START: Leith, Edinburgh
FINISH: North Queensferry, Fife
DISTANCE: 16.8 miles (Total – 310 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 7 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 350
ACCOMMODATION: Arden Guest House, Musselburgh
Day 3 of my coastal holiday along the Firth of Forth coast arrived and the weather was atrocious. I had originally planned to walk from Leith to North Queensferry on this day, however didn’t fancy getting soaking wet whilst I did it, so in the end I decided to postpone the walk by a day and make my first ever visit to Glasgow instead. And so a day later than planned I was on the bus once again, heading to the Ocean Terminal shopping centre where I had finished off the previous coastal walk from Port Seton two days earlier (see Coastwalk #25).
It was another perfect day for walking, the sun was beating down on Leith although a bit of a breeze was keeping everything cool and fresh. From the Ocean Terminal I headed around the bottom edge of the large shopping centre, merging on to Melrose Drive which took me past a mixture of post-industrial wasteland and modern apartment blocks. Once over this place would have been a heaving industrial and dockside landscape, however nowadays is a lot more quieter. As the industries have left, new housing blocks have moved in to create a much more peaceful area. Melrose Drive took me past a large ASDA store and on to Sandpiper Road which was lined by more newly built apartment blocks. Eventually Sandpiper Road led me out next to Newhaven harbour (below).
Newhaven was originally known as “Our Lady’s Port of Grace” when it was founded by King James III in 1488. During the reign of his successor, King James IV (1488-1513), a new dock and yard was built for shipbuilding, along with a new harbour to house ships. The new port was called ‘Newhaven’ as it replaced the ‘Old Haven’ of Blackness near Linlithgow to the west. King James IV’s patronage of the new harbour led to the burghers of Edinburgh becoming jealous and they began to neglect Newhaven to punish the King. From then on Newhaven was relegated to the status of a fishing village, a role it was happy to undertake for the next four centuries.
The first fishermen to come to Newhaven were Flemish, who came to Scotland to escape religious persecution in their homeland. Oyster fishing was popular at Newhaven and had been for many hundreds of years prior to the new port being built, thanks to the abundant oyster beds on the Firth of Forth. In the late 18th century oysters became very fashionable and lucrative and so there were often many skirmishes between rival fishermen from different villages along the Forth. Leases for fishing rights along the coast imposed by Edinburgh became increasingly expensive and in 1839 they were sold to an Englishman, George Clark. Mr Clark brought in over 60 dredgers and worked them from dawn to dusk. Ultimately this led to the end of the oyster industry after only one season as the oyster beds couldn’t recover from this over fishing.
Oyster fishing was replaced by herring fishing, which also was abundant in the Firth of Forth and further out in the North Sea. For a short time whaling boats also called at Newhaven, with the whale blubber being boiled down in the village to make soap. As the years passed, the herring proved increasingly harder to catch, with the boats having to sail further out into the open sea. As a result new boats had to be built bigger as they were spending up to several days out at sea. This ultimately led to the decline in Newhaven’s fortunes as the harbour was too small to handle the larger ships, resulting in the majority of the fishing boats moving to the much larger harbour at Granton, a little to the west.
Newhaven’s Fish Market, built in 1896, still saw a roaring trade however, and fishing played a big part in the village’s fortunes right up until the 1950’s when the fishing industry collapsed in southern Scotland. Not long after a lot of the centuries old buildings, many of which were Flemish in design to reflect the origin of the early settlers, were demolished, although there are still a number of buildings remaining from the original fishing village.
I headed alongside the harbour, passing by the old Fish Market which is now a fancy restaurant, before heading along the A901 which ran parallel to the shore. The road was lined with old buildings dating from the village’s heydays which added a bit of character to the area. Ahead was a short promenade which I followed until I reached the large harbour at Granton (below).
