'Impossible' bridge spells end to gap years

WHEN the historic Bracklinn Bridge was washed away in severe floods, even the Royal Engineers, who have spanned rivers and gorges in war zones around the globe, said it could not be rebuilt.

Lying in thick woodland high above Callander in Perthshire and with no road access, the footbridge over the 100ft high Bracklinn gorge would have to be rebuilt by hand on location, with tonnes of wood and metal dragged through forest tracks to get to the scenic spot. And even when built, with no cranes or helicopters able to access the site, it would have to be pulled across the 60ft wide gorge with nothing more sophisticated than a simple hand-operated winch.

But despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, a newly constructed bridge will be officially opened to the public today, after four years of remarkable effort by engineers and builders.

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Kenny Auld, of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, explained how even the British Army's most battle-hardened bridge experts said it couldn't be done.

He said: "I've taken three batches of Royal Engineers to the site and they've just laughed in my face and told me I'm crazy."

He said building the 110,000 bridge over the Keltie Water had been an "exceptionally difficult task".

"It's a 20-metre span across a very deep gorge. For the last six years the community and the national park have been trying to get a replacement in place."

The national park had to build a small track to the site to transport materials through the forest from the nearest road, about a mile away.

Some tools and materials had to be carried on foot, while quad bikes were used to drag heavier elements.

Engineers from Crieff-based Strong Bridges built temporary steel rails across the gorge and mounted the bridge on skids so it could be pulled across.

The bridge's location has made the task even harder, with 3,000 man hours required to build the structure and drag it into position.

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"There's a hand winch on the other side with one or two people winching the 20-tonne bridge across," said Mr Auld, who managed the project for the national park.

The bridge is made from Douglas firs from the Heritage Plantation in Dunkeld and has a copper roof.

The new bridge will mean a popular circular walk at the falls will once again become possible. The Bracklinn Falls walk has been popular with ramblers and fans of Sir Walter Scott, due to the writer's love of the area.Since August 2004, it has only been possible to view the falls from the edges of the gorge.

The project has been funded by the national park, the Forth Valley and Lomond Leader project and Scottish Natural Heritage and was built in partnership with Callander Community Development Trust.

The trust's John Snodin said people in Callander had lobbied for a new bridge ever since the old one was washed away six years ago.

"Both locals and tourists visit the site daily and the new bridge will be a destination in itself, as well as a position to view the cataracts, which are impressive."

David McPherson, representing the Forth Valley and Lomond Leader Local Action Group, said: "The builders have to be congratulated for making the dream a reality, and producing such a beautiful bridge."