Spey Viaduct near Garmouth and Spey Bay

Written by Chris Thornton | 10th of September 2021
Bridges & Viaducts History Moray Photography Rivers Walks
Spey Viaduct

Scotland has many great bridges and viaducts dotted around the countryside such as the Culloden Viaduct, and Glenfinnan Viaduct. A lesser-known viaduct is the Spey Viaduct an old Moray Coast railway bridge that crosses the iconic Spey River near to the mouth of the Spey in Moray where it terminates into the Moray Firth / North Sea.

Spey Viaduct crossing the Spey River

Although the Spey Viaduct (sometimes also known as the Garmouth Viaduct) is no longer used for its original purpose, it has become part of the sensational Moray Coastal Trail and Speyside Way walks. It is frequently used by walkers, runners and cyclists to safely cross the River Spey between Garmouth and Spey Bay.

A popular route is to walk from Spey Bay WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre down to the viaduct along quiet back roads taking in the wildlife and Spey mouth.

The bridge was part of the north of Scotland railway

The Spey Viaduct is quite picturesque and contrasts between the wild forested areas on either side and its own strong industrial iron lattice appearance. A really good subject for photographers - you have a wide variety of angles of the viaduct, and shooting directly down where the railway was you can get a great depth of field effect. Shooting the bridge with long exposures with the Spey flowing beneath it can also yield great results.

Spey Viaduct crossing the Spey River

Design of Spey Viaduct

The stand out features of this viaduct is its great central span of more than 350 ft/106 m in length and its curving bowstring lattice of girders. The bridge had to be built with the changing nature of the Spey in mind, the river can often surge and change direction depending on the amount of rainfall so it had to be big enough to take this into account.  The initial plan had been to build three separate bridges spanning the Spey, but the viaduct option with great bowed central truss was chosen instead.

Taking in all spans the viaduct is 950ft / 290m long and is a fantastic example of Victorian engineering.

Great North of Scotland Railway

The Spey Viaduct was built between 1883 and 1886 by Blaikie Bros, engineers from Aberdeen. Designed by Blyth and Cunningham and Patrick Barnett, the bridge was constructed to take a single-track railway line along the Great North of Scotland's coastal route between Portsoy and Elgin.  River crossing was serious business in those days and required an expert level of engineering know-how.

Spey Viaduct crossing the Spey River

Who built Spey Viaduct?

John Fyfe & Co. were responsible for the foundations and masonry - concrete-filled iron cylinders were used to create the circular ashlar piers at either side of the viaduct and driven into the ground, sunk to a depth of 35 to 75ft depending on the embankment of the Spey. Blaikie Bros would have used steam cranes and a riveting machine to speed up the construction process of the ironworks. Only 40 engineers were required to construct the viaduct at a cost of £40,000, £15,000 more than estimated.

The course of the Spey had to be redirected using a concrete spine wall.  When the viaduct was completed it ran below the main span, this took many months to perfect.

Spey Viaduct crossing the Spey River

Testing the viaduct!

20 trucks of gravel were used to test the viaduct to a weight of 400 tons and the bridge deflected by only 29mm, a testament to the skilled engineers of the time. Goods began to roll over the viaduct by April 1886 and passengers followed shortly after.

Closure of Spey Viaduct

The structure was retired in 1968 when the railway was closed only 82 years after its construction. Although the rails were lifted from the bridge, thankfully it was considered too costly and dangerous to dismantle the entire viaduct and this piece of Moray's history was saved. It's a real shame the Great North of Scotland railway route was closed, it would have been a huge tourist attraction, and useful for Moray's coastal communities to take trips to Elgin.

Below the Viaduct

A new route to Buckie?

In 1972, serious consideration was given for Spey Viaduct to be converted to a road bridge to ease traffic congestion on the A96 and providing a new route to Buckie. British rail offered to sell the bridge for £5000 but with overall costs estimated at £100,000, it was deemed too expensive to proceed with.

View directly down Spey Viaduct where the train would go, showing lattice members.

Spey Viaduct today

It is maintained today by Moray Council, purely as a footbridge and access from Garmouth to Spey Bay. MSP Richard Lochhead has rallied Moray Council to try and provide more maintenance to the viaduct, along with other bridges such as the one at Craigellachie.

Spey River

River Spey

The River Spey is the fastest flowing river in Scotland and very important for salmon fishing and whisky production. At over 107 miles long it is the ninth longest river in the UK, and the basin that feeds the turbid Spey is 1161 square miles!

Spey Bay

The coastal reserve at Spey Bay is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Changes in the River Spey have created a variety of habitats from grasslands to bare shingles, saltmarshes and wet woodlands.

An abundance of wildlife exists here including wildfowl, butterflies, terns and dolphins.

Spey Viaduct | Grey girders and open box girders
Spey Viaduct side on view

Conclusion

Spey Viaduct is a great place to walk or as a subject for photography, if you're visiting Speybay, Garmouth or the northeast Scotland area - it's a nice place to explore and take in the stunning scenery and wildlife.

Please see my articles on Culloden Viaduct and Bridge of Avon for more of Scotlands historic bridges.

Drone photography courtesy of John Luckwell.

Location map of Spey Viaduct

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