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August 24th 1819

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The marvellously foul town of Aberfilthy

In 1819 Robert Southey, poet laureate, together with Thomas Telford the engineer, undertook a tour of Scotland.

Robert was not a great poet and was certainly overshadowed by Wordsworth, Byron and other contemporaries. His prose was rather better than his poetry and by this time he had already published a number of biographies. The Journal of the Tour is coloured to some extent by his extreme Toryism but for all that is a lively, direct and on the whole sympathetic account of his travels.

Telford, who was born in Dumfriesshire, was already famous for his work on roads, canals and bridges in the Highlands. Three years later the Caledonian Canal was to be opened and one of Telford’s masterpieces, the Menai Suspension Bridge, was in the course of construction. Though the Journal is written by Southey, the many comments on the construction of roads and bridges bears the imprint of Telford’s knowledge and opinions.

The two of them were perhaps not in the best of humour as they passed through Aberfeldy. “Aberfeldy is a place that might properly be called Aberfilthy, for marvellously foul it is. You enter through a beggarly street and arrive at a dirty inn. A sort of square or market place has been lately built, so that mean as the village or townlet is, it seems to be thriving. The burn of Moness passes through the place and falls into the Tay near it; there are some falls upon this burn, which when the streams are full should be among the vivenda of this part of the country. Near Aberfeldy is a bridge over the Tay, built by General Wade; but creditable neither to the skill nor taste of the architect. It resembles that at Blenheim, the middle arch being made the principal feature. At a distance it looks well but makes a wretched appearance upon closer inspection. There are four unmeaning obelisks upon the central arch, and the parapet is so high that you cannot see over it. The foundations are also very insecure, for we went into the bed of the river and examined them.” 

In spite of such a damning indictment it is pleasing to be able to report that 150 years after the bridge was built it is still standing and is generally considered to be a great feat of engineering. Though built for General Wade, the bridge was designed by the father of the famous architect, Robert Adam.

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