It's easy to overlook North Queensferry. Crossing the Forth by train or car, it’s a toy village dwarfed by the trio of bridges. On the surface it’s quaint and sleepy; not as pretty as its East Neuk cousins, not as visited as its southerly sister across the river.
Progress has taken away its raison d’être. For previous generations it was a stepping stone – the ferry port on the drive north – made familiar thanks to the quirk of nature that narrowed the estuary of the Forth.
Today it’s in a charming timewarp, home to family favourite Deep Sea World and a gastronomic experience, The Wee Restaurant, waiting to find out its fate as plans for a Rail Bridge visitor experience are discussed.
It’s a familiar destination for me but often I’m overwhelmed by the rail bridge – thrilled by the rumble of the trains – or distracted by passing shipping, so I couldn’t really say I know it. This past year, it’s been a welcome haven for coronawalks: a different perspective on the city waterfront I’ve been exploring to the south.
And I have discovered more of its charms, yet still it was more about scenery than history or context. So on one visit I turned to Treasure Trails for inspiration.
The idea of an ex-soldier – a Treasure Trail comes in a neat folder with two dozen clues to solve by following a trail around the chosen area.
A socially distanced walk buddy helped me take on the challenge “to deactivate the device threatening North Queensferry’s water supply”. I had feared it might be a childish pursuit but we soon realised that the clues are not that straightforward.
With the colourful leaflet in hand, we find a competitive streak as we set about deciphering them. We find the Chapel of St James, a 1776 marriage lintel, the Millennium Resolution and, of course, pumps and springs connected to the all-important underground wells we are trying to protect.
As we follow a tiny portion of the Fife Coastal Path, I declare my ambition to walk its length and then quickly delete that when we pass a marker for the Pilgrims’ Way through Fife to St Andrews. One way or another, walking to St Andrews looks to be on the cards.
Back to the clues and we head to the harbour with its mini lighthouse where we learn what gas was used to rekindle the flame. But our mission was not to be solved without help. Stumped by one clue, I fire off a text to the Treasure Trails HQ and the outstanding answer pings back to me immediately.
The sense of achievement in getting all the answers was a cause for a coffee, and a bit of a thrill as we decoded the grid. Then we could enter our solution online with the chance of winning a cash prize.
I also tried a Treasure Trail in Edinburgh where both I and another walk buddy would say we know the territory pretty well. And yes, we learned plenty as we took on the challenge “to secure Edinburgh Rock”.
We were directed to plaques commemorating Edinburgh’s first public health officer and another to the disease that plagued society a century ago – tuberculosis. They couldn't have been more timely in these Covid times.
Sleuthing is definitely good for the soul and each of my buddies could see this working for different ages – children would love it but it was also ideal for adults to learn more about familiar territory.
When rules eased this spring, North Queensferry was my first destination to try a small bit of the Fife Coastal Path, testing whether my rash promise might be doable.
It needed testing as I’d been reminded that my usual response to an invite to bag a Munro was “a walk is no good unless there is a shop involved”. That is not quite true as I happily walk to admire architecture, learn about history or visit museums, galleries and theatres. And the pandemic has meant most of my coronawalking has been around town but with little retail therapy involved.
We head out of North Queensferry in the direction of Inverkeithing. As we curl round Carlingnose Point, there are stunning river views. First it’s the familiar red Forth Bridge rising out of a green horizon, then it’s the tanker anchored at Hound Point.
The yellow gorse is capturing the spring sunshine and pricking our jeans if we venture too close. Taking advantage of convenient benches to orientate ourselves with what we are seeing – plus frequent photograph stops – we don’t really get very far.
Instead of taking a path uphill which we know will give us a circular route, we are tempted round one more corner.
We pass a ruined pier and come to a beach. In my book, a beach ought to be a crescent of golden sand… but this is straight and the sand rather grey. We ask a dog walker what it is called, but he can’t remember.
Time poor, we climb away from this strange straight strand, back to housing and a circuit to the car. At the top of the brae, a street sign announces “Port Laing Wynd” … surely not my funny wee beach?
Back home, the internet yields scant details: it had been a submarine mining station and possibly an airship base in the First World War.
I’m still digging to see if was called after a person (some sources suggest my surname is a corrupted family name at the time of the early French settlers) or using Laing in the sense of “long” and derived from Gaelic.
The National Library of Scotland’s online resources show the name in the 1850 Ordinance Survey, so it predates its wartime history.
I’m sure with a bit more effort I’ll be able to add to my own treasure trove of Port Laing knowledge … for now it’s an excuse to keep on walking.
Treasure Trails cost £11.48 (including p&p) or £9.99 (self print) from www.treasuretrails.co.uk