I travelled overseas a lot when I was younger. I relished the buzz of flying. A couple of times for landing I sat on the fold down jump seat, behind the pilots, in the cockpit. Two of the most memorable descents were the approaches into Kai Tak Airport, and a night flight into McCarran International. At Kai Tak the angle of the plane, tilted almost parallel to the tall buildings on either side. It was scary.
Washing lines strung across balconies, full of clothes, were visible amongst the rising smog from the bustling Hong Kong streets below. McCarran was different. The bright lights of the Las Vegas strip and its elaborately lit hotels were stunning. You felt the strip was the runway until the plane cut a sharp right towards the more subdued lighting of the airport. I explored many places. The red sandstone slopes of Ayres Rock, Australia and the ferry ride to Alcatraz in San Francisco were two favourites.
However, the best bit of travelling for me was coming home. There is something magical about flying into Edinburgh and landing on Scottish soil. Booking a window seat on the right-hand side of the aircraft meant that I was perfectly positioned. The aircraft approaches from the east. As it drops below the clouds, a tapestry of yellow and green, treelined fields are unveiled. The plane lines up with the Firth of Forth, then sweeps round at almost ninety-degrees. At this turn, the two bridges come into view (the Queensferry Crossing is not built yet). The Forth Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge are important landmarks that show I’m nearly home.
Other bridges I’ve seen: The Golden Gate, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Sydney Harbour, Blauwbrug, Putney and Tower Bridge (to name a few) are of no comparison. The familiar red oxide of the Forth Bridge and the prominent, slinking suspension cables of the Forth Road Bridge stretch across the water. The bridges give me a comfort as good as eating my Nana’s homemade drop-scones and raspberry jam.
‘Hey Lassie, yer hame,’ they call out to me.
‘Aye, great to be back,' I reply.
The seatbelt is tight across my lap. The seat is in its upright position prepared for landing. I anticipate the change of direction and turn my head to the window. No matter how tired traveling makes me, a smile forms across my face as my eyes fix on the bridges. I watch them until my neck stiffens. They disappear out of sight, knowing I’ll be driving across one very soon. The plane thunders onto the smooth runway.
I’m a slick mover at airports. I avoid hold luggage and I am a master of zig-zagging and weaving through a heaving mass of travellers who stop, and start at every bright yellow sign. I avoid the clumsily pushed, airport-edition, squeaking luggage trolleys as I zoop through the arrival lounge, past the baggage carousel, and head straight towards ‘Nothing to Declare’. It’s a challenge to exit the plane and get passed customs in less than ten minutes. If flights are on time and Edinburgh Airport is running smoothly, it is entirely possible. My top speed is six and a half minutes. Outside the terminal into the constant flow of cars, taxis and buses I like to pause and take in a breath of Scottish (probably polluted) air.
The bridges then play their next part. They carry me safely from Lothian across into Fife. While on the Forth Road Bridge I look right to view the mile and a half of rail tracks held in place by huge girders and six and a half million rivets. Its skilful cantilever span is balanced on huge granite piers sunk into the seabed below. I abseiled off the bridge once. It was a charity event for my thirtieth birthday in 2004. There was something magnificent about standing forty-six meters above the water level. My hand, against the iconic red, painted steel, stabilised me from the unwelcome vibrations of a train trundling past. As I ungracefully slid down the ropes to the sand below, I didn’t realise this remarkable bridge, steeped in history, would be awarded a UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015.
I felt a sense of pride as I left the bridges behind. They had once again been crucial in helping me home. The next part of the journey is always less impressive. It’s all dual carriageway and bashed grey central reservation barriers. When I’m a passenger and not driving myself I normally snooze as the car tootles by Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy. Further along the A92 my body begins to lurch sideways as the car manoeuvres frequent roundabouts. It's Glenrothes. I open my eyes, sit up, and take note again.
The third exit of the New Inn roundabout leads into Muirhead. This tiny hamlet sits elevated as the A914 winds through it. There are always jacketed horses in the field on the left and the tall Leylandii trees, behind the dry-stoned walls, shadow the road from the right. This road sweeps onwards, curving and bending into North East Fife.
My heart races a little faster. I sigh contently and sink further into the fabric car seat. I smile as a train speeds along the double tracks on my left and colourful patchwork fields stretch up and over the hills on my right. The white walls of The Pitlessie Village Inn are a welcome sight. In five minutes, I’ll be in Cupar.
Two last bridges. One snakes over Cupar’s railway station and then South Bridge crosses the River Eden. A sharp left. Then right up a steep hill. The car takes a final turn and pulls itself into the driveway. The maroon, red paint work of the fascia and soffit boards below the sloped roof of the house remind me of the Forth Bridge. I abandon my travel bag in the hallway. I switch the kettle on. A cup of milky tea poured. It’s time to slouch on the couch.
‘Ye cannae beat hame,’ I declare.