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Issue 95 - Roddy Martine's View

Scotland Magazine Issue 95
October 2017

 

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Roddy Martine's View

Roddy Martine welcomes the Queensferry Crossing and a different bridge across the Firth of Forth from each of three centuries

Although I can just about remember the ferry from South to North Queensferry, I must first have crossed the Forth Bridge on railway trips north with my parents in the very early 1960s. I can't remember exactly which year that would have been, but I do remember throwing coveted coins from the train window for good luck and parsimoniously thinking I'd have preferred to hold on to them. There must be a fortune at the bottom of that estuary.

I was at school when Her Majesty The Queen officially opened the Forth Road Bridge on 4 September 1964, but a friend and I sneaked out to South Queensferry the night before to have a look. I remember a contingent of the Royal Company of Archers (The Queen's Bodyguard in Scotland) lining up for a rehearsal in their green uniforms with eagle feathers in their bonnets. I can recall thinking that they all looked a bit old but, then again, to a teenager anyone over 30 years old looks decrepit. On that occasion, as with the opening of the Queensferry Crossing on 5 September 2017, I watched Her Majesty do the honours on television. Since 1964, I have to admit to having rather shamefully taken the two bridges for granted as I raced up to Perth and Inverness, Dundee or Aberdeen by car — both before and after the various sections of the dual carriageway were introduced.

For several years during the late 1970s, I edited a magazine that was printed in Perth and I crossed that phenomenal road bridge back and forth every week. Overnight, St Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife were no longer remote. The Queensferry Crossing that now carries the M90 motorway across the Firth of Forth between Lothian and the Kingdom of Fife is not only beautiful to look at, especially at night when floodlit along with its sisters, but it is also awe inspiring. With a total length of 2,700 metres, it is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world is an astonishing engineering achievement for the third millennium. Costing £1.35 billion, there are those who say 'so it should be'. More to the point, it was completed, give or take a few months, on schedule.

About 26 years after the official opening of the Forth Road Bridge, I interviewed the 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine, one and the same person, whose grandfather, a director of the London North British Railway Company, had received the then Prince of Wales in 1890 to declare open that century's greatest engineering achievement, the Forth Bridge rail crossing. In 1989, the Royal Mail invited me to script a commemorative book of stamps to commemorate the occasion. It was entitled The Scots Connection, a singular honour as it transpired for a young writer, and an opportunity for me to draw attention to all those great Scots, the pioneers, the scientists and the adventurers. Of course, many of these admirable individuals had in their lifetimes made that same crossing and journeyed onward to conquer the world.

For the Forth Bridge Centenary celebration in 1990, I was invited to watch the firework display from a temporary platform erected on the roof of Hopetoun House, while Lord Elgin and Edward VII's great great grandson, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, bobbed about in a boat with assorted Scottish celebrities on the Firth of Forth. With the lights of Burntisland in the far distance, the view from the Hopetoun roof was indeed spectacular, but the fireworks remained remarkably unimpressive and secondary compared to the then two astonishing floodlit works of iconic engineering we were applauding. And now there are three.

“Grandfather didn't care too much about going out in a boat,” Lord Elgin informed me. “He ended up by walking home across the bridge.”