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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Bikers' Devil's Bridge

Bikers, Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria
Bikers love this place.  And when I say ‘bikers’, I’m not talking Lycra, shades and Shimano; I mean brake horsepower and leather.

Bikers - also known as ‘riders’ and, sometimes, ‘motorcyclists’ - are normally solitary organisms during weekdays.  Some even lead secret lives as car drivers from Monday to Friday, keeping their fairings polished and ready for action, but well-hidden under tarpaulins.  At weekends, though, they come out; and then they group together in packs, a type of social unit.  Bikers have been known to mate for life and it’s not unusual to see a pair ride together - we think once the young have left the garage.  Female bikers are usually slightly smaller than males, but otherwise they look pretty much the same.

So at weekends, on highways and bye-ways across the land, small vrumvrums* of bikers form up together and converge on sacred meeting places.  Once there, ritual intercourse takes place, often involving hundreds of individual bikers.  Scientists have been unable to work out how they do this, but believe it is based on a primitive form of communication known as ‘making an arrangement’.  However, the pack will also follow a dominant alpha male.  Bikers’ sensory powers are thought (especially by bikers themselves) to be scarily acute, though only the most mature are able to cooperate fully with other species sharing the same habitat.  You will also spot riders who, like White Van Drivers, are seemingly exempt from the same laws that govern most creatures of the road; what a treat that can be.

Devil's Bridge, Stanley Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, visit Cumbria
The Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria is a well-known rallying point for biker tribes from across the north of England, and even further afield.  And a wondrous, colourful, throbbing, sight they are on a peaceful Sunday.  Bikers are particularly attracted to testosterone, burgers, tea and coffee, all of which are amply available here; but what makes this site especially alluring is the local bye-law that says only bikes can park at the bridge on Sundays and Bank Holidays.  So there they are, happily comparing notes on brake horsepower, leather, torque, sprockets, pensions etc.  And leather; did I mention leather?

I don’t know how many Devil’s Bridges there are in the UK – or even the world – probably several; there is certainly a famous one near Aberystwyth.  The one at Kirkby is a fine medieval bridge with three arches spanning the River Lune and the dramatic rocks below.  It has been variously and confusingly declared to be 12th, 13th, and 14th century; however, English Heritage (and they should know) say the existing structure dates from the 15th or early 16th century – which is old enough, for a bridge.  There are records showing that a bridge was repaired here in 1365, though, and it is logical to assume that there would have been a crossing point over the Lune somewhere in the vicinity of Kirkby Lonsdale from early medieval times.  It is generally claimed the bridge was constructed by St Mary’s Abbey in York, but I also saw an article which said that monks from Furness Abbey built it.  Perhaps they both did, a joint venture, maybe to assist with the transport of wool.  In any event, being judged too narrow for modern use (it is about 12’ wide – roughly 3.5 metres - barely enough room for a Harley Davidson), it was replaced with a nice new bridge in 1932.  The new bridge is called Stanley – a fine name for a bridge.  Stanley Bridge now takes the traffic along the A65 between Kendal and Skipton, by-passing the old bridge just to the south, and by my reckoning is due for replacement sometime in the 24th century.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, things to do in Cumbria
The old bridge is a popular attraction and there are some pleasant walks nearby, including a short stroll around the attractive town of Kirkby Lonsdale.  In summer, you’ll find people swimming in the river, and sometimes even scuba-diving.  Unfortunately, the bridge has also been used for ‘tombstoning’ – jumping off the bridge into the deep waters about 40 feet below, which can be, and has been, fatal.

Now you want to know why it’s called the Devil’s Bridge, don’t you?  Are you sitting comfortably?  There once was an old woman who owned a cow.  The cow saw some nice, fresh grass on the other side of the river and, the water being shallow, wandered over to eat it all up.  Later, the old woman came searching for her cow.  By this time it had rained and she was unable to cross the foaming, treacherous, torrent.  Quick as you like, the Devil appeared and generously offered to build the old woman a bridge; all he asked in return was to possess the soul of the first living being to cross it.  A small price, surely?  The old woman agreed and the bridge was duly built.  On completion, our canny heroine brought along her pet dog and threw a tasty canine-morsel across the bridge.  Fido promptly trotted over to gulp up the snack, to the fury of the Devil.  Apparently, dogs don’t have souls.  Is that true?  It must be – unless the story is complete fabrication.  I still don’t understand why the Devil, who I hitherto imagined to be fairly powerful and resourceful, didn’t just knock the bridge down when he failed to get what he wanted.  Perhaps he can give, but is unable to take away.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, bit about Britain
Incidentally, there are various bits of masonry scattered about that the Lord of the Underworld dropped during this construction project, including the Great Stone of Fourstones.  It’s interesting that our superstitious ancestors often attributed the existence of structures or objects they did not understand to the Devil, rather to God or some other more amenable deity.


Your answers to this puzzle, please.  * And also - what is the collective noun for a group of bikers? A triumph, perhaps?




Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, between Skipton and Kendal, A65

34 comments:

  1. Have you seen how much bikes cost these days? And the insurance? It's no wonder that most of the bikers are, shall we say, in the second flush of youth.
    God's Bridge is on the Pennine Way near Bowes by the way.

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    1. And don't forget the cost of leather. Glad to know where God's Bridge is!

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  2. It is a lovely place. I can see why they and anyone else would be attracted to it. What a beautiful bridge that is too!

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  3. Rather too graceful a bridge to be the devil's work, if you ask me. :-)

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  4. I was there last September and it and the town are wonderful. We didn't go on a Sunday so had no idea that it was a bikers haunt!

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  5. What a fun post! I'm certain you're right about a group of bikers being called a Triumph. No idea why people attribute so much power to the devil. After all, he was defeated. I love the charming bridges in England. I'd prefer a day when the bikers are incognito, back in their London apartments.

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  6. Now I can't get Steve McQueen out of my mind... Lol

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  7. I've never heard of The Devil's Bridge but it's beautiful and I'd like to paint it one day.

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  8. Perhaps a phalanx of bikers - although, unfortunately, it's not the derivative I'd hoped for. Our American bikers wouldn't be caught in their leathers drinking tea!

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    1. I'm sure British bikers drink something else when they're not riding!

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  9. what a beautiful bridge to cross. I live in a remote, rural area and we have our fair share of bikers taking in the scenery.

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  10. Quite a story and quite a name! It's a beautiful bridge. It's been years since I last rode, but I loved it.

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  11. I am so happy to have found this blog - I'll probably never get to England, but this is most informative and interesting!

    I suppose that people felt they knew God's ways pretty well, so when something unexpected appeared, they figured it was someone else's work.
    Google tells me that a "rumble" of bikers has been suggested by some.

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    1. Thank you Lisa - that's lovely; but make the trip sometime! I'm not sure about 'rumble' - some of these bikes emit a kind of high pitched whine!

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  12. Beautiful bridge and interesting story!

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  13. I enjoyed reading your story Mike. We consider visiting the Lake District next summer. The bridge will be on our 'to do list'.

    Madelief

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    1. If you visit Kirkby Lonsdale - which is a fine little town about an hour's drive from the Lake District - it's definitely worth taking in the bridge as part of a walk round the town.

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  14. There's something pretty special about seeing a group of bikers riding together (although I'm not sure the Harley riders would appreciate being called a Triumph). We see them at West Bay in Dorset on a Sunday eating burgers and drinking tea and this Saturday they opened the carnival here in Taunton.

    The Devils bridge is stunning, I love that fact that, like so many parts of Britain, it has a story to go with it. It reminds me of the story of Tarr Steps that the devil was said to have built for a bet and claimed the sunbathing rights to.

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    1. Yes, the Devil certainly gets about - there's a bit about the Tarr Steps here http://bitaboutbritain.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/tarr-steps.html

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  15. We were taking a ride in the Shenandoah's a few days ago,a glorious day and the bikers were out in full force. Another great post Mike, for reading and for looking at all these wonderful photographs.

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  16. You're such a wonderful anthropologist.

    I think of them as a gaggle. Just me.

    I was out with my own biker mate this past Sunday. Had a wonderful ride through the hills north of Tampa.

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  17. So don't tell me you never hankered after a Bike. I used to have one till my wife said I could not have another, our first born was on the way & I was needed around. Nice story though I thing there are a few like that about.

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  18. It's a wonderful spot, with or without the bikes. Someone told me the walk from the bridge up to the church is worth doing too.

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    1. Yes - the church is lovely and, beyond that, 'Ruskin's View' over the Lune Valley. Kirkby Lonsdale is a fine little town

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  19. beautiful place, and wow, what a story behind the bridge...i like to think dogs have souls :)

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  20. Nice posting.
    I really like stone bridges in the UK.
    Not a thing we have much of here in Norway.

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    1. Ah - that may be, but we don't have any trolls (apart from on the internet).

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  21. A very interesting bridge with our without the bikers. I love the accompanying folklore.

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  22. Some things get better with age. Not just the bridge, but bikers... they used to seem intimidating, but now they're old and pudgy!

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  23. You are hilarious! I think it may be a PELOTON of throbbing bikers Mike :) and by the way that bridge looks so much more like George than a Stanley!

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  24. Ah, bikers. Groups of bikers. They are all over our roads on good weather days traveling to small towns in groups of 3 to 15 and gathering for fun, food and fellowship at the agreed meeting spot. They like the less busy back roads, like ours and others in our fair land. :) No special term for the 'groups' here that I know of. The story of the bridge's name is quite the tale. Folklore is so interesting.

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  25. I liked your description of bikers! This looks like a fine bridge. I've not been to this one, though I've been to the one in Aberystwyth a couple of times. Matlock Bath is the place I know where all the bikers congregate!

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  26. I was once taken there by an acquaintance at the time local to the area, it was midweek so we missed the bikers. Bikers seem to love the scenic routes with road bends and hills, it's an industry building up businesses to appease them :-) ... e.g. Hartside Height cafe A686 !

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.