To state that since humans were confronted by bodies of water there have been bridges is just a tad presumptuous. The animal world has been in the construction game for millennia, and in darker recesses there are probably plants, organisms and microbes doing exactly the same.
From basic log structures, now rotted into the very rivers they were crossing, until the present it is the available materials that have led the design.
3000 years ago (estimated)
Tarr Steps, crossing the River Barle, Exmoor, Somerset, England
The earliest bridges that are still in evidence are clapper bridges, huge slabs of stone laid on piers or buttresses, and it has been estimated that some of the stones in Tarr Steps are in the region of 5 ton. As this particular clapper bridge is at the bottom of quite a steep valley, the effort and ingenuity required to locate, cart, and position the stone is astounding.
The clapper bridge takes its name from the Latin “claperius”, meaning a pile of stones.
13th / 14th Centuries,
Radcot Bridge, Oxfordshire, England
Built circa 1200 of Taynton stone, it has been claimed that this is the oldest bridge across the Thames, although since the construction of the Thames and Severn Canal in 1787, it is now on a backwater. Broken down during the Battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387, It was reconstructed in 1393, only to need rebuilding following damage during the Wars of the Roses.
13th / 18th Centuries
Town Bridge, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, England
The ancient town bridge has two of the original 13th century arches. In the 18th century it was widened and rebuilt although it retained the small building that was constructed as part of the bridge, perhaps as a chapel. In the 17th century it became the ‘lock-up’ where felons would be kept before going before a magistrate.
Packhorse bridge, spanning Aller Brook, Allerford, England
Allerford village is within the Exmoor National Park in Somerset. The packhorse bridge is an Ancient Monument, a Grade ll listed structure, and is on the Heritage ‘At Risk’ Register. It was constructed with local red sandstone rubble, with cobbles added for the pathway surface.
Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, England
The moated, fortified Hall was built for Sir Edmund Bedingfeld in 1482 as a family home and remained in the family until mounting debts forced its sale in 1951. The only potential buyer wanted the building for the oak, with the intention of using the bricks as hardcore. Three of the surviving Bedingfeld decedents found the monies to repurchase and Sybil, Lady Bedingfeld gave Oxburgh to the National Trust in 1952.
Stone bridge crossing Afon Wybrnant, Conwy County, Wales
The 16th century stone farmhouse in Wybrnant is the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan who translated the Bible into the Welsh language. Tŷ Mawr (big house) and its stone barn stand in isolation at the bottom of a valley so it is fair to assume that the bridge was built at the same time.
St Mawes Castle, near Truro, Cornwall, England
Built as an artillery fortress on the orders of Henry VIII, the castle is one of a chain of coastal forts built 1539-45. It is one of the best-preserved, and an example of the elaborate carvings and decorative effects can be seen above the entrance.
Bide Brook crossing, Lacock, Wiltshire, England
Lacock was listed in the Domesday Book and granted a market in the Middle Ages. It appears, however, that the packhorse ford at Bide Brook was one of the few river crossings until the 18th century. Despite searches, I have come up with no other information about this out-of-the-way but once important route.
Clappersgate Bridge, near Ambleside, Cumbria, England
Stone packhorse bridge, crossing the River Brathay (meaning: wide river). Once an important crossing, there is little information available.
Bridge House, over Stock Beck, Ambleside, Cumbria, England
It was built by the Braithwaites family to act as an access crossing for their land, and as a store for the produce of their orchards. Since then it has served as a variety of workshops, a tea-room, counting house, and a family home.
Plas Newydd, Llangollen, Wales
The grounds of the home of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby reflects their passion for nature and ‘gothic fantasy’. From moving there in 1780, over the following 50 years they were to ‘welcome’ such worthies as The Duke of Wellington, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Scott, becoming well-known themselves as ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’.
11th + 18th + 20th Centuries
Devil’s Bridge, crossing Afon Mynach, Pontarfynach, Ceredigion, Wales
The Devil’s Bridge is three separate bridges, each consecutive one built above the previous, and was designated Grade 11 listed in 1964.
c. 1075 – 1200: original stone bridge
1753: the second stone structure, upgraded in 1777 and 1814
1901: an iron bridge was erected over the other two, and repaired and strengthened in 1971
The original name was Pont ar Vynach (Bridge over the Mynach) from the Welsh ‘Mynach’ for ‘monk’. The first recorded use of the English ‘Devil’s Bridge’ was in 1734.
Bridge 41W Llangollen Canal, Springhill, England
There was far more to the design, civil engineering, and construction of the Llangollen canal than a mere trough of water might suggest: not just cuttings and embankments, but tunnels, bridges, and one of the most iconic aqueducts in canal history. This evolution of transportation was designed by William Jessop and Thomas Telford, both of whom were innovative and revolutionary engineers.
Menai Bridge (Pont Grog y Borth in Welsh) crosses the Menai Strait, Wales
Conwy Bridge, crosses River Conwy estuary, Conwy, Wales
Both suspension bridges were designed by Thomas Telford to replace existing ferry services, and completed in 1826. The Menai Bridge linked the mainland and the island of Ynys Mon and was constructed of wrought iron and stone. The Conwy Suspension Bridge was built at the mediaeval walled town of Conwy and echoes the design of its Castle. When constructed it was a gateway to the town, with part of the castle stonework being demolished in order to anchor the bridge chains. Both bridges are Grade I listed structures.
19th – 20th Century
Footbridge crosses Afon Elan, Elan Valley, Powys, Wales
Sited just below the dam wall of the Caban Coch Reservoir, and either side of the footbridge, a pair of impressive stone buildings were constructed to house electricity-generating turbines, and the valves and sluices necessary for controlling the water flow.
20th / 11th Centuries
Wooden viewing walkways, Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk, England
The motte-and-bailey castle was constructed soon after 1066 for William de Warenne, and the massive earthworks are an impressive example of Norman defensive settlements.
20th / 14th Centuries
Entrance bridge, Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England
Moated castle, built circa 1380-85 by Sir Edward Dallingridge, who had fought (and made his fortune) in France from 1367; he was made a Knight after 1379, and Warden of London (1392).
20th Century / 2000
Millennium Footbridge, crossing The Thames, London, England
It is a steel suspension bridge, officially known as the London Millennium Footbridge, photographed from the South Bank, leading to St Paul’s Cathedral on the North side.
OK, so I’ve listed it as 20th Century. It appears to me that only myself and Scully (The X-Files) believe that the millennium began on 1st January 2001. Or perhaps the river gods were unimpressed and that’s why it required reconstruction due to the massive oscillation that threatened its integrity.
A common enough sight, but so pleasing to find when out on a woodland walk.
Concrete and metal. Mind the gap.
Bridges aren’t only useful as a crossing from A to B. Sometimes they are just the job when you need some respite from sun or rain. Or from the rest of the flock.
I hope you have enjoyed seeing my collection of bridges. Check out more at Dr B’s Blog. You won’t regret it. http://buddhawalksintoawinebar.blog/2021/02/15/challenge-your-camera-7-bridges/
Twenty-one bridges. Quite a variety, but all built for much the same purpose – to connect two places – albeit to help or hinder the approaching party.
Bridges are also a metaphor for making connections, reaching out: we speak of ‘building bridges’, ‘bridging the gap’, or being ‘a bridge over troubled waters’ (Simon & Garfunkel).
So whether you need to build them or burn them, know that you have the choice. Make the choice wisely. And be free. Stay safe.