Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Ord of Caithness Part B

Two Bridges

Pre nineteenth century there were many lightly formed roads and turf tracks crossing the Scottish Highlands. They were used mainly for foot traffic, some light-wheeled vehicles or horses and carts. Many rivers were crossed at fords.

Thomas Telford

In 1802 Thomas Telford, a Scottish civil engineer and noted road and bridge builder was commissioned by the Government to make a survey of Scotland with a view to improving the roads and bridges. Telfords plans were approved and work commenced.

In Telford’s report of 1828 he said:
“In surveying the future roads it was with difficulty and not without danger that I could scramble along a rugged, broken, sandy shore or by narrow tracks on the edge of precipices frequently interrupted by rude and inconvenient ferries; and having for lodgings only miserable huts, scarcely protected from the inclemency of the weather; while the adjacent country had scarcely the marks of cultivation. Now in the year 1828 a mail coach passes daily from Tain by Bonar Bridge, the Fleet Mound, Dunrobin, Helmsdale and the Ord of Caithness, to the extremity of the Island at Wick and Thurso without being interrupted by a single ferry.”
Source: New Ways Through the Glens A.R.B. Haldane 1962 Pg 189

Ousdale Bridge

"The Ousdale Bridge is a tall, coursed rubble one with a narrow semi circular arch of 28 feet span and 40 feet high. It has triangular buttresses with squared tops and spans a burn where it runs into a gorge with wet boggy sides. Obviously it was a difficult place to make a stable bridge. The abutments have deep foundations into the rock. ..From the streamside the arch romantically frames a typical view of the burn falling down low rock steps." The Ousdale Bridge is a Telford bridge.

The Ord of Caithness Bridge

“This is a sturdy bridge built about 1820 and set at a sharp V bend on the road, with a hill down on both sides…It is a tribute to the engineer and mason who first drove this vital road north. If you walk up the valley behind for a short distance, you will see how the road comes down in a great U to the small arch. It is set directly on the rock and built of roughly coursed rubble, an almost semicircular arch with a square topped parapet. The abutments curve round into wing walls which follow the line of the road downstream, that of the burn upstream." The Ord Bridge is also a Telford bridge
Source: Highland Bridges, Gillian Nelson, 1990, pgs 162-163

Scottish heather at the Ord
While Telford’s roads and bridges must have had a huge impact on the people of Badbea especially for access to Navidle and Helmsdale, they also left opportunity for the Laird to insist on them working in difficult conditions and for pitiful wages.

Thanks to George Watson, Highlands, for helpful information

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