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Edinburgh and The Lothians
Chapter XXII - Queensferry and its Memories


THE route to Queensferry is classic. There is the Forth Bridge, and no self-respecting visitor will neglect the inspection! The coaches billed Forth Bridge are even more numerous than those marked Roslin. You go along Princes Street and Queensferry Street, over the Dean Bridge, past Inverleith Quarry, whence was hewn so much of New Reekie, under the shadow of Corstorphine Hill. You call to mind, with some aid, maybe, from the experienced conductor, the memories of this and that spot. Raveleton, where the Keiths, Marshals of Scotland, had their home; Craigcrook Castle, where Lord Jeffrey held those delightful symposia that live for us yet in the pages of Lord Cockburn; Clermiston, touched off in a line of that stirring ballad, already quoted, wherein Scott tells the story of Dundeeís gallant exit from Edinburgh.

Farther on you cross the River Almond by Cramond Bridge. Here is the dividing line between the counties of Edinburgh and Linlithgow. The old bridge is a little below. It bears inscriptions telling of five repairs, the earliest 1619. It is the locus of a well-known adventure of James V. Gipsies set upon him. He was assisted by a sturdy peasant, one Jock Howieson, who soundly drubbed the marauders, and had for guerdon a good slice of the adjacent land, which his descendants still hold. Popular fancy has adorned the legend with various picturesque incidents, The play of Cramond Brig is still a favourite on Scots provincial boards. The old bridge is situated deep down in a charming hollow, and rises but a little over the stream. You have to climb a steep brae to gain the main road. The new bridge is high up on the level. From it you can scarce see the other in summer, the trees are so thick. Poets impute a feeling of jealousy to two bridges so placed. The classic example is the brigs of Ayr, for ever vocal in the verse of Burns, but the quarrel, if there be one, of these has not yet found its bard! You pass on, climb up a brae, and descending close to the shore, under one of the arches of the Forth Bridge, draw up before the Hawes Inn at Newhalls. Thence a short run and you are in the middle of the main street of Queensferry. You are not impressed. The town is stranded; even its latest renown as a seaside resort is vanished. It has known strange revolutions within less than a century. The Forth suddenly contracts. A promontory on which North Queensferry stands runs out from the opposite Fife shore, so the way across is but two miles. Nature meant it for the ferry, and ferry it was for many a long day. The Queen is, of course, St Margaret of Scotland, and passagium regina monkish chroniclers wrote the name of the place. The vision of the fair-haired gentle girl, fleeing north with her brother and sister to escape the Norman invader immediately after Hastings, has still its romantic charm. She was married to Malcolm Canmore in 1067, and by this route she passed again and again from Edinburgh to Dunfermline, where she abode, not "drinking the blude red wine," like her shadowy descendant, but in fasting and prayer and good works as was fit and becoming in a saint. Here at least you will not forget her or hers. Not merely is there the North and South Queensferry, but there is the anchorage of St Margaretís Hope off the Fife coast, where her small fleet rode safely through a storm; and there is Port Edgar a little way to the west of where you stand, named after her brother, Edgar the Atheling, who landed here with his sisters.

No doubt the ferry was used long before the Queen came that way, even though she were the most persistent and remarkable traveller, but its earlier name, if it had one, is gone beyond recall. It was the chief passage over the Fifth for many a century, and as late as 1805 the right of running across was let at £2000 per annum. And then Granton Pier was built some miles further down, about the time of Queen Victoriaís accession, and the steamboat service between it and Burntisland did for the old route altogether. But the whirligig of time was to bring about its revenges. In another half century the great Forth Bridge followed the very lines of the old ferry, and for the same reason, that here was the shortest way. And the little island of Inchgarvie, right in the middle, was a natural pier. Perhaps the very early ferry boats used it for a half-way house. All this, if it did not destroy, seriously damaged that Burntisland passage so familiar to many of us in other years. Yet the Bridge takes the passenger not through Queensferry but in the air above it, and except that folk come, therefore, to view the Bridge it lies more than ever out of the way.

