Bridge The Gaps
Derbyshire Life|October 2020
Helen Moat explores ten of our county’s most famous arch structures
Helen Moat

Bridges are everywhere, from the single stones spanning burbling brooks, to the elaborate structures that cross Derbyshire’s rivers and deep-cut dales. At their most simple, clapper bridges were constructed from a hewn slab of limestone. We barely notice them when walking the Peak District countryside, yet these simple stones allow us to effortlessly negotiate the county’s watery obstacles.

More sophisticated, but still pleasingly uncomplicated, the packhorse bridge is an iconic landmark in our dales and moorlands. These ancient constructions provided passage over Derbyshire’s waterways along packhorse trails. Just wide enough for a horse, with low stone walls to accommodate their bulging panniers, the arched bridges enabled the transportation of valued commodities such as salt, grain and coal.

As pack horses were replaced with horses and carts, then canal boats, freight trains and lorries, increasingly sophisticated bridge designs reflected the development of transportation. The Victorians proved themselves to be engineers extraordinaire. Nowhere is this more evident than at New Mills, where imposing bridge constructions demand our attention and admiration.

Derbyshire is filled with eye-catching bridges, historic and modern, experimental and indulgent – from the Italianate splendour of Chatsworth Bridge to the state-of-the-art Millennium Walkway at New Mills. But our bridges are not just fascinating monuments charting the history of architecture and engineering – they also have wonderful stories to tell.

THE CLAPPER BRIDGE IN ROWLOW DALE

A backwater dale, a trickle of brook, a single slab of stone, bridges don’t come more modest than the little clapper bridge crossing Rowlow Brook, off Bradford Dale near Youlgreave. Look more closely, however, and you’ll find the stirring words of Alexander Pope inscribed on the stone: ‘Here the Genius of the Place in all; that tells the waters to rise or fall’. This is an atmospheric place, where the simple limestone structure is at one with the landscape, yet serves a practical purpose.

THE VIATOR’S BRIDGE AT MILLDALE

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