Unlike Newhaven and Leith, Granton has a relatively recent history. Up until the 1830’s the area which Granton was largely empty, mainly being used for farming. However, all this changed during the 1830’s when the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, who owned much of the land in Granton, constructed a large harbour. What made Granton a special harbour was that it could be used by ships no matter what the tide, which gave it a distinct advantage over Leith. The Duke was able to run coal from mines he owned in Midlothian to his new harbour at Granton by building a railway which connected the two sites.
New houses sprang up to accommodate the harbour workers. New industries came in their droves, with shipbuilding and fishing becoming important employers in the village. With the collapse of the traditional injuries at the end of the 20th century, Granton has undergone somewhat of a change, with part of the old harbour being filled in and new industrial/residential units taking over to give the area a different feel to its industrial heyday.
A walk along Granton’s seafront highlighted this change. I passed by the old houses built in the 1830’s when the village was first settled (right), before coming to a large brand new residential block which overlooked the harbour.
The next mile or so of the coastal walk headed through an industrial estate, where old iron works and gas works used to stand. I passed a relic of the old harbour, a lighthouse (right) which looked a little out of place as it now sits much further away from the shore than it used to. A half mile later a path headed away from the road to follow the shoreline. I got a fantastic view down the Firth of Forth, getting my first real glimpse of the bridges across the Forth at Queensferry in the distance. Also in view was the tidal island of Cramond Island, which I was hoping to visit a little later on in the walk.
The next couple of miles to Cramond were an absolute delight. Even though the sun had gone in, the scenery was gorgeous and there were plenty of people out and about along the promenade which wound its way to Cramond. I decided to have a little break on one of the numerous park benches along the promenade, partly to rest my legs a little, but also to delay getting to Cramond as I knew the tide wasn’t fully out so I may not get across to Cramond Island safely.
A short while later I was back on my feet once again. The sun had decided to make a re-appearance and as I ate up the miles to Cramond I was able to get a clearer picture of what state the tide was in. Leaving the promenade behind I headed down to Cramond beach and could clearly see that the tide was retreating, but was it out far enough for me to walk all the way to the island without getting my feet wet? I couldn’t see the causeway itself from my viewpoint as the ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ were in the way. Not actual dragon’s teeth you understand but rather giant concrete pyramids which were erected prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. These were put in place to stop enemy vessels from sneaking through the gap between the island and the shore, thereby missing all the sea defences in the Forth of Forth.
There was a raised wall ahead which marked the start of the causeway upon which was a Coastguard sign warning of the dangers of walking across to the island outside of the safe crossing times. Handily attached to the sign was the safe crossing times for the year so I could make a judgement on whether to cross or not. According to the times I was an hour outside of the safe crossing time. I didn’t really want to wait as I still had plenty more of the walk to go so I had a decision to make. I walked to the edge of the raised wall to see if there was anybody crossing over to the island. Sure enough there was. A couple had already started making the crossing and were about a third of the way along the causeway, so I thought (possibly stupidly) that if they were ok with making with the crossing then so was I.
I headed down some steps on to the causeway itself which unsurprisingly was soaking wet, having only been recently uncovered by the retreating tide, and was actually a little slippy in places. As a result, I had to make my way gingerly along the causeway, avoiding any puddles, and also keeping an eye on the couple ahead of me to make sure they hadn’t come to any grief. Fortunately for everyone concerned we were able to get across to the island without much trouble, although I will say for anybody reading who wants to make a trip across to Cramond Island, just be sensible and use your own judgement. The nearby lifeboat at South Queensferry is one of Scotland’s busiest because it is often called out to rescue stranded people who have misjudged the crossing to and from the island.
The first thing I noticed when I reached the island was the derelict World War II structure covered in graffiti which loomed above the causeway (above). Built to house a 75mm gun and search light, the installation was part of a series of defensive structures on the island designed to protect the vitally important Firth of Forth from enemy attack, though they were never actually used in anger.
