General Wade's Bridge, Aberfeldy

Written by Chris Thornton | 18th of September 2023
General Wade's Bridge, Aberfeldy

In the picturesque town of Aberfeldy stands a testament to the nation's rich and complex history: General Wade's Bridge. An elegant stone structure spanning the River Tay, the bridge serves as a silent reminder of a time when the country was in the throes of political and social transformation. As an integral part of a broader network of military roads and bridges constructed in the 18th century, it bears the name of General George Wade, a key figure in the British military's efforts to control the Scottish Highlands following the Jacobite uprisings.

This article will delve into the fascinating history of General Wade's Bridge, from its conception and construction under the watchful eye of Wade himself to its enduring legacy in the present day.

Who was General Wade?

General George Wade (1673–1748) was a British military officer best known for his role in suppressing the Jacobite rebellions in Scotland during the early 18th century.

Born in Westmeath, Ireland, Wade began his military career at a young age, serving in various European conflicts. However, his assignment to Scotland following the Jacobite uprising of 1715 would mark his most notable contribution to history.

After the 1715 rebellion, Wade was appointed Commander in Chief of His Majesty's forces, castles, forts and barracks in North Britain, a role that saw him take charge of maintaining peace and order in the volatile region. Recognizing the strategic disadvantage posed by the rugged and often inaccessible Highland terrain, Wade embarked on an ambitious project to build a network of roads and bridges throughout the region. This infrastructure was intended to enable the rapid deployment of government troops in the event of future rebellions, and to facilitate trade and communication, thereby further integrating the Highlands with the rest of Scotland and Britain.

Between 1725 and 1737, under Wade's direction, over 250 miles of roads and more than 40 bridges were constructed, an achievement that earned him a place in history as a significant figure in Scottish infrastructure development. The most famous is the bridge at Aberfeldy, known today as General Wade's Bridge.

History of General Wade's Bridge at Aberfeldy

In 1725, Lieutenant-General George Wade was appointed Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Forces in North Britain. His mission was to construct a network of roads and bridges in the Scottish Highlands to facilitate the transportation of troops and equipment.

The government of King George II was concerned about the potential for another Jacobite uprising following the rebellion of 1715 and recognized the importance of efficient military transport in case of another revolt.

Over 15 years, Wade oversaw the construction of an impressive 250 miles of roads. These were the first engineered roads in Britain since the Romans departed in the early 5th century. Additionally, he built over 40 bridges to connect these roads.

Wade's Bridge / Tay Bridge

One of the most remarkable bridges, known as the "Wade Bridge", spanned the River Tay in what is now Aberfeldy. It was the only bridge crossing the Tay at the time, providing access to the central and eastern Highlands from the south. Sometimes referred to as the Tay Bridge, it remains an iconic structure today.

The humpbacked bridge was designed by the renowned Scottish architect William Adam, the father of Robert Adam, who would later become one of Britain's foremost country house architects. General Wade regarded William Adam as the best architect in Scotland.

Looking over the bridge from the north west.
View over the road bridge. The obelisks are a unique feature of this bridge.

Bridge Design

Adam's design exceeded mere functionality; he created a neo-classical five-arched bridge spanning 112m (368 feet) with a central span of 18.2m (60 feet). The bridge featured Baroque details, including four obelisks over the central span and decorative pyramids at each end. The central span also had a raised parapet, while the roadway measured 14 feet wide.

Triangular cutwaters were incorporated to minimize the impact of water on the bridge piers. The arches were segmental, and the bridge was constructed of grey chlorite schist with rubble spandrels and arch rings made of dressed stone. The piers were supported by 1200 timber piles encased in iron and driven into the river bed.

Construction of Wade's Bridge

General Wade laid the foundation stone on April 23, 1733, although construction did not begin until the following summer. The project faced numerous delays, which Wade partially attributed to the local Justices of the Peace being slow to provide carriages for transporting the quarried stone.

The stone was quarried at Farrowchil, located one mile away. Skilled masons from across the north of England were brought in, working through the winter to finish the blocks, allowing for quick assembly during the summer. The bridge opened to traffic in October 1734, with the official opening ceremony in the summer of 1735.

Ultimately, Wade considered the bridge his finest achievement, with a total cost of £4,095 (although another source estimates £3,596).

The construction of Wade's Bridge played a significant role in the development of Aberfeldy. As the only road bridge over the Tay, it became a vital link in transportation routes, resulting in the rapid growth of a settlement near the bridge's east end.

