Attribution: photograph courtesy of W J McCulloch

The Thomas Telford Bridge

In 1809 this bridge, constructed under the supervision of the renowned engineer, Thomas Telford, became the means of crossing the River Conon, replacing the ferry which existed upstream. In the background is the railway bridge and on the right can be seen the toll house. (photograph courtesy of W J McCulloch)

The Telford Bridge

Attribution: photograph courtesy of W J McCulloch

Extract from Pioneers of the Highland Tracks

In June 2012 there appeared in the Ross-shire Journal an extract from the book Pioneers of the Highland Tracks, written by Anne-Mary Paterson, concerning the 150th anniversary of the opening of a Ross-shire rail link. The article is reproduced courtesy of the author and of the editor of the Ross-shire Journal.

In January 1859, Alexander Matheson convened a meeting of interested parties to discuss the building of a railway from Inverness to Dingwall. Matheson was a director of Jardine Matheson which traded between India and China. He and his uncle, James, one of the founders both made fortunes and were able to purchase Highland estates. Alexander owned Ardross, near Alness.

After Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Balmoral, the Scottish Highlands became a popular tourist destination. The landed gentry liked to travel each summer to their Scottish estates along with their retinue, so good communications were essential for them as well as for the local population who were able to benefit from the employment provided.


The rail bridge 150 years after construction.

Attribution:  Photo courtesy of Highland Railway Society

The indigenous landowners were also keen on the railway as they realised that this was an opportunity for them to develop the resources of their estates for export such as wood, fish, grain and whisky.

The Dingwall Town Council was very enthusiastic about a railway. Its citizens had either to walk or ride on horseback to Inverness or rely on the stagecoach. From there, they were able to get a train to Aberdeen and travel further south if they wished.

The directors asked Joseph Mitchell, the engineer for the railway eastwards along the coast to Keith, to carry out a survey. He and his assistants, William and Murdoch Paterson (Anne-Marie Paterson’s great-granduncles) set to work.

Although the country along the coast is flat, there were a number of obstacles to negotiate; there was the River Ness and the Caledonian Canal and then the railway had to squeeze between Clachnaharry and the steep hillside behind the village.

To save money there was a low-level wooden viaduct over the River Beauly, but the Ness and Conon were of stone. A swing bridge crossed the canal.

Parliament approved the Inverness and Ross-shire Railway for the thirty-one miles to Invergordon in July 1860.

Alexander Matheson’s wife cut the first sod in Inverness on 19 September 1860. To celebrate there was a general holiday. The workers received beef, bread and ale from a special booth. Although the contractor, George Meakin, was from Birkenhead, most of his labour came from the west coast of Ross-shire.

This was an extremely busy time for Mitchell and his Paterson assistants as planning work was already under way on the Inverness and Perth Junction Railway which was authorised in July 1861.

On completion, trains ran directly from Inverness to the south via Aviemore. Work started in August 1861 and the whole line opened in September 1863. Work on the Dingwall line proceeded quickly.

The most difficult viaduct was the Conon. Miss Mackenzie of Seaforth laid the foundation stone in November 1860.

The masonly viaduct, adjacent to what was then a Telford road bridge, has five arches and is on a skew of forty-five degrees to the river, the north abutment being 304 feet downstream of the south abutment.

Mitchell considered it a great feat of bridge engineering. It is said he originally favoured an iron girder bridge but decided on masonry because of its durability.

One hundred and fifty years ago, on 11 June 1862, the railway opened. Colonel Yolland from the Board of Trade inspected it the previous day and was entirely satisfied with the work. Two new engines, Belladrum and Lovat, worked the line.

After the lunch in the National Hotel, Dingwall, following the opening, Provost Falconer of Dingwall said that the arrival of the railway was, “… the most momentous event that has ever occurred in its annals since the title ‘royal’ was conferred upon it by Alexander I in 1226”.

Statistical Accounts

On the 25 May 1790, Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness wrote to over nine hundred Parish ministers throughout Scotland asking them to contribute to a Statistical Inquiry by answering as best they could,a series of one hundred and sixty-six Queries respecting each Parish.

The New (or Second) Statistical Account of Scotland built on the previous work carried out by Sir John Sinclair for the First Statistical Accounts by including the knowledge of local doctors and schoolmasters. The Second Statistical Accounts were published between 1834 and 1845.

Old Statistical Account (1790) for the Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester

New Statistical Account (1840) for the Parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester

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