The sudden closure of a vital Deeside bridge has left cafes and shop owners fearing Aboyne could be “forgotten about” as drivers avoid the village.
Aboyne Bridge, which carries the B968 Bridgeview Road over the River Dee, has connected communities for 84 years.
It’s a vital link for those living in the area on either side of the river, enabling them easy access shops and services, and many rely on the bridge to access childcare or healthcare.
The iconic bridge also brings tourists visiting the likes of Glen Tanar into Aboyne.
But the category B listed bridge was closed to all traffic on November 22 for up to 18 months after an “invasive examination” of the structure revealed significant concerns.
And the community isn’t happy.
I spent the day visiting businesses and speaking to locals in Aboyne to find out just how much the bridge closure has impacted them so far…
Just how bad is the diversion due to the Aboyne Bridge closure?
I arrived in Aboyne on a chilly Wednesday morning and headed straight for the bridge. Parking outside the Boat Inn, I pulled on my fleece, before layering up with my jacket and scarf.
From the street, I could see joggers in brightly coloured clothes making their way over the bridge toward Birsemore.
The bridge has been kept open for walkers and cyclists, and thankfully, despite the crisp winter morning, there was no ice on the structure.
I walked over to the other side, just to have a good look and with the sound of the Dee rumbling along below me, the bridge felt peaceful and serene.
The closest bridge drivers can cross to reach Aboyne from the south is Dinnet, around 7 miles away.
What used to be an eight-minute drive (or 3.2 miles) for villagers in Birse to get to Aboyne, has now become a 20-minute drive (or 11.6 miles).
Banchory is only 10 miles away from Birse, and Ballater is a bit further away at 13.6 miles, leaving some in Aboyne worried visitors and locals will skip their village and head elsewhere instead.
I headed for the Square to chat to some businesses there, and was surprised to find the area was already quite busy with people popping in and out of shops.
‘People already just drive straight past Aboyne’
As a few shoppers browsed the shelves in Deeside Refill, as well as the display cabinets filled with hefty bakes, owner Gayl Truby told me the bridge closure is a “big concern”.
Although her beautiful little eco shop has been kept busy, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, she has been wondering what the new year will look like.
“We’ll get forgotten about,” she sighed. “You do feel that people already just drive straight past Aboyne to either go to Ballater or Banchory, both being slightly bigger places.”
Gayl pointed out that not everyone can walk into Aboyne, particularly the older community living in Birse, meanwhile school bus routes are now longer for the kids.
She finished: “I do hope they’ll do something about the bridge, the worry is that 18 months is just for investigations, not for repairs.
“Birse is a big part of our community, and the bridge is limiting people over there from coming to use our facilities.”
It’s only been a month, but Aboyne Bridge closure already ‘cutting families off from one another’
Ashleigh Davidson, the general manager of Corner House tea room and gift shop, said that although the closure isn’t affecting her family, she does think it is “cutting a lot of families off from one another”.
She has seen grandparents walking children back across the bridge to meet their parents on the other side.
As guests filled up the tables in the cafe, she said they haven’t felt an “obvious impact” yet but does think people will go to Banchory or Ballater instead.
“18 months is pretty scary,” she finished.
Beauty shop owner taking orders to the bridge to save people the 20-minute drive
A stunning, yet calming, aroma greeted me when I stopped past Thistle and Clay, tucked away on Ballater Road.
The zero-waste beauty shop owner Mairi MacDonald says she felt there had been no communication about the bridge closure, and there had been “no warning”.
As she packages up orders she tells me she knows quite a few people on the other side of the bridge.
Mairi has offered to take orders to the bridge to meet customers to save them from making the 20-minute drive in Aboyne.
She has even been offering to pick up shopping from the Coop to take to the bridge to save others the journey.
“I think we’ve all got to pull together,” she said with a kind smile and putting down the tins. “I don’t really know what that will look like and if it’s too dangerous to drive on, then it’s too dangerous to drive on at the end of the day.
“But, we’re already a community where people just drive past us, and if people just outside of the village can’t get here…
“It’s not been an easy time for small businesses anyway, it’s been a terrible year for me already and this… we just don’t know what’s going to happen after.
“It’s just another blow on top of the cost of everything.”
Will locals instead rely on bigger companies instead of spending cash in the community?
I was soon in Spider on a Bicycle, sitting next to a warm fire, enjoying a cappuccino — somehow avoiding the temptation of the cake cabinet.
Alistair Tong and his family bought the business in September. He told me people out on walks and cycles often stop by the cosy spot to refuel.
But that morning, a lady in full lycra and running gear had popped in for a coffee. She told him she had run across the bridge to go and get her shopping in Aboyne, before running back home.
The businessman, who also owns the Kinker Store and post office in Kincardine O’Neil, said with the cost-of-living crisis the significant detour is just an “extra drain” for residents and visitors alike.
He says local businesses are struggling, meanwhile, bigger companies will be able to deliver straight to doors — leaving him concerned people will switch to online.
Alistair also pointed out that while it’s easier for people to go to Banchory or Ballater, South Deeside Road needs to be gritted and maintained properly to be safer for more traffic.
“They hope they can keep the bridge open for pedestrians…” he finished.
“But will it ever be reopened to traffic? How long will we be without a bridge?
“Where would a new bridge go if they need to replace it? Do they need to demolish the old bridge to build a new one in its place?
“It will be interesting to see what happens.”
But online sales could save the day for some shops
The cold mist was starting to descend on the village as I left the coffee shop, but the Square was still bustling with people wrapped up in hats and scarves finishing off their Christmas shopping.
I decided to make one last stop and headed into Bark and Ride.
When I opened the door, a friendly dog called Harris came over to greet me — I knew I made the right decision popping in by.
Owner Kaz Dalby told me they normally get a lot of tourists, with people walking their dogs in Glen Tanar and Birse forest.
But, in the run-up to Christmas, she found her little shop was much quieter than she first expected.
“We’re lucky we’re online basically,” she said. “Otherwise we’d be struggling.
“They’re saying it could be closed for up to two years, that’s a huge worry for a small business like mine.”
With a sigh, she told me she feels sorry for the people living on the other side of the river who have been cut off.
She says although the area is a “vibrant place full of mountain bikers and hill walkers” there’s also an older community who live here too, who maybe can’t walk or cycle in.
Although Kaz has only lived in Aboyne for around a year, she says she’s been warmly welcomed into the Aberdeenshire community.
She said: “People want to work together, I think, which is important in rural places.
“We all feel we need to talk about it which is good, so here’s hoping with that more voices are heard and the council might try to push it on.”
Kaz added: “It will be really interesting to see come summertime how massively this affects things.”
What is Aberdeenshire Council saying about the Aboyne Bridge closure?
Members of the community have since set up the Fix Aboyne Bridge Community Action Group to try to work with the council to reconnect people “as quickly as possible”.
Concrete inspections have since been carried out on the bridge and more specialist assessments continue.
A tender has been issued for structural consultancy advice and Aberdeenshire Council is waiting for the responses.
However, the bridge is of a “novel design” says the council, and because it’s so complex, it’s proving very hard to assess the full scale of the issues.
A spokesman said it will take time for consultants to get to the bottom of the problems, and until they do, there won’t be a defined timeline for works.
But the initial investigations aren’t good news.
The council says the bridge is in a “very poor condition”, and the cost of repairs or replacement would be “significant”.
Public meetings are being established as part of the local authority’s efforts to keep the community in the loop.
The next update will be early in the new year.
The spokesman thanked the communities of Birse, Aboyne and the surrounding areas “for their patience and understanding”.