New era begins at Kessock Stories by Gordon Fyfe / Jim Love

Yesterday morning at 5.49am the barriers barricading the Kessock Bridge were thrown back and police patrol cars slowly led two convoys of traffic across the £26million link between Inverness and the Black Isle.

It was the moment the North had awaited so long.

Soon traffic was flowing steadily over the bridge, which will considerably reduce journeys for motorists travelling to and from points north of Inverness.

The weather matched the occasion and temperatures rose to 75F yesterday, providing the perfect opportunity for tourists and locals to make it a gala occasion.

Queues had formed overnight. One eager motorist at the head of the south lane waited 14 hours to make sure he was first across.

Inverness ganger Mr Donald Mitchell, wife Elsie and nine-year-old daughter Donna were rewarded for their 14-hour wait by being first across to the North.

The Kessock Bridge during construction

Mr Mitchell, (36), Johnstone Place, said: “I wanted an Invernessian to be the first to cross from this side. We began queueing at 4pm on Sunday and stayed awake all night to make sure of our position.

“It was a long wait but it was well worth it. The tremendous weather was a bonus.”

Second in line was van driver Mr David McKerron (36), a sales supervisor for an Inverness bakery.

His firm are starting a new contract supplying supermarkets at Invergordon and Tain and this was their first trip.

Pole position on the north side was held by student nurse Mrs Sandra Manson, 79 Milnafua, Alness, who had queued since midnight and taken a day off work to be the first across from the North side.

Police reported no troubles on the opening day. However a few folk let their excitement get the better of their judgement and bridge workers had to hurry along to several motorists who blocked the single northbound lane by stopping to take souvenir photographs.

The opening brought instant relief to several small communities plagued by heavy lorries on the old road.

Mr James Campbell, chairman of Beauly Traders Association, said he had noticed a large reduction in heavy traffic.

“Being by-passed will certainly affect the tourist trade and we are going to have to publicise ourselves a bit more.”

Inverness taxi driver Mr Donald Fraser celebrated his 55th birthday yesterday by winning the £1,000 first prize for guessing the correct date of the opening.

Inverness taxi driver Mr Donald Fraser

Mr Fraser, St Valery Avenue, won a competition which was run by a local organisation who raised £700 towards the setting up of an audiology unit at the Royal Northern Infirmary.

Nostalgia and joy as bridge is opened

Looking towards Inverness through one of the ports for the Kessock Bridge support wires

The village of North Kessock was seized by a carnival atmosphere yesterday as thousands of visitors welcomed the opening of the bridge and bade farewell to the centuries-old ferry service.

Tourists and local people alike converged on the Black Isle village after travelling across the impressive new structure from Inverness.

And then many made a nostalgic last trip on the Eilean Dubh Ferry, which has plied Kessock narrows for almost 30 years.

The gala occasion was blessed with glorious sunshine and the local store and hotel did a roaring trade as the shirt-sleeved visitors made a day of it in the village.

Some youngsters even ventured a swim in the calm waters of the Firth.

Mrs Morag Macleod of the Kessock Hotel said: “WE have been run off our feet today. I have seldom seen the place so busy. The glorious weather has made it a real festival.”

Mrs Macleod relies almost exclusively on loca, business and does not expect the ferry closure to affect trade to any marked degree.

One villager saddened to see the end of the ferry era is former postmistress Mrs Helen Williamson.

Mrs Williamson, 69, Cairnie Cottage, who was a guest on the last ferry journey, said last night: “I am very sorry to see the end of the service because I made a lot of friends travelling to and from Inverness. I will also miss the bustle of cars in the main street. However I knoew the new bridge will be a great help to commuters.”

With the end of the ferry services, Highland Regional council are expected to declare the North Kessock pier and the large car park surplus to requirements. No decision has yet been taken on their future use.