THE historic bridge that has carried generations of the Royal Family over the River Dee from Balmoral Castle is set for a major refurbishment scheme to replace timbers which have been damaged by years of fungal decay.
But agreement has been reached with the Balmoral Estate for the work to only go ahead when the Queen is not in residence at her private retreat on Royal Deeside.
The Balmoral Bridge - a Category A listed structure - was built to a design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel between 1856 and 1858 on the orders of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. The Empress of India, however, was said to “not amused” by the completed plate girder structure because of its lack of ornamentation.
Next Wednesday members of Aberdeenshire Council’s Marr area committee are expected to approve plans by the local authority for a major renovation scheme for the bridge which has been regularly used to take reigning monarchs across the Dee to church services at nearby Crathie Kirk since the reign of Queen Victoria.
Aberdeenshire Council, which now owns the bridge, is planning to replace the decayed timber deck with a composite steel and reinforced concrete equivalent.
Stephen Archer, the council’s director of infrastructure services, states in report to the committee: “The existing bridge has timber deck beams above the girder frame, with plywood surface boards on top. A timber survey in 2010 identified that there is significant fungal decay in the existing timbers.
“Negating to undertake any work would see a significant weight restriction placed on vehicles utilising the bridge. The proposal seeks to introduce a composite steel and reinforced concrete deck bolted or bonded to the existing transoms. A waterproofing system would also be introduced to reduce long term maintenance.”
He continues: “Balmoral Estate commented that they had no objection to the proposed replacement of the bridge deck. Their concerns only centred around the timing of the works, which has now been agreed.”
The refurbishment work will be carried out between 1 October and 30 April - a time when the Queen is not normally in residence at Balmoral.
Mr Archer continues: “The main planning considerations with regard to determining this planning application relate to whether the proposed deck replacement would be appropriate to the character and appearance of the listed building and its setting, and to retain any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses.
“In light of the deterioration of the structure, and in particular, the timber planks and associated deck, the replacement of the existing materials on a like-for-like basis is not considered the best option for the long term future of this Category A listed structure. This is due to the timber planks inherent ability to trap and absorb water, which would require them to be replaced every 20 to 25 years to the further detriment of the historic ironwork.”
He adds: “Consideration has been given to the most sustainable method of upgrading the bridge deck for its future maintenance, and to protect the appearance of the listed building, for the reasons for which it was listed in the first place. The materials proposed, while modern in comparison, would ensure the operation of the bridge is used to its full capacity.
“The appearance of the bridge would be relatively unchanged apart from slight alterations to the approaches. For all intents and purposes, the wider appearance of the bridge would be relatively unchanged, albeit a new coat of paint would be applied.”
A council report on the conservation scheme states: “The shortcomings of the Balmoral Estate suspension bridge at Crathie led to a desire from the Royal Family for a more robust bridge across the Dee at this location.
“In 1854 Isambard Kingdom Brunel was commissioned by Prince Albert to design a bridge as part of the improvements to the Balmoral Estate. Apparently, the final appearance of this plate girder bridge proved unpopular with Queen Victoria due to its lack of ornamentation.
“However,Brunel was proud of his design of ‘functional elegance’ and there can be no doubt that it is a fine example of his work.”
It is the earliest plate girder bridge to have been built in Scotland.and was last extensively refurbished in 1986.
The report states: “Today the bridge continues to carry normal vehicular traffic, including heavy goods vehicles, but it is also crossed on foot by the many thousands of visitors on their way to Balmoral Castle. Few realise that they are crossing a bridge designed by the greatest engineer of the 19th Century.”