THE FERRY (as it's known locally) lies on the south shore of the one of the narrowest parts of the Forth Estuary, directly opposite North Queensferry, its neighbour on the Fife coast. As the most convenient place to cross the Forth from Edinburgh to the ancient capital of Dunfermline, it's thought the crossing was in use even before Roman times (the Romans had a harbour and settlement along the coast at Crammond). However, it's the association with St. Margaret, an Anglo-Saxon princess who married Malcolm Canmore (King Malcolm III, the man who killed Macbeth) from whence the name derives.
After her marriage in 1070, Queen Margaret set up a church in Dunfermline which became a place of pilgrimage leading to increasing demand for transport across the Forth Estuary. The Queen's Ferry, operated by monks from Dunfermline, was a free service provided for pilgrims to Dunfermline and St.Andrews.
The town became a 'burgh of regality' in the 14th century, giving it rights to hold markets and an annual fair which ensured its prosperity.
By the 17th century, it had become a busy sea port, trading in wool, coal and hides - and importing wine, silk, linen and timber from Europe and Scandinavia. In 1627 Charles I granted the town a charter making it a Royal Burgh and freeport. Again the town prospered, as can be evidenced from the large number of good quality buildings from the 17th century which still survive intact. In fact, the old town is a conservation area with a great number of listed buildings.
Into the 19th century, the town declined a little and the industrial revolution almost passed it by. That all changed in 1883, when the building of the Forth Rail Bridge and the influx of its 5000+ workforce brought a renewed prosperity to the burgh.
With the first World War came the establishment of the Royal Navy destroyer base at Port Edgar, just to the west of the town.
An interesting and little-known fact is that on the 16th October, 1939, South Queensferry (or some battleships moored off-shore) was the scene of Nazi Germany's first bombing raid on Britain. Indeed, the first Nazi planes shot down over Britain were shot down that day. The (rail) Bridge was constantly attacked, but obviously survived.
By the 1950s the 'Queensferry Passage Ferry' was the busiest in Scotland, with around 1.5 million people using it annually. In 1964, the Forth Road Bridge was opened, and 900 years of life as ferry port came to a sudden end.
These days it's a desirable commuter town for Edinburgh, as well as a busy destination for day-trippers.
With new housing, it has grown considerably over recent years, but the old town still retains its ancient charms.
THE HIGH STREET in South Queensferry offers an authentic and atmospheric glimpse of the past...if you can catch it at a quiet time that is. Parts of the higgeldy-piggeldy High St. narrow to no more than a car's width in places, causing the traffic to bottle-neck and, together with the bustling crowds, this can diminish the experience a little.
It's far less busy in the evening.
The High St. is quite unusual, in that it has a stepped cross section which was designed to cope with the steep slope to the shore. This results in elevated pavements on the inland side of the street. Houses line the elevated pavement, whilst shops are housed, cellar-like, underneath.
These eleveted pavements are call East, Mid, and West Terrace with The Hawthorne Hotel being situated on West Terrace, just next to The Tolbooth (the big tower).
The oldest surviving building in THE FERRY is St Mary's church, which dates from 1441, and was used as a monastery and hospice before the Reformation; whilst one of the oldest houses is Black Castle (1626), on the High St. When the sea captain who owned it was lost at sea, his maid was accused of inciting a beggar woman to cast a spell on him. Both women were burned for witchcraft.
The High St. is lined with some classic, old fisherman-style inns and hostelries, many of which I've tried over the years you'll be less than overwhelmed to read. Most are full of character, although many have gone a little 'trendy' in recent years.
Restaurants abound too, with Bella Vista, and its dining room which precariously overhangs the crashing waves below, being one of the best located.
Probably the most popular establishment for eating and drinking, is The Hawes Inn. Directly below the (rail) Bridge, at the very end of the street, it was in room 13 of this famous watering-hole that Robert Louis Stevenson penned 'Kidnapped'.
As if that wasn't enough, the Inn also features in Sir Walter Scott's, 'The Antiquary'.
They do a nice drop of beer too!
There are a number of interesting shops lining the High St., selling all manner of goods: from everyday establishments such as butchers and shoe shops, to galleries and shops selling designer-wear, quality gifts, and the ubiquitous tourist tat.
On the second Friday of August, the day before the annual Ferry Fair, a weird apparition can be seen stumbling through the streets of the Royal Burgh. Completely covered from head to toe in burrs, and holding a flower be-decked staff in either hand. This 'thing', is THE BURRY MAN. His arms are held outstretched and have to be supported on either side by two attendants who help him on his duties throughout the day.
This 7-mile journey begins from the Town Hall and proceeds to his first port-of-call which traditionally is the Provost's House (A Provost is the Scottish equivalent of a Mayor). This is where he's given his first of many drams.
AROUND and ABOUT
The town has its own MUSEUM on the High St. Among other things, this has good displays on the construction of both the famous bridges.
Half-an-hour offshore, lies INCHCOLM ABBEY - the best preserved monastic building in the country. A Ferry operates from the town from April to November.
Just outside town is HOPETOUN HOUSE, Scotland's finest stately home.
In the neighbouring parish of Dalmeny lies DALMENY HOUSE, home to the Earl of Roseberry.
A little further along the road towards Linlithgow is THE HOUSE of the BINNS, another stately home and the residence of Tam Daylell MP
Sick of stately homes? A bit further on brings us to BLACKNESS CASTLE which has been used for a location in a number of movies, including Mel Gibson's Hamlet.
Just over the water at North Queensferry, is DEEP SEA WORLD, where you can dive with sharks...sounds like fun.
There's even a beach to the east of The (rail) Bridge called 'The Shell Beds' - strange, because it's made up of fine, golden sand, not shells. Perhaps it's because there's a massive oil-pumping platform out in the estuary here. North Sea oil is pumped from tankers to giant underground storage tanks just north of the town before continuing its journey to the huge petro-chemical works up river at Grangemouth.
(Actually, that's BP, not Shell!)
Linlithgow, with all it's attractions, is just a few miles distant.
And remember, Edinburgh is just 8 miles away, with the Kingdom of Fife just a quick jaunt across the bridge.
But, if not the best, then most definitely the biggest attractions in The Ferry, are the FORTH BRIDGES.
It's impossible to escape their gigantic presence over the town. It's also impossible not to be impressed. Surprisingly, unless you are directly underneath one of them, the noise level isn't all that great, but you won't ever forget they're there!
In conclusion, SOUTH QUEENSFERRY is probably an ideal place to stay if you want to see some of the attractions of East central Scotland, including Edinburgh, but don't want the hassle of staying in the city.
Or, if your in the area, it's a fine place for a day, or evening, out.