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Royal Deeside :
The Bridges over the River Dee at Ballater

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Visitors to Ballater in recent summers could be forgiven for believing that the River Dee is a docile stream as it flows under the fine stone-built bridge. However, the Dee is often a strong and fast flowing river. At times crossing the river by ford or ferry can be dangerous. Even building a secure bridge across the river has not proved easy. The present bridge is the fourth to have built on that site.

The existence of Ballater itself is dependent on the bridge. Prior to the construction of a bridge the principal road between Aberdeen and Braemar went through the Pass of Ballater and by-passed the swampy land where the town of Ballater is now located.

Below is a brief history of the four bridges of Ballater

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Ballater History Old Kirkyards Francis Farquharson Lord Byron Ballater Local History Group
Bridges of Ballater Ballater in Victoria Times Alexander Gordon Ballater Highland Games AA Box 472

Third Bridge across Dee at Ballater 1875
The third bridge across the River Dee at Ballater in about 1875

The bridge spanning the River Dee at Ballater is the fourth built at or near this site. As early as 1726 an unsuccessful attempt was made to finance the construction of a bridge. In 1775 local heritors, having collected some subscriptions, approached the Synod of Aberdeen with a request for a Synodical collection to be made. With this aid they succeeded in collecting the L1700 required for the bridge (L=UK pounds). The leading promoter of the project was Francis Farquharson of Monaltrie.

The contract for construction was taken by James Robertson of Banff who built a five-span masonry bridge. It was completed in 1783 and remained in use until August 1799 when it was totally destroyed in spate conditions. The heritors and local inhabitants were seriously inconvenienced and, finding the cost of building had increased, they applied for assistance from the Commissioners for Roads and Bridges. By 1806 plans had been prepared by the great Thomas Telford for a new granite bridge again of five spans, the largest being 60ft wide. It cost L3289 to construct.

Because of a lack of skilled masons it was difficult to find contractors willing to undertake the work at a reasonable price. (Britain at that time was engaged in the Napoleonic Wars.) The heritors therefore took the contract themselves and employed John Simpson as sub-contractor. Simpson made a loss on his contract but completed the bridge in 1809. Construction was not without problems. Timber (for warships?) being floated downstream had to pass through the construction site. The bridge builders and the proprietors of the timber agreed to share the cost of guarding the incomplete structure from possible damage.

The bridge was swept away in 1829 by the 'Great Spate'. Only the abutments and a pillar of masonry remained. Negotiations over the rebuilding of the bridge were protracted and it was 1833 before agreement was reached. The new bridge, completed in 1834, was built of locally grown Braemar timber by John Gibb of Aberdeen to a design by Telford. It had four 70ft spans and cost a modest L1857 – substantially less than the one it replaced.

Despite the timber construction the bridge had a considerably longer life-span than its predecessors being replaced in 1885. Construction of this last bridge reverted to granite and Messrs Jenkins and Marr designed a segmental arch bridge having a waterway width of 251ft in four spans of approximately 63ft. This fine bridge shows some construction details reminiscent of Telford's Highland bridges. It was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November 1885 and is an excellent example of our Victorian heritage.

Recently the plaque on one wall of the bridge was renovated. Also, the adjacent Cornellan steading, long a ruin, has been replaced by modern homes in a building designed to resemble the old steading. Thus the scene today is close to that of a century ago.

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Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
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