Thomas Telford - Scottish Engineer

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  1. Engineering achievements
  2. Thomas Telford | Scottish engineer |
  3. Plaques to honour Scottish engineer Thomas Telford

At the bottom of the valley you can find two more extraordinary monuments.

Engineering achievements

The first, in the little churchyard at Westerkirk, is a gravestone, carved, it is said, by Telford to remember his father who died when his son was still a baby. You can run your fingers through lettering cut by the young Telford. Nearby, Westerkirk library contains books bought by miners in the valley in the s. Along the way boats sail through a series of natural waterways, including Loch Ness, but linking them to the sea was a mighty task which took longer and cost more than anyone had expected.

It is a series of eight great locks, designed to lift vessels into the hills, the longest of its type in Britain.

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Just below, the canal is crossed by the scenic West Highland railway, on a swing bridge. At the eastern end of the Caledonian Canal near Inverness, Telford and his team had to wrestle with a massive challenge: The coast consisted of seemingly bottomless mud flats and digging them out proved impossible. To extend the land into the sea, by piling up roads until a solid peninsula was formed.

Thomas Telford | Scottish engineer |

The route of the canal was then cut through the middle of it. This was cold, hard, backbreaking work and it took years. Today you can walk out to the lock gate which guards the canal and appreciate their efforts. Telford built many amazing bridges but in a competition to find the most beautiful surely the lovely Craigellechie Bridge over the River Spey would come first.

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The bridge, built between and , springs from castle-like stone abutments, but is made of the finest iron. It was innovative and much admired when it opened.

Thomas Telford: The man, the work, the legacy

There are fine views from the top of this elegant structure, whose engineering looks ahead to the railway age which was about to begin. Telford was an architect as well as an engineer and you can see the care he took in his work to give people good housing and working conditions.

Plaques to honour Scottish engineer Thomas Telford

There is a garden and curved crescents modelled, it was said, on the town of Bath in England and intended to shelter people from cold winter winds. Today much of it is intact. Telford designed churches in the English county of Shropshire, early in his career, but it was only in the s that he began building them in Scotland. Funded by the government, and built to a simple, economical design, there were originally 32 Telford churches across the Highlands and Islands.

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Today, not all survive. Britain owes some of its most sublime architecture to him: Throughout his life he remained a peripatetic bachelor, hurrying from one job to the next, writing instructions to his subordinates from country inns by candlelight. Luck, as usual, played its part, and Telford owed a lot of his luck, paradoxically, to the superficially unpromising circumstances of his birth. He was made county surveyor and began to develop the mixture of charm and toughness that impressed his growing clientele.

He had a slippery, manipulative side that, when it was combined with his ambition, led him to take credit for work that had been done by others. The aqueduct opened only a few weeks after the battle of Trafalgar, with a flag-flying ceremony that echoed the cocky mood of a nation that was being melded together by industrialisation and military victories.

Was Telford, as Glover states, the greatest engineer Britain has ever produced?

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The greatest British engineer of any kind, civil, mechanical or electrical, must surely be James Watt , whose inventions made the steam engine more powerful, faster-acting and cheaper to run, and by so doing altered the course not just of Britain but the world. Its rampant success had many casualties — windmills, waterwheels, sailing ships, horses, and, not least, the turnpike roads, bridges and canals that Telford had recently brought to such perfection. The canal at Pontcysyllte stopped well short of its intended destination; the Caledonian canal was a commercial flop from the start.