Wade perceived his network of roads and bridges as crucial for maintaining peace in the turbulent Highlands. However, the only military commander to derive direct benefits from the infrastructure was Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose Jacobite troops utilized the road network to their advantage during the 1745 Rebellion.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

In February 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie crossed General Wade's Bridge during his retreat north following the failure of his invasion of England. He stayed at Castle Menzies, just a mile away, for two days. Shortly after that, a contingent of soldiers under the command of the Duke of Cumberland crossed the bridge in pursuit. The two forces would eventually clash at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness, ending Jacobite aspirations.

The bridge today

While many of General Wade's military roads remain in use today, the Bridge in Aberfeldy is the only one of his bridges still in daily use. It now carries the B846 over the River Tay. Although it was not initially designed to accommodate two lanes of traffic, traffic lights have been installed at each end to regulate traffic flow.

Five spanned hump backed bridge with a central arch.
The bridge has 5 spans.

General Wades Bridge Panel Inscriptions

There are panels mounted on the bridge, written in Latin, translated below:

Admire this military road, extending on this side and that 250 miles beyond the limits of the Roman one and mocking wilderness and bogs, opened up through rocks and mountains, and as you see, crossing the indignant Tay. This arduous undertaking was, through his own skill and the ten years labour from his soldiers, accomplished by George Wade, Commander in Chief of the forces in Scotland, in the year of the Christian era of 1733. Behold how much avail the Royal Auspices of George II

At the command of His Majesty King George the 2nd this bridge was erected in the year 1733:
this with the roads and other military works for securing a safe and easy communication
between the high lands and the trading towns of the low country was by His Majesty
committed to the care of General George Wade, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Scotland
who laid the first stone of this bridge on 23rd April and finished the work in the same year.

Wade's Bridge plaque.
Partially damaged plaque.
Damaged plaque on Wade's Bridge.
The inscription is now missing from this plaque.
Latin plaque on Wade's Bridge.
Plaque written in Latin.

Black Watch Memorial

Adjacent to the bridge's east end stands the iconic Black Watch Memorial, erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The memorial pays tribute to the first muster of the Black Watch Regiment (42nd Royal Highlanders), which occurred in a field on the river's north bank opposite the monument.

Black Watch Memorial, Aberfeldy Wade's Bridge.
The Black Watch Memorial directly next to Wade's Bridge in Aberfeldy.

How to get to General Wade's Bridge

General Wade's Bridge is easily accessible on foot from the town centre of Aberfeldy, with several pedestrian signposts guiding the way. Additionally, parking is usually available on Taybridge Drive, just southeast of the bridge. Walking across the bridge offers an excellent opportunity to appreciate its historical significance and architectural splendour.

Google Maps Location
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FAQs on General Wade's Bridge

Here are a few frequently asked questions on Wade's Bridge:

Who designed General Wade's Bridge?

Architect William Adam designed the bridge, although General George Wade commissioned and oversaw it as part of his larger road-building project in Scotland.

Why was the bridge built?

The bridge was built to facilitate the rapid movement of British troops in response to potential Jacobite uprisings and to improve trade and communication between the Scottish Highlands and the rest of Britain.

What is the architectural style of the bridge?

General Wade's Bridge is a humpbacked, multi-arched structure built from local grey stone. Its design represents the Georgian period, marked by symmetry and proportion.

Is it still possible to cross General Wade's Bridge at Aberfeldy?

Yes, the bridge, despite being 300 years old, is still in use by road traffic on the B846. There is only space for one-way traffic, and traffic lights control the direction of cars crossing the bridge.

Can visitors access the bridge?

Yes, visitors can walk across the bridge; just be aware that it is still an actively used road for motor vehicles. A nice picnic area on the east bank and a pathway that follows alongside the River Tay.

What else can be seen near Wade's Bridge in Aberfeldy?

Here are a few suggestions:

Wade's Bridge Information board. Taybridge Road, Highland Perthshire
Information board at the bridge.

Key information on General Wade's Bridge

  • General Wade's Bridge is located in Aberfeldy, Scotland, and is part of a network of military roads and bridges built in the 18th century.

  • Also known as "Wade's Bridge" and "Tay Bridge".

  • Constructed between 1733 and 1735.

  • The only bridge spanning the River Tay at the time of its construction.

  • From 1725 to 1737, Wade oversaw the construction of over 250 miles of roads and more than 40 bridges throughout the Scottish Highlands, the most famous of which is the bridge at Aberfeldy.

  • The total cost of the bridge was around £4,095.

  • General Wade's Bridge is still used today and carries the B846 over the River Tay. It is the only one of Wade's bridges still in daily use.

General Wade's Bridge with easter daffodils.
Side view of the bridge.


General Wade's Bridge at Aberfeldy shows how well things were built in 1733 - still in use after almost 300 years! The bridge is worth visiting in the area, and there are great walks around Aberfeldy.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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