The Ancient Crossings

It’s the beginning of a new A to Z blogging challenge and my ninth year of participating. This year will also honour the late Jeremy Hawkins who designed the graphic art used by participating bloggers all round the world.

Each day throughout April I will be posting on my theme: the history of British bridges. Today I’m starting with A for Ancient. The oldest kinds of bridges.

In Somerset there is an ancient causeway across The Levels – a wetland area – that is believed to be dated around 3838 BCE. Made of timber, it would have been a track of boards, allowing Neolithic walkers to move across the land. Eventually, these logs would have been elevated to be bridges and boardwalks. The Ancient Romans were considered be the bridge builders (aqueducts too) of antiquity, and there are traces of these ancient bridges in the UK. Something to revisit in a later post.

Most durable bridges in the UK were built post 1750s, when roads widened, and railways and canals criss-crossed the landscape. Before then, the simple of act of crossing a river relied on ferries and more primitive means, like fords or stepping stones, like these in Derbyshire.

Dovedale

The oldest surviving bridge in England is considered to be the Tarr Steps in Exmoor National Park. The slabs of stone cross the River Barle and it’s actual date of construction is not known, but is likely to be in the Middle Ages. It is a type of bridge known as Clapper, from the Medieval latin, claperius, meaning a “pile of stones” or maybe Anglo-Saxon word Cleaca, meaning “bridging the stepping stones”. Tarr Steps is the largest of its kind with its seventeen spans, one to two ton slabs, of which the largest is 2.4m long.

Tarr Steps

Clapper bridges are found across the west country, parts of Wales and the north of England. There is another ancient clapper bridge at Postbridge in Dartmoor, which is believed to be 13th Century and for the use of pack horses.

Postbridge

Packhorse bridges were designed to allow horses carrying paniers or sidebags to cross. The parapets are low, so they don’t knock the panniers, or without side walls altogether. Packhorse routes were found across Europe until the arrival of turnpikes and canals. Traditionally, packhorse bridges are narrow, built prior to the 19th century, and on one of these trade routes. Carrbridge packhorse bridge is the oldest surviving stone bridge in the Scottish Highlands, and built in 1717, although badly damaged in the 19th Century by the great flood of 1829.

Carrbridge

There are dozens of these packhorse bridges up and down the British Isles, typically one arched, stone, and narrow, just the width of a single cart.

Keep your fingers crossed these ancient clapper and pack horse bridges don’t get washed away in flood waters. They are gradually disappearing from our heritage.

32 comments

  1. Enjoyed this, very interesting. Makes me want to travel to England again.

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    1. Thank you. I hope you get the chance to visit one day.

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  2. Being a Brit far from home it’s lovely to read about a special part of our history.
    I love some of the ancient bridges in the Peak District and The Lakes

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    1. The Lakes and Peak District are beautiful. I wish I could visit the more often.

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  3. What a fascinating post. I was looking forward to seeing what you did with this theme and I love it already. I had never heard of clapper bridges before. And while I think I may have hard of packhorse bridges, I had no idea what they looked like. They look quite perilous to me!

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    1. I’d never heard of clapper bridges before and I don’t think I would like to cross a bridge without side walls either!

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  4. A great start to the month. There was a Clapper Bridge beside my Sussex village pub, The Brewer’s Arms. The locals always called the pub The Clappers!

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    1. I think I prefer the The Clappers to Brewer’s Arms!

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  5. joyweesemoll · · Reply

    Those ancient bridges are so picturesque. I didn’t know any of this history. Thank you!

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    1. They do look lovely in the right setting.

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  6. Bridgina Molloy the Wicked Writer, (aka abydos6) · · Reply

    Loved this post and the images of bridges.

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    1. Thank you. I hope you stop by for more bridges.

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  7. Fascinating. I did not know so many ancient bridges had survived.

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    1. The stone ones stand a good chance of surviving, the ancient wooden ones are long gone.

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  8. This is beautiful but also scary, not sure I’d feel comfortable to cross this in a carriage 🙂

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    1. I don’t think I would want to either – not in a carriage!

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  9. Fascinating! I’ve never heard of clapper bridges, and I thank you for showing photographs. I have another thing to hope to see someday. Happy A to Z!

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    1. I had not heard of clapper bridges either, but now I would like to see one too.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Arlee Bird · · Reply

    Wow! Interesting look at some old bridges. We certainly don’t have any bridges that old in the U.S. But thank goodness we have bridges. It would be a real hassle getting around without them.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out Battle of the Bands

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    1. Old bridges are often hidden away these days as most highways were built long after with modern bridges.

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  11. G’day Rae,
    I had never seen any of the ancient bridges in the UK. Are they still used as foot bridges now or are many unstable? Does the National Trust or similar look after some of them?

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    1. Many are listed buildings, so come under protection.

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  12. So interesting and wonderful photos. Would love to see one in real life.

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    1. It might be fun crossing the Tarr Steps, looks very beautiful there.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I love Exmoor – we used to holiday down in Minehead every year when I was a teenager. I have never been to Tarr Steps, however, I feel this was a great oversight. My parents were more the type to take us traipsing off into the middle of nowhere rather than risk *gasp* tourists 🤣. I think we may have missed out on some of the more famous sights because of it.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings: YouTube – What They Don’t Tell You (and free fiction)

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    1. I’ve been to Dartmoor, not Exmoor, so missed the opportunity to see them too.

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  14. I’ve never heard of these bridges before… love learning new history. Love seeing the photos of them… hope they never wash away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So do I. I’d like to visit them.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Those ancient crossings are amazing!
    A is for Anthropophagus

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  16. Damyanti Biswas · · Reply

    Thank You for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. debscarey · · Reply

    I love bridges, so I’m glad I finally discovered you on the spreadsheet. Lots to catch up on so I’ll just say thank you for the lovely photos and the history.

    Debs visiting this year from
    Making Yourself Relationship Ready

    Liked by 1 person

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