Welcome to Nethy Bridge
When the BBC were looking for a location for the series Monarch of the Glen they were well advised to choose Strathspey. Whichever direction the BBC’s cameras’ turn they are confronted by another spectacular backdrop for the series: be it the broken peaks of the Cairngorms to the south-east, the fast flowing salmon filled rivers which dissect the land or the deep timeless forests which surround and penetrate it. Sold around the world, the series had made this wilderness internationally famous to the extent that some within the tourist industry have started to call it Monarch Country. Lying in the east of Strathspey, on the banks of the River Nethy and amongst the Abernethy Forest, is the quiet and attractive village of Nethy Bridge.
The story of Nethy Bridge’s first settlers is a difficult one to tell. Relying on evidence from elsewhere in Scotland it is more than likely that there were human beings living around where the town now lies from not long after the end of the last Ice Age. They did not, however, leave anything which announced their presence to modern archaeologists until around 4000 years ago. A stone’s throw north of Nethy Bridge, on a low lying ridge on the northern banks of the River Nethy, lies the Ballintomb Standing Stones. On the site there are four Bronze Age stones (aligned north-east, south-west) believed to have been used for observing the movements of the moon and sun.
The middle ages too are represented in the archaeology of Nethy Bridge by a building that gives the village a special claim to fame. On the outskirts of the town to the north, opposite the Old Kirk, lies Castle Roy: the oldest surviving castle in Scotland.
The castle is thought to have been built at some point in the early 13th century, replacing an earlier wooden motte and bailey keep of Norman influenced design. In accordance with its early design it is one of Scotland’s simplest forts consisting of four curtain walls, about 7 ft. thick, forming a square. Presumably the walls defended a number of timber buildings which have since disappeared. One theory is that Castle Roy was built by James, son of the Earl of Mar, in 1226, after having receiving the title of Lord of Abernethy from King Alexander II. It may have become a residence of the powerful Comyn family, rivals of the famed King Robert the Bruce. Records show that it was probably still in use in the 16th century, possessed then by the Earl of Moray.
The fact that so little is known about Castle Roy makes it not only the oldest but one of the most mysterious forts in Scotland. Not surprisingly it is associated with a number of legends. One story tells how having dreamt of a buried treasure at a certain place in Strathspey an Irishman arrived in the area. When he recognised the spot from his dream he asked a local lad by the name of Allan to help him dig. But after they unearthed the treasure the Irishman paid Allan a pittance for his trouble and set off back to Ireland while Allan returned home. When Allan told his lover what had happened she called him a fool and said that she would marry him if he got the treasure. Allan went after the Irishman and encountered him in Castle Roy where he killed him with his spade. Some say that the treasure is still buried under Castle Roy as Allan could not bring himself to take it, perhaps due to remorse. It is also said that the soil is infected with the plague and that those who have searched for the treasure have all perished!
It is possible that a settlement at Nethy Bridge developed to supply the mysterious castle. There is some evidence which suggests that there was a ferry over the river here from as early as Pictish times, which may suggest that from early times there was something more than just a fort here.
In the 18th century there were two developments which stimulated the settlements growth. One was the decision to build a number of military roads through the Highlands in an attempt to subdue the anti-government clans. It was the building of these roads that prompted the construction of the bridge over the Nethy from which today’s village gets its name. The increased communications stood Nethy Bridge in good stead at the outset of industrialisation, the second important 18th century development. By the early 18th century there was sawmill in the village and iron was brought down from the Cairngorms for smelting in the local furnace.
Communications were further improved in the 19th century when the railway arrived. This in turn brought tourists for the first time, further benefiting the local economy. Although the direct rail link is long gone the Speyside Steam Railway passes nearby, through Broomhill, which connects the area to the Aviemore Ski Areas. If arriving by steam train seems to decadent, The Speyside Way, a long distance walking route from Granton on Spey to Boat of Garten, passes through the village. Of course, modern roads make arrival by car the easiest option. Arriving by car may also have the added benefit of allowing you to preserve your energy for getting out and about to explore this stunningly beautiful area.