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Bridge ends two-year impasse and pays poignant tribute to man who loved Dingwall walk

By Scott Maclennan

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On its way: The new foot bridge being taken to the site yesterday.
On its way: The new foot bridge being taken to the site yesterday.

A poignant act of remembrance for a loved one has led to the end of a frustrating two-year impasse for Ross-shire's county town.

When a long-standing footbridge across the canal in Dingwall was shut to pedestrians on health and safety grounds back in 2017, it hampered a hugely popular walking route which is one of the town's great natural attractions.

Dingwall Commuity Council had been struggling to re-establish the bridge which is part of the Around Dingwall walk and spans the Thomas Telford-built canal.

The issue was also flagged by a local councillor, Graham Mackenzie, who earlier this year told the Ross-shire Journal: "Dingwall deserves better."

However an impasse continued with funding a key issue until Munro’s Sawmill came along with a generous offer to fully fund a replacement.

Among locals who really loved the area and the walk down the canal was James Blake who passed away in February, aged just 33.

James’ father Philip – the proprietor of the local sawmill – made an initial offer of £10,000 towards the bridge but later changed his mind and funded the whole project.

It is understood that the Blake family’s intention was for the bridge to be enjoyed by those who could appreciate the area in a similar way to how James did.

Dingwall Community Council chairman Jack Shepherd had worked on getting a re-opening the canal bridge since 2017 but things really got moving after the offer from the sawmill.

He said: “I paid Philip a visit, where he confirmed that there was indeed an offer of £10,000 to assist in the refurbishment of the bridge.”

The Ross-shire's coverage of the community struggling to reopen its bridge.
The Ross-shire's coverage of the community struggling to reopen its bridge.

In that period, Mr Shepherd applied to the National Lottery Communities Fund among others for grant assistance to secure the cash to replace or repair the bridge.

He said: “Before we had any replies, Munro Sawmills and the associated companies through Philip made the very generous offer to fund the project in full, in memory of his late son James.

“The Blake family told us that James loved Dingwall and all the people in the town. He had so many friends here. He lived with his wife Sarah next to the sea in Ferry Road and the harbour area was one of his favourite spots, so it is fitting that this new bridge will be dedicated to his memory.”

After that, efforts to create a new structure got underway in earnest and with the community council pulling “all the relevant people together within the Highland Council” to ensure all aspects like planning or land ownership were covered.

“Community councillor Nigel Greenwood has worked closely with CTS Bridges, to ensure that the technical approval for the new bridge was completed.

“I have been working closely with council wildlife officers, to ensure that tree removal didn't disturb bats or birds and an otter holt nearby.

“It has been a steep learning curve and very challenging at times, but we remain extremely grateful to everyone who helped.

“The sawmill staff with tree surgeon Simon Logan who felled the trees, cleared the site and erected the fencing. Garry Bain has done a superb job cleaning the ditches, creating the crane pad and preparing the road corner for the bridge lorry to come round. Stoddart Cranes will be doing the lifts.

“And Scottish Water have been very helpful in allowing us to use their land for the crane pad. We hope they will allow the pad to be used as a car park once the job is complete."

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