Connel Bridge

From Roader's Digest: The SABRE Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Connel Bridge
Drochaid na Coingheil
Location Map ( geo)
Cameraicon.png View gallery (14)
From:  North Connel
To:  Connel Village
Loch Etive
Highway Authority
Transport Scotland
Opening Date
1903, 1966
Additional Information
List No:  LB11986  (Cat B)
Bridge Type:  Truss Bridge
On road(s)
Crossings related to the A828

Originally built as a railway bridge, it took many years to convince the Caledonian Railway Company to allow motorists to use the bridge, and then they imposed a toll. Today, it is toll free and the railway is long gone.


Looking across the bridge

Built in 1903, the bridge was the second longest truss-girder bridge in the world, after the Forth Bridge. Due to the relatively short-lived popularity of such structures, it remains the second longest in the British Isles at least! It was built for the Ballachulish branch of the Callander and Oban Railway, a nominally independent railway line operated by the Caledonian Railway. It crosses the A85 and the mouth of Loch Etive, above the falls of Lora, where a ferry had previously operated when the tide allowed. Another ferry, which lasted much longer, crossed the loch to the east on the B845.

In the first instance, cars were transported by train, being loaded onto trucks and made to wait for the occasional train that crossed the bridge. Then, a specially adapted charabanc crossed on the railway tracks. Finally, common sense prevailed, and before WW2 cars were permitted to drive across the bridge. There are photos of the bridge at that time, which seem to show road and railway side by side, while others suggest the bridge had been resurfaced so that the rails were like tram tracks set into the road. Certainly, according to an early (c.1939) copy of 'The AA Road Book of Scotland', the road ran alongside the railway line. There was, inevitably, a small toll, which was an astronomical 10s in 1937. By 1963 this had dropped to 4-6s, based on the vehicles horsepower. Before the war there was an additional charge of 2s to get the operator out of bed between 10pm and 7am, and you had to book such a journey, but by the 1960s the bridge was open 24hours, except when a train was crossing.

This situation continued until the railway line was closed in March 1966, when the bridge was given over solely to road traffic, and the tolls lifted as soon as the tracks had been removed. It is not clear whether the traffic lights remained in situ, or if there was a period when the bridge was two way. Whilst, in theory at least, the bridge is wide enough for two CARS (the narrower ones of a bygone era) to pass, commercial vehicles wouldn't have been able to pass each other. In addition, due to the metal superstructure of the bridge, a height limit of 4.2m/12'9" is signposted on the bridge.

The Bridge

Since the closure of the railway, the bridge has been single track and traffic-light controlled, with extensive new link roads having been built on either side. The 0.18 mile southern approach improvement was completed in 1968 per the 1968 Scottish Development Department Report. The realignment on the north side is much more recent. This has made the bridge approaches much straighter, partly using the former trackbed, and allowed the road to become part of the A828, which formerly stopped short in North Connel. There is a pavement along the western side of the span. In 2023, the bridge is due to be shut for a lengthy period to allow the steel deck plates to be replaced. In order to maintain pedestrian and cycle access throughout the works, a temporary cantilevered footway is due to be installed in autumn 2022, and it may remain in place as the existing footway is rather narrow.


Connel Ferry

For centuries prior to the construction of the bridge, a ferry service operated across the mouth of Loch Etive, on the seaward side of the Falls of Lora. This ran from the slipway next to the Hotel in North Connel across to the small shoreside car park on the south side. Here another slipway remains opposite the Oyster Inn, the other ferry inn. With the opening of the bridge in 1903, the ferry found itself in competition with the railway, and longer distance traffic certainly dwindled, but many of the people who crossed on a daily basis continued to use the ferry as the train times were too restrictive or infrequent. As the slipways suggest, the ferry also developed into a vehicle ferry service, although again it was in competition with the railway above, and when the railway finally allowed traffic to drive across the bridge, the ferry service was abandoned.

Bonawe Ferry

A few miles up Loch Etive, another crossing operated between Bonawe and Taynuilt on the B845. This was operated by the quarry company, carrying other traffic at their discretion. Although Bonawe is likely to have been the site of an ancient ferry crossing, by the 20th century the service was past its prime. For long periods - several years at times - the ferry was pedestrian only, as the turntable vessel was either too dangerous to risk carrying the public, or on one occasion had sunk. The prosperity of the quarry played a big part in this, and there was also a period where the money taken on the ferry was insufficient to warrant paying the ferrymen. In 1963 cars were charged 5s for a service that took 5 minutes. The ferry could only carry 4 cars at a time, and had a very limited service - 8am-5pm mon-fri and 8am-12noon on Saturdays. The service ceased around the time that the Connel bridge became a free road bridge. The old slipways can still be found at the very end of the B845 at Bonawe and on the lochside at Taynuilt.

Sensor post & Warning Sign

Height Restriction Warnings

In July 2009 Automatic Height Limit warning signs were installed on the A85 and A828 either side of the bridge. These comprise solar/wind powered posts on either side of the road with twin motion detectors set a little lower than the bridge clearance. This allows the units to firstly gauge the height of the vehicle, and secondly detect direction of travel, thereby only flashing the warnings to appropriate vehicles.

Warning Sign A85 S/bound

The warning messages are as follows (Probably!):

  • A828 S/bound: Overheight Vehicle Turn Back.
  • A85 S/bound: A828 Overheight Vehicle no left turn.
  • A85 N/bound: A828 Overheight Vehicle stay on A85.

The Height restriction is 13'9" or 4.2m.


Connel Bridge
Related Pictures
View gallery (14)
Crossings of the River Awe, Orchy & Tributaries
Tulla Bridge • Victoria Bridge (Rannoch Moor) • Bridge of Orchy • Allt Chonoglais Bridge • Inverlochy Bridge • Dalmally Bridge • Kilchurn Bridge • Cladich Bridge • Bridge of Awe • Connel Bridge

SABRE - The Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts
Discuss - Digest - Discover - Help