A Roman bridge once crossed the Tweed at Leaderfoot, conveying Dere Street north from the nearby fort of Trimontium. Today, three bridges cross the river at this location – the Leaderfoot Railway Viaduct (1863), the former Drygrange Road Bridge (1780), and a modern road bridge carrying the A68 (1973). Leaderfoot is the location where the Leader Water joins the River Tweed and is part of the National Scenic Area of Eildon and Leaderfoot. The views are spectacular early in the morning as the sun comes up or later in the day as the sun goes down. The three bridges are a favourite with photographers trying to catch the shimmering rose pink of the Railway Viaduct.
Leaderfoot Railway Viaduct
The Leaderfoot Railway Viaduct opened in 1863, carried the Berwickshire Railway until 1965, connecting Reston (on the East Coast Main Line between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh) with St Boswells (on the Edinburgh to Carlisle “Waverley Line”), via Duns and Greenlaw. The railway was severed by flooding during August 1948, after which passenger trains never ran west of Duns. Freight trains continued to run across the viaduct as far as Greenlaw until July 19, 1965.
Built 1865 by Charles Jopp & Messrs Wylie and Peddie, the Viaduct has nineteen brick arches, each 13 meters (43ft) in span, with the abutments, piers and walls faced in sandstone. It was Listed Grade B in 1971 and upgraded to A in 1986. It was renovated by Historic Scotland between 1992 and 1995 and remains in their guardianship. The Viaduct can be viewed from the other two bridges. It is not formally open to the public, but can be accessed with care.
An Act of Parliament of 1768 provided for the construction of a road from Lauder to Carter Bar (A68), following the general route of the Roman and medieval roads. The attractive old, A Listed Drygrange Bridge which dates from 1780 was designed by Scottish architect and engineer, Alexander Stevens. The central span of 31 m was exceptional for its time. The Bridge is open to walkers and cyclists.
The bridge was closed to traffic in 1974, and replaced to the east by a modern steel box girder bridge carrying the A68 over the Tweed at a higher level, built by Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners.
The Stepping Stones
There are five stepping stones on the southern approach to Drygrange Bridge, by the sculptor Gary Fay. Each is inscribed by a verse from the the ballad of Leaderfoot by Valerie Gillies, internationally renowned poet and former poet laureate of Edinburgh.
the river runs from west to east
roads south to north
from bank to bank three bridges span
three centuries worth
before these the Fly-boat brae
led down to its ferry
near the ghost-line of the Roman way
on the outward journey
salmon sandstone pillars rise
the meeting of two singing streams
by leafy Ravenswood
builders pay attention to the piers
so the arch can spring
taking you far from what you see
to what you’re not yet seeing
for when the Tweed is running high
from wintry moor and moss
Old Drygrange Bridge is standing here
to carry you across
How to get there
A parking area leads from A68 adjacent to the old bridge and sandstone sculpture. From Melrose take the first exit on the Ravenswood roundabout onto the A68, and then first left into a parking area adjacent to the old bridge. There is an accessible path across old bridge for dramatic views of historic Leaderfoot Railway Viaduct and the River Tweed. if coming from Earlstone direction on A68, cross the modern steel box girder bridge and turn immediately right at the end of the bridge into the parking area.
You can also walk from Melrose (about 2miles), following the route for Trimontium on the B6361, now closed to cars.
Alternatively there is a very small parking area on the other side of the river, on the B6360, adjacent to the Drygrange Bridge.
Follow Route 8 Newstead Heritage Route in Paths Around Melrose, which can be purchased at Visit Scotland Visitor Information Centres, bookshops and other visitor attractions or can be downloaded as a pdf for free.