Throwback: Thomas Telford


It’s not exactly difficult to chase Thomas Telford in Scotland – you just fall over him everywhere you go. But I was a bit more aware of him than usual last summer, while I waited for the book to turn up, and I did keep finding him.

The first time wasn’t in Scotland at all, and was mid-May, so either I’d been waiting for the book for even longer than I thought, or this one was pre-emptive.

This is the ‘new’ bridge over the Wansbeck at Morpeth, built around 1830 apparently as part of a bigger plan for improving the Edinburgh to London road. (Photo taken from the old bridge, or at least the Victorian footbridge which uses the medieval central pier.)

Morpeth Telford Bridge

The next was something I didn’t have to go hunting for at all – the harbour walls at Tarbert are possibly the first place I heard Telford’s name (or possibly not). There probably wasn’t much personal involvement from him in them – he was in charge of a huge project to improve harbours across the western Highlands – but he seems to have spent most of his time dashing from one to another of the projects carried out under his name, so he’ll have visited at some point.

I’ve always loved the harbour walls, with their big old stones – worn smooth, and very good for walking along the edge of. And I do like the mismatched but perfectly sized arches for the burns which run into the top end of the harbour.

Harbour walls

The artificial island in the harbour known as the Beilding was built at the same time, and used to put a line onto boats which were struggling to turn in the harbour.

The Bielding

The little cottage built into the harbour walls – now a giftshop – was for the weightbridge for the fish. It has its own little slipway beside it.

Old weighbridge cottage
Weighbridge cottage from the water

The last was more of an adventure – I was staying on Skye later in the summer, and on a damp day when the hills were covered in mist decided to set out to walk down to Stein from the bus stop at the Fairy Bridge.

This was part of an earlier plan for improving highland harbours, under the auspices of the British Fisheries Society – the plan for Stein failed, but planned villages at Ullapool and Pultneytown in Wick were much more successful.

Telford’s plan was a grand one, with terraces on the hillside leading to a central church and school house. Very little was built, but the rows of white buildings at Stein are still noticeably different from the scattered croft houses behind.

Approaching Stein

The one row of houses which were built are a few years later than the original plan, but basically on part of the planned layout.

Rows of houses

The one part which was definitely Telford’s was a storehouse and pier built to the north of the village – the storehouse is now a modern house, but the site was obvious, and although there’s no direct access by road it was fairly easy to walk along the beach.

Old storehouse

The pier, with a kind of walled pool behind it, is half ruined now, but obviously the right kind of work from the right period.

Telford pier

There will probably be more Telford about – I need to go and have another look at the Dean Bridge, and I know I’m going to fall over him again in Newburgh and Cowal, never mind all the places further afield I want to go to…

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