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Royal Deeside : Brunel's Bridge at Crathie

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Though small, Crathie lies on either side of the River Dee. To the south of the river lie both Balmoral and the Royal Lochnagar Distillery. To the north of the river lies the famous Crathie Kirk, regularly used for worship by the Royal Family, the kirk hall and the graveyard where John Brown, servant to Queen Victoria, was buried.

The two sides of the village are joined by the quiet South Deeside Road. The road crosses the river by a seemingly modest bridge designed by Britain's greatest ever engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Lacking the grandeur of many his bridges and designs it is easy to overlook. However, the bridge is not without merits being a neat solution to the engineering problems faced by Brunel.

The article below gives more information on the bridge

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  Crathie pages Introduction Crathie Kirk John Brown Brunel's Bridge  

Brunel’s Bridge at Crathie

The River Dee is crossed by numerous attractive bridges. They range from attractive iron suspension bridges, such as that at Cambus O’ May, intended for pedestrians to substantial stone bridges for heavier traffic such as the Royal Bridge at Ballater. At Crathie there is a somewhat plain looking bridge which links the church and car-park to Balmoral. The bridge was much disliked by Queen Victoria so it can be a surprise to discover that it was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, thought by many to be the greatest-ever British engineer. The displeasure of Queen Victoria seems to have affected how many view the bridge. Indeed, G. M. Fraser in his book ‘The Old Deeside Road’ which provides much information about the road and its surrounds, says little about this bridge and fails to mention Brunel. However, Brunel was proud of his design of ‘functional elegance’ and there can be no doubt that it is a fine, though minor, example of his work.

When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Balmoral, the South Deeside Road continued through Balmoral to meet with the North Deeside Road at the Old Brig O’ Dee at Invercauld, some 3 miles east of Braemar. There was a footbridge across the Dee near Crathie but no bridge suitable for wheeled traffic. To allow greater privacy, the road through Balmoral was closed and new bridges suitable for wheeled traffic were built across the Dee at Crathie (1857) and Invercauld (1859). These bridges were commissioned by Prince Albert. The Old Brig O’ Dee is now within Balmoral Grounds and is preserved by Historic Scotland.

The following technical description of Brunel’s bridge appears in Ian Shepherd’s book

…..a novel, single-span, wrought-iron bridge with diamond-shaped perforations in the girder web.

This is probably the earliest bridge of its type in Scotland. The two riveted girders are almost unique in Brunel’s work, the closest parallel being in a girder designed for the East Bengal Railway. The girders are mounted on two large piers of local granite, have a span of 39.8m and support a 4.1m wide deck of pine planking and tarmac. The iron founder was R. Brotherhood of Chippenham, Wiltshire…and the work was supervised Dr Andrew Robertson, the doctor and factor of Balmoral. It was completed… in 1857.

Today, the road carries not only vehicles – many on their way to the nearby Royal Lochnagar Distillery – but is crossed on foot by the many thousands of visitors on their way to visit Balmoral. Few realise that they are crossing a bridge designed by the greatest engineer of the 19th Century.

Ian Shepherd (1996) ‘Aberdeen and North-East Scotland’, Exploring Scotland’s Heritage series, HMSO, Edinburg


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