The opening of a new bridge – claimed to be the first of its kind – brings to an end a three year project to re-establish missing routes in the picturesque Esk Valley.
The bridge spans the Murk Esk, a tributary of the river Esk in the North York Moors National Park (NYMNP).
The bridge is the final element of the Missing Links Project, which has created and improved six bridleways that all connect with public transport, and has been made possible thanks to funding from the Department for Transport’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF).
The project was carried out for the North York Moors National Park Authority, in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council and is part of a wider scheme to boost sustainable tourism in Whitby and the Esk Valley.
The new bridge was designed by award-winning Engineer Dr Geoff Freedman of Geoff Freedman Rural Bridges (GFRB), who was also the Tenderer, Engineer and Planning Supervisor for the works.
The bridge sits on the historic repaired abutments of a former tramway bridge which was built in the 1830s to transport whinstone from the mines near Green End to the Whitby and Pickering Railway. The mine closed in the 1930s and the bridge was lost following the severe floods that diverted the course of the Murk Esk.
The only way across the new course of the river involved a steep climb up from the riverbank. Thanks to cooperation from landowners, the bridleway has been diverted and the new bridge installed at the site of a former tramway bridge, providing a safe river crossing once again.
Access to the site was severely restricted, so a crane could not be used and it was not possible to deliver a constructed bridge to the site.
It was therefore necessary to design a bridge that could be built on the river bank and winched into position. There were many archaeological remains at the site and these had to remain undisturbed during construction.
The bridge abutments were built from very large formed masonry blocks – which were too big to manhandle. The abutments are a listed, designated structure and any repairs had to pass the scrutiny of the planners. In addition, many stones had become dislodged and needed to be reinstated.
Geoff Freedman commented: “The bridge is a ‘glue and screw stress laminated timber arch’. This form of construction allows the use of short lengths/small cross sections of timber to build long span bridges.
“It utilises the timber in bending and compression. The arch shape reduces deflection which in turn increases Fundamental Natural Frequency, which makes the bridge feel solid for horses.
“This design is mine, is unique and has not been used by anyone else in the world, to my knowledge.”
Stephen Pickering, a local contractor, built the abutments and removed the original mid span pier, which was used to fill the bed scour which many years of river diversion had caused. Terra Firma from Lancashire built the bridge. The greatest challenge during construction was the launch and avoiding the archaeological features.
“Both contractors did a good job under difficult circumstances. There had to be some design changes during construction and the timescale and budget were tight,” said Geoff Freedman.
The bridge was officially opened by Lady Elizabeth Kirk, a founder and trustee of the Byways and Bridleway Trust and a former Countryside Commissioner and NYMNP member. She, along with fellow horse riders Bill Tait and Susan Bell, were among the first to cross the new bridge.
Lady Kirk said: “Now we have reached the climax of an 80 year-long saga. Sometime in the 1930’s, when I was a little schoolgirl learning to ride, there was a bridge here, carrying the tramway from quarries up the other side. Getting this new bridge in place was not a simple operation and many hands were involved; I am sure I speak for all the national and local user groups in giving our heartfelt thanks for this splendid, necessary and beautiful achievement.”
Geoff Freedman concluded: “At the official opening the design received many compliments. I always take care of the genius loci of a site by considering the scale and harmonising with the environment in terms of materials and colour.
“Paying attention to these factors is the key to an aesthetic appeal. Lady Kirk attended the opening of my bridge at Far Moor and pressed the National Park to appoint me to build Murk Esk which had been waiting for 80 years.”