I climbed up to the derelict building and had a little look around. There was a window opening which provided excellent views across to Edinburgh – I could clearly make out the hump of Arthur’s Seat in the distance. I watched as a plane began its final approach towards nearby Edinburgh Airport, an action I would see repeated over and over again as the day went on. I stopped to have my lunch next to the concrete structure and for a short while it felt like I had the whole island to myself. The couple I had followed across had disappeared into the island, no doubt exploring the multitude of derelict buildings on the island, many of which are military in nature. Not only are there WWII structures on the island but there are also earlier Army buildings from the First World War, including a small barracks.
Even though the island is uninhabited today, there was a farmstead on Cramond for many years, which was later let out as a holiday cottage until the onset of the Second World War. Sheep were grazed on the island although this practice died out in the 1960’s. Nowadays, the island is popular with tourists, and also illegal ‘ravers’. With it being so close to Edinburgh it is popular with youths who make the trip across to the island and hold massive outdoor ‘raves’ and are responsible for creating a lot of mess. Whilst attempts have been made to address this problem, it may continue for a long while yet because the island is not in public ownership (instead being part of the nearby Dalmeny Estate), and is far from any controlling presence who could stop people from using the island for any mischievous purposes.
I had stopped to eat my lunch next to the old WWII structure, although I had to duck inside for a short while whilst a sharp rain shower passed over. As I came back out I could see a large number of people had started to make the journey across to the island, so I decided to retrace my steps along the causeway and return to the mainland.
It had been a nice visit to the island. I had hoped to explore more of it but because I still had so much more of the walk left to do I wanted to save my legs. I will definitely go back and visit the island in future though!
CRAMOND & THE RIVER ALMOND
Back on the mainland I walked through beautiful and ancient village of Cramond, which has origins dating back 2000 years, although there could have been people living here as early as 8500BC. Archaeological digs in 2001 uncovered the remains of a temporary camp dating back almost 10,000 years, making it one of the oldest discovered settlements in Scotland.
The Romans built a fort here between 140AD and 142AD to protect the southern bank of the Firth of Forth, then the frontier of the Roman Empire. The fort was abandoned in 170AD although later re-used and expanded in the early 3rd century during a brief sojourn into Scotland by the Roman Army. By the 7th century a chapel had been built on the site of the old fort, which over the centuries developed into the present-day Cramond Kirk.
Cramond lies on the banks of the beautiful River Almond (above), which even though is not a massively wide river actually proved to be a large obstacle in the way of my walk. If I had done this walk at the turn of the new millennium I would have been able to take a short journey on the chain ferry across the river which had existed here since the mid-1800’s. The ferry was closed in 2000 due to the national outbreak of foot and mouth disease amongst cattle which closed large swathes of Britain’s countryside to the public. Even though the problem has long gone, the ferry has never re-opened despite numerous attempts to re-introduce it. Proposals have also been put forward to build a bridge across the river but these have been dismissed by the landowner, the Earl of Roseberry, who claimed that a new bridge would “attract an unsavory crowd” to his estate on the west bank of the Almond.
And so as a result of a lack of a ferry or bridge I had to make a three mile detour inland to cross the River Almond on Cramond Old Bridge. I didn’t complain too much as this section of the walk was absolutely gorgeous. Before I started on the detour though I passed an interpretation panel which talked about the “Cramond Lioness”. Discovered lying in the river by the ferryman Robert Graham in 1997, the Roman statue depicts a lioness devouring a bound naked bearded man and was most likely built to mark the death of a high ranking Roman officer.
Leaving the interpretation panel behind, I followed a lovely riverside walkway which headed through a beautiful wooded section. The walkway is looked after by a local voluntary group called The Friends of the River Almond Walkway, who often carry out conservation tasks along the river. The river has been a vital part of Cramond’s longevity, especially as it was used to fuel its importance as an industrial centre during the 18th and 19th century. By 1799 Cramond had a number of iron forges and steel furnaces, along with three water mills. Seven ships operated from the village’s harbour to export steel and iron forged in Cramond across the world. The industrial age had come to an end by the early 20th century, although Cramond has been able to survive into the 21st century thanks to its location and reputation as an upmarket residential area.
