The Ness bridge extends from Bridge Street to Young Street, the A82 to Fort William. There has been a bridge crossing the Ness at or near this spot since the 11th century.
A later wooden bridge bridge was carried away by a flood in 1620.4
A new bridge was built in 16243 again a wooden structure, arched with a house on it. This one only lasted for forty years. An officer of Cromwell's stationed at the citadel in Inverness described this bridge as "the weakest that ever straddled over so strong a stream"1
The bridge partially collapsed on September 28th 1664 whilst being repaired and was according to Carruthers (1843) never rebuilt. The following extract from "The Highland Notebook" (Carruthers, 1843) gives a contemparory account of the collapse.
"by the inadvertency of a carpenter cutting a beam that lay betwixt two couples, to set up a new one, the bridge, tending that way, ten of the old couples fell flat on the river, with about two hundred persons - men, women, and children, upon it. Four of the old townsmen broke legs and thighs, some sixteen had their heads, arms, and thighs bruised; all the children safe, without a scart (scratch) - a single providence, and a dreadful sight; at ten forenoon."2
There must have been a replacement bridge before the first stone bridge as an intrepid tourist to Inverness in 1677 remarked:
"Over the river is a rotten wooden bridge on about ten or twelve pillars. Below this bridge are abundance of nasty women possing clothes with their feet, their clothes tucked up to the middle."3
The first stone bridge, known now as "The Old Stone Bridge" was built between 1685 and 1689.
This bridge had seven arches and included a dungeon between the second and third arches on the town side. The dungeon was not used after about 1780, but according to John Noble (1902) was re-opened and inspected in 1845.3 The stone was taken from Cromwell's Citadel which after the restoration in 1660 had been abandoned. Some of this stone had originally come from part of the Cathedral in Fortrose and other church buildings and so the bridge displayed some ecclesiatical decoration.
It was funded in part by public subscription (subscriptions were demanded from all over Scotland) and by large contributions from town funds.MacLeod of MacLeod, Lord Lovat and other lairds also made generous contributions and their clansmen were allowed to cross without paying any toll. Some years later Lord Lovat gave up this privelige to the town, so the Frasers then had to pay. MacLeod of MacLeod's coat of arms were placed over the gateway of the bridge in acknowledgement of his benevolence.3
A number of people were found on the Merkinch green playing shinty one Sabbath, alleging that they could not afford pay the bridge toll and therfore not get to the church on the other side of the river. The minister appealed to magistrates and thereafter Sunday tolls were removed.3
This bridge collapsed in the Great Flood of January 1849.
The replacement bridge, opened in 1879 was a suspension bridge built at a cost of £26,000 (about12.5m in modern money), this was demolished in 1959 to make way for the concrete structure which now spans the Ness.
The present bridge
1. GROOME, FRANCES H.ed., 1903. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland. New edition. London: The Caxton Publishing Company.
2. CARRUTHERS, R., 1843. The Highland Notebook or Sketches and anecdotes. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.
3. NOBLE, JOHN, 1902. Miscellanea Invernessiana. Stirling: Eneas MacKay.
4. MACKENZIE, ALEXANDER, M.J.I., 1900. Guide to Inverness, Nairn and the Highlands. Inverness and Nairn: Melven Brothers.