I have a childhood memory of the Queen opening the then new Forth Road Bridge in 1964. She crossed over the water into Fife on the last journey of the ferry which took people across the body of water known as the Firth of Forth. All these ‘f’s seem to be a Scottish tongue twister but it is relatively simple – Fife is the area north of the river called the Forth and a firth is Scottish for the mouth of a river. Tour guides are there to make such things clear.
The two villages either side of the firth are called North and South Queensferry after the ferry started by Queen Margaret over 900 years ago after she had fled the Norman invasion in England and married Malcolm III, King of Scots. On our way into Edinburgh from Saint Andrew’s I decided spontaneously to have an unscheduled photo stop in South Queensferry and our uncomplaining driver Ian manoeuvred through the narrow streets until we could stop and get out – although we had gained a rather better view of the new bridge when crossing it a few minutes earlier. We used to have dinner at the Two Bridges Inn there, which has been accurately if unimaginatively renamed the Three Bridges.
It was the British taxpayer who coughed up the £1.3 billion needed to build the new bridge which does not raise a penny in revenue. Bridge and tunnel tolls in Scotland were abolished some years ago to appease the Scottish National Party and try to stem the rising tide of nationalism. The British government spends more money per head in Scotland than it does in England in order to keep the United Kingdom together but, as with Catalonia in Spain, this just seems to fan the flames of nationalism. For some – such as Sean Connery – separation from the UK cannot come quickly enough. Others – like J K Rowling, who lives in Scotland but was born in England – would prefer to maintain the link. For the moment the remainers have the edge. Just.
This new bridge is not a vanity project. As is often the case in housing, structures built in the 1960s have started to crumble while those put up in the Victorian era are still going strong. The Forth bridge was designed to take up to eleven million cars a year but that amount has been doubled routinely in recent years and it would have been closed in a decade if it was not rebuilt or replaced. While the Scots often play up to their image of being close with their money, the British government was not going to stand accused of failing to pay for necessary infrastructure for Scotland so a new bridge was commissioned and built, which we drove over when coming from Saint Andrew’s into the capital.
It is, however, the magnificent Forth Rail Bridge that catches the eye when you stop for pictures. It was opened on 4th March – a date I know because it is my birthday – in the year 1890 by the then Prince of Wales, Bertie who was portrayed as a bully and hedonist by Eddie Izzard in the recent film Victoria and Abdul. Victoria was around for so long that Edward VII, as he became, had a reign which lasted less than ten years before the Edwardian era came crashing down with the start of the First World War.
Our current Queen surpassed Victoria’s record reign over two years ago and shows no sign of slowing down or giving up, although Prince Charles will lay the wreath at the cenotaph this year on Remembrance Sunday. It shows how long she has been around that she came up to open the new bridge in August – fifty three years to the day since she pitched up for the first one. After more than sixty years, she has obviously got the hang of cutting ribbons.