Bonar Bridge

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Bonar Bridge
Gaelic: Drochaid a' Bhanna
Third Bridge at Bonar.jpg
The fording point across the Kyle of Sutherland
Grid reference: NH615915
Location: 57°53’30"N, 4°20’14"W
Post town: Bonar Bridge
Postcode: IV24
Dialling code: 01863
Local Government
Council: Highland
Caithness, Sutherland
and Easter Ross

Bonar Bridge is a village in the parish of Creich in the extreme south of the county of Sutherland. It is situated on the north bank of the Kyle of Sutherland which marks the county border with Ross-shire.


In May 1900, a priceless collection of early Bronze Age jewellery known as the Migdale Hoard was discovered by workmen blasting a granite knoll behind Bonar Bridge, near what is known as "Tulloch Hill".[1][2]

Dating from about 2000 BC, the artifacts are in the custody of the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. The Migdale Hoard includes a bronze axe head,[3][4] sets of bronze bangles[5][6][7] and anklets,[8] and a series of beautifully carved jet and cannel coal buttons[9] that may well have adorned a Bronze Age jacket, bronze hair ornaments and fragments of an elaborate bronze headdress.[10]

18th century

In 1746 the Earl of Cromartie and his forces returning South were attacked by Clan Sutherland near Bonar Bridge, in what became known as the Battle of Bonar Bridge. Most of the Jacobite officers were captured, many of the men were killed and the rest were driven onto the shore where several were drowned trying to swim the Kyle of Sutherland. Thus Clan MacKenzie were prevented from joining the Jacobite army at the Battle of Culloden.[11]

Nineteenth century

Until 1812 the only means of crossing the Dornoch Firth was by ferry. On the night of 16 August 1809 over 100 people boarded the ferry boat on the Dornoch side along with goods and stock for the market in Tain. The over-laden ferryboat set off and, though conditions were calm, the boat was dangerously low in the water. About halfway across the boat turned broadside to the tide and began to take in water. It sank almost immediately with the loss of some 99 lives, including the Sheriff of Dornoch, Hugh MacCulloch. Over £2,900 were raised for disaster relief, much of it coming from overseas. It resulted in the construction of Bonar Bridge in 1812.


The village is at the junction of the A836 road with the A949. The A836 leads north towards Lairg and Tongue and east over the Kyle to run along the south bank of the Dornoch Firth to the A9 near Tain. The A949 runs east along the north bank of the Firth to the A9 near Dornoch, at the other extreme of the Dornoch Firth bridge that takes the A9 over the Dornoch Firth from Tain here.

The village is a mile from Ardgay railway station which lies south of the Kyle. Ardgay is on the Far North railway line linking Inverness with Wick and Thurso. For a long time, Ardgay station was called Bonar Bridge station.

River crossing

Original ferry points on the Kyle of Sutherland

Originally, the Kyle of Sutherland and the rivers feeding it were crossed where Bonar Bridge lies, and at other points downstream such as Creich (where the small "Stell" ferry ruin still stands) and at what was called "Portnacoulter" (Meikle Ferry) and upstream at what was called Portinleck (Culrain-Invershin) by small ferry boats (or Cobbles) and much further upstream by small bridges (e.g. Oykel bridge).

Fording the Kyle of Sutherland – at Bonar

The Bonar Bridge site provided the best point to ford the water without having to travel too far west to cross a bridge. Thus it was the preferred place to cross while droving cattle from the north and north-east to market further south. The fording point lies slightly downstream from the current bridge, more or less where the "Bonar shot" salmon fishing station was, below the old ice-house below Dornoch Road.

First bridge

After the defeat of the Highland clans at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the "taming of the north" begun, and a network of highland roads were constructed by the government, with many planned and executed by General Wade.

