It is strange to think that, for such a major crossing, a road bridge was only opened in 1964. It was such an achievement that I remember as a young boy being taken by my mother to walk across it from one side to the other, and back again – quite a distance. Before that, there was a ferry across the River Forth at Queensferry or you had to drive 15 miles along the river towards Stirling to cross over the Kincardine Bridge, opened in 1936 to the designs of the engineers Sir Alexander Gibbs & Partners and the architect Donald Watson. There had been a ferry at Queensferry since the 11th century, initially to take pilgrims from Edinburgh across to Dunfermline Abbey and onto St Andrews and, apparently, by the 18th century it was the busiest ferry in Scotland. At times, it would have been a distinctly unpleasant journey: the winter wind from the North Sea blasts straight up the River Forth, freezing everything in its path, assuming the ferry could even operate at these times.
Lengthy decision-making for major infrastructure projects is nothing new. As early as 1806 there were proposals for tunnels under the river, with a further proposal for a suspension bridge in 1818. It only took another 150 years before the road bridge arrived but, in the meantime, the growth of the railways took priority. A roll-on/roll-off ferry opened in 1850, but proposals for a rail bridge suffered from engineering complexities, mergers and financial difficulties within the railway companies, not helped by the collapse of the Tay Rail Bridge in 1874 due to high winds. Finally, in 1883, work started on the engineering marvel that we see today, designed by Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker and, at the time, the longest cantilevered bridge span in the world. With the construction of the Quebec Bridge in Canada in 1919 eclipsing this record, the Forth Bridge today remains the second longest cantilevered bridge span in the world, and a recognisable symbol of Scotland. There is no other bridge quite like it and, in the days when trains had opening windows, it was traditional to throw coins into the river and make a wish as you crossed it.
Inevitable, the Forth Road Bridge of 1964 was a victim of its own success, especially when railway lines were closed in the 1960′s under Beeching’s rationalisation and tolls on the bridge were scrapped in 2008 with the result that in recent years it has been carrying traffic far in excess of its design capacity, at a peak of 65,000 vehicles per day, while of course the bridge is also of an age where it required a little TLC. At the time of opening it was the largest suspension bridge in the world outside the USA with a length of 2.5km and a central span of 1km. A year ago, in September 2017, the new Queensferry Crossing was opened by Queen Elizabeth II, coincidentally 53 years after she opened the Forth Road Bridge, in September 1964.
This time the bridge is a cable-stayed design with three towers each 207m high and, continuing to set records, it is the longest triple tower cable-stayed bridge in the world. It also (at last) has wind shielding to enable it to continue in use during the inevitable periods of high winds, when the old road bridge had to close.
So, now there are three bridges, and South Queensferry is the place to go and admire over 100 years of Scottish engineering, even on a stormy autumn evening.