The Wade Bridge at Whitebridge

The South Loch Ness Heritage Group has been working now for three years to draw attention of the Highland Council to the desperate state of the Wade Bridge at Whitebridge.  It has become a rather repetitive saga.

As early as November 2002 the President of the Inverness Field Club had written to Mr Hepburn of the Planning Dept. of the Highland Council informing him of the state of the above structure and expressing great concern.   In a report to the Council, the serious state of the bridge is described.   This report is appended below in full.

There has now been another three years of weathering  and decay of the Bridge.

In February 2004 our Group Secretary received a letter from the President of the Inverness Field Club asking for assistance in pushing their attempts to get  something done about the deteriorating condition of the bridge.  This was raised at our committee meeting and the Secretary was requested to write to Mr John Duncan at the Highland Council expressing our concern and asking what was being done.  A letter was also sent to I F C informing them of what we were doing.

8 June 2004, letter went to John Duncan, Conservation Architect of the Highland Council, informing him of our interest, in association with I.F.C. and passing on the pertinent parts of the architect's detailed assessment.   He replied that they had the matter in hand.

26 April  2005  Another letter was sent to John Duncan again enquiring about the position with regard to the restoration of the bridge.    A reply was received on 16 May saying that they have been attempting to ascertain the ownership of the Bridge  (for  2 years!!) 

28 August 2005  A letter went from the group to Historic Scotland giving them all the information we had and quoting the contents of letter from the Highland Council who appeared to find the problem of finding the ownership of the Bridge almost insurmountable!.  The last letter from Mr John Greaves, Head of Planning and Building Control, Highland Council, dated 16 May 2005 states "An extensive legal search by the planning authority identified that Dell Estate is one of two owners of the bridge.  Garrogie Estate is arguably the other riparain landowner to who the bridge would have transferred when it was by-passed following the construction of the present road bridge in the 1930s."  The letter finishes with "I can assure you that the planning authority is anxious to preserve this important listed building but it requires to have the ownership confirmed and the owners' cooperation to achieve the short term works of consolidation and the longer term repairs".   A copy of our letter to Historic Scotland was sent to our MP Danny Alexander, who also contacted the Highland Council .  No reply was received by the Heritage Group at this time from Historic Scotland, although they quite quickly replied to Mr Alexander on 5 September, again repeating that they were concerned over this Category A listed bridge and have been in discussion with Highland Council on this issue.  In this letter to Mr Alexander they said that the Council has recently commissioned a condition report for the bridge from an experienced engineer.  They further stated that ownership of the bridge has been difficult to identify and the council lawyers were endeavouring to clarify this so that a repair scheme can be developed and taken forward..  We therefore sent another copy of our letter to Historic Scotland.   A reply was received to this second letter from the Principal Inspector of Historic Buildings with copy to John Duncan.  He stated in a letter to the Group Secretary that:  "I have discussed this particular case with John Duncan who is the Highland Council's conservation architect.  The Council is of the view that action on its part is required here, and as you know it has commissioned its own condition report on the bridge.  The intention is of course that the report will be the basis for a conservation programme".  He went on to repeat exactly what we have already been told about finding the ownership of the bridge and suggested that our Group establish contact with John Duncan.   We have already of course been in contact with John Duncan now for about three years and we have not been able to move the matter forward one iota.   We are now up to early September 2006 and we are still almost exactly, it appears, where we were 2/3 years ago.

On 8 August one of our committee spoke to John Duncan who told her that he has been in touch with Dell and Garrogie Estates,  but found it very time consuming as the correspondence was sent to their Solicitors who take ages to reply.  He was anxious that we should know that it hasn't been just "pushed under the mat" and that he will continue to press for this to be sorted.    This was relayed to the Committee who have agreed that our Chairman will himself write to Dell and The Wildside Lodges being the adjoining properties that had recently changed hands, to see if a direct approach from a local Heritage Group may produce anything at all. The reasoning was that they, surely, must have accurate title deeds, and probably know who their immediate neighbours are too.

The Group are aware that repairs are likely to be costly and they certainly do not expect the landowners to foot the bill. However, the consent and cooperation of the owners will be neccessary to access public funding for the project.

Attached herewith original report on the state of the Bridge:

 

SURVEY OF WADE BRIDGE AT WHITEBRIDGE

 

This beautiful bridge over the River Fechlin is undoubtedly suffering from neglect.  Bushes, weeds and young birch and  pine trees are growing from mortar joints on both faces.  These are at a stage where the rate of damage will increase disproportionately  in the coming years.  Some of the vegetation is now around 3 feet in height and the resultant damage from roots is on the verge of displacing stonework.

The soft sandstone that forms the string course is disintegrating.  This string course is one of the factors that give the bridge its grace and distinction.  The erosion is largely caused by the invasion of mosses and plants.  The voussoirs, the square-cut stones which form the semi-circular arch on the face of the bridge are breaking loose and the rough stones and mortar are being exposed.  This is unstable material.  The arch is raised on abutments which are founded on bedrock.  Past floods have scoured the faces of the abutments and these have been repaired, many years ago, by shrouding them in protective stones and bricks.  They, in turn, have been eroded and although stable at present will cause problems in the near future.

Considerable damage was done by the 1829 floods and repairs at that time ensured the continued survival of the bridge

Dense tree cover on the slopes upstream of the bridge restricts access and a clear view of that face.

The cartouche at the crown of the arch appears to be disintegrating and the date of 1732 is not now obvious.

All is not gloom.  In 1975 the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board – now Scottish and Southern Electricity, built an intake on the River Fechlin about a mile upstream of the bridge  This diverted the main water of the Fechlin to Loch Mhor for the Foyers hydro-electric scheme.  Compensation water was allowed to flow in the river but the effect was to reduce the volume and consequently the height of water at the abutments.

The proposed hydro-electric scheme at Sronlairg, on the Fechlin (Innogy Ltd) poses little threat to the bridge since no additional water is fed into the Fechlin.  Nevertheless new river control has always to be viewed with caution.

This river is due to be under the influence of two power schemes; a small reservoir for Loch Mhor; the large capacity of Loch Killin.  Properly controlled this could reduce risk to the bridge if this factor had a high priority.

There is, however, a need for the earliest action to protect the abutments and to deal with the attack by nature on the faces of the structure.  The previous lack of maintenance has led to the decay of one of the finest military bridges in Scotland.