The Horse in the Viaduct
- a tale of Victorian engineering

Courtesy - West Word, Mallaig - August 2008.


Plaques commemorating an accident which happened to a horse over a hundred years ago were erected at the Loch nan Uamh Viaduct and Glenfinnan Station in July 2008.

Around 1898/9, whilst 'Concrete Bob' McAlpine was constructing the West Highland Railway Line and the viaducts which carry it, one of his horses tumbled down inside a concrete pier, dragging its cart with it.  Local legend always held that the accident happened at Glenfinnan, but in 1987 Professor Roland Paxton MBE, having defined only two piers as being large enough, ascertained, by use of a fish-eye lens camera inserted through specially bored holes, that there was no evidence of a horse or cart.

Then Professor Paxton heard that local landowner Mr E.D. MacMillan remembered from local hearsay in his father's time that the accident had in fact occurred at the Loch nan Uamh Viaduct.

An inspection hole made in 1997 revealed the pier was full of rubble and the story may have ended there, but science moves on and in 2001 a state-of-the-art scanning exercise was carried out. Many hours of work was involved, transmitting radio waves through walls up to 9 feet thick, and monitoring and interpreting the results. Incredibly, clearly seen were the remains of a horse, standing vertically against the east wall above the wreck of a cart. This would imply that the loaded cart fell into the cavity, dragging the horse with it.

Thanks to the dedication and determination of Professor Paxton, the legend has proved true and the event marked in proper style with the unveiling of the plaques by Sir William MacAlpine.

West Word, Mallaig, August 2008.