Clues to an industrial history criss-cross our now-green-and-peaceful landscape in the form of old railways and waggonways. These old transport tracks now serve as walking and cycling trails by which we are able to explore a significant amount of the north east region and also further afield. Throughout much of the nineteeth century railways and waggonways abounded in our region, particularly to enable the transportation of coal. Many bridges were built either to carry the tracks across the steep-sided streams that are a major feature of our valley, or to allow established roadways to cross the newly-built railways. Some of these bridges were lost during the later decades of last century when rural railways were abandoned on a huge scale here in the UK, but fortunately many bridges survived and now form historical features of the walking and cycling trails.
Thinking about black and white for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week led me to remember and seek out images of some of these bridges I had collected a few years ago for another project.
The bridge in this first image carries the old road over what was the mineral railway line that carried coal from our village ‘pits’ down to the River Tyne. We often walk this way so we have seen it in all weathers. I think the snow seems to add something to the ‘by-gone era’ feeling of this Victorian stone-built bridge.
Only a short distance away on this same old railway there is another stone bridge, built in a similar style to the first. This one carried the single-track railway over a farm track that provided access to the fields and woods beyond. Now the bridge arch is largely filled with earth underneath, as on this stretch the old railway forms the boundary to a golf course. Unlike the first bridge which stands as a well-known landmark and proud historical reminder, this one is almost hidden away and overgrown.
It’s not a railway bridge, I know, but it is a nineteeth century construction and it was built to aid travelling, so I decided to include it in this post. There are several of these arched stone-built or brick-built culverts dotted around our woods. As with this one, the culverts were used to carry the streams underneath paths and tracks. Earth would have been embanked on top of the culvert to help level out the path as it passed over the steep-sided stream, making it easier to walk, ride a horse or transport goods by cart through this part of the wood.
Another Victorian railway line and another Victorian bridge. This lop-sided bridge still carries a farm road over the Derwent Walk Railway Path. No, it isn’t your eyes, or my dodgy photography [not this time!] … the bridge does slope downhill from left to right. This railway through the picturesque Derwent Valley formed the Consett branch line of the North Eastern Railway. Opened in 1867, it was a busy railway linking Consett to Newcastle, carrying passengers and goods. There are no rails on this track any longer but it remains busy as part of the C2C route of the Sustrans National Cycle Network – the C2C literally crosses the UK from coast to coast, east to west … or west to east depending on which direction you choose to cycle!
I’ve saved the biggest bridge until last! The Nine Arches Viaduct is one of those marvels of Victorian engineering at 500 feet long and rising 80 feet above the River Derwent. One of four viaducts along the Derwent Walk Railway Path, the impressive Nine Arches Viaduct only came to be built because the Earl of Strathmore refused to allow the railway to cross his land at Gibside on the south side of the valley. Looking underneath the arches of the viaduct, you can see where a ‘second’ bridge has been added to allow a second track to be laid along the route. There are some marvelous views to be had from this vantage point – perhaps I can show you another day.
J Peggy Taylor