See all stories
24 May 2024

Happy 150th birthday to Corrieshalloch Gorge bridge

Written by John Davidson
A view of a metal suspension bridge spanning a woodland gorge. The platform is made from wooden planks. A path leads up to the bridge, and is fenced either side.
The suspension bridge at Corrieshalloch Gorge NNR
This year the suspension bridge across Corrieshalloch Gorge in the Highlands will be a remarkable 150 years old. John Davidson visited this extraordinary National Nature Reserve to learn the story of its engineering heritage.

Peering over the edge of the narrow suspension bridge that hangs 60 metres above the dramatic Falls of Measach, it can be a little unsettling to feel yourself sway gently back and forth. The fact that this bridge has spanned the River Droma for no fewer than 150 years should give you some reassurance, however. And what’s even more reassuring is to be told that it’s meant to move that way!

The spectacular Corrieshalloch Gorge – nestled in a hollow between the main road to Ullapool and the Destitution Road to Dundonnell – is a true hidden gem. It’s not only hidden from those who dash past on their way around the North Coast 500, but the mile-long slot gorge and its waterfalls are hidden from sight until the moment you step onto that bridge deck.

An aerial view of the Corrieshalloch Gorge suspension bridge in autumn, looking directly down into the gorge. The trees are golden on the bank to the right.
An aerial view of the Corrieshalloch Gorge suspension bridge

A century and a half is an impressive lifespan for a bridge, especially in such a grand location. And as Aidan Bell, the National Trust for Scotland’s estate supervisor at Corrieshalloch, highlights: ‘The fact that we can experience this landscape in the same way it was intended to be experienced when the bridge was built 150 years ago – that is a tangible connection with history.’

“Even when you’re standing next to it, it’s not until you step onto the bridge that you fully appreciate the scale and the grandeur of the gorge.”
Aidan Bell
Estate Supervisor, Corrieshalloch Gorge NNR
A man stands with his back to the camera, holding an open book that rests against railings. He is looking at a view of a suspension bridge that crosses a deep gorge. The same view is illustrated on the open page of the book.

Aidan is well qualified to tell the story of the Corrieshalloch Gorge suspension bridge, as he has recently published a detailed book on its creator, the 19th-century engineer Sir John Fowler. Perhaps Fowler’s most famous construction is the Forth Bridge, although he also created the world’s first underground railway, the Metropolitan in London, which is still in use today as part of the London Underground. The same engineering skills he used on his many projects across Britain and the rest of the world were put to good use at Corrieshalloch and in the surrounding area.

Not far from the gorge, Fowler built himself a home, the now demolished Braemore House, in a dominating position 700ft up the hillside. He and his wife, Lady Fowler, also oversaw the planting of around 9 million trees on the estate, which was mostly barren open hillside when they bought it.

‘What’s really interesting about this wider cultural landscape is that Fowler used his engineering skills to adapt and modify it,’ says Aidan. ‘Whether that was damming lochs to provide water for hydro-electricity or building a series of miniature bridges and creating this network of paths, which didn’t just provide access but also views and vistas through the landscape.’

An aerial view of the River Droma heading through the woodland hills towards Loch Broom in the distance. The clouds are heavy overhead.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Romantic movement and the notion of the ‘sublime’ among artistic and intellectual circles encouraged an appreciation for wild landscapes and the value of immersing oneself among them. Today, Aidan would love people to come and visit the gorge and experience something of the emotions that those 19th-century thinkers were seeking, while also appreciating the value of the bridge’s engineering heritage. ‘In one sense, the bridge itself is a feature in the landscape to be looked at – from the viewing platform, when you look back up the gorge, you see the graceful span of the bridge, and it makes a very nice artistic composition,’ he says. ‘But at the same time, standing on the bridge really immerses you in the moment.

‘What I often say to people is to consider the significance of the bridge’s location – if the purpose was simply to get from one side to the other, Fowler could have just put a conventional bridge in further up the river. But by putting it over the gorge, and creating a suspension bridge as well, visitors peer into the abyss from the edge of safety.

Three men stand on a suspension bridge spanning a very deep gorge. They hold onto the railing and look down.
Admiring the view!

The historic significance of the suspension bridge means that today it is B-listed by Historic Environment Scotland, and the Trust has a legal duty to maintain it. It is regularly inspected and cared for by a team of experts, including structural engineers who are more used to working on lighthouses. All of this comes at a cost of around £15,000 a year just to look after the bridge, and many visitors are surprised to hear its true age given its carefully maintained, fresh appearance.

Corrieshalloch’s Operations Manager Martin Hughes says: ‘I think that’s a testament to the National Trust for Scotland, just how much we care for our places and care for that bridge. It does help having someone like Aidan who is particularly passionate about it, as we all are.’

Martin is thrilled at the success of last year’s project to open the Gateway to Nature Centre, which has brought more visitors to Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve – the numbers exceeded 100,000 last year. Investment in the Gateway to Nature Centre has created three full-time jobs and other seasonal roles at Corrieshalloch – a significant boost for this part of the rural Highlands. There are electric car charging points, motorhome waste disposal facilities and, importantly, public toilets. ‘We’re providing much-needed facilities and infrastructure that the Highlands are in need of,’ Martin explains, proudly adding: ‘We’ve also got the best toilets on the west coast of Scotland!’

An aerial view of a newly built visitor centre at Corrieshalloch Gorge. It shows the access road, ticket booth and newly laid paths surrounding the centre.
Corrieshalloch Gorge Gateway to Nature Centre

After visiting the suspension bridge, it’s worth taking the time to wander around the stunning circular route created by following Lady Fowler’s Fern Walk above the gorge to a viewpoint that overlooks Loch Broom. New interpretation is being added to the path network and landscaping works are due to be completed soon, too. In the meantime, ongoing work to care for the bridge continues, and Aidan is grateful to everyone who supports it.

“It’s through people’s membership and admission fees that we are able to fund that conservation work, so that people can still experience Corrieshalloch in the same way it was intended to be experienced 150 years ago.”
Aidan Bell
A view looking along a deep, woodland gorge towards a waterfall. A suspension bridge spans the gorge above the waterfall.

Aidan Bell’s book Fowler’s Bridges is available now from

In April last year, the new Corrieshalloch Gateway to Nature Centre opened to the public, thanks to support from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund (led by NatureScot and part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund) and from players of People’s Postcode Lottery. This brought additional facilities and a new path to reach the bridge and the network of trails first created in the 19th century.

Explore Corrieshalloch

Visit now