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North Queensferry lies at the tip of a rocky promontory extending south from Fife into the Firth of Forth, ten miles west of the centre of Edinburgh. Its location has dictated its history, role, and even its name.
The Gaelic name of the original settlement here was Ardchinnechenan. What really put it on the map was the enthusiasm of Margaret, the English Queen of Malcolm III from 1070, for the church she founded in Dunfermline (see our Historical Timeline). This narrowing of the River Forth was the obvious crossing place for the increasing traffic that resulted between Edinburgh and Dunfermline.
The ferry carrying this traffic became the Queen's Ferry: and its landing points became North and South Ferry or, increasingly, North and South Queensferry. A poignant reminder of earlier times can be seen at the little walled graveyard in the heart of North Queensferry, on the site of the Chapel of St James. A stone has been set into the outside of the wall near the gate. It is inscribed "This is done by the sailers of North Ferrie 1752" (see photo, below right).
The rights to run the ferry had been owned by Dunfermline Abbey and doubtless provided a useful source of income. After the Reformation the rights passed to Scotland's first public limited company, with the sale of 16 equal shares.
The second activity that helped shape North Queensferry, literally, was quarrying for granite. The evidence isn't obvious at first, until you realise that much of the rocky headland has been scooped out from behind. This leaves an arc of high cliffs that plunge into the deep pool occupied since the early 1990s by Deep Sea World, complete with its underwater walkways. This is now one of Fife's leading tourist attractions.
The coming of the railways to Scotland initially had the effect of sidelining North Queensferry. From 1850, Edinburgh was connected to Perth by rail using a roll-on roll-off ferry directly linking Granton near Leith and Burntisland in Fife.
This all changed in 1879 when construction was begun on a railway suspension bridge. This had been designed by Thomas Bouch, builder of the Tay Railway Bridge that opened in 1878. The collapse of the Tay Bridge with large loss of life on 28 December 1879 brought a halt to work on Bouch's Forth Bridge.
The Forth Rail Bridge that was finally built between 1883 to 1890 was designed by Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker. It is a testament to conservative over-engineering: this was one bridge they didn't want to collapse under the weight of a train. Between 1958 and 1964, North Queensferry acquired its second world class bridge, the Forth Road Bridge. When this was opened by the Queen on 4 September 1964, the ferries which used to operate from the slipway a few hundred yards to the west of the centre of North Queensferry ceased, and the village again became bypassed by advances in transport technology.
Yet while North Queensferry is bypassed by the Forth bridges, it is also defined by them. The two bridges converge on the village from across the water, and North Queensferry fills the space between them and spills out a little beyond them. And wherever you are in North Queensferry the views are dominated by one or other, or both bridges. But while anywhere else the Forth Road Bridge would attract your undivided attention, it is the massive dark red structure of the Rail Bridge that overshadows, often literally, the village. No-one actually lives under the bridge as it carries the railway 158ft overhead, but in places it does feel like it.
The village itself is an attractive mix that reflects both its long history as a ferry port and more recent development as a dormitory and resort. The combination of rocky shoreline and harbour in front of a rising hillside would be attractive anywhere, but set within the frame of two of the world's best known bridges, North Queensferry is truly unique.