Scotland’s Magnificent Forth Bridges

The wheels on American Airlines Flight 6404 gracefully departed the runway, and our plane rapidly ascended into the sky on the path towards home. Always a bit of a nervous flier, I tried my best to relax and breathe while our aircraft climbed ever higher. I leaned my head against my seat and decided to focus my mind on the wonderful memories of the previous two weeks.

Still ascending, our pilot banked a left turn. Mr. C quickly turned my attention to the window where I caught sight of the massive Forth bridges rising out of the water below. The floodgates opened as the realization set in that I was no longer in Scotland.

Forth Bridge and Forth Road Bridge.

I stink when it comes to goodbyes. It makes no difference if the thing I’m goodbye-ing is a person or a place. My eyes will inevitably leak. And, of course, my cry is never a dainty, pretty cry. It’s quite the opposite. As someone who usually keeps her emotions in check, this snotty outburst always renders me red, puffy, and embarrassed. My tears on the flight that day were no exception.

The sight of the Forth bridges – bridges that we once sailed under, bridges that we have crossed again and again – brought me to tears. They are incredible structures – impressive, massive, and magnificent feats of engineering. But to me they are more than just concrete and steel. They represent the charming fishing villages in Fife. The fantastic farm shop we returned to again and again. The seals that we saw sunning on a buoy. The argument we had in the car over a Taylor Swift song. And the smile on Mr. C’s face the morning he was given the wheel of our sailboat charter for nearly four hours. Those bridges represent Scotland (the second love of my life) and the place I love to be with my first.

A seal sunning on a buoy.
A seal sunning himself near the Forth bridges.

Ready to take a closer look?

Forth Bridge

The red Forth Bridge.

Scotland’s Forth Bridge, which was officially opened on March 4, 1890, by Edward, Prince of Wales, is the freight and passenger railway bridge that links Edinburgh to Fife.  It spans just over a mile and a half and connects the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry, stretching over the Firth of Forth.

This massive, iconic structure is the brainchild of Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker. Following on the heels of the Tay Bridge collapse in 1879, where 75 train passengers tragically died, these men presented a new, innovative bridge design based on the cantilever principle. Parliament authorized construction in 1882, and construction began the following year. At the height of its development, over 4,500 men worked to complete the project, fabricating some 53,000 tons of steel into the striking bridge that we see today. Tragically, 57 men lost their lives in its making.

Red Forth Bridge.
The Forth Bridge is utterly striking because of its size, color, and industrial aesthetic.

Today the Forth Bridge is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It transports some three million passengers each year.  If you happen to find yourself in Edinburgh, it’s well worth a look.

A train crossing the Forth Bridge.
See the train?
Massive columns of the Forth Bridge.

 

 Forth Road Bridge

Sailboats docked in front of Forth Road Bridge.
The Forth Road Bridge has long served as an important link between Edinburgh and Fife.

By the 1920s, the purchase of private automobiles was gaining in popularity, and people began to desire and need a bridge for vehicles that would connect them to Fife from Edinburgh and vice versa. An initial bridge proposal was presented in 1923; however, because of the Great Depression followed by World War II, progress was postponed. It wasn’t until 1958 that construction finally began. Once started, the bridge was completed in six years. Dubbed with the motto ‘Guid Passage,’ it officially opened to the public on September 4, 1964, by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Forth Road Bridge in Scotland.
The Forth Road Bridge is an impressive long-span suspension bridge constructed from 39,000 tons of steel.  It is a mile and a half in length, contains 125,000 cubic meters of concrete, and enough tensile steel wires in its main cables to circle the world 1 1/4 times!
A close up view of the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland.

With the completion of the new Queensferry Crossing this month, the Forth Road Bridge has now closed to private vehicle access. Following repairs, the bridge should reopen later this year as a route for public transport only – a significant reduction in volume from the approximately 80,000 vehicles per day prior.

 

Queensferry Crossing

Queensferry Crossing under construction.
Queensferry Crossing (taken from our car window) when it was still under construction.

Officially opened on September 4, 2017, Queensferry Crossing is a much-needed, much-enhanced replacement for the old Forth Road Bridge. 1.7 miles in length, it is now the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world! It contains a whopping 35,000 tons of steel, 150,000 tons of concrete, and stands about 164 feet higher than its former counterpart. It’s just extraordinary, and I cannot wait to see the finished product in person.

Readers, I hope you have enjoyed our little tour of Scotland’s famous Forth bridges, and I hope even more that you might have the chance to see them for yourself one day.  Have a great Saturday, everyone.  See you next time.

Cheers,

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