Often referred to as one of the wonders of the modern world, the Forth Bridge (its official name: the ‘Rail’ bit is a popular addition) is as potent a symbol of Victorian engineering prowess as it’s possible to imagine. Not for nothing was it voted Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder in 2016, the year after this photograph was taken by Herald photographer Stewart Attwood during the total solar eclipse of March 20 2015 – 125 years almost to the day after the bridge was officially opened by the future Edward VII.

From its grand unveiling in 1890 until the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964, it was the only way to cross the estuary that didn’t involve a boat. The Road Bridge has since been largely superseded by the Queensferry Crossing, opened in 2017, but the familiar cantilevered span of the rail bridge with its iconic red oxide livery – a paint colour now know as Forth Bridge Red – still moves thousands of passengers a day across the water. Some will have come from London and be heading for Inverness, grateful (if they have any sense of history) for the hours the bridge cuts from their journey time. Others may be commuters from Inverkeithing heading into the capital for work, or Edinburgh sun-worshippers travelling in the other direction and making for the beaches at Aberdour, from where the view back to Auld Reekie is as fine as any.

For anybody, traveller or bystander, it’s always worth sparing a few moments for reflection, however. On the many lives lost during the bridge’s construction (73 is the best estimate, most killed by falls or drowning, though eight were saved by rowing boats stationed in the water). On the nerd-tastic wealth of statistics the bridge throws up (six and a half million rivets! A total length of 8,094 feet!). Or on the many sights this old bridge has seen, among them the first airborne operation launched by the Luftwaffe against mainland Britain after the outbreak of the second world war: on October 16 1939, when 12 Junkers bombers targeting shipping at nearby Rosyth were engaged by Spitfires from 603 City Of Edinburgh squadron. Three bombers were downed, the first RAF ‘kills’ of the war.

Today, the bridge also serves as an iconic backdrop for photo opportunities and brand launches, and it has featured in everything from Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps to the computer game Grand Theft Auto. Sports teams and political groupings are forever gathering in front of it for snaps, and it’s a vivid if impassive participant in South Queensferry’s annual Loony Dook on those (curiously frequent) Ne’ers’ Days when the sun shines and the sky is cold and clear and blue.

The Forth Bridge: made in Scotland, from girders.

What to read/watch

Elspeth Wills's book The Briggers (Birlinn) tells the story of the men who built the Forth Bridge. To see what Alfred Hitchcock made of the construction, watch his classic 1935 thriller The 39 Steps.