Like all little sisters, who scratch your CD’s and steal your phone charger, South Queensferry pilfers tourists and day trippers from its elder sibling, Edinburgh, for a peek at its innards – there’s a lot to like about a place with a big red bridge.
A short 20 minute train ride into Dalmeny Station drops you in the picturesque village on the edge of the Firth of Forth. If you’re anything like me, the prospect of photographing 2 epic bridges in the same frame has me rubbing my thighs (and soon to be 3 once the 3rd ‘Forth’ is finished in the spring of 2017) but if epic bridges don’t get your pulse racing there is still enough going on to make this a handsome day trip from Scotland’s capital.
South Queensferry stares at its counter-part, North Queensferry, over a drafty estuary in the biggest face-off known to northern sea-birds, who watch from the many tiny islands between the two shores. Queen Margaret off-of the 11th century, initially established a ferry service to bridge the Forth gap for pilgrims on their way to Dunfermline but nowadays there is nothing more pleasant than taking a £3 (return) train ride across the Forth rail bridge to the even smaller North Queensferry (can you see what they did there!?) and back again. You must, however, stop for lunch while you are there at The Wee Restaurant – a gorgeous little bistro type establishment with the best locally sourced produce and an excellent wine list. Order the mussels.
South Queensferry’s Heritage
Back in ‘the Ferry’, south of the firth, you are greeted by the prettiest of high streets, with the occasional glimpse through the houses at the monstrous bridges sat behind. Cafe’s and gift shops aplenty have been opened in the last several years to mainly take the cash from cruise-goers who are making a pit-stop before the Norwegian Fjords or the Outer Hebrides. But, I don’t think this is a bad thing – older people with lower paunches may flood the ferry a few days a month but it brings in cash for the area and little businesses are able to survive selling the most charming of Scottish crafts and goodies. And if you happen to visit on a day that hasn’t been swarmed by cruisers you’re just as likely to hear locals natter to each other as they collect their morning papers – it’s a sleepy little village, albeit with a colourful history and heritage.
Many of the 17th century buildings still stand tall in this tranquil little town but the grandeur of some of the architecture is a testament to the wealth that this little community used to enjoy – merchants, ship-owners and craftsmen took advantage of their geographical position and traded wool, coal and wine to the rest of the country – sounds like ingredients for a perfect cozy night in to me! But at the same time the place was always fraught with threats from pirates and witches, so some of the local legends and narratives are pretty colourful. Pop in to the South Queensferry Museum on the High Street for more tales and artifacts, it’s a really sweet (free) little museum and has some fantastic information about the construction of the bridges.
Forth Boat Tours
One of the highlights of my many visits to South Queensferry has been a trip on the Forth Belle. Granted, the name conjures images of a majestic Tall Ship with masts flapping in the breeze, an opportunity to don a head scarf à la Audrey Hepburn, however the reality is a boat that resembles something from Bay Watch and face-chaffing winds that even Elemis would struggle with BUT the experience is amazing. An hour and a half trip leaving from the Hawes Pier takes you under the big red bridge and around Inchcolm Island, Inchgarvie Island, oil supertankers and Haystack Rock. Onboard commentary gives you stories and facts about the islands in their hay-day and directs you to the spots where seals bask and puffins and kittiwakes waddle along. Some days, lucky passengers have also spotted dolphins and even killer whales near the bridges. The maid also disembarks at Inchcolm Island if you choose to get off and explore the old abbey and get closer to the puffins for some better photo’s.
South Queensferry’s Watering Holes
There are plenty of establishments in the Ferry and most with good reputations. Have a pint of Jaipur at The Hawes Inn – an old 18th century drinking hole mentioned by both Robert Louis Stevenson in the book Kidnapped and Sir Walter Scott. In the winter you can cozy up in front of the fire, in the summer you can take in the views from their beer garden, either way you’re reliving history from some of the Greats!
Or, if you didn’t get your mussels at The Wee Restaurant over the water, then The Railbridge Bistro won’t disappoint. The window seats have great views and they sell local art work from their walls.
The kids would be happy with an ice-cream from The Parlour on the High Street – a high end sweet shop with the loveliest of welcomes.
So, there you have it – the perfect day-trip from Edinburgh and the tiniest of villages brimming with history. Local transport links into the city are pretty good too if you wanted to make it your base for further exploration – if you are here for longer be sure to check out some of the local beaches, Cramond and Hopetoun House too.
Have you been? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
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