I’ve been meaning for quite a while now to visit General Wade’s bridge at Aberfeldy, but it’s a bit off my usual tracks, and has never quite fitted in to any plan. I finally fitted it into a Perthshire trip, but although the morning had been sunny, it had turned into a dull and snowy afternoon by the time I’d made it west.
The bridge itself is also now tucked away right on the edge of Aberfeldy, which seems to have turned its back on the river as it has grown, but it would once have been the highlight of one of Wade’s three roads north – and even of his whole road network.
It’s still pretty famous, though – it even has a picture of itself on a nearby bench.
The bridge was the last part of the road network to be built, and was intended to be a suitable monument to the whole project, as well as a useful and impressive object in its own right – it was the only bridge over the Tay at the time it was built, as the earlier bridge at Perth had been destroyed.
There are many bridges on the Wade roads, of course, most of them plain arches, but this was something different – designed by William Adam, one of the foremost architects in Scotland at the time, and father of the more famous Robert.
I’m not actually all that keen on it as a design – I think it looks a bit like a four poster bed with no top – but it’s certainly a substantial stone structure, and I can see that it must have been impressive when the only other buildings around were rough cottages.
The fancy shape is not the only decoration – at the top of the centre arch is a crest with a crossed sword and scabbard – I think – and the monogram G II R.
There are also two panels with inscriptions, now rather weatherbeaten.
It’s quite a slope up onto the bridge, which is now only wide enough for one way traffic, although the two directions take it in turns – there’s not much space for pedestrians, either.
The inscriptions – one in English, one in Latin – have been copied onto new plaques on the inside of the bridge – apparently this was done in 1932, so presumably in preparation for the 200th anniversary.
‘At the command of His Majesty King George the 2nd this bridge was erected in the year 1733: this with the roads and other military works for securing a safe and easy communication between the high lands and the trading towns of the low country was by His Majesty committed to the care of General George Wade, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Scotland who laid the first stone of this bridge on 23rd April and fmished the work in the same year.’
(‘The same year’ is a slight exaggeration – he came back the next spring to put on some of the fancy bits.)
I assumed that the Latin text was just a translation of the English, but apparently it’s not – it says something like:
Admire this military road stretching on this side and that 250 miles beyond the limits of the Roman one, mocking moors and bogs, opened up through rocks and over mountains, and, as you see, crossing the indignant Tay. This difficult work G. Wade, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Scotland, accomplished by his own skill and ten years labour of his soldiers in the year of the Christian Era, 1733. Behold how much avail the Royal auspices of George 2nd.
(I really like ‘the indignant Tay’, although as rivers go it has always seemed to me fairly equable.)
Although the bridge as a whole is impressive, the masonry is quite different from the smooth neatness of Telford’s or Smeaton’s later bridges – the outside is neater than the inside, but it’s still a quite different style.