At one stage the riverside path actually passed through the remains of an old mill (above), which added a bit more variety to a walk which had already started to become a favourite walk of mine. A short but fantastic walk later and I reached Cramond Old Bridge (below) where I was able to cross the River Almond. The bridge dates back to the early 1400’s and until it was bypassed in 1964 was the main crossing point of the Almond on the west side of Edinburgh. Nowadays it is closed to most vehicular traffic, so I was able to amble across without the risk of getting mowed down. It was also at this point that I rejoined the John Muir Way which I had last seen on the way into Portobello on the second’s day walk.
One thing I had noticed whilst walking along the River Almond was the constant roar of planes passing quite close overhead. Every three or four minutes the beautiful peace and quiet would be interrupted by the deafening noise of a plane nearing the end of its journey at Edinburgh Airport. Whilst I was hidden amongst the tress on the east bank of the River Almond this wasn’t too bad, however on the west bank the path was in much more open farmland and often it felt like the planes were going to land right on top of me. Very disconcerting indeed!
The path headed into another wooded area and I was soon back at the shoreline once again. The next couple of miles to South Queensferry was one of the absolute highlights of the entire Coastwalk so far. Breathtaking scenery combined with beautiful weather created one of the most memorable walks I have ever been on. The coastal path headed through a wooded area, just a little off the banks of the Forth. Through the trees I got occasional glimpses of Cramond Island (below) and its causeway, which was still full of people making the journey across.
A short while later I passed a couple of cottages which were nestled amongst the trees, overlooking a beautiful beach (above). I could see at the other side of the beach an old castle which hugged the shore. The path continued to meander its way through the wood and I didn’t pass a single soul, making the walk seem that little bit more personal and special.
I was looking for a quiet place to have a quick break and I didn’t have long to wait before I found one. After crossing Cockle Burn via a little wooden footbridge I took a detour to the right and found myself on the beautiful beach I had seen earlier. The views across the Firth of Forth were absolutely cracking. Cramond Island could clearly be seen again, and I could just about make out the tiny ant-like people that were walking all around the island.
I stayed a little bit longer than I was originally intending to. The peace and quiet was just too relaxing although this soon was broken when I could hear some sort of engine making its way closer and closer to me. On further inspection this turned out to be a tractor which was cutting the grass of the golf course which is part of the Dalmeny Estate. A little walk along the shoreline took me alongside the golf course until I was able to get a clear view of Dalmeny House (below).
The house built in 1817 is home to the Earl of Roseberry, whose family have owned the lands hereabouts since 1662. The 5th Earl of Roseberry, Archibald Primrose became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1894, taking over the premiership after the resignation of William Gladstone. Primrose was reluctant to take the job, believing it to be a poisoned chalice. As it turned out he was right, faced with a divided Cabinet, and an obstructive Tory-dominated opposition, his premiership lasted only 15 months until he resigned in June 1895, following a vote of no-confidence in Parliament.
Leaving the House behind, I followed a track which headed through more trees, shortly passing by the entrance to Barnbougle Castle, which is a private property. There has been a castle on this site since the 13th century, although the present castle dates from the 17th century. Barnbougle was the family seat of the Earls of Roseberry from the time they acquired the Dalmeny Estate until Dalmeny House was built. The castle was then used to store explosives, which unsurprisingly was the cause of an accident which resulted in the castle exploding. Afterwards the castle was left to ruin until it was restored by the 5th Earl of Roseberry who used the castle as a quiet place to practice his political speeches.
