Edinburgh in my dreams.

Forth Bridge

The Forth Bridge. source

My mother and I took a trip to Scotland in the spring, and it was really lovely, in all ways (with the possible exception of the snow we encountered on the Isle of Skye on May 1) (and even that was kind of funny).

Ever since, I’ve been torturing myself by following Scottish newspapers and Twitter accounts and gazing at pictures of Edinburgh Castle and/or Elephant House, a cafe which (aside from being the place in which JK Rowling wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series) is the very cafe of which I have always dreamed. Here’s a picture I took on our trip — the Castle is visible through those windows, and I wish I were sitting there right now:

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Now, I have a dear friend who grew up in Edinburgh and went to school there and could probably tell me all the really good reasons a person wouldn’t want to live there — strictly speaking, pretty much any place loses its sheen when it’s the place in which you have to battle traffic and are not on vacation.

And yet.

One of funny things about which I’ve learned a great deal more than I’d have guessed I might want to know in the meantime is the Forth Bridge. It spans the Firth of Forth (the estuary of the River Forth), it is an engineering marvel, and it is apparently held in deep affection by the folks who cross it now and then on their way to and from Edinburgh (crossing, as it does, from Queensferry to North Queensferry. Or, I suppose, from North Queensferry to Queensferry).

Journalist Peter Ross wrote a genuinely lyrical piece about the men who for nearly 50 years maintained the bridge’s paint-job, but now most of them are out of work, because the once constant, year-round painting has been replaced by better, fancy new materials that make their work redundant. Men have died on that bridge, and their family members have returned to keep working on it. The daughter of one man who fell told Ross about her father’s love for the bridge:

He was proud to be part of the painting crew, she said, and considered the bridge as being his own. What makes this especially moving is that it is precisely what you hear from many of the bridge workers; it belongs to those who toil upon it, and though their devotion is sometimes sorely tested, it seems to endure like steel.

Next September marks the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge (the younger sibling of the bridge pictured above)**, and there are apparently all manner of celebrations planned, and gentle reader, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve been fantasizing about how I might get my mother and myself back for it (with another nip up to Skye).

That won’t happen. But in the meantime, I have discovered a local band called Bwani Junction who plays a lovely tune called “Two Bridges” (a reference, I think, to the fact that the original Forth Bridge is now accompanied across the water by the Forth Road Bridge), which has in turn kind of made Bwani Junction the bards of the bridges (despite the fact that, if you read the lyrics, it’s not really about the bridges, and in fact refers to “the rotten veins frames* of these two bridges”, sooo…), which in turn means that they will be a central pillar of the musical events next year.

ALL OF WHICH (…) leads to the following, which is a clip of them singing “Two Bridges” at the Forth Bridge Tower (a thing that looks like no mean feat). I❤ it, so here it is:

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It’s worth noting that the people of Scotland will also be voting on independence next September — a “yes” vote would undo the Acts of Union from 1707, so yeah. There are all kinds of reasons to wish I could be there next fall.

As John Steinbeck noted in Travels with Charley — some trips never really end.

*UPDATE: No less an authority than Bwani Junction themselves got in touch to tell me the correct lyric. [o_O!]

**UPDATE NUMBER TWO: I’ve corrected a complete error on my part — the 50th celebrations are for the Forth Road Bridge, not the original engineering marvel — a fact one would have gotten right, if one had bothered to pay attention to the fact that the first bridge was built in 1890, and the second in 1964. Apologies and thanks to commenter Jenny Meader for pointing it out. /hangs head

8 Comments

  1. Jenny Meader

     /  October 10, 2013

    Emily, I’m so glad you’ve found time to write about your trip to Scotland. I really appreciate your blog for all the information you provide and for how carefully written it is. I do have one little nitpick here; the Forth Bridge (the one in your picture) was opened in 1890. The bridge that is celebrating its 50th birthday (can bridges, as inanimate objects, celebrate birthdays?) is the Forth Road Bridge.

    My daughter went to the University of Edinburgh and loved it and loved living in Edinburgh. When we first went for a “lets look and see if you want to go to this university” visit, I said “Look, there’s the Forth Bridge!” To which she replied “Where are the other three bridges?”. This she has never been allowed to forget…

    • AGH.

      You are too kind — that is not a nitpick, that is a huge oversight! Of course and of course! I will edit appropriately.

      /grinds teeth

  2. mom

     /  October 10, 2013

    Ditto

  3. I went to St Andrews as a postgrad (PhD student) but spent a lot of time in Edinburgh because that’s where the National Library of Scotland is. If I had a “money is no object, do not pass go, redesign your life” card, the first thing I’d do is buy a flat in Edinburgh.

    No idea what the second thing would be. But the flat in Edinburgh would be first.

    • Just returned from Edinburgh on Tuesday (my husband’s niece’s wedding). I too would buy a flat in Edinburgh if I had that card. This was my second visit (first was in 2000) and loved the city as much the second time.

  4. efgoldman

     /  October 10, 2013

    I would love to go there just to listen to people talk. Och!

  5. Oh my, what a timely article this is for me. Just returned from there. Returning to Edinburgh from a day trip to the Highlands (and a distillery) I got to see the old bridge just as the setting sun was hitting it – beautiful! By the way, I polled a few of the Scots at the wedding I attended – they all seem to be in favor of independence.