I spent part of May 2015 visiting some friends in Dundee, about an hour north of Edinburgh. They are an English-Scottish couple, and in the aftermath of the recent referendum on Scottish independence I had been hoping for a little bit of friendly argy-bargy and a look at some Scottish World Heritage sites.
I was disappointed on both counts. My friends, being both in the “no” camp, had relatively little to say on the issue of independence, a position I respected. There are few things more annoying than foreigners commenting on local politics. I was also slightly disappointed by the Scottish World Heritage offerings. They’re somewhat… paltry, shall we say?*
Let me be the first to point out that there is no shortage of natural and man-made beauty in Scotland. The place is littered with castles and lochs, not to mention the greatest alcoholic spirit in the world. However one of the chief WH attractions is the rather unattractive Forth Bridge, which makes no sense to me. This is a recent addition to the WH list, and it rather suggests that people are running out of ideas.
It’s what its name suggests – a large bridge over the Firth of Forth, just north of Edinburgh. The bridge’s main claim to fame is that it incorporates a variety of design innovations and that it was the first cantilevered bridge built of steel (rather than iron) due to improvements in the steelmaking process. It dates from the late 19th century, when the industrial revolution was maturing to the stage where huge structures such as this bridge, and its Parisian contemporary the Eiffel tower, could be built entirely from metal. The bridge is designed for rail traffic, which role it currently performs.
But engineering factoids aside, let’s be honest. I think it’s a pretty weak addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list, a Scottish local favourite though it may be. It has neither the historical interest nor the beauty of the Ironbridge in England, and its listing feels like an attempt to placate the Scottish people for the relative lack of World Heritage properties in Scotland. It is easy to find – it’s visible from the main road artery north of Edinburgh and hence is almost unavoidable on a driving tour of Scotland. I still wouldn’t spend a lot of time there though. A much better bet would be to read Iain Banks’ superlative novel The Bridge, which features a fictionalised version of the structure and is, unlike the namesake, interesting.
* For reasons which I cannot easily explain, I didn’t even manage to get some photos of the bridge, hence this text-heavy entry.