Bridging the Gap

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Bridge over the River Forth

Far from the messy, cold weather we'd anticipated, temperatures in Edinburgh have been in the mid sixties and we haven't seen a drop of rain. Today was so pretty that we decided to take an excursion to the Firth of Forth, the fjord on the River Forth just outside Edinburgh. Our tickets included a bus tour of the area east of town and a boat ride on the river with excellent views of the two bridges-one for car traffic and the other for trains.

Inchcolm Island

In summer, the boat stops at Inchcolm Island. You can get off and stay an hour and a half until the next tour boat comes around to pick you up. In the meantime, walk around this pretty little island and visit the abbey. It's a perfect way to spend a warm, sunny day. We thought a picnic lunch would be fun, but you can also spend your time looking at historic remains. There are stones from the first Danish excursion to Scotland, ruins of a hermit community, and an ancient burial site.

Judith, our guide at the Maritime Museum

After the tour, we kept the nautical theme and took a city bus over to Leith for a visit to the Maritime Museum. Leith, once a hectic and dynamic port city, lost its standing after World War II.  Crumbling economy and general roughness created a bad situation and up until about 2000 gambling and prostitution were tolerated in the area. Now a quiet neighborhood with little shops and lovely parks, the area has a redevelopment plan underway that will create low and middle-income housing for over 15,000 families. Our search for the museum took us all through the area. We finally found Trinity House, a Georgian building with a half open gate. We pushed through the wrought iron gate, and with some doubt about our mission, rang the bell. After a strangely long time the door opened and a small woman with curly gray hair and bright eyes, wearing what looked like a large man's pajamas, peered out.

"You found us," she said. "Not many people do." It felt a little odd to follow her into the house and down the stairs into a crypt-like place she called the vaults. The vaults used to store goods from voyages; now it's where they show a film about the house and its history. Back in 1380 shipmasters created a fund to help injured and elderly sailors. In 1555, they built a house where sailors could live and the masters could administer the charity. The original house was torn down and the current one built on the same spot in 1816. It's a wonderful old building with memorabilia donated by sailors through the centuries. Paintings, antique model ships, sailing instruments, and ivory carvings are among the items on display. My personal favorite was a whale's eardrum. Apparently sailors would draw faces on these large pieces of hard bone and put little Tam o' Shanter hats on them.

Maritime Museum in Leith

New international owners have blocked off the Leith port and folks who grew up in the neighborhood miss the access to the docks. Old sailors have other means of support and the few remaining shipmasters donated the building to Historic Scotland to manage. As much a display about the house and the men who operated the fund as a Maritime Museum, it's a fascinating trip back to the days of sailing ships and private charities. If you or someone you're traveling with is a mariner or sea loving type, seek out Trinity House. It's a great excursion.


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