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South Queensferry is dituated on the banks of the Firth of Forth overlooking the famous Forth Rail Bridge. The town is named after Saint Margaret of Scotland who used to cross the firth by ferry from "Queen's Ferry" to visit her chapel in Edinburgh Castle. It was here that you would have crossed the forth by ferry until 1964 when the Forth Road Bridge opened.
The population of the town is approx. 12,000 and it is now part of the City of Edinburgh. There is a car park down at the water at the side of the rail bridge giving magnificent views of both bridges and across to North Queensferry in Fife. This car park is hugely popular, especially at weekends and in the summer.
The town has three primary and one secondary schools, two supermarkets and some very good restaurants and hotels.
The Boat House - this is both a bistro and restaurant, the bistro has two huge windows giving the best views of the forth and the rail bridge, the food is pretty damn good as well. Prices ar mid range with a main course around £9. There is a no booking system at the bistro but it is advisable to pre book the actual restaurant as it is small but cosy. There is an area outside to enjoy a drink.
Orocca Pier - this is both a restaurant and hotel. The restaurant food is excellent with mains averaging at around £12-15. While the food is great I always feel a little crammed in here unless you are lucky enough to get a booth to sit in. Again great views and also an outside eating area. I haven't stayed here but from the brochure it looks very well worth a visit.
Dakota Hotel - situated on the outskirts of the town again has a fantastic restaurant with impeccable service> A meal for 4 with wine and drinks will set you back around £100 - £120 - well worth the experience.
The Hawes in (featured in Robert Louis Stevensons -"Kidnapped" is sited under the forth rail bridge and has an open fire. The eating area is made up of lots of little rooms with lots of nooks and crannies. Food here alright - more of a casual dining experience.
Being part of the City of Edinburgh there are excellent bus links to the city. There is also a railway station which will connect you to Fife and the North and also into Edinburgh
Isn't it strange? Sometimes you spend a fortune traveling around and seeing the sights, but you take what's on your very doorstep for granted. For example: if I walk 100m or so up the hill from my house, I can see Edinburgh Castle quite clearly; whilst a short drive of 5 miles from my house takes me to Cairnpapple Hill, which has a 3000-year-old burial cairn from where I can see the Atlantic Ocean, The North sea, and the Southern Highlands.
But, getting back on-topic, I spent a good 10 years or so of my working life making a daily crossing of the Forth Road Bridge which affords unparalleled views of one of the engineering wonders of the Victorian age, The Forth Bridge.
Of course, there are plenty of dumps around here too!
An online friend is visited Scotland last year and had asked me to look for some accommodation near Edinburgh Airport. I suggested South Queensferry.
Whilst telling her a little about the town, it struck me that it was a place which thoroughly deserved a review of its own.
So here it is...
A Wee Dod o' History
THE FERRY (as it's known locally) lies on the south shore of the one of the narrowest parts of the Forth Estuary, directly opposite North Queensferry, its neighbour on the Fife coast. As the most convenient place to cross the Forth from Edinburgh to the ancient capital of Dunfermline, it's thought the crossing was in use even before Roman times (the Romans had a harbour and settlement along the coast at Crammond). However, it's the association with St. Margaret, an Anglo-Saxon princess who married Malcolm Canmore (King Malcolm III, the man who killed Macbeth) from whence the name derives.
After her marriage in 1070, Queen Margaret set up a church in Dunfermline which became a place of pilgrimage leading to increasing demand for transport across the Forth Estuary. The Queen's Ferry, operated by monks from Dunfermline, was a free service provided for pilgrims to Dunfermline and St.Andrews.
The town became a 'burgh of regality' in the 14th century, giving it rights to hold markets and an annual fair which ensured its prosperity.
By the 17th century, it had become a busy sea port, trading in wool, coal and hides - and importing wine, silk, linen and timber from Europe and Scandinavia. In 1627 Charles I granted the town a charter making it a Royal Burgh and freeport. Again the town prospered, as can be evidenced from the large number of good quality buildings from the 17th century which still survive intact. In fact, the old town is a conservation area with a great number of listed buildings.
Into the 19th century, the town declined a little and the industrial revolution almost passed it by. That all changed in 1883, when the building of the Forth Rail Bridge and the influx of its 5000+ workforce brought a renewed prosperity to the burgh.
With the first World War came the establishment of the Royal Navy destroyer base at Port Edgar, just to the west of the town.
An interesting and little-known fact is that on the 16th October, 1939, South Queensferry (or some battleships moored off-shore) was the scene of Nazi Germany's first bombing raid on Britain. Indeed, the first Nazi planes shot down over Britain were shot down that day. The (rail) Bridge was constantly attacked, but obviously survived.
By the 1950s the 'Queensferry Passage Ferry' was the busiest in Scotland, with around 1.5 million people using it annually. In 1964, the Forth Road Bridge was opened, and 900 years of life as ferry port came to a sudden end.
