Dereliction is often magnified when the thing that is left to abandonment was at one time very busy. When we imagine the people using that thing we sense an atmosphere. Standing on this disused bridge, with three feet and legs of its wonderful structure in the Wye you can really sense the comings and goings of a time long gone. The old main road to Bakewell and the Peaks from Rowsley and the Matlocks spans a riffle shallow in the river, showing this site was chosen as a one-time fording place, very likely to have been called Fillyford.
By standing on Fillyford Bridge, nearly 100 years into its retirement, and looking back to its modern replacement, the cars and lorries shoot through at over 1 000 vehicles an hour. The only burden on Fillyfords’ back now is a nightly trot of a fox and perhaps a snuffling badger; the perfect retirement. That track across her back is enough to carry a wide cart but crucially not two cars. The new A6 bridge is straight, efficient and boring. Fillyford is jaunty, interesting and one part of a once meandering road that followed the contours of the valley in a polite way not ploughed through in a direct line on the back of compulsory purchase orders.
The attrition of nature is in evidence here. We visit every year with our saws to cut down the self set trees, whose roots would pry apart the dressed stones and with waders to give free passage for the winter floods beneath the bridges’ underparts. It is while we are pushing and pulling the pile up of summer flotsam that Jan notices a hole above his head that screams ‘dippers’, perfectly positioned for the commute up and down the river for a bird that is so indicative of the Wye. On further inspection another is found; one family under each arch, semi-detached. A crack in the corner of some stone work reveals a mossy nest, recently the home of a summer Grey Wagtail brood. To compare, I wade under the new bridge with the drone of tyres above my head. The smooth, cut pointed underbelly of the modern single span alternative has no such homes, nor any ability for things ever to nest there, its armour is impenetrable and without cracks.
Back upon the parapet we watch the first flock of Redwings enter the valley, being blown around by a northerly wind that is the herald of another winter. We have work to do so we don’t dally too long. The wind rustles the leaves in the avenue of beech trees, that line the old road, as we leave this place for another year, probably for it to have no other human presence in that time. Keeping this bridge safe isn’t part of our remit, it just feels the right thing to do. One day long ago people must have leant over the bridge and talked together of revolution, in industry and France, the price of lead hewn from under the hills here abouts and a lady called Victoria who had just become Queen.