The Hawes Inn strikes you as the most flourishing institution about the place. Romance does something more than build castles in the air; it can make, or at any rate increase, the reputation and takings of a hostelry, though no means have as yet been devised whereby the heirs of Scott and Stevenson can levy toll for the unearned increment that accrues to Boniface from labours in no sense his own. The first chapter of the Antiquary takes us straight to the Hawes Inn. That chapter is a charming prologue to the work. It reminds, with a difference, of the delicious comedietta which opens the Taming of the Shrew. The scene in the High Street between Jonathan Oldbuck, Esq., of Monkbarns, and Mrs Macleuchar, arising out of the non-appearance of the Queensferry diligence or Hawes fly, however excellent, is surpassed by the business at the inn, where that pearl of Scots landlords, Mackitchinson, sets before Oldbuck and Lovel their banquet of "fish, chops and cranberry tarts" whilst he discusses his "ganging plea," that "weel kind plea" which has perplexed the "fifteen," and then brings in "that immense doublequart bottle covered with sawdust and cobwebs, the warrant of its antiquity." He pooh-poohs the idea of them drinking either punch or port; "itís claret thatís fit for you lairds," he remarks as he proceeds to decant it. And then, in genuine admiration of his own wares, declares" it parfumes the very room." Scott, like Shakespeare and Dumas and all the great jovial Masters of literature, had the tavern sentiment strong within him. They loved, in reason be it said, to talk of eating and drinking. Stevenson strikes a gentler and a thinner note. His heroes do not sit down to mighty meals, but the charm of old wine has inspired him with many a happy touch. It is not the grosser aspects of the Hawes Inn that takes his fancy; he finds a suggestion of romance. "The old Hawes Inn at Queensferry makes a similar call upon my fancy. There it stands, apart from the town, beside the pier, in a climate of its own, half inland, half marine; in front the ferry bubbling with the tide and the guardship swinging to her anchor; behind the old garden with the trees. Americans seek it already for the sake of Lovel and Oldbuck, who dined there at the beginning of the Antiquary. But you need not tell me that is not all; there is some story, unrecorded or not yet complete, which must express the meaning of that inn more freely." He tells us he has lived at the Hawes "in a perpetual flutter, on the heels of some adventure that should justify the place." Nothing happened. "The man or the hour had not yet come; but some day I think a boat shall put off from Queensferry fraught with a dear cargo." So far Stevenson in A Gossip on Romance, and in a note to this, when republished in Memories and Portraits, he tells us that in Kidnapped he has launched the boat David Balfour arrives from Shaws. "We came to the top of the hill and looked down on the Ferry and the Hope; on the south shore they had built a pier for the service of the ferry, and at the end of the pier, on the other side of the road and backed against a pretty garden of holly trees and hawthorns, I could see the building which they call the Hawes Inn." He goes inside but the landlord is a mere shadow vox et praeterea nihil. David is presently taken possession of by Captain Elias Hoseason, who by a trick gets him aboard the brig Covenant of Dysart. I need not trace his exciting adventures aboard that most ungodly craft. At the end he returns with Alan Breck to Queensferry, but it is only to seek out Mr Rankeillor, the writer, and get him with them to Shaws. I stood by the pier on a day when the Forth was bathed in brilliant sunshine. Coaches with their cargoes of Americans came and went, and it was, I found, as much for Stevenson as for Scott. In what whimsical way had the place attracted him? The inn looked stolid, respectable, but far from romantic. There was, I believe, a garden, but I forgot to search for the holly bushes and the hawthorns. Was it the idea of the thousand-years-old ferry with Margaret as its patron saint that drew him? He loved the high road winding on through hill and dale, with its constant movement of travellers. This ancient ferry has all of the high road and something moreóthe mystery of the sea.

The Forth Bridge is wondrous graceful despite its size and massy strength. You shall find many accounts of the millions of rivets that hold it together and the countless tons of metals contained therein, and the expansive acreage that requires painting, and so forth. The marvel of its erection reads like a fairy tale of science. If any reader has not seen the Bridge, or even a picture of it, let him imagine three eggs longwise and touching, and two pier-like structures at the ends, and there you have the Bridge, only you must call the eggs cantilevers!

If Queensferry were more remote you might recommend it as a centre, but Edinburgh is too near for that. Anyhow the round about is interesting. To the west the road runs through the grounds of Hopetoun House, a very charming place, and by the seashore is Blackness Castle, once a prison like the Bass but now a Government store. And to the east is Dalmeny Park, where, as all the world knows, a former Prime Minister ploughs his lonely furrow, or at any rate holds on his individual way with every aid that lettered culture and well-applied wealth can give. In the grounds stands Barnbougle Castle, of late restored, so that perhaps the Black Man and his hound will no more come with winding of bugle to announce the demise of the reigning baron. Every part of this historic shore has its own interest. If you push your way as far westward as Boíness you will not call that somewhat decayed town wholly lacking if you remember that here begins Antoninus Wall, otherwise Grahamís Dyke, in effect a very early attempt made by their southern neighbours to persuade the Picts and Scots to remain in their own country. History records the hopeless failure of the effort.


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