Part six of my diary/travelogue/waytorememberitinyearstocome, recording a couple of weeks spent travelling around Europe, shooting mostly black and white film.
Previous instalments are here:
Part 1 – Cossington, UK – Wioska, PL – Bratislava, SK
Part 2 – Bratislava, SK – Orosháza, HU – Szeged, HU – Cossington, UK
Part 3 – Cossington – Newcastle
Part 4 – Newcastle to Perth
Part 5 – Perth to Dundee
Today was a day of unprecedented concrete. It was the main event. We finally got to see the bridge that we’d travelled for 1300km to get to and it didn’t disappoint…
After a breakfast of more bacon and more pancakes at the Dundee Creative Arts Centre (like Leicester’s LCB, it’s another converted bus depot), we took a stroll around the city’s development sites including the massive, concrete bulk that will one day be the V&A, close to the Tay river and the road bridge. Although it was my first visit, it felt like a city in the middle of huge change, especially the waterfront area and station. Even from our brief stop-over, I could see why Iain was such an advocate of the place.
Our trip north along the A9 would take us via many of the ‘dropped pins’ in our joint effort map of stuff to see on the trip. They were mostly concrete bridges or other items of infrastructure that we both find so interesting and attractive to photograph.
At Killiecrankie, there is a handsome railway viaduct across the beautiful river gorge. I don’t know this for sure of course, because we were far more interested in the A9’s concrete viaduct that carries the dual carriageway through the trees, high up the hillside. Thanks to the dense forestry, the concrete is almost invisible from most angles, even trying to see it from the old road just below can be tricky.
The viaduct is actually a pair of concrete structures as each carriageway appears to be carried independently. Underneath, the forest of tree trunks becomes a forest of concrete piers with row after row of them supporting the road deck above. Each row has four piers – 2 for each deck – and there are in excess of 30 rows. Considering the steepness of the hillside that the viaduct is built on – the deck nearly meets the ground on the uphill side – this is quite an amazing piece of engineering.
Ilford FP4+ in DD-X
Another real highlight was just up the road at Dalnamein. The traffic that rushes between Perth and the Highlands will probably never notice the fact that three bridges cross an anonymous river gorge, side by side, demonstrating period solutions to the same problem. General Wade’s old stone structure and the dull, boxy modern version held no interest, but alongside, and now only used for the National Cycle Network, is Sir Owen William’s magnificent 1920’s structure.
Williams designed his buildings as functional structures, sheathed with decorative facades. More an engineer than an architect, he produced a series of reinforced concrete buildings and bridges during the period between the wars. After World War II he worked on developing the first plan for Britain’s motorway system. His other works include the Dorchester Hotel, the Boots pharmaceutical factory in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, the M1 motorway and the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham, south London.
The bridge at Dalnamein is in a terrible state, but its disrepair only adds to its charm, making appear that the concrete is somehow returning to nature.
It remains graceful, distinguished and eye-catching. I fear that its days may be numbered as the project to make the A9 a dual carriageway through this section are imminent, and this alignment seems the most likely to be used for a second carriageway.
We passed Dalwhinnie, its distillery and I recalled memories of a previous adventure on Loch Ericht. Shortly afterwards, we peeled off the A9 for one more (for today at least) of Williams’s bridges at Newtonmore. The three mighty concrete acrches across the Spey feel even more as though they grew here naturally, so encrusted is it with moss and weathered by almost 100 Scottish winters. It seems to be enjoying a dignified retirement as the A9 and its thundering traffic no longer use it.
We finally left the A9 at the quaint Skiach Services to refuel (us rather than the Toyota – that seemed to run on fresh air) before following the A-road that crosses from east to west. As it turned from double to single-track, we made haste to get to the Kylesku Bridge while there was still light in the sky, and I remembered that I prefer to drive than be a passenger.
We raced through herds of deer that wandered across the road, unphased by the approaching hybrid before finally, in the late evening gloaming, arriving at Kylesku. Arriving from the south as we were, we were already on the bridge before we realised that we’d made it (the famous view, shown in the pictures below, is looking South).
But we pulled into the car park at the northern end, flung open the doors and raced back to the edge of the slope down to the loch for a better view…
My wife sometimes complains that I am too calm and don’t show my excitement at things. If she’d been in that remote Scottish car park, in the wind and darkness, she may have seen another side to me!
Iain and I were both in the same state of elation, marvelling at the graceful curves of the bridge itself, but also its magnificent setting, our emotions compounded by the journey to get here.
The Kyslesku Bridge carries the A894 across Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin between Unapool and Kylestrome. It was designed by the same Ove Arup whose magnificent bridge we’d seen in Durham a few days earlier. It was opened by the Queen in 1984, and is a concrete structure spanning the narrow entrance to the loch with a single main span. The bridge is built on a sweeping curve designed to fit in with its surroundings. Before the bridge was opened, a shuttle ferry ran across the narrow channel.
Realising that the light was failing rapidly (it was late, but we were a long way north), we got into character and made a few photographs. Knowing we would be visiting again tomorrow, we left the film cameras in the car and took only digital pictures, dancing our own celebratory jigs during the long-exposures.
It really was magnificent!
Onto Ullapool, through the now torrential rain (and kamikaze deer) and our tiny bunk room that was at least keeping the weather out. We spent the next couple of hours revelling in our day of unprecedented concrete and drinking the beers we’d gathered along the way…