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Ballachulish Bridge

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Ballachulish Bridge
Drochaid an Baile a'Chaolais
Location Map ( geo)
Cameraicon.png View gallery (20)
From:  South Ballachulish
To:  North Ballachulish
Argyll • Inverness-shire
Highway Authority
Transport Scotland
Opening Date
Additional Information
Engineer:  Cleveland Bridge Company
On road(s)

The Ballachulish Bridge spans the narrows of Loch Leven, known in Gaelic as Caolas Mhic Phàdraig, the narrows of Patrick's son, which divide North and South Ballachulish. To the west lies Loch Linnhe, and to the east the long finger of Loch Leven stretches inland for ten miles to the village of Kinlochleven at the head. The bridge opened on 23rd December 1975, replacing a long standing ferry service, which appears to have begun operating a regular, commercial service in 1733, although doubtless ferry boats had criss-crossed the narrows long before that.


For centuries, ferries had plied the narrows of Loch Leven between North and South Ballachulish, between Callert and Invercoe and further east at Caolas nan Con. By the end of the 18th century, the busiest service was the most westerly, and the Loch Leven and Ballachulish Hotels either side of the narrows owe their existence to serving customers waiting for the ferry. A regular service had begun here in 1733, and there are records of travellers experiences of the ferry, and hotels from c1799 onwards, perhaps the most famous traveller being Thomas Telford who

Before 1914, there was no other way to cross the loch, except the ancient and decrepit Old Military Road which crossed much further east from Kingshouse on Rannoch Moor to Fort William, via the notorious Devils Staircase. However the development of the Aluminium Smelter in Kinlochleven from c1903 led to a growing need for a new road to be built. It seems that work started before the First World War, but it was prisoners of war held at camps at Caolas nan Con and Kinlochleven who were responsible for most of the construction work on the southern side of the loch, with one particularly poignant reminder being a small inscription on a bridge near Kinlochleven, dated to 1919. Before the armistice, no reference to the POWs was permitted. The new road around Loch Leven (now B863) was completed when the old path along the north shore was rebuilt as a road in the early 1920s. Thereafter it offered motorists an alternative to the lengthy summer queues for the ferries.

The ferries

The ferry crossing pictured in 1968, 7 years prior to the bridge opening

The first vehicle ferries started in 1906 and were simple rowing boats, with two planks balanced across the middle. The car was driven onto these planks from the slipway, with the boat side onto the slip, and carefully balanced before the boat was rowed across to the opposite shore. This must have been particularly difficult with the tides, as heading north an outgoing tide would push them away from the slip, and heading south the incoming tide would cause the same problem.

In 1912 a motorised single vehicle turntable ferry was introduced, with a second perhaps starting the following year. In the mid 1920s the ferries grew larger, being able to carry two cars at a time. They were still, however, little more than converted rowing boats. In 1951 the first four car ferry was introduced, and by the end of the decade there were 3 such ferries operating. Then, in 1959 came the first of the six-car ferries, but still they were overstretched in the summer season, and boards marking queuing times had been established on either shore. Generally speaking, if the queue stretched back past the 'half hour' board, it was quicker to drive round.

The Glenachulish was the last new ferry to be launched, and arrived in 1969. There were now 3 6-car ferries on the crossing, and whilst one served as a relief vessel in the quieter months, all three worked hard through the summer. As well as the Glenachulish (now serving on Glenelg - Kylerhea Ferry) there was the Glen Duror and the Glen Loy, the last was the eldest, and reportedly in poor condition by the mid 1970s, so it was probably the relief vessel. They were all turntable ferries, where the vehicles loaded nose in, then the deck was spun around, apparently simply by a couple of blokes giving it a good shove, before the ferry sailed. This way the cars were nose-out upon arrival. There was, of course, a brake to prevent the deck spinning during the crossing! The older two vessels had been traditionally built from wood, but the Glenachulish has a steel hull, hence her survival for over half a century.

In 1937 the ferry charged from 2/6 to 5s for a car (based on horsepower). In 1963 this had changed to 4-6s based on length, rising to 30-45p by the end in 1975. Livestock were still listed on the scale of charges in 1975; Sheep were 2p each and cattle 10p! The service operated daily from 8/9am to 9.30pm, took about 5 minutes and each ferry could carry just 6 cars.

All of the following vessels were of the turntable type.

Name IMO Operator Dates Notes
Glenachulish Ballachulish Ferry Company, Highland Council 1969-75 6 cars; still operation on Glenelg - Kylerhea Ferry
Glen Loy Ballachulish Ferry Company 1964-75 6 cars
Glen Duror Ballachulish Ferry Company 1961-75 6 cars
Glen Mallie Ballachulish Ferry Company 1959-69 6 cars
Maid of Glencoe Ballachulish Ferry Company 1957-65 4 cars
Appin Chief Ballachulish Ferry Company 1955-61 4 cars
Mamore Ballachulish Ferry Company 1951-59 4 cars
Queen of Glenalbyn Ballachulish Ferry Company 1936-59 2 cars
Maid of Glencoe Ballachulish Ferry Company 1935-55 2 cars
Glencoe II Ballachulish Hotel 1926-36 1 car
Glencoe Ballachulish Hotel 1912-35 1 car

The Bridge

The Bridge is in many ways a modern twist on the design of the much older Connel Bridge seen further down the coast. Construction appears to have started late in 1972, or early 1973 and took nearly 3 years. By the summer of 1973 groundworks were well under way on both sides of the narrows, and over the next 12 months the concrete piers and abutments were constructed, with the first sections of steelwork being erected in early summer 1974. The span was constructed in sections, with photos from the time showing the deck parts being constructed in a vertical position, before being lowered to the horizontal and tied by the diagonal braces. Work progressed from either bank, with the longer northern span being completed slightly ahead of the shorter southern span. Work then progressed fairly evenly across the central span, with the bridge constructed on the cantilever principle. Deck plates were installed as work progressed, allowing men, plant and cranes to safely construct the next section of the steelwork.

