Sunday, 15 September 2013

The most beautiful bridge?

After paddling from the bothy back down Loch Glendhu and past the hotel, the Kylesku Bridge comes suddenly into view as a corner is turned.  The ebb tidal stream had just started in my favour and I had a gentle push into the narrows (Kylesku is Caolas Cumhann or Cumhang - the narrow strait).

Can a thing of concrete be beautiful when placed into a landscape like that of Sutherland?  I would say that in this case, it most certainly can; and that actually for me this is the most beautiful bridge anywhere......

Seen from drectly up the narrows it certainly looks slender and perhaps graceful, but from this angle the bridge hides its true nature until the last moment.

Passing underneath shows the graceful arc of the deck which forms a single sweep across the Kyle, but even here the best view is denied.  For that, and to understand the designers (Ove Arup Partners) vision, you have to see it from above.  The graceful arc compements the setting perfectly; any straight-line industrial style bridge like the one at Ballachulish would have spoilt this spot.  Both the designers and Highland Council, for whom it was built, deserve huge credit for their vision increating something truly beautiful.

Work began on the bridge in 1978 and it was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth in 1984.  It is 275 metres long and carries a continuous box girder section deck 24 metres above the water of the kyle.  The bridge replaced a ferry service here, one of the two final vessels on the service, the Maid of Kylesku. was simply beached at the north side of the kyle, the other vessel, Maid of Glencoul, remains in service as a relief vessel on the Corran ferry on Loch Linnhe.

My own favourite view of the bridge is from high up on Sail Garbh of Quinag, where the fit into the landscape is even more striking - I've no good images of this view; surely a reason to climb the hill again?!

Heading out of the narrows and into Loch a' Chairn Bhain (loch of the white cairn) another stunningly beautiful view opens up, this time the natural beauty of Quinag.  Really a mini range of hills with three Corbett summits (those hills between 2500 and 3000ft with a 500ft drop all round).  The most striking and obvious is Sail Garbh (rough heel) which gives the whole hill its name of Quinag - the milk stoup- as it's said to resemble a milking pail.

With this view for company and a gentle wind and tide behind me, the paddle towards the mouth of the loch and the sea beyond seemed effortless.....


  1. Thats what we pictured the roads and bridges to look like in the year 2000! Boy were we wrong...except this one!

  2. An aging beauty! Amazing it's almost 30 years of age...

  3. Hi Lee & Leif, it really was a visionary project and it just "fits" its place in the landscape; there aren't many modern constructions you could apply that to....
    Kind Regards

  4. Hi Ian, I too like the bridge. I chose it as the destination of my last motor bike trip in 1984. Although the bridge was open I don't think it had been officially opened at that point. Crossing it by motor bike was a great way to see the bridge. The roads on either side of the bridge had also been improved and are still far better than roads further south such as the A82 the main road north out of Glasgow. I last used the ferry in about 1976. At that time it was the turntable ferry MV Glenachulish. The previous year I had crossed the Ballachulish narrows in her on one of her last crossings there before the Ballachulish bridge was completed. I really loved the old turntable ferries (which were an early incarnation of roll on roll off). As you know the Glenachulish is still plying the Skye crossing at Glenelg narrows. Well after the Skye bridge opened I took the family across to let my daughters experience what had been a day to day feature of any long trip up the west coast. I even had a trailer with all my windsurfers so I was glad the turntable was still turning.

  5. Hi Douglas, thanks for this :o)

    Much as I like the bridges, there's that romantic element to a ferry service - except of course on a dark and windy night when every ferry slip seems to be the coldest place on earth!

    The Glenelg ferry is still by far and away the best way to get to Skye :o)

    Kind Regards