The Butter Bridge, Glen Kinglas

Butter bridge (1)

From Arrochar on Loch Long, the A83 rises steeply up Glen Croe towards the vantage point known as Rest and Be Thankful.  Just beyond the crest, it skirts Loch Restil and then drops at a gentler pace down towards Glen Kinglas.

As it sweeps in a wide curve round to the left, it’s possible to see a little bridge spanning the burn that runs through the glen.  The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland says:

“This is a fine old bridge carrying the old road across the Kinglas Water at Butterbridge.  A handsome single segmental arch… rubble built.  Now used as a footbridge only.”

The bridge was built by General Caulfield in 1745, and it originally carried a military road into the heart of the Highlands;  the whole road-making programme was designed by the English government to subdue the recalcitrant Scots after the first Jacobite uprising, but judging by the date (1745 marked the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie to Glen Shiel) the success of this scheme was debatable.

Butter bridge (3)

You can see the path of the old road running parallel to the newer one just above it.

But… Butter Bridge?   How did that name come about?   One story says that there was always a crossing here, from the time when the cattle were herded up into the higher ground for the summer months.   Women would go with them and set up temporary dwellings in this tranquil spot, churning the milk to make butter and cheese.   Although I can’t find any mention of it, there may well have been an older crossing of the river at this point.

And then, I read that a hermit once lived here, and was quite well known in the district.  How exciting!  I started to imagine an early Christian monk – like St Columba on Iona, or St Brendan in the Garvellachs.  But no.  This hermit lived a bit more recently:  the 1950s, in fact.   Also known as the ‘fairy man’, he was a forestry worker named Alex (‘Sandy’) Drummond, originally from Fernoch near Taynuilt, who left his employer after a disagreement and settled down for a solitary life in Glen Kinglas.  Taynuilt is a good 50 or so miles away, even as the crow flies.

Butter bridge (4)

What happened to him, and did anyone actually meet him?   In 2012, an appeal for information by the news website forargyll.com resulted in several responses from readers, some of whom had taken photos of Drummond and remembered him and his hut.   At one time he was a bit of a visitor attraction, although he doesn’t seem to have minded.  One reader recalls him clambering on board the MacBrayne’s bus, which had stopped so that passengers could photograph him, and having a sing-a-long. When the new road was put through the glen, by-passing the old bridge, Drummond was employed in road-building.  He died at a nursing home in Dunoon.

There are some photos of Mr Drummond on the ForArgyll website, here and here, and another of his hut here.

I can still see shades of St Columba.  Because, when you think about it, Columba was forced to leave his home after a falling out with his superior, St Finian.  Admittedly, this escalated into a full-blown battle… but, like Sandy Drummond, he ended up in exile, living a simple and reclusive existence.   It doesn’t feel as if the two stories have 1,400 years between them.

And what a place to live!   I hope Drummond was happy here.  How good it would have been, to talk to him and hear the stories he had to tell.

Butter Bridge (5)

Sources:

Photos copyright © Jo Woolf

Fraser's BridgeFor more military bridges of the 18th century, take a look at Fraser’s Bridge in Glen Cluny (right), and another little bridge in the Sma’ Glen, Perthshire.

Comments

  1. What a fascinating tale Jo! He certainly picked a lovely spot for his hut. He must have been extremely hardy to survive the winters. Loved the mention of the Macbraynes bus. We tend to think of them more in relation to ferries but they apparently had an early monopoly on transport in the Highlands and Islands!

    • Thank you, David! Yes, he certainly did pick a lovely spot. It must have been cold in winter, as you say – I don’t know what form of heating he had, if any. I was interested to find that out about MacBraynes buses! I thought West Coast Motors were the oldest, but it seems MacBraynes are older still.

  2. Fascinating and beautifully written Jo

  3. Interesting stories and a nice place to visit.

  4. Beautiful, serene landscapes.

  5. Old fables and stories are always good for a yarn and the tourists season, created and manipulated to fit the occasion…..however this story is true and all the more fulfilling for that. I never knew whether to be sad or happy for Drummond….but he did appear to be contented with the life style he created and that is the most important fact.

  6. I’d like to have met the fairy man. He must have still been there when we used to tow our caravan up Rest and be thankful.

  7. Lovely photos, all these little bridges have a tale to tell as well as being very photogenic 🙂

  8. A little known fact is that the ordnance survey maps emerged in conjunction with the Wade/Caulfield Roads as a measure to pacify the population of the highlands. We have a tendency to look at these bridges, roads and forts (like Fort George) as interesting and romantic, but ultimately they tell of a pretty shameful episode in our national history when our government subjugated its own people.

    • I always remember the feet that crossed over them, not always enjoying the freedom that we do. Wade’s men cannot have met with much of a welcome. The people of the Highlands have had a lot to suffer in so many ways, and over so many centuries, and you can still feel it, very close, in lots of places.

  9. That is a most appealing bridge. I was thinking exactly what David wrote, that the Fairy Man must have been extraordinarily hardy. It’s interesting that you made the connection between him and St Columba, they must have had a fair bit in common right enough.

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