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Cramond Island Crossing - Then & Now

Author: Jenni Fuchs

This story starts around 35 years ago. I can’t remember the exact year, but I think I was about 8 or 9 years old. We lived in Edinburgh and I was doing my Ramblers Badge for the Brownies along with one of my best friends. To earn the badge, we had to complete a number of hikes - or ‘rambles’ - two of which we had to do on our own time. Both my father and my friend’s father were keen hillwalkers, so they took us for an evening ramble up the Pentland Hills to watch the sunset. So far so good. For our final ramble, to gain that coveted badge, my father took us two friends on a trip to Cramond. The journal I wrote - because of course we had to write it all up as part of the badge requirement - which I have kept to this day, notes that “We left at 9:34am on Thursday 8th May.” Despite keeping detailed notes, the only thing I forgot to record was the actual year! "We went by bus No.41 to Cramond which cost 20p. We left the bus at 10:13am and walked down to Cramond village.”

The original plan was to take the Cramond Ferry (which has since been discontinued) across the River Almond to the Dalmeny Estate, and then continue on to Queensferry. However, the ferry was closed due to low tide, so our plan was scuppered. Instead, my father decided to take us across to Cramond Island, which is accessible at low tide via a causeway. There was only one problem - the sign saying to check for safe crossing times was so beaten up that the timetable was illegible. It was therefore impossible to know when the tide would start coming in again. This was of course way before anyone had smartphones with the internet at their fingertips. But my father was confident he could read the tides, and decided to cross over anyway. I remember feeling a little apprehensive as I couldn’t swim - I was scared of water and didn’t learn to swim until I was 12 - but the causeway is very wide, and I trusted that my father knew what he was doing.

You may have guessed where this story is going, but after we had explored the island a little and eaten our picnic, it turned out that my father had made a grave error. He’d gotten disoriented and chosen the wrong focal point to observe for the incoming tide, so when we got back to the causeway the tide was already coming in, and coming in fast. He had to make a split decision - be stranded on the island, or attempt to cross back over the causeway which was starting to flood. Again, this was before everyone had mobile phones, so there would have been no way to let my mother know where we were and what had happened. So he chose the latter option.

With one child on each side, held in a vice like grip, he started back across, with the water lapping at our feet and rising steadily. At one point, it was up to our knees on us girls. In my journal, I wrote “The tide was getting high and we got soaking wet…and nearly got drowned because we couldn’t see the causeway. But daddy was holding our hands.” My faith in my father never once wavered, that he would get us safely back to dry land. And he did. Though not without stopping to take one final photo! I still have that photo too. It shows me and my friend, standing on a narrow, dry patch with the causeway behind us completely flooded. It’s one of the craziest photos I have of my childhood, but we were actually really close to shore at that point and the danger was over or my father would never have stopped to take photos. Though years later he did confess that he had been terribly afraid the whole time, and would never have forgiven himself if he had lost one of us.

In over thirty years, I never ventured back to Cramond. In my 8 year old’s memory, the causeway was a dangerously narrow strip of land that led through treacherous high waters, and I would never go back across to that island again even if you paid me for it. Then the pandemic happened, and everyone’s outlook on life changed. I wanted to face my fears, and that included making the journey to Cramond again. By this point, I had two children of my own, and I thought they would love the adventure of exploring Cramond Island. Armed with the information now readily available on the internet, which tells you exactly in which window of time it’s safe to cross and the latest you need to start your journey back, we set off on the No.41 bus once again (though this time I didn’t note down the exact time, and it cost a lot more than 20p!) As it turned out, the causeway was much wider than I had remembered it. And when the tide is fully out, you’d be completely fine even if you did fall off. Despite a couple of flashbacks, we have a lovely day and even recreated the photo of me standing on the causeway, this time with my boys - and minus the flooding!