The following article appeared on the Caught by the River website on 21st July 2016. It was subsequently re-published, with slightly amended wording, in the January 2017 edition of Dalesman magazine.
“Is this the Hebden Bridge?” visitors invariably ask when you show them the 16th-century packhorse bridge spanning Hebden Water in the centre of town. Well, yes it is. And a lovely bridge it is too, with its three wide gritstone arches and steep cobbled walkway. It’s a bridge that would grace any town. I’m glad it graces ours.
Like many people, I’ve visited my share of famous bridges over the years: Menai, Clifton, Forth, Tower, Ribblehead Viaduct, Dublin’s Penny Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Ponte Vecchio, the Bridge of Sighs. But, architectural icons aside, we tend to take bridges for granted, speeding across them in our cars and trains, often oblivious to their very existence—as I soon discovered, when I decided to photograph some of the other bridges in our area: Hebden’s non-eponymous bridges, so to speak.
For my project, I set myself the task of photographing all of the bridges in the Hebden Bridge ‘catchment area’. I defined the limits of this area as the railway viaduct to the west of town, and the bridge over the River Calder at Walkley’s Mill to the east. Any river-, road-, rail-, canal-, or foot-bridge in the valley bottom between these two points was fair game, as was any bridge on any water-course, track or thoroughfare that descended into the valley between the two points. Initially, I didn’t stop to consider all the bridges associated with the many local reservoirs, but added a few of these to my project as representative samples. In all, I identified over 100 bridges in my arbitrary catchment area: far more than I had imagined.
With hindsight, what I enjoyed most about my project was getting to visit hidden corners of the upper Calder Valley that I’d never been aware of before. These new locations provided some of my favourite photographs from the project. But I also got to re-visit old haunts, exploring them in more detail with fresh eyes. Here are some notes about a few of my favourite bridges from the project:
Aqueduct bridge, Middle Dean
I’d wanted to visit this bridge for some time because of its subterranean link with the three air-shafts on my beloved Moor—and for its extremely tenuous connection with my hero Charles Darwin (see my forthcoming book, On the Moor, for more details).
An underground aqueduct carries water to Halifax from Widdop and other local reservoirs. Its route crosses a steep valley at Middle Dean. Rather than trying to dig a tunnel beneath the beck running along the bottom of the valley, the engineers built an bridge across the beck and ran the aqueduct through the bridge. The aqueduct bridge is hidden deep in a secluded section of Middle Dean. It took me two fly-bitten, thistle-pricked expeditions to track it down.
Strines Bridge, Colden
Without doubt, this is the narrowest and steepest packhorse bridge I’ve ever crossed. You’d struggle to stand two-abreast on it. The bridge’s almost non-existent parapet is most disconcerting. It struck me as the sort of bridge on which a gruff billy-goat might encounter a troll, or a wizard might fend off a balrog.
Packhorse bridge, Lumb Falls
A famous local beauty-spot, immortalised in verse by the late Poet Laureate and local lad, Ted Hughes. I trekked several miles with a heavy rucksack and tripod to photograph this bridge, only to find the pool beneath it filled with dozens of swimming school kids. I could see the Hebden Bridge Times headlines right away: MIDDLE-AGED MAN SEEN PHOTOGRAPHING BATHING CHILDREN. I decided to come back another day.
Road bridge over Hebden Water, Blake Dean
Another popular local beauty spot. This bridge is more accessible than most. When the river is low, it’s even possible to stand beneath the bridge without getting your feet wet.
Station Road bridge, Hebden Bridge
Anyone who’s visited Hebden Bridge’s wonderful, old-fashioned railway station will have crossed this bridge, no doubt enjoying the picturesque view of the River Calder far below. But, like me until I clambered down the steep river bank in search of a more photogenic angle, most people who use the bridge probably have no idea how elegant it is, with its two wide stone arches. A gem hidden in plain sight.
Footbridge over Hebden Water, Hardcastle Crags
There are a number of footbridges in the National Trust’s woods at Hardcastle Crags, but I was particularly pleased with this photograph’s early-autumn tints. The bridge was swept away in the 2015 Boxing Day floods that caused so much damage in the Calder Valley.
Clapper Bridge, Hebble Hole
This bridge is constructed from huge stone slabs supported by stone piers. It allows walkers on the Pennine Way to cross Colden Water without getting their feet any wetter. Standing stones at one end of the bridge prevent the local livestock from availing themselves of its facilities.
Spillway bridge, Walshaw Dean Middle Reservoir
Not as picturesque as many of the other bridges in the area, perhaps, but I enjoyed this bridge’s graphic qualities in the strong sunlight. I spent an afternoon exploring the Walshaw Dean reservoirs without encountering a single other person.
Bridge 18, Rochdale Canal
Like a number of bridges on the canal, beneath its arch Bridge 18 shows clear signs of having been widened to accommodate modern traffic. It was just down the canal from here that Sgt. Catherine Cawood had her final showdown with the evil Tommy Lee Royce in series one of Happy Valley.
Packhorse bridge, Nutclough Wood
The nearest bridge to my home. I’d lived in the area for many years before I finally ‘discovered’ it. Now it forms part of my favourite walk down into Hebden Bridge.
“…wonderful. Science and history and geography and evolution and culture all tangled up in musings while walking about the moors around Hebden Bridge.”—PZ Myers
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