Last time I talked of some of the road bridges that cross the rivers North and South Esk, but there are many footbridges that cross these rivers and they too have fascinating stories to tell.
You have probably driven or walked over a bridge today, and that is what they are there for and you just take it for granted.
The better a bridge is at doing its job, the more transitory, literally, it is at doing its job. Not for nothing has the phrase “building bridges” become a figure of speech for all kinds of human activity.
One of the bridges I like best is probably the least well-known and has been almost totally forgotten for the last 500 years. It is to be found at the top of Glenisla and led from the quarry on the side of Mount Blair where the stone was taken for the building of Forter Castle in 1560. It is a simple clapper type of prehistoric-style stone bridge, built of the same stone from the quarry that was used to build the castle and is formed with little stone pillar supports topped with stone slabs, much as was done in Roman times. How many even know of its existence, as it has long outlived its original purpose?
Footbridges are quite common locally over the North and South Esk rivers, although there are probably fewer now than there were in former times such as the ones that were at Braeminzion and Drums I remember from my youth, which were erected for the Clova children and led them over to the former Wateresk School.
They sadly no longer survive and indeed the need for them no longer exists. However they have been replaced with some newer footbridges downstream for the shooting fraternity, with the American bridge at Cortachy and the Belfast Bridge further upstream. The Belfast Bridge is one I particularly like as it is constructed in the traditional way of oak beams pinned together with oak pegs (no nails). The American bridge is downstream and is in two parts each half resting on the central island. Both of these bridges have plaques which tell of why they got their names, so if you want to find out you will have to go for a daunder down to the river this summer.
Further downstream near Finavon is a suspension bridge built in 1997 at Red Brae. It will be no surprise to visitors to the fishings at Finavon that the bridge is called ‘Jock Barefoot’s Bridge’ after a young local lad who stupidly cut a staff from a chestnut tree close to the old Finavon Castle. The old laird was a brutal, cruel man called Earl Beardie, one of the Lindsay clan, who wrought vengeance against the poor unfortunate loon by hanging him from the great chestnut tree at the castle as a punishment for his ‘crime’ and as a warning to others.
On the North Esk, I miss the four footbridges across the Esk at the head of the glen. The one furthest upstream still exists but is currently blocked off as it links two neighbouring properties that seem to have no reason to share the expense of its upkeep.
The Corharncross brig was a five plank wide footbridge suspended on wire cables and had sides made from sheep netting. No wonder it did not survive.
The Turnabrain footbridge was built to replace the ‘trolley’ which was removed in 1909 following a fatal accident. This later bridge was also a five plank wide bridge suspended by cables suspended from four cables and although it was slightly less shaky than the Corharncross brig, it has not survived.
Luckily the Milldens foot bridge was more substantial and had a substantial walkway suspended between iron rails suspended on cables from strong iron lattice piers. This brig did not shake and survives today; albeit now within private a gated property. Of course you can always go for a walk though Edzell over its famous ‘Shakkin Brig’ all the way back up to the Gannochy Bridge that I spoke of last time and on through the ‘Blue Door’ up to the Rocks of Solitude.
But perhaps the most marvellous footbridge is in Kirriemuir and is called the Coffin Brig (because it is a single stone slab laid across the burn in the shape and size of a coffin) and is to be found at the head of the Den. Sadly it now has a handrail, as after a few hundred years without incident, Angus Council’s Health and Safety men suddenly thought it may be dangerous!