Wherever you go in the Highlands, you keep coming across bridges and other structures constructed by Thomas Telford in the early 1800s. And you could be forgiven for thinking that Spean Bridge was named after his crossing of the River Spean here, built in 1819.
But you'd be wrong: it is actually named after General Wade's earlier High Bridge, which crosses the Spean a mile and a half to the west. Or did, until part of it collapsed into the river a hundred feet below in 1913.
Spean Bridge is an attractive village, though one which carries a heavy stream of traffic in the summer. It is also one of those examples you find in the Highlands of road junctions that are unremarkable or insignificant to look at, yet which mark major decisions in your journey through Scotland.
In the centre of the village and on a sharp bend in the A82 is the junction with the main A86 north-east past Roybridge to Kingussie, Aviemore, and the Cairngorms (a road that, unlike the bridge, was originally built by Thomas Telford). It's an exaggeration to say that this is the spot at which the Western Highlands and the Cairngorms meet: but it is the spot at which you have to choose between them.
The village itself is well equipped, with a good car park, and a Tourist Information Centre. It also houses the imposing Spean Bridge Hotel, which is mentioned again below. Spean Bridge is also home to a railway station, on the line to Fort William. Its buildings have been converted into the Old Station Restaurant.
Though the land immediately to the south is heavily forested, it is still possible to gain excellent views up to the imposing northern faces of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor, plus the entire range of the Grey Corries sweeping away to your left.
The views are still more spectacular from the northern side of the river, where the lovely Kilmonivaig Church and churchyard form a pretty and peaceful oasis. And a little further north again, where the main A82 crests the hill, is the dramatically imposing Commando Memorial, a bronze monument crafted by Scott Sutherland and placed here in 1952 to commemorate the many members of the elite commando units who trained in the area during World War Two. The Commando Basic Training Centre was at Achnacarry Castle, towards Loch Arkaig, where you can still find the excellent Clan Cameron Museum. A room at the Spean Bridge Hotel is home to an excellent collection of artefacts and material covering the commandos and their role in Lochaber.
Spean Bridge's one earlier claim to military fame came in 1745, when during the first skirmish in the conflict that culminated in failure for the Jacobites the following year at Culloden, a handful of noisy highlanders persuaded a very much larger force of government troops to run away (see our Historical Timeline).
Spean Bridge In Fiction
The Danger of Life by Ken Lussey (10 May 2019).
It is late 1942. Bob Sutherland's first week in charge of Military Intelligence 11's operations in Scotland is not going smoothly.
An investigation into a murder at the Commando Basic Training Centre in the Highlands takes a dark turn that draws Bob in personally.
Bob visits Spean Bridge during his investigation.