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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: WHS #588: Forth Bridge

Before the year 2015 ends, I needed to go on ‘mileage run’ to secure KLM Elite Status for next year. So I went on the lookout for a cheap return ticket to a nearby destination, including opportunities for an unvisited WHS of course. The choice fell upon Edinburgh – although I had visited the city before in 2001, I had at the time not been to the Forth Bridge. This 2015 addition to the List has many superlatives attached to it in its nomination file, such as “icon of Scotland”, “potent symbol of the Railway Age” and “unique milestone in the evolution of bridge and other steel Construction”.

The Bridge lies just a few km from Edinburgh Airport, and already good views of it can be had from the air. I had especially chosen a window seat, and though it was a bit hazy early morning the three big arches were clearly recognizable on the approach. December is not a particularly good month to plan a visit to the Forth Bridge: the Firth of Forth ‘cruises’, where you can admire the construction from the water, aren’t running past November. And since a few days an extra handicap was added: the Road Bridge next to it had to be closed off til the end of the year to all traffic. Normally you can walk on it or cruise by on a double-decker bus.

So that left me with only one option: take the train across the bridge. This wouldn’t mean the best views, but it is the ‘real thing’ as only the bridge itself is included. From Edinburgh Waverley Station frequent regional trains ply this route. I opted for a return to North Queensferry, the town just at the northern end of the bridge. Waverley Station itself is a maze, not exactly self-explaining for a first-time visitor. At first I got through the gates to the wrong platform, and had to be ‘freed’ by staff as my ticket wouldn’t let me out again. When I finally ended up at the right platform and on the right train, it could not leave because it was blocked by another train. So all passengers had to move to a different one.

The ride itself was quite short, some 30 minutes. The bridge isn’t visible very well while you’re on it, you just see some red steel bars flashing by. I got off at the small station of North Queensferry. From here I descended down the road to the shore, to get unobstructed views of the Forth Bridge. You can walk almost underneath it, before you’ll end up on a Private Road. Trains pass by fairly frequently with a lot of noise, I guess the many houses in the vicinity of the construction need good soundproofing.

The bidteam of the State Party managed to write 162 pages about the Forth Bridge: its history, its construction, its paint and how it compares to all other bridges in the world are all covered. I liked the explanation of the way how a cantilever bridge works via the Human Cantilever photo. It even includes a ‘viewpoint study’ comprising 78 views on the Bridge from all surrounding areas (including the Edinburgh Castle, see the 'Viewable from another WHS'- connection).

The glowing nomination dossier calls it “an aesthetic triumph in its avoidance of decoration” and a “modern design in which form follows function”. But in the end it is what it is: an iconic bridge painted in a distinctive red colour. Is it the most impressive (railway) bridge that I have ever seen? I am thinking of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or of railway bridges spanning deep canyons (such as the Goteik Viaduct that I recently crossed in Myanmar). Or among WHS, the Vizcaya Bridge. The Forth Bridge surely is in the same league as those, but I would not rank it above them.

Published 13 December 2015

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