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The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Our Bridges In The North

The Far North Line crosses nine substantial bridges - over the Ness, over the Canal at Clachnaharry swing-bridge (operated from the only staffed signalbox north of Inverness), at Beauly, at Conon Bridge with five arches, over four smaller bridges at Alness, Kldary, Golspie and Brora and then the long, lattice girder viaduct with stone arches at both ends at Invershin. There are another 16 or more bridges on the former Highland Railway lines to the South and East. They are not only of splendid masonry arch design (15), but box plate (3) and lattice girder (7).

Most of these bridges were built in the 1850's and 1860's, designed by our pioneer engineer Joseph Mitchell, whose house Viewhill still graces the skyline in Inverness and later bridges by his partner Murdoch Paterson. Nearly all of them have been handed down to us intact, so we can continue to travel reliably and safely and at the same time appreciate how much they enhance our river and valley landscapes. Fortunately, nearly all of them are Listed and protected by Historic Scotland as structures of "special architectural or historic interest".

Along the Kyle Line there are numerous small bridges, but they are not Listed. The many special structures on the West Highland lines include McAlpine's first viaduct with concrete arches at Glenfinnan and the only cantilever railway bridge in Britain other than the Forth Bridge at Connel Ferry (road only now), both built by William Arrol. On the GNSR lines in the North-east the many Listed bridges include the 7-span girder viaduct across the Spey at Garmouth-"Barnett's Monument" - and three viaducts, with 18 masonry arches in all, over the small town of Cullen.

In Central and South Scotland there are over 100 Listed bridges. Most of the earliest of them designed in the 1840's by John Miller and are still going strong today, busier than ever. Notable examples of his legacy are the Almond Viaduct on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line, which has 36 masonry arches, the longest in Scotland; and the Ballochmyle Viaduct over the River Ayr on the G&SW main line, which has what is believed to be still the largest masonry arch in the world!

The traffic these bridges have to carry varies greatly, fron 2-car DMUs to 1000 ton freighters and from 6 - 20 trains a day on the single track North Lines to 60 - 200 in Central Scotland.

One distinctive if not unique feature of the North lines today is that we have five new bridges! Mitchell's 5-arch 1862 Ness Viaduct was destroyed by flood on a steepened river bed in 1989 and promptly replaced in 1990 by a steel spans structure (not Listed - yet!) In 1996 the Highland Council built a new bridge over the road at Boat of Garten to enable the Strathspey Railway Company to advance north to Broomhill and eventually Grantown. A short, weak road bridge over the North line at Clachnaharry in Inverness, dating from 1862, has been replaced by Railtrack with a stronger one. The unique all-timber bridge over peat at Moy, on the main line south of Inverness, has just had an all-steel span laid over it, on concrete foundations whilst still keeping the Listed timber framework. And we now have a public footbridge across the Kyle of Sutherland attached to the Invershin Viaduct - thanks to Frank Roach and the European Regional Development Fund.

We are indeed fortunate to have such a living history in our railways, but still no Dornoch Crossing, nearly built in 1986!

Frank Spaven, Vice President FoFNL