Barden Bridge: The 17th Century Yorkshire bridge rarely used by cars - but very popular with walkers

Perhaps the least-used river crossing for vehicles in Wharfedale, the current structure dates back to 1659 but there are records of another bridge being there as early as the 1300s.

It carries a unclassified and twisting back lane which runs north-eastwards from the B6160 road between Bolton Abbey and Burnsall, and leads to the hamlet of Howgill and village of Appletreewick.

Its history is inextricably linked to the venerable ruin of Barden Tower on the hillside above the River Wharfe.

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The tower was built as a hunting lodge by the Clifford family, who for four centuries were the lords of Craven and Skipton.

Barden Bridge in WharfedaleBarden Bridge in Wharfedale
Barden Bridge in Wharfedale

Henry, 10th Lord Clifford, preferred to live at Barden rather than Skipton Castle, having been taught to read and write by the canons of Bolton Priory a few miles downstream.

The tower was badly damaged in the Civil War after the Cliffords supported the Royalists, and in 1658 the charismatic Lady Anne Clifford began restoration work.

The following year she replaced what is thought to have been a timber bridge with a stone structure at the cost of £300.

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However, in 1673 the relatively new bridge was swept away when prolonged rain caused a massive flood surge in the River Wharfe.

An inscription on the north side of today’s structure reads: “This bridge was repayred at the charge of the West riding 1676”. To protect it against future floods, the replacement included triangular cutwaters at the foot of the pillars.

These also provided spaces which would later be used as retreats for pedestrians when crossing the narrow bridge at the same time as vehicles. Major repairs followed further flood damage in 1956.

Walkers use Barden Bridge as part of a popular eight-mile circular route along the Wharfe from Bolton Bridge beside the A59 Harrogate-Skipton road.

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