The Castle was soon behind me as I continued to follow the track through the wood. Just as I got to Hound Point I noticed a worn path heading off to my right which looked like it led to a viewpoint. I thought I’d have a quick look to see if I could see the bridges across the Firth of Forth. I wasn’t disappointed. I was able to get my first proper clear view of the three bridges that cross the Forth – the rust-coloured Victorian Forth Rail Bridge in front, the 1960’s built Forth Road Bridge behind that, and a little further in the distance was the ultra-modern Queensferry Crossing which had been opened to traffic just two weeks prior to my visit.
Hound Point itself is so named because according to local legend one of the lords of Barnbougle Castle went off to fight in the Crusades leaving behind his beloved hunting hound behind. The story goes that when the lord was killed in battle his hound began howling uncontrollably and eventually died from its grief. Ever since then the ghostly hound has been seen on Hound Point whenever the present lord is due to die. Spooky!
I rejoined the woodland track for a short while before noticing yet another side trail which led to the beach at the wonderfully named Peatdraught Bay. I headed down the trail and took a short break on the beach, taking plenty of snaps of the three bridges (above) and also the oil tanker berths sitting out in the Forth, with one oil tanker being loaded up as I watched.
I was eager to see the bridges close up so once again I was back on the woodland track which I followed for another mile until I reached a couple of cottages which were stood next to a small pier. I passed through a white gate and headed along a metalled road which ran alongside the river’s edge. Another half mile later and I was underneath the first of the Forth’s three crossings at South Queensferry – the stunning Forth Rail Bridge.
THE FORTH RAIL BRIDGE
Regarded as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when it was opened in March 1890, this magnificent cantilever structure was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO meaning it has the same internationally protected status as historical sites such as Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China. The construction of the bridge was highly innovative thanks to the bridge’s design and the materials used to build the crossing including 54,000 tonnes of steel and 6.5 million rivets. 4,000 men were employed during the seven year construction, 57 of which were sadly killed in accidents (although this number could be as high as 80).
The term “painting the Forth Bridge” became known to describe a never-ending task, which came about as a result of the huge effort it took to paint the bridge over the years. It was said that as soon as workmen finished painting the bridge that they would have then to start all over again due to the amount of time it took. Thankfully as a result of a decade long renovation this will be a thing of the past as the bridge has now been coated in state-of-the-art glass-flake epoxy paint which means that the bridge won’t need to be re-painted for at least another 25 years. I bet the painters were very happy with that!
Over a 100 years after its construction it is still serving its original purpose as a rail crossing over the Firth of Forth. Over 200 trains use the bridge each day and there were plenty of them rattling back and forth across the bridge as I walked underneath it on my way to South Queensferry.
Queensferry, or South Queensferry as it is sometimes called to differentiate it from its neighbour on the opposite bank of the Forth, dates back to ancient times. As it sits at the narrowest part of the Forth Estuary nearest to Edinburgh it has been an important crossing point for centuries. The village gets its name from the “Queen’s Ferry” which existed here from the 11th century until 1964 when the Forth Road Bridge opened. The “Queen” was Queen Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III, who built a new abbey at Dunfermline which soon became an important pilgrimage site. Naturally the pilgrims were looking for an easy way to cross the Forth and so Queen Margaret established a ferry to transport them across.
Even though the ferry has gone, passengers still embark and disembark from boats at South Queensferry which take visitors on cruises around the Firth of Forth and across to Inchcolm island where people can visit the ruined abbey. Indeed as I was heading past the pier a big party of people were getting off a boat after finishing an afternoon’s visit to Inchcolm.
The village itself was very pretty as I walked through. The High Street’s cobbled road combined with the beautiful old buildings including the Jubilee Clock Tower (you can just about see it peaking out behind the building at the forefront in the picture above) gave the village a lot of character. South Queensferry also has a literary connection – Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped was partially set in the village, with the still-existing Hawes Inn being a location in the book.
Unfortunately my time was short in South Queensferry. My original plan when setting out on this walk had been to finish off in the village however I was keen to cross the Firth of Forth and end the walk in North Queensferry. So onwards I walked, heading out of South Queensferry’s High Street before climbing uphill to the start of the Forth Road Bridge, the second of the crossings at South Queensferry.
