Sunday, 21 August 2011

Forth Railway Bridge: Dunfermline

One of my early memories of travelling by train is going over the Forth Railway Bridge on the way to holiday in east Fife.  An exciting part of the journey was crossing the River Forth between Dalmeny and North Queensferry.

The cantilever bridge was built at the end of the 19th century and was opened by the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII on 4 March 1890.  One of the rituals on crossing this bridge was being given a penny to throw out at some point during the crossing.  There are three arches on the super structure of the bridge and the chances of the penny missing some of the ironwork were negligible, though with the old steam trains and the rattle going across the bridge, the noise of the penny clanking down the bridge would never be heard.  I was a bit envious later on when I found out that some friends of mine had lived in North Queensferry and had allegedly made a fortune in finding the coins at low tide on the north side of the bridge.  These days the journey is done by modern diesel trains and you can’t throw anything out of the trains.  

Travelling on the Forth Rail Bridge
There’s a frequent commuter service from the Fife circle to Edinburgh.  We decided to park the car at Dalmeny from where a return ticket to Dunfermline costs £3.30 with a Disabled Railcard.  The station is marked Dunfermline Town and this is the old Dunfermline Lower Station, with a passing reference to the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens: “The king sits in Dunfermling  toune, drinking the blude -reid wine” ('s_Ballads/58)

Dunfermline was one of the capitals of Scotland before Edinburgh took the title.  Dunfermline prides itself in having been the birthplace of King Charles I and of Andrew Carnegie.  King Robert the Bruce is buried below the pulpit of the church situated at Dunfermline Abbey.  The Abbey and palace buildings are in the care of Historic Scotland and are well worth a visit.  The pillars in the Abbey can be touched and some of the carvings are original.  There was a very warm welcome in the Abbey church from Anne Toschack.  There is a gift and book shop in the church itself. 

Adjacent to the graveyard is Abbot House, which is also well worth a visit.  It has a very attractive coffee shop with home-baking and extremely obliging staff.  There is a small bookshop and gift shop and Patricia was very enthusiastic in discussing the local amenities.  There is an impressive City Chambers in the town centre.  If by chance you refer to it as the Town Hall you may be gently reminded of its proper name!

Later, I found myself in the historical section of the Public Library and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful when I mentioned that my father’s family came from the town and surrounding area.  One of the staff kindly searched through the microfiche and microfilm as handling optical data is something I can’t do.  The library has a mine of information and as family history is quite a big thing in Scotland, it was not surprising that there were some overseas visitors at the time. 

The Tourist Office staff is extremely friendly and I am grateful to Isabel and her colleagues for many helpful tips which they made and on a second visit later in the day for checking up on the availability of High Tea that afternoon! 

Not far from the Tourist Office is Pittencrieff Park which was gifted to the town by Andrew Carnegie and is usually known as the Glen.  There is a beautiful function suite called The Pavilion where I took my granny some 40 years ago for lunch.  There’s also a museum in the park and though only the ground floor is currently open, there are many interesting displays.  I was talking to the staff about the visit with my granny and they showed me a large photograph of the Pavilion Restaurant and a display section of the wicker chairs from the Pavilion, so I was able to sit in one of the wicker chairs by a table and imagine my granny (with her best hat on) and I having lunch! 

The coastal towns of Fife are well worth a visit.  Culross is very well known and is a major National Trust for Scotland centre.   Other villages are Charlestown and Limekilns. 

We planned on staying three hours in Dunfermline but spent seven hours strolling around before having a real high calorific value High Tea at the City Hotel: main course, toast, cakes, two pots of tea all for about £10 per head.  As a result, we just missed a train.  While waiting for the next train, I had an interesting chat with Peter from the railway company about current and historic trains.  He too was a bit of a railway enthusiast and had been on some of the lesser known parts of the rail network including the suburban rail around Edinburgh and a trip from Miller Hill to Smeaton.  My street cred increased when I mentioned I had walked across the forth Railway Bridge in the mid-1970s as part of an organised trip where we were allowed to climb up and down the famous cantilever structures.    

The Forth Road Bridge from the Forth Rail Bridge

On the way north we had sat on the left hand side of the train with views to the Forth Road Bridge which was opened in 1964.  This brought back memories of having to wait at South Queensferry for what seemed like ages to cross the Forth during the Edinburgh holidays.  At one point, my father decided it would be quicker to go the long way round and cross the river at Kincardine.  This bridge was built in the 1930s and until then the Forth could only be crossed at Stirling by road.  There is currently talk of building a second Forth Road Bridge as the capacity of the 1964 bridge is being stretched as have the cables holding the suspension bridge up. 

People from Fife are known as Fifers and they have a reputation for being fly and a bit crafty.  There is a saying: “It takes a lang spoon tae sup wi’a Fifer.”  Another expression frequently mentioned to children who had unreasonable financial demands on their parents: “Who do you think I am: Andrew Carnegie?”  Andrew Carnegie was a philanthropist, though many have questioned the unbridled capitalism which brought him his fortune in the USA.  While Carnegie Hall in New York is famous, as is Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, many Scottish villages have a hall known as a Carnegie Hall.  The Carnegie Trust  endowed many local charities and students as well as libraries.  In fact the Public Library in Dunfermline is called the Dunfermline Carnegie Library.