History

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.

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.

30 Comments

  • david

    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!

    • Jo Woolf

      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.

  • davidoakesimages

    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.

  • Colin MacDonald

    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.

    • Jo Woolf

      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.

  • tearoomdelights

    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.

  • Anne Melrose

    When travelling through Glen Kinglas for the ‘Locheil’ to Islay in the 50’s and 60’s, my dad would point out ‘the hermit’s hut’. I think it was quite high up the hill on the right hand side. We often saw him sitting outside his hut on a bench and would wave to us as we passed in the car. Cars were still a novelty then! I never knew anything about him and was so pleased to read about him. He always seemed content but he must have been hardy!

    • Jo Woolf

      Oh, how lovely! Thank you so much for sharing your memory! I’m glad that he waved to you – sounds as if he was happy with his life there. I often think about him when we go that way. Where did you get the ‘Locheil’ – was that from Oban or Kennacraig?

  • Anne Melrose

    Thank you for responding. My family come from Islay and consequently I travelled this road regularly from the 1950’s. We boarded the Locheil at West Loch Tarbert, just 5 mins from Tarbert on the road to Campbeltown. It was only when ‘steamers’ were replaced by ‘car ferry’ that the pier was moved further down the West Loch to Kennacraig to accommodate the larger vessel. My dad drove a Morris Oxford and half way up the old Rest and Be Thankful military Road, we would have to stop to let the radiator cool down! Happy memories!

    • Jo Woolf

      Oh gosh! That sounds like quite a journey, at a time when driving on those roads was still an adventure! Happy times – I think my mum & dad took a Morris Oxford up to Oban, and that would be in the 1950s as well. Still have the pics somewhere!

  • Larry Barrieau

    My wife and I were driving to Oban in 2008. I was loving the countryside and when we dropped into Kinglas and I saw Butter Bridge from a long way off and told my wife to watch for a place to pull off the road, I knew I wanted pictures of that lovely place. We saw the dirt parking lot and realized that it was an attraction. We were the only ones there and it was one of the numerous highlights we fell in love with in your beautiful country. I had already learned to like the Scottish people in 1968 when I was on a submarine out of Dunoon. Larry, from. Massachusetts.

    • Jo Woolf

      Hi Larry! Lovely to hear from you and thank you for sharing your memories. The Butter Bridge is in such a beautiful spot and we often used to look at it in passing before we knew the history of it. Sounds like you had a great time in the 60s when you were in Dunoon! Warmest wishes, Jo

  • Robbie Lipe

    Jo, Hi, do you have any information as to the old ruined stone house across the road from Butter Bridge?

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