Living in a landscape of rivers and old railways means we have lots of bridges in our area. Here are some of my favourite bridge pictures that I’ve previously featured on my blog – from Tyneside icons to forgotten relics – for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.
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.
The landscape of North East England is rich in relics from past eras. The images I have chosen to share for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge range from relics of the Romans and the Normans to reminders of the English Civil War and the wonders of Victorian engineering.
The bridges you can see in the image above are both ‘relics’ that were designed by giants of Victorian industry on Tyneside. I talked a little about these men in my previous post. Despite being relics of a bygone age, these two bridges remain in daily use. The Swing Bridge doesn’t swing open as often as it once did for ships to pass through but the roadway across it is still a popular route across the Tyne. After being closed for three years (2005-2008) for restoration work, the High Level is less used than it once was. The roadway on the lower deck of the High Level Bridge now only carries public transport but the two-track railway on the upper deck remains in regular use.
The site of the Swing Bridge also very closely marks the line of older Tyne crossings including the Roman bridge. Pons Aelius was named after the Emperor Hadrian whose wall marking the northern frontier of the vast Roman Empire originally started at this bridge before it was decided to extend the Wall along the north bank of the River Tyne to Wallsend.
The Castle Keep, founded by Henry II in 1168, is regarded as one of the finest remaining examples of a Norman Keep in Britain. Standing on a useful defensive position above the river, the Castle Keep also stands on the site of previous Roman fortifications. The first Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall was located here. Underneath the stone-built railway arches immediately below the Castle Keep, you can still find some of the Roman foundations marked out.
To the west of the city centre you can visit the remains of the Newcastle’s town walls. These historical relics are known as The West Walls. The town walls are first mentioned in a charter given by King John in 1216, though it is believed that Newcastle was walled from the same time that Robert Curthose built his motte and bailey on the site of the Castle Keep (around the end of the 11th century). Newcastle’s wall’s were renowned for their strength. The nineteeth century historian, Eneas Mackenzie, tells us, “These famed walls were twelve feet high, eight feet thick, and strengthened by a wide fosse.” As Newcastle was on the ‘frontier’ between England and Scotland, strong walls were needed in those days of frequent border warfare!
This extended arrow slit detail from the Heber Tower shown in the image above is another relic of Newcastle’s battle-scarred past. During the English Civil Wars, Newcastle was beseiged for a good part of the year 1644. The Royalists of Newcastle, fighting from the town walls, had evidently adapted the original arrow slit to allow their musket barrels to fit through.
Moving from town to country, but staying on the banks of the Tyne – this Roman relic is the bathhouse at Chesters Roman Fort and is regarded as one of the best preserved Roman bathhouses in Britain. Chesters is one of the Hadrian’s Wall forts and lies about five miles north of the town of Hexham on the picturesque North Tyne river. Hadrian’s Wall runs along the ridge. Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage Site and the adjacent Hadrian’s Wall Path is a National Trail that runs the 73 miles from Wallsend in the east to Bowness on Solway on England’s west coast.