Sunday, 6 November 2011

SOUTH QUEENSFERRY

On approaching South Queensferry, the impressive sight of the dark red Forth Rail Bridge looms into view. The bridge, which is one and a half miles long, took seven years to complete from 1883 until its opening on 4 March 1890. On its completion, Edward Prince of Wales inserted a golden rivet to mark the occasion. There was a Visitor Centre but it has closed, and now there are ambitious plans for a new 'visitor experience' with a visitor centre in North Queensferry.  Of course, motor vehicles also need to get across the Firth of Forth, but it was not until 1964 that the nearby Forth Road Bridge was opened. Before such feats of engineering became possible, the only way to get across was by ferry. A ferry service was set up during the reign of Macolm III mainly catering to pilgrims heading north to St Andrews, and this crossing became known as the “Queen’s Ferry” after Malcolm’s wife Margaret, who is credited with starting the ferry, hence the present-day name of the town.

There are many strange and bizarre traditions in the United Kingdom, some stretching back so far through the ages that their origins have been lost in the mists of time. One of the strangest I have ever heard of is that of the Burry Man in South Queensferry which takes place during the town’s Ferry Fair in August. On the second Friday of August, a man submits himself to the indignity of being covered from head to toe in “burrs”, the sticky flowerheads from the burdock plant. This eccentric garb is complemented by a fetching floral hat. The Burry Man is then paraded around town on a seven-mile route, sending terrified children scattering in his wake. The Burry Man’s walk is made all the more challenging by the fact that he has to walk with his legs apart due to the adhesive nature of his newly acquired second skin. He also has to hold his arms out, hence his use of two waist-high flower-adorned poles. The gruelling trek around town, accompanied by two attendants, takes nine hours and includes visits to a number of pubs, factories and so forth. At each of these the Burry Man is offered a drink of whisky, which due to his unusual facial covering, he has to drink with a straw. The effects of said whisky no doubt also add to his comical gait! Theories about the origins of the ceremony abound, but one popular supposition is that it was meant to ward off evil spirits. The people of Queensferry must have a masochistic streak, because another annual tradition is the “Loony Dook”, on New Years Day, at which people dive into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth, many of them in fancy dress.

Map of the area.

'Forth Rail Bridge' photo (c) 2010, asturdesign - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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