Two Bridges on the Tay

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The day I went up to Scone, I also visited Dunkeld – mostly to go walking, but also to have a look at Telford’s great bridge over the Tay, an important link in his work on the Highland road system. However, before I got there my attention was attracted by another old bridge, built between 1766 and 1771 to cross the river at Perth.

There had been various bridges nearby in medieval times, all eventually destroyed by floods, and for about 150 years before this bridge was built only ferries had crossed the river. But with travel increasing and trade expanding a new bridge was proposed, and designed by John Smeaton, best known for the Eddystone lighthouse – this was before the main work on the Highland roads, but it must have been in mind, because the bridge was partly paid for from the forfeited Jacobite estates.

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Smeaton’s Bridge

A century or so later the bridge was made wider, but it has been done quite neatly, leaving the basic arch of the bridge alone and adding walkways on either side.

It’s a beautiful thing, but one of my favourite things about it is that it’s made of something just a little bit like puddingstone, so where the stone is wearing, tiny pebbles are showing through.

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Puddingstone

Floods on the Tay were fairly common, and the new bridge had to stand up to one only three years after it was finished, which it did well. Several have happened since then, and there is a record of flood heights on the back of the first pillar.

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Flood records

Plaques on the bridge record its building and the later widening.

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Smeaton bridge plaque

I did finally make it up to Dunkeld, although I didn’t have much time for looking at the bridge. This was one of the first achievements of Telford’s work for the Commission for Highland Roads and bridges, built in 1809, and an essential link in the main route north to Inverness. Wade’s military road had taken a different route north, crossing the Tay at Aberfeldy where his bridge still stands, but otherwise there was no bridge over the Tay north of Perth.

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Dunkeld bridge

It’s a beautiful bridge but a very plain one, with only this tiny bit of decoration at the ends, and apparently it only got that because a local landowner paid for it – the government funding only paid for substance, not for decoration.

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Subtle decoration
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