Venturing Forth to try out Fife’s new ferry link

Fifers have been crossing the Forth by boat for hundreds of years, and it’s something I have never done, until now ...

The earliest ferries in the estuary can be traced back to 950 AD when pilgrims travelled between Earlsferry in the East Neuk and North Berwick to visit Christian teaching sites.

The Seafari Explorer ferry at the harbour in Anstruther

The Seafari Explorer ferry at the harbour in Anstruther

Now, more than 600 years on, this cross-Forth service, minus any religious obligations, has been re-instated with the launch of a ferry between Anstruther and North Berwick.

And I was lucky enough to join the 40-plus passengers who boarded the Seafari Explorer for its maiden voyage between the two seaside towns on August 7.

I say “lucky” because it was a beautiful morning in the Kingdom; the sun was shining and it was warm with a light breeze – ideal for a sailing trip.

However, I didn’t want to be too complacent so I made sure I packed my waterproof jacket and sickbag just in case!

We boarded the ferry (or rather small boat) at Anstruther harbour’s west pier, below the lighthouse, and were given a warm welcome by Colin Aston, Seafari managing director, along with a lifesize, Tammie the Puffin ...

I took my seat on the port (left) side of the vessel (where I was sure I would be guaranteed good views) and sat rather excitedly – although admittedly, slightly concerned at not being given a ‘Mae West’ – with my mobile in hand, ready to take some snaps during the short journey.

The ferry left Anster shortly after 10.30am, arriving in North Berwick just 45 minutes later. The crossing was quick, very smooth (albeit cold and windy, but this is to be expected while travelling across the sea at a good speed) and thoroughly enjoyable, particularly with the stunning views of the Bass Rock and Craigleith island.

It was also nice to be greeted at North Berwick by a lone piper’s fanfare.

A lone piper greets the arrival at North Berwick

A lone piper greets the arrival at North Berwick

Disembarking, my fellow passengers praised the new service with many planning to make the most of the day.

And this is where it gets interesting ... because it is quite literally a full day, so the question is: what do you do for seven hours in North Berwick?

This is perhaps the only downside of the trial project, there is one crossing from Fife to North Berwick in the morning and only one return crossing in the evening ... at 6pm.

So I had to find a way to fill seven hours.

Reporter Debbie Clarke spending time in the sunshine at North Berwick

Reporter Debbie Clarke spending time in the sunshine at North Berwick

Fortunately the weather was nice so I could could spend time window-shopping in the High Street, enjoying a leisurely lunch and sitting outside in the sunshine with a good book.

I also took a tour of the town with my guide, a local councillor, Dave Berry, who runs GoForth guided tours during the summer.

He showed me what North Berwick has to offer tourists and it was very informative, taking in the main attractions of Tantallon Castle, Dirleton Castle, Berwick Law and the Scottish Seabird Centre.

If you love marine wildlife, then the Seabird Centre is definitely worth a visit – here you can learn all about our feathered friends on the Firth of Forth islands and you can even watch them live from remote cameras that beam the images back to the centre.

Having a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the Bass Rock was a particular highlight - I couldn’t believe how white it was (from all the bird poo!) and it was fascinating to take a closer look at the gannets and their chicks.

All in all I enjoyed my afternoon in North Berwick. The scenery was stunning, particularly the west beach (almost wish I had packed my swimsuit) and the view of The Law which dominates the skyline.

The Forth Bridge, which opened in 1890, was given World Heritage Status last month

The Forth Bridge, which opened in 1890, was given World Heritage Status last month

The town also has lots of nice little cafes and pubs with tables outside - ideal for resting weary legs after walking through the narrow streets.

But after a few coffees and two ice-creams later, I was ready to board the ferry again for the return journey to Fife.

I picked the wrong seat on the way back though and got properly soaked, so it was just as well I packed my waterproof jacket!

Return trips on the new Forth ferry excursion, launched by Seafari Adventures and the Scottish Seabird Centre, are running on selected days until September 10. For more details visit www.seabird.org

Forth’s fascinating history

The Forth has a fascinating history and if you want to learn about how it was crossed in the early days you can find out more from Burntisland Heritage Trust’s latest summer exhibition.

The display looks at the history of how people crossed the Forth over the years and is open from Wednesday to Saturday until the end of August.

It explores tales of stormy crossings, as well as tragedies and battles at sea and reveals how the crossings were widely used by royalty including James V and VI and Mary Queen of Scots.

One of my favourite stories is how, during one of her visits across the Forth to Falkland Palace, Mary went to Rossend Castle in Burntisland where an over-amorous Frenchman called Chastellard decided to proclaim his love for the Scottish queen by sneaking into her bedchamber!

However, his romantic gesture was thwarted when he was discovered and promptly executed!

A large proportion of the exhibition highlights the hunt for King Charles I treasure ship ‘The Blessing of Burntisland’ which is thought to have sunk off the coast of the seaside town in 1633.

It sparked an investigation involving teams from Scotland and America between 1998 and 2004 and many believe treasures from the ship still lie buried beneath the Forth.

Bridges span more than a century

No history about crossing the Forth would be complete without mentioning the bridges.

A regular ferry operated between North and South Queensferry as far back as the 12th century.

By the 18th century it was reckoned to be the busiest ferry in Scotland, linking the North East of the country with Edinburgh and the south.

But the ferry couldn’t run when the weather was bad so an alternative crossing was planned.

Early proposals for a Forth bridge failed to materialise but a new design, by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, was submitted to the Forth Bridge Company in May 1881, with construction authorised by Parliament in July 1882.

The following year, in 1883, work began on the Forth Bridge which finally opened on March 4, 1890.

Last month it became Scotland’s sixth World Heritage Site enjoying the same status as the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.

Decades later and a long-span suspension bridge was proposed with construction on the Forth Road Bridge beginning in 1958. The project cost £19.5 million and the bridge was opened on September 4, 1964.

However, in recent years the Forth Road Bridge has showed significant signs of deterioration so a Forth Replacement Crossing Study was launched in 2006-07 by Transport Scotland.

Responding to the study, Scottish ministers announced their intention to build a new bridge to the west of the current road bridge.

The new Queensferry Crossing, which is now believed to have become the UK’s tallest bridge, is currently under construction and is due to open next year.

The new Queensferry Crossing.

The new Queensferry Crossing.