Ken Mills extols the pleasures of cruising on the Firth of Forth, and takes an evening excursion up-river beneath the five bridges.
Based at Hawes Pier, South Queensferry, Maid of the Forth is primarily engaged in daily cruises from Easter to October, most lasting an hour and a half or three hours, covering landing cruises to Inchcolm island as well as cruises under the three Queensferry bridges.
She is part of a family-owned business which also operates Seabird cruises to the Bass Rock from North Berwick and, in high summer, a passenger service from North Berwick to Anstruther in Fife. She is certificated to carry 225 passengers.
For many years it has been possible to sail on Maid of the Forth once a year on an up-river evening cruise.
Originally this went as far as the Kincardine Road Bridge and, since the opening of the Clackmannanshire Bridge, beyond that bridge also before making the turn back downriver. With the recent opening of the Queensferry Bridge, the cruise is now designated the “5 Bridges cruise”. The date of the cruise is subject to tidal conditions at Kincardine and also the vessel’s timetable commitments.
My son, who lives in Edinburgh, invited me to join him on this cruise two years ago, only to discover the cruise was sold out. Last year the same thing happened, and so this year he got his application in early and was successful. Sadly for him he forgot to put the date in his diary and took on another commitment for the same evening. So it was my son-in-law who joined me at South Queensferry for the four-hour evening cruise under the five bridges.
My only previous sail on the Forth was in August 1996, when a small party of CRSC members joined the then Lothian Regional Council-owned sewage vessel Gardyloo at Leith docks on one of its thrice-weekly sewage disposal trips to the outer reaches of the Forth near the Bell Rock — a similar operation to that undertaken by the former Strathclyde Regional Council vessels Garroch Head and Dalmarnock.
Prompt at 8pm we set off from Hawes Pier adjacent to the Forth Railway Bridge. Heading up river, we first went under the Forth Road Bridge and then the new Queensferry Bridge, before making our way steadily to our turning point beyond the Kincardine and Clackmannanshire Bridges — all to the accompaniment of a traditional four-piece jazz band. In between playing, one of the musicians was able to give a commentary on places of interest as we sailed by.
It was interesting to see villages and towns I knew from passing through by car, this time from the perspective of the river — places such as Blackness with its large castle, Bo’ness, once a busy commercial port, Grangemouth with its retro chemical complex and docks beyond, as well as Kincardine, Culross, Limekilns and Rosyth.
We were told there would be very little clearance under the Kincardine and Clackmannanshire bridges, particularly the latter, and so it proved. The masthead light cleared the Clackmannanshire Bridge by what seemed like less than a foot, thanks to careful navigation by the skipper, Scott Aston.
Our turn was made further up river, with the light beginning to fade. As we headed back down river, Grangemouth looks like an endless mass of light, and in the distance the illuminated Queensferry Bridge was clearly visible with the lights on the Railway Bridge visible beneath its span.
We sailed close in to Rosyth and had a good view of the illuminated Prince of Wales aircraft carrier, presently under construction. The new Queensferry Bridge is quite a sight from the water, illuminated as it is from north to south, particularly when viewed close up against the floodlit Forth Railway Bridge. We sailed under the two road bridges and finally under the Railway Bridge — our fifth bridge — before making our turn and returning to Hawes Pier shortly before midnight.
I found the bridges cruise a most enjoyable evening, and would commend it to anyone interested in sailing on the Forth. At £20 (concessions £17) it is extremely good value, with a BBQ Rib Eye Steak available at a supplement.
Maid of the Forth is also popular with wedding parties to Inchcolm, where bridal couples can profess their vows in the sanctity of the Abbey.
She was built in 1988 at Abels Shipyard, Bristol, and acquired by Scott Aston’s father in 1993. The vessel has a commodious forward lounge with a bar/servery, together with a smaller enclosed lounge aft. There is a spacious open deck up top with CalMac-type deck seating.
Click here to access Maid of the Forth’s excellent website. Sailings continue up to and including the weekend of 26-27 October 2019.
All photos on this page are © Ken Mills, except for the three timetable illustrations. Please do not reproduce images from this website on other public platforms, including social media, without prior permission from firstname.lastname@example.org
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Published on 19 September 2019