The bridge was finally opened on 23rd December 1975 after a number of delays, along with massive improvement works to the A82 and A828 on the southern shore of Loch Leven, to connect the new bridge and the old road. Further improvements continued for the next 9 years until the whole road back to Glencoe Village had been rebuilt, the last section being the Ballachulish Bypass which opened in 1984.

The structure is a large steel box truss, standing high over the deck, with peaks above either pier. In some ways it looks over engineered, but as it reaches its 50th birthday, it has received a surprisingly small amount of unplanned maintenance work, and looks good for many years to come. The bridge cost approximately £2¼ million to build, used 2700 tonnes of steel and has a load capacity of 2500 tonnes. In contrast, the same basic bridge design was used for the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge to carry the Metro across the Tyne, and with work starting early in 1976, the bridge took 4 years to build at a cost of £4½ million.

Approach roads

By the summer of 1974, the groundworks for the approach roads were well underway, with the rock cut back on the south bank to allow the road to reach the bridge. East of the present A82/A828 roundabout, the old A828 (as was at the time) still passed under the old railway bridge in 1973, but the old trackbed was dug out to allow the new A82 to be constructed. This caused a conflict around the railway bridge, where the old A828 appears to have run at a lower level than the present A82 in order to pass under the railway and reach the shore at Craigrannoch. In order to keep traffic flowing, old photos show a temporary road on the shore side of the railway formation while the railway and old road line were removed to create the new alignment. On the northern side, the road ramps up to meet the bridge deck, still climbing until it reaches the middle of the bridge. It then starts to dip, but reaches land much higher up on the south side, above a low cliff next to the A828, which passes underneath.

Delays & Opening

The last road plate was installed on the bridge a couple of weeks later than scheduled, in early May 1975, the hold up being due to a very poor winter. However an even bigger delay started in July when one of the bearings on the pier failed. Apparently the noise could be heard in Kinlochleven 8 or 9 miles to the east! Unfortunately, the ferry company had already started the process of winding up the company and service with the planned opening date of 1st October. The ferries had all been sold, and the men given their notice by the time that the length of the delay was realised. Ballachulish Ferry Company therefore terminated their service on 4th October 1975, but by some good fortune, the newest of the ferries, the Glenachulish, had been sold to the new Highland Regional Council for use as a back up vessel at Corran, Kessock and Kylesku. So, on the 5th October the HRC started running a single vessel service using 2 men (as opposed to the 18 employees of the old company) borrowed from Corran. This service was maintained through until the last crossing at 12:01pm on 23/12/75, a minute after the bridge had been officially opened.

For the 50th anniversary of the opening of the bridge, the local community are hoping to hold a series of events in autumn 2025.


Ballachulish Ferry (1973)

The Ballachulish Ferry, Glen Loy, crossing the narrows in 1973.

Watch video > >

Ballachulish Ferry (1926)

Prior to building of the bridge the ferry was the only way to cross Loch Leven. This scene shows the ferry going from North to South rather than south to north (the direction of the journey), presumably to show a view of the hotel in the distance. This extract comes from Claude Friese-Greene's 'The Open Road' - originally filmed in 1925/6 and now re-edited and digitally resto This extract comes from Claude Friese-Greene's 'The Open Road' - originally filmed in 1925/6 and now re-edited and digitally resto This extract comes from Claude Friese-Greene's 'The Open Road' - originally filmed in 1925/6 and now re-edited and digitally restored by the BFI National Archive. Britain seen in colour for the first time was heralded as a great technical advance for the cinema audience - now we can view a much improved image, but one which still stays true to the principles of the colour process.

Watch video > >

Ballachulish Bridge
Related Pictures
View gallery (20)
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Features of the A82 Corridor
Route HistoryA82Great Western Road • Loch Lomond • Glen Falloch • Srathfillan • Rannoch Moor • Glencoe • Ballachulish - Fort William • Fort William - Fort Augustus • Loch Ness
Associated Routes: A805 • A829 • A876 • A8005 • B810 • B848 • B863 • B8040
CrossingsErskine Bridge • Dumbarton Bridge • Balloch Bridge • Luss Bridge • White Bridge • Ba Bridge • Kingshouse Bridge • The Study • Achnambeithach Bridge • Ballachulish Bridge • Righ Bridge • Corran Ferry • Kiachnish Bridge • Nevis Bridge • Lochybridge • Caledonian Canal Swing Bridges • Invergarry Bridge • Bridge of Oich • Fort Augustus Bridge • Invermoriston Bridge
JunctionsCharing Cross • Anniesland Cross • Kilbowie Roundabout • Old Kilpatrick • Dunglas Roundabout • Dumbarton Fork • Barloan Toll • Lomondgate Roundabout • Renton Junction • Stoneymollan Roundabout • Arden • Tarbet • Crianlarich • Tyndrum • Bridge of Orchy • Glencoe Crossroads • Ballachulish Roundabout • North Ballachulish • Corran Ferry • West End Roundabout • An Aird • Nevis Bridge • Lochybridge • Spean Bridge • Commando Memorial • Invergarry Bridge • Fort Augustus • Invermoriston • Drumnadrochit • Tomnahurich Roundabout • Telford Street Roundabout • Harbour Road Roundabout • Longman Roundabout
DestinationsGlasgow • Clydebank • Erskine Bridge • Dumbarton • Tarbet • Crianlarich • Tyndrum • Fort William • Lochybridge • Spean Bridge • Inverness

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