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A LETTER FROM SCOTLAND

Forth (Rail) Bridge (Photo: Clive Willcocks)

A Letter from Scotland by Yvonne Willcocks

Just down the road from where we live in Dunfermline, Fife, we can look south across the fields and see the Forth (Rail) Bridge, one of the best-known bridges in the world and a trademark for Scotland. Next to it is the Forth Road Bridge, and now, three tall pylons which, in 2016, will become the “Queensferry Crossing”, making a unique trio of great bridges linking the south of Scotland to the north. The estuary of the River Forth almost cuts Scotland in half, and for centuries travellers had to pay for a ferry-ride across the treacherous currents of the river, or take the long road around via Stirling. Back in the 11th century, Scotland’s saintly Queen Margaret took pity on the pilgrims from Edinburgh and the south by ensuring that they travelled free across the ferry to reach Dunfermline and then go on to St. Andrews. Thus the villages at either side of the crossing became known as South and North Queensferry. To the northeast a similar problem existed with the estuary of the River Tay, but it was not until the fever of rail travel and transportation spread across the country in the late 1800’s that architecture and engineering developed enough to build bridges over these rivers. The Tay Bridge at Dundee was constructed by Thomas Bouch in 1879, but during a wild storm the bridge www.theamericanhour.com

and the passenger train that was travelling over it – plunged into the water with the loss of 75 lives. Bouch was already working on designing a bridge across the River Forth but this was immediately cancelled. A sturdier design was designed by Fowler and Baker, and the construction was managed by a remarkable man who deserves to be better known – Sir William Arrol (1839-1913). When we first heard this unusual name, it struck a memory chord. Our daughters had had a school friend in London of the same name! But more about that later. Starting in 1882, the Forth (Rail) Bridge that Arrol constructed used a new cantilever principle with three massive diamond-shaped frameworks, linked by lighter connecting sections, supporting the dual railtracks 150 ft (45m) above the river at high tide. Health and safety precautions were not in force at the time and memorials were recently erected at both ends of the bridge to the 73 men who lost their lives during its construction. The bridge was completed in 1890 and the opening featured the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) hammering home a ‘Golden Rivet’. Nowadays, luxury steam-train holidays recreate Victorian rail travel, and it is a great

sight during the summer to see a gleaming, smoking, locomotive, blowing its whistle and stopping on the bridge to give the passengers a photo opportunity. 2015 is the 125th Anniversary of the Forth (Rail) Bridge and it is now celebrating its successful application to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining Scotland’s five other sites; the island of St Kilda, the Antonine Wall (the northernmost extent of the Roman Empire), Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns, and the 18th century cotton mill village at New Lanark. With all this attention, the bridge has become a venue for charity events such as abseiling down to the ground, walking in swimming costumes from one end to the other, and the long-standing event of swimming under the bridge – known as “Loony-Dooking” - on New Year’s Day! Plans are in hand to construct a ‘Forth Bridge Experience Centre’under the northern end of the bridge, connected by lift to a viewing platform at the top of its north bastion, 340 ft (104m) high. For even more adventurous visitors, there will be a walkway from the southern end of the bridge and a scary climb up to the top of the cantilever, and later on this may even be extended all the way across to the northern platform. www.americaninbritain.co.uk

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American in Britain Autumn 2015  

The Autumn 2015 issue features theatre reviews of Bend It Like Beckham, McQueen and Three Days In The Country; restaurant reviews of Smith &...

American in Britain Autumn 2015  

The Autumn 2015 issue features theatre reviews of Bend It Like Beckham, McQueen and Three Days In The Country; restaurant reviews of Smith &...

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