ACTIVE OUTDOORS: A bridge too far on Tomatin village walk
The River Findhorn is one of the longest rivers in Scotland, as it flows around 62 miles from the uplands of the Monadhliath Mountains to flats of the Moray coast.
Crossing the wide waterway would have proved a challenge for early travellers, but there appear to be plenty of choices for the modern-day mover and shaker.
The 3 Bridges Café in the village of Tomatin – the first settlement of significance on the river’s long journey – looks out on three remarkable crossing points.
The modern A9 may be striking only for its imposing concrete and steel construction that carries the dual carriageway high above the village as it ignores the contours of the valley. However, the other two bridges of significance (there is another, which we’ll come to on our walk) are the railway viaduct and the road bridge carrying the old route of the A9.
The latter is crossed later on during this route, which is a gentle stroll from the village centre but is almost entirely on roads, with only a short section on footpath. Traffic levels are generally low, but care is needed.
From the community hub, The Strathdearn (home to the café as well as a community shop and hall, with public toilets), walk out of the car park and turn right, crossing a burn before turning right on the minor road signposted to Balvraid.
There’s overflow parking for the community centre down here on the left, and the walk continues beyond that, first passing under the prettiest of the bridges, the Findhorn Viaduct. Built in 1897, it carries the Highland Main Line north to Inverness on beautiful stone pillars topped by a latticework of black steel.
The railway bridge was the work of engineer Sir John Fowler, who is also the man behind the much more famous Forth Bridge.
From below, the viaduct looks spectacular as you walk beneath its great stanchions and watch the structure curve across the landscape.
A short way ahead, passing under the modern A9 is not so impressive, as the traffic thunders overhead, a thump echoing through the valley each time a vehicle leaves terra firma and relies on the massive steel beams for support.
The autumn colours were beautiful as we continued down the road, following it round to the right to cross the river ourselves, on a wooden-topped vehicle bridge, just wide enough for a single car.
At a T-junction, there’s a monument to Rev Edwin Leece Browne, who was a shooting tenant here for 20 years. Turn right and follow the road upwards, soon passing under the A9 and the railway once again as you head through trees above the river.
On the way, there are a number of fairy houses and other magical mysteries hidden away in the trees at the side of the road, as well as some more easily visible. A series of benches along the route are also provided for this popular walk.
Before heading under the bridges, the route to Slochd via General Wade’s Military Road is signposted past a few houses and onto the moors. It’s been a few years since I’ve travelled that part of the route, but it is certainly worth exploring, especially for the Wade marker stone high above the Slochd summit on the modern road.
We stuck to the minor road that runs parallel to the Findhorn, soon getting a good view of the Findhorn Bridge – a concrete creation that was designed by architect Maxwell Ayrton and built in 1926 to replace Thomas Telford’s 1833 crossing.
Just before reaching the “old A9” this road bends left down a hill – with a warning to watch out for red squirrels. Going right at the junction, we followed the main road down to the bridge, whose irregular pentagon windows offer a spectacular view of the Findhorn valley on both sides.
There’s still no pavement other than on the bridge itself, so we followed the grass verge round the corner to the right and followed the road back to the village. At the first residential road, a pavement begins and we could follow this for the last few hundred yards back to The Strathdearn, where you can sit back and enjoy the view.
Tomatin village loop
Distance 2.6 miles / 4.5 km
Terrain Minor roads, grass verge and pavement
Start/finish The Strathdearn, Tomatin
Map OS Landranger 35; OS Explorer 417 or OL60
A short walk following quiet roads around the village of Tomatin