, which as yet had no cantilever bridges.”
The Bridge claimed the lives of at least 57 people who worked on its construction. Some experts believe that the total number of casualties could have reached 80. Over 160 people were injured and were hospitalised in the nearby pub, the Hawes Inn.
A story has it that cries of the dead construction workers can still be heard amongst the wailing wind on stormy winter nights.
The Black Castle, which is the oldest building in Queensferry, built on the High Street in 1626, is said to be another ghostly place.
As John Murphy, the owner of a boutique Number 18 Bed & Breakfast explains, “The Black Castle belonged to a prominent local coal merchant and sea-captain who was lost in a storm at sea. His maid was accused of witchcraft by paying a beggar woman to cast a spell on him, and they were both burned.” John further explains that, “As witches weren’t allowed a burial in the consecrated area, the remains of the maid and the beggar woman were buried in an unnamed grave at the back of a church yard, under a tree and without a plaque to remember their names.”
Whereas South Queensferry is certainly not a shopper’s paradise, the few gift and crafts shops, as well as second-hand shops in the High Street are very welcoming and offer a wide range of souvenirs for even the fussiest visitors.
If you are hungry and looking for a traditional Scottish pub with a touch of local history, Hawes Inn is just the right place for you.
The inn, dating back to 1700s is located underneath the Forth Rail Bridge, and was a source of inspiration for the famous Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, who used it as an important point of action in his book “Kidnapped”.
The pub features a special RLS dining room with photos, paintings and memorabilia connected with the author.
Those with more sophisticated palates and deeper pockets will be delighted to dine at the Orocco Pier, a boutique hotel and restaurant overlooking the Forth bridges, right in the heart of Queensferry’s High Street.
Whatever you’re looking for, be that grand views, examples of technological wonders, historical buildings, cultural references or ghosts of the past, South Queensferry has them all, so don’t forget to put it on your list of places to see when in Edinburgh!