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28/2/2012 - Conserved `Packhorse` bridge spans the centuries once again

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Restorers of an ancient North Pennines bridge battered by hundreds of years of snow and ice have won a top award for the sensitive way the project has been carried out.

The centuries-old bridge which spans the Ricker Gill Burn near Hartside, Cumbria was once used by drovers and packhorses transporting goods the length and breadth of England.

Now people will be able to follow the trail of the packhorses and use the bridge once again, thanks to a grant of over £70,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £25,000 from Cumbria County Council.  The project was completed under the AONB Partership’s Living North Pennines programme.

The bridge was commended by the judges of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Historic Bridge and Infrastucture Awards which it holds every year at its headquarters in Westminster. Ricker Gill was commended for the skill and care that were applied to the design and construction of the scheme.

Ricker Gill Bridge lies on one of the five routes that the AONB Partnership has  developed as part of its Living North Pennines Packhorse Trails project, and will also be used by the 10,000 or so people who complete the C2C long distance cycle route each year.

The conservation of the surviving fabric of the bridge was the prime concern for the project team. Addyman Archaeology conducted a full survey and recorded the structure before work started. The first step was to carefully remove the collapsed masonry and fill from the downstream side to allow the arch of the bridge to be extended to its full length once again.

Stonemason Austin Thistlethwaite and JCE Plant and Contracting carried out the whole process under the supervision of Simpson and Brown Architects and Blackett-Ord Conservation (consulting engineers). Paul Arckless of Blackett-Ord Conservation said: “When we first visited the site in 2009 the bridge was in a very vulnerable state. The whole of the downstream side of the bridge had collapsed into Ricker Gill. We prepared a design to complement the standing upstream side which would involve rebuilding the collapsed half of the bridge using traditional materials, stone and lime mortar, and traditional skills.”  
 
Once the collapsed masonry was removed and a solid base created, the arch extension was put in place, and work could begin in earnest.  More than 75 per cent of the stone used to re-create the structure was reclaimed from the river where it had fallen from the original bridge.
 
Taking up the challenge of Ricker Gill bridge’s reconstruction were stonemason Austin Thistlethwaite and engineering firm JCE Plant and Contracting. Austin said: “It was a difficult job, particularly as most of the stone had fallen into the stream and had to be recovered piece by piece.”

Spokesman for JCE, Alistair Jackson said: “The bridge crosses a deep ravine and is located at over 400 metres above sea level, in open moorland, almost a mile from the nearest road. From a civil engineering point of view, the bridge’s isolation, the localised environment and the vastly fluctuating water levels - due to the large but relatively shallow catchment area - made the contract extremely interesting. It was also these elements that gave the project its uniqeness and charm.” 

Jon Charlton, the AONB Partnership’s Project Manager said: “We are tremendously proud of how well the restoration of the Ricker Gill Bridge turned out.  To be able to put this historic bridge back on the map and to bring it into use once again is a real achievement. Without our input and that of our partners Cumbria County Council, this historic crossing point would have been lost forever.”

Cllr Tony Markley, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for highways and rights of way, said: “The restoration of Ricker Gill bridge was a true partnership effort and I’m delighted that the work has been recognised on a national level for the sensitive way the bridge was given a new lease of life.”

For more information please contact Jon Charlton at the AONB Staff Unit on 01388 528801 (jcharlton@northpenninesaonb.org.uk). Visit the Publications sections at www.northpennines.org.ukthis external link will open in a new window  if you would like to buy a copy of the Packhorse Trails guide for horse riders and mountain bikers.