FORTH ROAD BRIDGE & THE QUEENSFERRY CROSSING
Proposals for a road bridge across the Forth at Queensferry were put forward as early as 1923 following a rise in public car ownership, however a combination of the Great Depression in the 1930’s and the Second World War in the following decade stopped any real progress being made until the 1950’s. Construction began in September 1958 on what would the be first of its kind in the United Kingdom, a cable suspension bridge. 40,000 tonnes of steel and £19.5 million later (about £372 million in 2017), the bridge was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on September 4th 1964 and quickly became as iconic as the Forth Rail Bridge.
The bridge was a heck of a lot quieter the day I was crossing and with good reason. Up until two weeks earlier up to 70,000 vehicles per day would have used the bridge, however the opening of the brand spanking new Queensferry Crossing has put paid to that.
With the dawn of the 21st century it was becoming increasingly clear that the Forth Road Bridge was showing increasing signs of deterioration which could mean that significant traffic restrictions would have to be put in place to allow for repairs. This would also get worse as the years went by which would be could have a huge impact economically as the bridge was such a vital transport link. As a result proposals were put forward to build a brand new bridge a little further to the west.
Construction began in the summer of 2011 with the cable-stayed bridge taking six years to build. 35,000 tonnes of steel and 23,000 miles of cable went into the bridge which was built for a cost of £1.35 billion. 53 years after opening the Forth Road Bridge, Queen Elizabeth II came back to open up the new crossing on the 4th September 2017. Meanwhile the Forth Road Bridge is undergoing renovation work over the winter of 2017/2018 to strengthen the bridge and turn it into a public transport corridor open only to buses, taxis, cyclists and pedestrians.
As I crossed the Forth Road Bridge I couldn’t help but stop to admire the three bridges. The Queensferry Crossing (above) off to my left highlighted the best of early 21st century engineering, the 20th century Road Bridge that I was standing on was still a remarkable piece of construction over fifty years after its construction. However, I couldn’t stop looking at the wonderful 19th century Forth Rail Bridge off to my right. It truly is an iconic bridge, a symbol of Scottish innovation and engineering prowess, a tradition which continues into the 21st century with the brand new Queensferry Crossing.
The walk was sadly coming to an end. My legs now felt like heavy blocks of lead, however I was still keen to keep on going. Down below me to my right was the final destination of today’s walk – North Queensferry. I’m guessing that the inhabitants of this beautiful village must be very happy that the Forth Road Bridge is now restricted to only a few hundred vehicles per day as the noise level must have been horrific before the Queensferry Crossing opened.
As I got to the other side of the bridge I noticed a large plaque which marked the opening of the bridge by Queen Elizabeth II in 1964. A set of stairs next to it led me down into North Queensferry. I followed a narrow alleyway between some houses until I came out on to Ferry Road (which unsurprisingly led down to where the ferry across to South Queensferry used to dock). A short walk along Ferry Road led on to Main Road where the walk ended at some crossroads. Just before leaving to head uphill to catch the train I was able to get another great look at the three bridges (below).
It had truly been a fantastic walk from Leith to North Queensferry. It has been my favourite coastal walk so far in Scotland and I think it will always be one I will look back on with fond memories as the Coastwalk progresses around Britain. I’m not aiming to get back to North Queensferry until the Spring of 2018 where I will continue the Coastwalk along the Fife Coast Path which looks extraordinarily scenic. Indeed I finished this walk from Leith at a Fife Coast Path sign which pointed along a track that headed around a corner out of sight. As I crossed the Forth Rail Bridge on the train back to Edinburgh I did wonder what was around that corner and I got excited at the thought of what sights I would see when I return, but that’s another story!
Caton, P. (2011) No Boat Required: Exploring Tidal Islands. Leicester: Matador.
FORTH RAIL BRIDGE
FORTH ROAD BRIDGE & QUEENSFERRY CROSSING