These days it's a desirable commuter town for Edinburgh, as well as a busy destination for day-trippers.
With new housing, it has grown considerably over recent years, but the old town still retains its ancient charms.
THE HIGH STREET in South Queensferry offers an authentic and atmospheric glimpse of the past...if you can catch it at a quiet time that is. Parts of the higgeldy-piggeldy High St. narrow to no more than a car's width in places, causing the traffic to bottle-neck and, together with the bustling crowds, this can diminish the experience a little.
It's far less busy in the evening.
The High St. is quite unusual, in that it has a stepped cross section which was designed to cope with the steep slope to the shore. This results in elevated pavements on the inland side of the street. Houses line the elevated pavement, whilst shops are housed, cellar-like, underneath.
These eleveted pavements are call East, Mid, and West Terrace with The Hawthorne Hotel being situated on West Terrace, just next to The Tolbooth (the big tower).
The oldest surviving building in THE FERRY is St Mary's church, which dates from 1441, and was used as a monastery and hospice before the Reformation; whilst one of the oldest houses is Black Castle (1626), on the High St. When the sea captain who owned it was lost at sea, his maid was accused of inciting a beggar woman to cast a spell on him. Both women were burned for witchcraft.
The High St. is lined with some classic, old fisherman-style inns and hostelries, many of which I've tried over the years you'll be less than overwhelmed to read. Most are full of character, although many have gone a little 'trendy' in recent years.
Restaurants abound too, with Bella Vista, and its dining room which precariously overhangs the crashing waves below, being one of the best located.
Probably the most popular establishment for eating and drinking, is The Hawes Inn. Directly below the (rail) Bridge, at the very end of the street, it was in room 13 of this famous watering-hole that Robert Louis Stevenson penned 'Kidnapped'.
As if that wasn't enough, the Inn also features in Sir Walter Scott's, 'The Antiquary'.
They do a nice drop of beer too!
There are a number of interesting shops lining the High St., selling all manner of goods: from everyday establishments such as butchers and shoe shops, to galleries and shops selling designer-wear, quality gifts, and the ubiquitous tourist tat.
On the second Friday of August, the day before the annual Ferry Fair, a weird apparition can be seen stumbling through the streets of the Royal Burgh. Completely covered from head to toe in burrs, and holding a flower be-decked staff in either hand. This 'thing', is THE BURRY MAN. His arms are held outstretched and have to be supported on either side by two attendants who help him on his duties throughout the day.
This 7-mile journey begins from the Town Hall and proceeds to his first port-of-call which traditionally is the Provost's House (A Provost is the Scottish equivalent of a Mayor). This is where he's given his first of many drams.
Read more about this unique custom:
AROUND and ABOUT
The town has its own MUSEUM on the High St. Among other things, this has good displays on the construction of both the famous bridges.
Half-an-hour offshore, lies INCHCOLM ABBEY - the best preserved monastic building in the country. A Ferry operates from the town from April to November.
Just outside town is HOPETOUN HOUSE, Scotland's finest stately home.
In the neighbouring parish of Dalmeny lies DALMENY HOUSE, home to the Earl of Roseberry.
A little further along the road towards Linlithgow is THE HOUSE of the BINNS, another stately home and the residence of Tam Daylell MP
Sick of stately homes? A bit further on brings us to BLACKNESS CASTLE which has been used for a location in a number of movies, including Mel Gibson's Hamlet.
Just over the water at North Queensferry, is DEEP SEA WORLD, where you can dive with sharks...sounds like fun.
There's even a beach to the east of The (rail) Bridge called 'The Shell Beds' - strange, because it's made up of fine, golden sand, not shells. Perhaps it's because there's a massive oil-pumping platform out in the estuary here - North Sea oil is pumped from tankers to giant underground storage tanks just north of the town before continuing its journey to the huge petro-chemical works up river at Grangemouth.
(Actually, that's BP, not Shell!)
Linlithgow, with all it's attractions, is just a few miles distant.
And remember, Edinburgh is just 8 miles away, with the Kingdom of Fife just a quick jaunt across the bridge.
But, if not the best, then most definitely the biggest attractions in The Ferry, are the FORTH BRIDGES.
It's impossible to escape their gigantic presence over the town. It's also impossible not to be impressed. Surprisingly, unless you are directly underneath one of them, the noise level isn't all that great, but you won't ever forget they're there!
Have a look at this fantastic ariel shot of both bridges. Some of the High St. is visible in the extreme right of the picture, between the bridges.
In conclusion, SOUTH QUEENSFERRY is probably an ideal place to stay if you want to see some of the attractions of East central Scotland, including Edinburgh, but don't want the hassle of staying in the city.
Or, if your in the area, it's a fine place for a day, or evening, out.