Allt na Criche Bridge
|Allt na Criche Bridge|
|Location Map ( geo)|
|1805, 1900, 1930s, 1990s|
|Crossings related to the A830|
The bridge carrying the A830 over the Allt na Criche just to the west of Lochailort is really just a culvert, a concrete pipe leading under the embankment that carries the road. It is dull and uninteresting, but venture into the dense undergrowth on the hillside of the road and a rich history of the road can be discovered!
The road that we now know as the A830 was first built in 1804 under the direction of Thomas Telford, as part of his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges. It may have been the following year that Lochailort was reached, and the rocky fingers of Beinn na Cloiche Moire had to be negotiated. The road was taken up one gully, and then back down alongside the Allt na Criche, turning sharply to cross the stream as the land on the west bank opened out. The bridge is a small stone arch typical of the early style employed on Telford's roads in the Highlands.
This old road is still easy to trace in the landscape, and easy to walk, if a little boggy in the eastern gully. It is a surprisingly lengthy route which climbs quite steeply in places, particularly alongside the Allt na Criche.
The Railway Bridge
The West Highland Railway's Mallaig extension was opened in 1901, with work on the route having started a couple of years earlier. The railway is carried across the Allt na Criche on a 2 arch mass-concrete bridge spanning between the higher ground on either side, the eastern arch crossing the old road. The eastern gully, up which the road climbed is spanned by a steel girder bridge between concrete abutments, although why the two spans are treated so differently is unknown, as both appear original.
Despite the fact that the road was spanned at both crossings, a new road line also appears to have been built, spanning the Allt na Criche on a single arch Mass-concrete bridge, and then turning south around the shore side of the ridge. A shallow cutting probably existed, but later work has obliterated much of the evidence for this. The road turned a right angle at the eastern end of the bridge, to avoid the steep hillside, and the space between the parapets is narrower than Telfords older bridge, but still wide enough for a single lane of traffic.
The 1930s Bridge
It is clear that this narrow bridge was soon not fit for purpose with the growth in vehicles passing along the road, and although undated and impossible to tell from mapping evidence, it seems likely that it was replaced in the 1930s when work was undertaken elsewhere in the area, although work continued in the 1950s in places, so the bridge may be later. Rather than replace or widen the bridge, a new span, more akin to a culvert, was added on the downstream side of the 1900 bridge. The old bridge was abandoned, and a curved embankment built alongside at a slightly higher level, with the concrete culvert at the bottom. With so much now reclaimed by nature, the downstream parapet of the railway bridge looks rather odd stuck in the middle!
The new span allowed a wider road to flow round the corner without the right angle bend of before, but it seems likely that the rest of the road remained as before, albeit perhaps widened where possible.
The Modern Bridge
The road west of Lochailort was improved in the 1990s and saw a completely new road built, criss-crossing the old meandering route with sweeping bends and straights that opened up large cuttings and spanned gullys on embankments. The Allt na Criche was no exception, being spanned by a concrete culvert under a large embankment, partly on the line of the old road, but mostly off line. The finger of the hillside that the old road lines had so carefully snaked around has been cut through, obliterating a section of the post 1900 road, and leaving a loop on the seaward side inaccessible behind deer fences.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is the oldest of the abandoned roads that is easiest to reach. Just over 100m west of the A861 junction at Lochailort, a gateway on the right leads onto the old, 1930s, road. A little way in, and the road forks, the steep climb up a gravel bank finding Telfords old road, which loops up under the railway and back down to the Allt na Criche bridges. All 3 bridges are then accessible. This road continues around the bend and past a house, but it is unclear if this is private property or not, as sheds have been built on the road itself.
The line of the post 1900 road from the fork to the bridge quickly disappears in undergrowth, and then crosses the modern road, with access between the two tricky on both crossings. There is more undergrowth to fight through before the bridges are reached, and in summer it is likely to be impenetrable.