Had Jessica Fraser been able to cross the Queensferry Crossing yesterday, what would she have made of it?
If the past five decades are any guide, the experience would have produced a richly treasured memory. As a young woman, she was among the first people to walk the Forth Road Bridge on a chill and foggy winter’s morning in 1965.
Over the years, it remained one of her most cherished anecdotes, burning bright with detail, down to the ribbon being cut as the old bridgemaster, Robert Wilson, waved them on their way.
By the time the Queensferry Crossing was under construction, poor health had robbed her of her mobility, but with the help of her family, she hoped to traverse the new bridge, even in a wheelchair if need be. Time, sadly, was not on her side, as kidney failure stole away her chance shortly before the bridge’s completion.
There were tears in the eyes of Jessica’s daughter-in-law, Nadia Fraser, 48, as she and her daughter, Talia, 12, completed a family pilgrimage yesterday.
“We’ve watched this bridge being built step by step, almost appearing out of the sea, and it’s a special moment,” explained Nadia, from Burntisland. “We walked across it thinking about grandma, and what she would have thought of it. It meant a lot to her. ”
For those who have struggled with the spectacle of the opening of the Queensferry Crossing, dismissing the fanfare as political myth-making, stories such as these ought to offer a reminder of its significance. It is a bridge over a yawning waterway which also binds together generations.
On a day when the grudging Scottish summer finally acquiesced and sunlight played on the bridge’s towers as they spiralled up to a powder-blue canopy, the crossing brought forth stories centuries old.
Christine Vincenti, 52, from Edinburgh, spoke of how her great-grandmother, who ran a South Queensferry boarding house in the 1880s, was the first woman to walk over the Forth Bridge, a surreptitious honour achieved by sneaking along the under-construction crossing to deliver packed lunches to the labourers.
James Ogilvie, from Haddington, told how his father, Jock, delivered steel for the building of the road bridge. One day, a vast girder dropped on his foot, slicing off a toe. “He never really spoke about it,” the 63-year-old said. “But once the bridge was built, he took me and my mum to the opening.”
The personal stories were the most resonant, but the luck of the draw for tickets – which attracted a quarter of a million applications – meant that others who walked the crossing did so out of scholarly fascination, and understandably so.
The bridge is a thing of might and grace. From afar, its spindle of stay cables fan out with the brittle elegance of spider webs, but up close, their scale and girth come into view. Its midway point, meanwhile, offers a new outlook on a vista that has been photographed, sketched, and painted down to the last square inch, forcing even an untrained eye to admire its shifting perspectives and sleights of hand.
Not everyone, however, came away impressed. Bob McDowall, a retired engineer from Ratho, describes himself as a “bridge fanatic,” an addiction that taken him as far afield as San Francisco. His assessment of the Forth’s latest addition was distinctly lukewarm. “It’s no’ bad, but it’s a tried design and there are others like it,” the 70-year-old concluded, before adding: “But then I don’t even like the rail bridge either.”
Speaking ahead of the bridge walk, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Excitement has been building steadily in recent weeks as we have watched this hugely ambitious project near completion.
“It’s only right that the public get the chance of an up close and personal look at this amazing structure so they can see the stunning engineering and views for themselves.
“Walking across the new Queensferry Crossing will be a once in a lifetime experience, before it is officially opened to traffic and pedestrian access continues on the Forth Road Bridge. I look forward to joining some of the 50,000 people lucky enough to participate in this unique opportunity.”