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Bridge over the Atlantic

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Clachan Bridge with Seil behind, 2007, Fox
Clachan Bridge with Seil behind

The Bridge over the Atlantic has a number of candidates, but the most well known example is probably that of the humpbacked Clachan Bridge joining tiny Seil Island with the Scottish mainland. Lying on the B844, a little over ten miles south of Oban, the bridge spans the tidal waters of the Atlantic at Clachan Sound. Although the bridge is part of a single track road, and with a sufficiently steep hump to obscure any view of oncoming traffic, both approach roads are clear and open, allowing ample opportunity to ensure clear passage.

Completed between 1792 and 1793, at a cost then of £450, there are various attributions regarding its design and build. Documented records (Murray, WH (1977) The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland. London. Collins. Page 121.) credit the design to Thomas Telford, and the build to Robert Mylne, also responsible for much of the village of Inveraray. There are local stories attributing it to John Stevenson, a local builder, also said to have produced a design with two arches, which was rejected. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) gives the architect as John Stevenson, 1791, with details influenced by Robert Mylne. Perhaps it was a collaborative project. Combined with the considerably deeper channel that existed when it was built, the single high arch seen today was designed to allow ships to pass under the bridge. Today, 40 ton lorries cross the bridge, thanks to additional strengthening, while local legend tells of a fully laden cart of hay being used to test its safety once completed.

Clachan Sound with Seil to the left, 2007, Fox
Clachan Sound with Seil to the left

Next to the bridge is the Tigh an Truish Inn - the House of the Trousers, referred to locally as the T&T. Following the defeat of the Jacobite Army at Culloden after the 1745 Jacobite Risings, and Bonnie Prince Charlie's subsequent flight from Scotland, the Government banned the use of the Gaelic language, the kilt, and the wearing of tartan by proscription under the Dress Act of 1746. The inn earned its name after its use by islanders from Seil, and neighbouring Easdale Island, as a convenient location to change to and from their traditional garb and into trousers, or trews (obviously not Tartan Trews!), when travelling to the mainland.

Around May of each year, the bridge takes on a purple appearance, as the flower of the rare Fairy Foxglove (Erinus Alpinus) covers much of its surface.

Other Atlantic Bridges

Great Bernera Bridge

The fixed link constructed between Great Bernera and Lewis in 1953 was a major breakthrough for civil engineering in the UK, as it was the first example of a bridge made of pre-stressed concrete girders, not only in this country, but in Europe. At the time, the bridge cost £70,000. Great Bernara is generally referred to simply as Bernera, although it should be noted that there is also a Little Bernera.

Before the bridge was built, the 400 residents of Great Bernera were so keen to have the 150 metre gap between their island and Lewis bridged that they threatened to build their own causeway by dynamiting the cliffs on either side. In response to this request, the authorities built the Great Bernera bridge, opened on July 22, 1953. A crowd of 4,000 people then walked across the new bridge to Bernera.

The linking of islands by bridges, formerly isolated by their watery fortifications, is always an emotive subject, reflected in a comment which appeared in The Stornoway Gazette of the time, which reported: "On that day Bernera ceased to be an island and became part of Lewis. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Lewis ceased to be an island and became part of Bernera."

Scalpay Bridge

The Scalpay Bridge was completed in 1997, and opened unofficially when the first drive across it was led by Scalpay's oldest resident, Mrs Kirsty Morrison, then aged 103. The bridge's official opening, in 1998, was marked by the first ever official visit to the islands by a serving Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Tony Blair MP.

Linking the islands of Scalpay and Harris in the Outer Hebrides, the Scalpay Bridge is a box girder construction of composite steel-reinforced concrete with an overall length of 293 metres, and a main span of 171 metres. It carries not only road and pedestrian traffic, but also the island's water supply line. Formerly linked by ferry to Harris, the small island of Scalpay, 2.5 miles long, lies only 330 yards south of its larger neighbour, and benefited from a 65% grant to the Western Isles Council from the European Union through its Objective One Programme to fund its bridge.

Other Western Isles Crossings

While they are not all bridges over the Atlantic, the following fixed links all cross the Atlantic in the same sense, and therefore justify their inclusion in the spirit of this page as anyone using them will be above, and therefore crossing overthe Atlantic. The pages listed also give more detailed histories and backgrounds to these structures, together with numerous photographs:

  • Baleshare Causeway; Baleshare Causeway 2
    A single-lane causeway over the shallow channel between the islands of Baleshare and North Uist, the Baleshare Causeway is one of a network of bridges and causeways which connect the islands in the Outer Hebrides. Built in 1962, this 382 yard (350 m) causeway was constructed by William Tawse Ltd for Inverness-shire County Council, with Sir Alexander Gibb acting as consulting engineers. The link has helped maintain a population on Baleshare when so many of the other smaller Hebridean islands have become uninhabited.
  • Berneray Causeway; Berneray Causeway 2
    Making a connection across the Sound of Berneray between the islands of Berneray and North Uist, the Berneray Causeway is one of a network of bridges and causeways which links the islands in the Outer Hebrides. Opened on April 8, 1999, by HRH Prince Charles, who had spent time living on a croft on the island in the late 1980s, the causeway is 951 yards (870 m) in length, 33 feet (10 m) wide and cost £6.6 million to construct. It replaced a ferry service which was previously the only means of access to the island. The causeway, which curves gently as it crosses from Otternish (North Uist) to Stone (Berneray), has culverts to allow the passage of otters and includes barriers to keep rabbits off Berneray, thus protecting its unique ecology.
  • Eriskay Causeway; Eriskay Causeway 2
    A causeway linking the islands of Eriskay and South Uist in the Western Isles, approximately 1 mile (1.5 km) in length, the construction of the Eriskay Causeway was begun in 2000. Costing £9.4 million, it is 33 ft (10 m) wide and represents the largest civil engineering project ever to be undertaken in the Outer Hebrides. It runs from a promontory 440 yd (500 m) east of Ludag (South Uist) to close to the church at Rubha Ban on Eriskay and represents the last link in a 60 mile (100 km) network of roads, causeways and bridges which links the islands of Berneray in the north, with North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay in the south. The causeway was opened by the Earl and Countess of Wessex on the September 11, 2002.
  • Great Bernera Bridge; Great Bernera Bridge 2
  • Loch Bee Causeway; Loch Bee Causeway 2
    The oldest of a network of bridges and causeways which allows easy communications between the islands of the Outer Hebrides, the Loch Bee Causeway crosses Loch Bee in the north of South Uist conveying the A865 to the north coast of the island. Built in the 18th century for the carriage of carts, the causeway comprised double drystone walls, infilled with shingle and sand. The roadway was surfaced for the first time in the 1930s and the causeway widened and heightened c. 1959. In 1990, the 601 yard (550 m) causeway was upgraded to two lanes at a cost of £372,000.
  • North Ford Causeway; North Ford Causeway 2
    A single-lane causeway over the North Ford between Benbecula and North Uist, at 3 miles (5 km) in length, the North Ford Causeway is the longest of a network of bridges and causeways which connect the islands in the Outer Hebrides. It was opened on September 7, 1960, by the HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900 - 2002). The causeway connects Gramisdale in Benbecula with Carinish in North Uist, via the western tip of the island of Grimsay and several other smaller islands. It incorporates three bridges, allowing for the passage of boats and the tide. Regularly spaced passing places permit the two-way flow of traffic. Its construction required 350,000 tonnes of rock. Previously the crossing had been problematic, with the tide ensuring that traversing the sands was impossible for much of the day, but the water was too shallow for a ferry.
  • Sound of Barra Ferry; Sound of Barra Ferry 2
  • South Ford Causeway; South Ford Causeway 2
    A two-lane causeway over the South Ford between Benbecula and South Uist, the South Ford Causeway is part of a network of bridges and causeways which connect the islands in the Outer Hebrides. It was opened on November 18, 1982, by National Mod gold-medallist Mairi Macinnes from North Boisdale. Originally the crossing had to be made over the dangerous and shifting sands of the South Ford, although the causeway replaced the single-lane South Ford Bridge (or O'Regan's Bridge, Gael: Drochaid O'Regan) which was completed in 1942 and named in honour of a local priest who had long campaigned for its construction. This 82 span concrete bridge, more than 875 yards (800 m) in length, had been built, at least in part, to provide access to the air base on Benbecula. By the late 1970s the poor condition of the bridge brought the proposal for its replacement by a short bridge and the causeway, which together measure almost half a mile (1 km) and cross between Creagorry (Benbecula) and Carnan (South Uist). The £2.2 million scheme was funded by the Scottish Office and the Western Isles Council. It was executed by contractors Edmund Nuttall Ltd with consulting engineers Blyth and Blyth, who had been responsible for the design of the South Ford bridge 40 years earlier.
  • Scalpay Bridge; Scalpay Bridge 2
  • Sound of Harris Ferry; Sound of Harris Ferry 2
  • Vatersay Causeway; Vatersay Causeway 2
    Connecting two of the southernmost islands in the Outer Hebrides, the Vatersay Causeway connects that island to Barra to the north. Begun in 1989, the causeway is 273 yards (250 m) in length, cost some £3.7 million and required 220,000 tonnes of rock. It was fully operational by mid-1991, although this causeway has never been declared officially open.
  • Other Causeways; Other Causeways 2
    • Kildonan Causeway
      The 220 m causeway across across Loch Kildonan in South Uist is one of the earliest such crossings, having been constructed for cart traffic many decades ago.
    • Otternish Causeway
      This is the former Barra terminal for the ferry to Berneray. When the causeway was completed in December 1998, the slipway was no longer needed. The causeway was formally opened by Prince Charles in April 1999.

Streymin Bridge

Opened on October 30, 1973, the Streymin Bridge links Streymoy to Eysturoy in the Faroe Islands, and crosses the Atlantic over the Sundini Sound.

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