South Ford Causeway

Old bridge between Benbecula and South Uist

An 82 span concrete bridge between Benbecula and South Uist was the first link in the chain of bridges, causeways and car ferries which have brought the Western Isles together over the past 60 years.

Completed in 1942, the single-lane bridge was about 800 metres in length and crossed by eight spans from Benbecula to the tiny Creagorry Island and then on South Uist.

Constructed during the Second World War, its completion was related to the creation of the military airport on Benbecula as well as to the continuing problems of communication on the islands. It enabled the air base to be connected with the ferry port of Lochboisdale. But the significance of the development can be seen from the fact it had been intended that King George VI would open the bridge. The war-time conditions prevented this.

By the 1980's the bridge's condition was causing serious concern and the then Western Isles Islands Council (now Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) decided on a major scheme to replace it with a short bridge and causeway, total length almost 1 kilometre plus another 600 metres of new road.

Hydraulic studies were done to see what effect the causeway would have on the tides and it was found that a single 15-metre span bridge would be sufficient. The £2.2 million project to first bypass and then demolish the bridge was completed in May 1983 although the causeway was formally opened by National Mod gold-medallist Mairi Macinnes in November 1982. This forms Benbecula's first (and so far only) two-lanes-plus-footways off-island link. It was 75 per cent funded by the Scottish Office.

The project ­ costing £2.2 million ­ was carried out by Edmund Nuttall Ltd (who were to be main contractors for the Scalpay Bridge more than a decade later) with consultants Blyth and Blyth who had been responsible for the original South Ford bridge 40 years earlier.

South Ford Causeway

South Ford Causeway

The South Ford causeway was formally opened ­ in Gaelic ­ during a ceremony held in a howling gale in the middle of the road link on November 18, 1982 . National Mod gold-medallist Mairi Macinnes, who was only 18, also sang two Gaelic songs at the conclusion of the event after cutting the ceremonial ribbon with a skean dhu.

Mary, from North Boisdale, had won the Ladies Gold Medal at the National Mod (Gaelic singing festival) which had been held in Skye the previous month. Mr Alexander Matheson, then convener of the Western Isles Islands Council (now Comhairle nan Eilean Siar), told the crowd of councillors, officials, contractors, guest and local people that far too often in the past ceremonies such as this had been handled by people from outwith the area. He could think of no one better than Mary Macinnes to carry out the ceremony.

Mr Matheson made clear at the official opening that the causeway was only part of a long programme planned for the transportation system of the Western Isles.

The plaque marking the opening reads:

Chaidh an cabhsair seo fhosgladh air 18 Samhainn 1982 le Mairi NicAonghais a Baghastal a bhuannaich am Bonn Or aig Mod Eilean a Cheo 1982.