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Published: August 8th 2022
Total chaos (crowd-wise) this week in Edinburgh – Fringe Festival and Tattoo going on, and let’s not forget the crowds migrating north from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – probably bringing headcount to half a million bodies at least to this capital city. No thanks, I prefer something more open and quieter, so I opted to go shopping and sightseeing in Queensferry instead. Located 10 miles to the northwest of Edinburgh city center, there are two towns for Queensferry (North and South) which face each other across the Forth. Both towns derive their name from the ferry service established by Queen Margaret in the 11th
century, which continued to operate until 1964, when the Road Bridge was opened.
South Queensferry sits on the shore in the shadow of the Forth Bridges that cross over to Fife. The Forth Bridge
, a railway bridge completed over 125 years ago, is yet another World Heritage Site and a spectacular feat in engineering (does the UK have the most of these Heritage sites? I’m beginning to think they do). The neighboring Forth Road Bridge
opened in 1964, and Queensferry Crossing
to the west, opened in 2017. An Interesting Fact: In 2012, as part of the excavations for the new Forth Road Crossing, archaeologists excavated the remains of a Mesolithic dwelling, dating to around 10,000 years ago and believed to be the earliest home discovered in Scotland and possibly the entire UK.
The village history and the building of these bridges can be learned in the Queensferry Museum. South Queensferry was once the main point to board ferries over to Fife, and is still an important port today, although most boats are now destined for the islands of the Forth.
Dalmeny House and Hopetoun House are two fine stately homes located on the outskirts of South Queensferry, and both are excellent attractions which boast lovely grounds, impressive architecture, and historic artifacts. The town is also a great place to start a coastal walk by joining the John Muir Way and following it through Dalmeny Estate and towards Cramond village.
A local fair known as the Ferry Fair, dates from the 12th
century. The modern version of this same fair dating from the 1930s, takes place each August – thankfully not today – and includes the crowning of a local schoolgirl as the Ferry Fair Queen. She is
accompanied by a Ferry Fair Court of other school kids, a possession of floats, pipe bands, and competitive events such as the Boundary Race.
There is one festival held here I would really love to see, but alas, once again not today. The strange annual procession of the Burry Man during the Ferry Fair is a unique cultural event over 300 years old, and probably pagan in origin. He is covered from head-to-toe in sticky burrs adhering to his clothing, leaving only shoes, hands, and eyes exposed. Over this layer he wears a sash, flowers, a floral hat, and grasps two staves. His movements are extremely restricted during the long day and his progress is a slow walk with frequent pauses. Two attendants in regular dress assist him throughout the ordeal and fortify him with frequent sips of whiskey thru a straw (where can I apply for that assistant job?). Children go from door to door collecting money on his behalf and of course, they hit the all the pubs in the village as well.
I was on the hunt for English condiments which generally cost the earth when imported into the USA, so I headed for the
nearest Tesco superstore, in the town center. There are two stores in this world I love to browse and shop in: Tesco and Sainsburys – I can spend hours gazing at the selections of cheeses from across the UK; Irish bacon, Scottish sausages, English pork pies, Cornish Pasties and so on.
The day dawned bright and sunny, with a promise of warmth in the 70f range, with 0% change of rain (I’ll believe that when I see it!), but no matter it was a beautiful day, and I had a shopping mission to complete. After a hearty breakfast – I was planning on quite a hike – I was off and running. There is a local bus service which runs from Hawes Inn Pier to Charlotte Square in Edinburgh central. Round trip ticket is 10 pounds and the last bus back to South Queensferry departs Edinburgh at 11pm.
Queensferry is simply a delightful village, with the main street (Edinburgh Road) running the length of the quay, from the pier to the town center. Each side of the cobblestone highway is lined with early-Georgian style, stone-built houses and shops – all in the familiar Scottish dark grey granite. It’s
right out of Brigadoon! Most of the residences sported flower boxes at each window and doorway, giving a brilliant splash of multi-colors everywhere you look. Locals were walking their dogs and I imagined I had been transported back at least 200 years.
Having gone about a mile, I asked a local Scottish lass how much further Tesco was located, and when she said about another mile all I could was roll my eyes – much further on than I had anticipated. She saw my expression and mentioned that just another block from where we were standing, was a smaller and very local supermarket called ScotMid which, evidently, stocked everything I was seeking at Tesco. She saved my life, and I was delighted to find out that indeed that they did have it all. My heavy basket at the checkout contained McVitie’s chocolate biscuits (milk and dark), Coleman’s mustard powder, jars of REAL mint sauce, jars of Red Currant jelly, Piccalilli, Bisto Gravy Mix, HP Brown Sauce – they were out of stock on Bird’s Custard but what the hell, I found 98% of what I wanted. Oh, the memories these simple things evoke, taking me back to childhood. Total
bill came to approximately $29, and I think I got some bargains.
Now the long return trek carrying a stuffed backpack weighing around 40lbs – within minutes I thought my right shoulder was fractured. Reaching the mid-point, I was exhausted and had to take a break and what did I see? Lou-Lou’s Ice Cream and Coffee Shop – it was fate – it was lunchtime, and I was about to have some thick, rich, creamy Scottish ice cream as my meal. The choices were many. I settled on a sea-salted caramel cone with a flake and a shortbread round. For those of you unfamiliar with the decorations on a cone in the UK, it is compressed chocolate flakes into a log shape, about 2” long and ½” thick which is stuck into the ice cream scope. Next to it was a small shortbread round with Lou-Lou’s written in chocolate ink – great advertising gimmick. The last time I had a chocolate flake was over 20 years ago, when my brother and I were in the Isle of Man. Isn’t it strange how food can evoke such strong memories? I settled myself by the front bay window and watched the
world pass by as I devoured this frozen treat and gave my shoulder a break.
It had been a wonderful 4 hours in this pretty, ancient village and a short rest on a riverside bench gave me the energy to continue – I would take South Queensferry over Edinburgh any day of the week. Put this on your “must visit” list, you won’t be disappointed. Cheers……
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