Called just "Bonar" until the completion of the first bridge across the Kyle of Sutherland in November 1812, Bonar Bridge was for the next 170 years a waystation on the main route north from Inverness to Caithness and an important centre in its own right.
The 1812 bridge, built by Thomas Telford (like so much else in the Highlands) was the first of three on this site. The original was destroyed in a flood in 1892 and rebuilt in 1893. The current elegant structure was opened on 14 December 1973. An extremely interesting series of stone and metal plaques placed around a triangular cairn at the village end of the span chart the building of these bridges.
Ironically enough, it was the building of another bridge in the 1980s that removed Bonar Bridge from the main road network. The Dornoch Firth Bridge was built much nearer the sea and cut well over 20 miles off the route of the A9 up the east coast. Until the building of the bridge it was common for traffic heading north to avoid part of the A9 by travelling over what is now the B9176 (it used to be classified as an "A" road) which emerged on the Dornoch Firth south-east of Ardgay. The Dornoch Firth Bridge left Bonar Bridge a much quieter place than it used to be. But it continues to offer all the services and facilities a visitor might need. On the opposite side of the Kyle of Sutherland from Bonar Bridge is Ardgay, complete with a railway station on the Inverness to Thurso line. (Continues below image...)
From the visitor's perspective, the impact of shorter routes to northern Scotland has not been entirely positive. In particular it means that most now never get to see Bonar Bridge and Ardgay, even in passing, and even fewer consider the possibilities that the area has to offer as a destination in its own right. These are considerable. People visit northern Scotland for many reasons, not least the chance to explore remote areas and enjoy beautiful scenery. The area around Bonar Bridge and Ardgay has a great deal to offer visitors wanting to see some of the more off-the-beaten-track parts of Scotland.
The Dornoch Firth becomes the Kyle of Sutherland at Bonar Bridge, and they combine to offer some alluringly attractive scenery, plus a tidal waterway that extends almost half-way across mainland Scotland. To the west lie wild and remote areas such as Strathcarron and even deeper into the mountains, Glen Alladale. Ten miles due west from Bonar Bridge up a very minor road lies Croick. The churchyard of Croick Church is home to a classic clearance story and an intriguing mystery. The churchyard was temporary home to 80 refugees cleared off their land in May 1845, and inscriptions made on the church windows are said to date back to that time.
North west of Bonar Bridge on the north side of the Kyle of Sutherland is the delightful (and delightfully named) little settlement of Spinningdale, while just behind Bonar Bridge is Loch Midgale, which comes complete with excellent woodland walks. It is also worth mentioning that Bonar Bridge, or more accurately Ardgay opposite it, forms one end of a 33 mile walk crossing Scotland from coast to coast. This ends at Inverlael, at the head of Loch Broom south of Ullapool.
The recorded history of Bonar dates back to at least the 1300s, when an iron foundry was established here to make use of iron ore dragged across country from the west coast. The foundry was fuelled with wood from the then plentiful forests on the north-eastern side of the Kyle of Sutherland. By the time James IV passed this way during one of his many pilgrimages to the Chapel of St Duthac at Tain, in the years around 1500, deforestation was gathering speed. He decreed the cleared land should be replanted with oak trees, some of which still exist east of Bonar Bridge.
Other notable moments in local history include a disaster involving the ferry that preceded the bridge in 1809, with many lives lost. And in the mid 1800s the area was badly affected by some of the most brutal of the clearances as landowners simply forced people off the land to make way for more profitable sheep, as illustrated so movingly at Croick Church.