The Wade Bridge at Whitebridge
Reports in reverse date order
Update on the Wade Bridge Dec 2014
Update on the Wade Bridge 2010
After years of talk, some actual repair work was achieved between July and October 2010. The contractor was Wildland Services based in Ullapool and run by Brian Wilson They accepted the challenge of setting up safe access down the south side of the bridge and spanning water at the abutments. They packed lime mortar into exposed abutment backfill. They poured 8 tonnes of special grout into holes in the roadway to fill up all the weak spaces within the bridge abutments. Where this didn’t reach the right spots, they created other grout entry points. Work was interrupted by occasional high river flows, including an exceptional summer flood.
The parapet was repaired using locally recovered stone. The eroded east abutment was rebuilt, again with locally recovered stone. With this work achieved, the bridge is better placed to survive a big flood, and still be there for restoration of the upper arch and wingwalls when full funding is available. We have not however yet reached the stage where pedestrians can again be allowed to use the bridge.
The cost of this initial repair work was £18,000, half from Stratherrick and Foyers Community Trust (SFCT) and half from local donations. No work was attempted during 2011, which was an exceptionally wet year. The bridge survived unscathed from several fierce floods, thanks to the work done in 2010. We hope to raise funds in 2012 for repairs to the west abutment which has been severely eroded in the past.
Our original larger funding application was turned down by local landowners, and in turn by the SFCT partly as a consequence of this. This in turn prevented access to three times the funding from bodies such as Historic Scotland who are supportive.
The trust welcomes new members and donations – see http://southlochnessheritage.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/wadebridge.pdf
Update on the Wade Bridge 2007
Councillor Margaret Davidson took up the case after being buttonholed by local retired minister Martyn Bateman at a local meeting. And an article by SLNHG in the Boleskine Bulletin prompted John Townshend, a retired civil engineer who divides his time between Edinburgh and Foyers, to do some landowner research in Edinburgh archives, to attend meetings set up by Margaret Davidson with the Council and their consultant and to become involved. He writes these notes about landownership issues, the state of the bridge, and the next steps planned.
Firstly the unresolved landownership issues. The two current landowners are Moor Valley Leisure Ltd from Yorkshire (owners since 2006 of Wildside Highland Lodges) and the new Dell Estate and its subsidiary Fechlin Properties Ltd, owned by Jeremy Finnis. The picture is complicated by unclear boundary descriptions in past documents, including the 1897 purchase by the British Aluminium Company of two plots on either side of the river, after their success in developing the Foyers hydro-powered aluminium factory in 1895. They intended another hydro scheme using the River Fechlin with a turbine house at the bridge on one bank or the other, but nothing was built. One plot was bought from the Foyers Estate “bounded by the river”, the other from the Lovat Estate (Simon Fraser) with a similar description. A drawing showing the boundary descriptions has been produced and discussed with Highland Council’s lawyer who is working afresh on tying up the loose ends. Garrogie Estate is not a part owner. SLNHG understands that both landowners are willing to co-operate but wish to limit their liabilities.
Secondly the state of the bridge. John Duncan, Highland Council’s conservation architect, commissioned a report in 2007 from Mott MacDonald. The engineers assessing the bridge had also reported ten years earlier, with recommendations that the old Dell Estate carry out repair work to the north west foundations, but these were ignored. MottMac’s pre-assessment letter dated October 2007 was full of doom, mentioned demolition as an option, and led to closure. A meeting was held on 7th May 2008 in Inverness involving MottMac, the Council’s architect, engineer and lawyer, and Margaret Davidson. MottMac’s key report was eventually issued in September 2008. It gave a black picture but stopped short of recommending demolition, and proposed a concrete jacket around the foundations and a total repair cost estimate which adding fees came to about £250,000. John Townshend’s personal view is that the bridge is currently quite stable, but has suffered severe river erosion damage within the past 10 years since archive photos and could be destroyed by an exceptional flood if nothing is done to repair the damage. The river in severe flood could exceed 3 metres depth and rush down. The hydro schemes of Foyers and Glendoe are interventions reducing normal flows, but will hardly reduce the effect of major floods which are most likely in the winter season.
Thirdly, what are the next steps? The bridge is not Highland Council’s responsibility, and they will not adopt it even when restored, but are co-operating actively with advice and legal help. An initial approach on behalf of SLNHG and others to Historic Scotland received a cautiously positive response, offering 50% grant subject to their usual conditions of high standards. The bridge is listed as top category A, of national importance, and ranked by an expert as arguably the finest surviving Wade bridge. With this encouragement, a restoration trust has been set up and is now looking to recruit members (download application form), to raise funds, to take over ownership of the bridge along with responsibility for it, to receive consent for repairs planned and to engage contractors to do repair and restoration work in stages starting with urgent first aid. There are examples of such action on bridges far worse than this. Already the saplings growing out of the bridge have been pruned, and the mature birch tree splitting the north east wingwall has been felled.
Original Report By South Loch Ness Heritage Group 2006
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: in 2006
SURVEY OF WADE BRIDGE AT WHITEBRIDGE 2006
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.
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