|Location Map ( geo)|
|Transport Scotland • Highland|
As the A9 fights its way north along the Sutherland Coast, the landscape becomes ever more challenging. At Helmsdale, the land drops sharply to cross the narrow chasm gouged out by the River Helmsdale. For centuries, travellers had to descend to cross the river and then climb out the other side, latterly by Telford's Bridge. However, in 1972 the Scottish Development Department built the new bridge, which soars across the whole valley, leaving the A9 traffic to cross on the level.
The new Bridge
Helmsdale was 'bypassed' in 1972 with a long single span Concrete bridge, supported by Steel trapezoid girders underneath. This crosses the mouth of the river, while a 'culvert' style overbridge crosses the old harbour road to the north of the river. It isn't really a full bypass though, as the A9 still passes through the middle of the village on Stafford Street, as it always did.
The old bridge designed by Thomas Telford and constructed in 1808-11 still stands in the town, upstream of the new bridge. It consists of two stone arches carrying a single-carriageway road across the river. Unusually for bridges of the era, it has a level road deck rather than a hump-backed design. A pair of buttresses rise from the cutwaters at the centre of the bridge, but don't provide pedestrian refuges. Not that this is a problem today as footways run either side of the road. The parapets have been raised with ugly steel-tube railings, but the Victorian Cast-Iron Lamp posts survive.
Telford's original drawing shows a much more humped appearance to the bridge, with the parapets sloping up to meet at a point over the central pier. This slope is no longer in evidence, but it is not clear if the changes were made during construction or more recently, perhaps when the roadway was levelled.