The Forth Belle

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
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Trip End Aug 21, 2011


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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Sunday, September 26, 2010

I caught the bus in the early hours of Sunday morning to take a ride to the coastline to visit the small town of South Queensferry. South Queensferry is technically still part of Edinburgh, though it is 25 minutes away.  You may be wondering what is in South Queensferry.  Well, only the Firth of Forth Bridges.  In Scotland, a "firth" is the same as an estuary.  The bridges cross over the firth of the River Forth (therefore, the Firth of Forth) from South Queensferry to North Queensferry.  On the south bank of the Firth of Forth, a boat tour operates a few times a day to provide views of both bridges and a short stop on one of the islands that lie in the Firth of Forth.

The bridge that is slightly more upstream is the Forth Road Bridge which is designated for public traffic and cyclists.  The bridge was completed in 1964, and, though the bridge is not relatively old, plans are already in the works to replace it.  When the bridge was designed and built, the engineers and architects underestimated the influence on the automobile, not thinking that the average family would own two of them.  Today, the bridge can barely withstand the weight of public traffic and lorries (British for “transfer truck”) combined.  A new bridge is planned that will be constructed a little bit upstream in a similar fashion to the Forth Railway Bridge which uses two islands as stepping stones.

Now, the significantly more impressive bridge that crosses the Firth of Forth is the Forth Railway Bridge (or simply, the Forth Bridge).  Built in 1890, it was the longest cantilever railway bridge in the world, but, in less than 30 years, it was upstaged by the Quebec Bridge which became the longest.  It was also the first major structure in the UK to be built exclusively with steel.  The Forth Bridge was built when the previous railway bridge, Tay Bridge, collapsed, killing the 70 people on the passenger train.  The designer of the previous bridge? Sir Thomas Bouch.  Now, the tour guide promised that Thomas Bouch's poorly designed bridge was the origin of the word “botch” as in “to do a job poorly.”  However, when I tried to research this point, it appears that it is purely myth, but I suppose it does make a good (false) story.  Either way, the new Forth Railway Bridge is an engineering and structural feat that created a beautiful and extraordinary bridge.

I would like to take this opportunity to finish the story I started at the beginning of the last entry.  As me and many others were waiting for the first ferry to arrive, we “queued up” to get on.  It is then that a group of Indian people waltz directly to the front of the line to all of our disbelief and hoped right in front of everyone.  We couldn’t believe our eyes, but unfortunately, the people in the queue were only me (American) and polite English and Scottish folks, so no one said anything.  Meanwhile, the Indian crew is on board and chatting it up extremely loudly and being generally rude to those around them (trying to steal the seat that I’m obviously sitting in!), and they were certainly making noises that were not words in their native tongue. The tour guide was thankfully loud enough to talk over them.

After the ferry toured us under both bridges, it headed further downstream to Inchcolm Island.  This is when the Indian crew bolted to the exit ramp of the boat but failed to remember that you had to get a landing pass to get off the boat.  So while everyone with a landing pass (i.e. me) stood there waiting while they all tried to figure out if they wanted a landing pass and holding up the whole line.

Inchcolm has a history dating back to the 500’s, but today it has a booming permanent population of two.  These two residents keep up the ruins of Inchcolm Abbey that lie on the island.  Originally, it is believed that a monk came to the island in the 12th century and built a small crude abbey.  This abbey was later revamped time and time again over the years until it reached its current size.  The abbey was officially abandoned after the Scottish Reformation in 1560 (when the Scots broke from the Catholic Church). As time went on, the abbey was raided numerous times until it stands as it does today.  Exploring the nooks and crannies of the abbey was a fantastic experience.  I climbed up a very small and very steep spiral stone staircase all the way to the top of the abbey for a 360 degree view of the Firth of Forth as well as Edinburgh.  The abbey was completely made of stone except the newer parts that were replaced for tourists to be able to fully explore the ruins.  There was a chapel, living quarters, kitchen, and a great hall; it was quite a big place.

The Indian shenanigans weren’t quite over.  They continued by marching over the island acting like children (when none of them were under 20).  While we waited for the boat to dock again to pick us up, the oldest woman in the group (I’m assuming the mother of the crew who was probably 40-something and acting crazy) tried to squeeze herself to the front of the line again just before I was boarding the little ramp onto the boat.  Don’t think for a second I was about to let that go down.  My right hand was already on the ramp railing, but my left hand wasn’t yet, which is where she was trying to make her move.  I quickly put my left hand up on the railing so she couldn’t cut in line again and made my way on the boat.  When I got on the boat my friend asked me, “Did she give you a look?” I replied with, “I didn’t give her the satisfaction of giving me a 'look’ because I didn’t even look at her.”  This is when I would like to submit to the world that the new stereotype for “loud and obnoxious” be moved from Americans to Indians (sorry Amrita).  I’ve never experienced rude Americans on the travels, only rude Indians.  Thus, the stereotype has been transferred.

In more current history, the island was used extensively in World War I and II.  The island was fortified with guns and tunnels that run under the surface.  Inchcolm Island, as well as others in the Firth of Forth, all had edifices built on top of them to make them appear as battleships in the distance.  This was because, during WWII, Britain (and many others) were terrified of the U-boats, and they hoped that these islands could trick the German periscopes poking out of the sea to believe that they were surrounded by battleships.

On the ferry ride to and from the island, we were treated with some wildlife.  Notably, we saw some seals resting on some small islands and buoys out in the Firth of Forth.  They just sat there and watched us pass on by, relaxing in the sun.

I took the bus back to home base in Edinburgh and packed up to catch the overnight bus back to London.  I definitely don’t think this is my last time in Scotland.

P.S. The Forth Belle is the name of the tour boat I was on.
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