Construction of the first bridge across the Kyle of Sutherland at Bonar Bridge started in September 1811 and completed in November 1812. The engineer was Thomas Telford and the builders were Simpson & Cargill. The New Statistical Account for Scotland explains that consideration was given to sites at Meikle Ferry (referred to as Portnacoulter, Port a' Choltair in Gaelic, named for its shape like a "coulter" the blade of a plough) which was considered too wide, at Creich (also considered too wide) and at Portinleck (between Culrain and Invershin) which was further up the estuary and required a longer journey around and also a second bridge across the River Carron.

A plaque on the Ross-shire side of the bridge was engraved with the following text: "Traveller, Stop and Read with gratitude the Names of the Parliamentary Commissioners appointed in the Year 1803 to direct the Making of above Five Hundred Miles of Roads through the Highlands of Scotland and of numerouse Bridges, particularly those at Beauly, Scuddel, Bonar, Fleet, and Helmsdale, connecting those Roads!" [12]

This cast-iron arch bridge carried the Great North Road, and was the prototype for several other Telford bridges, including Craigellachie Bridge, Mythe Bridge and Holt Fleet Bridge. The bridges all employed diamond-shaped bracing in the arch spandrels. Spanning 150 ft, Bonar Bridge cost £9,736 to build, and lasted for 80 years. Historian Roland Paxton stated that it "combined elegance with economy and strength to an unparalleled degree".[13]

See an image of the first bridge (with a ship anchored below it) here from Tain Museum Archive.

The bridge was swept away by a flood on 29 January 1892, a winter of many great floods in the North of Scotland.

Second bridge

The replacement bridge of Steel and Granite was "built by The County Councils of Ross and Cromarty and Sutherland 1893 Opened 6th, July, 1893" (taken from an engraving in a marble plaque on the Bonar end of this bridge" Photograph

Third bridge

The third bridge built at Bonar is the currently standing bridge, opened on 14 December 1973. It was built alongside the older bridge while it was still standing (but considered weak and needing renewal) and after it was opened to traffic the second bridge was dismantled.

Dornoch Firth bridge

Since the construction of the Dornoch Bridge (see a Photograph) further down the estuary (to the east) and other roads direct to the north-west from Dingwall, traffic and commerce through Bonar Bridge has decreased.


The Scottish Gaelic word for ford is “Àth” (pronounced “Ah”). The Kyle of Sutherland had a ford here and it became called “Am Ban Àth”, “Ban” meaning 'fair', which would be "Fairford" in English.

Over time “Ban Àth” became recorded as:

  • – "Bana" – on this 18th-century map[14] as part of "Bana Ferry").
  • – “Bona” – on this 1730 military map[15]).
  • – “Bonar” – on this 1744 map[16]) as part of "Bonar Ferry".
  • – "Bonar" – after the 1812 construction of the first bridge at this site.

Thus the evolution of the name reflects the evolution of the water crossing at this point: FairFord -> FairFord Ferry -> FairFord Bridge

Locals refer to the village as “Bonar”, usually dropping “Bridge”.

Flora and fauna

Atlantic Salmon, Sea Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Buzzards, Osprey, Grey Seal, Oyster Catcher, &c.


  1. Anderson, Joseph (1901) "Notice of a hoard of bronze implements, and ornaments, and buttons of jet found at Migdale, on the estate of Skibo, Sutherland, exhibited to the society by Mr. Andrew Carnegie of Skibo". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Retrieved 29 April 2008.
  2. The Megalithic Portal and Megalith Map. "Description of the hoard on". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  3. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-104-848-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  4. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-034-727-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  5. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-034-730-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  6. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-034-732-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  7. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-034-734-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  8. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-034-728-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  9. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-034-752-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  10. "National Museum of Scotland Online ID 000-100-034-744-C". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  11. "Clan Sutherland History". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  12. "The Land of the Mountain and the Flood" by Alasdair Alpin MacGregor
  13. Paxton, R., Thomas Telford's cast-iron bridges, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, May 2007, pp. 12–19
  14. "Andrews's new and accurate travelling map of the roads of Scotland – Maps of Scotland". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  15. "Military Maps of Scotland (18th century) – National Library of Scotland". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  16. "A general map of Scotland and islands thereto belonging – Maps of Scotland". Retrieved 28 November 2011. 

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