26 August 2014

Cumbria Bridges: 12. Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

This is one of several bridges I visited back in May, all around the border between Cumbria and Lancashire, and all of which span over the River Lune.

"It is by far the finest bridge in the north of England", wrote Edwyn Jervoise in 1931. Like the similarly ancient Twizel Bridge (in Northumberland), it is a ribbed arch, a type I always find visually attractive. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and a very handsome structure.

The bridge dates to the 13th or 14th century, and as with many other structures around Europe, it was reputed to have been built by the Devil. An old woman made a deal with the Devil for him to build the bridge in return for the first soul to cross over. She then tricked him by throwing bread across the bridge so that her dog ran over it first. The story is recounted in more detail in George Bernard Wood's book, Bridges in Britain.

There are many variants on this tale for the many so-called Devil's Bridges, suggesting that the poor fellow struggled to learn any lessons from being repeatedly tricked.

Further information:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In a variation on this legend, the devil says the first one to cross it is his, and someone tricks him into doing the job himself, pointing out that he is entitled to his own soul.
In modern days, it seems [so I hear] like hardly anyone ever keeps track or even notices who is the first worker to complete the crossing, when this becomes physically possible. As if in compensation, the ritual by which it is made available to the public is lavish, sometimes having cops lead the way with lights flashing, and sometimes with a record of which civilian was officially first. And, of course, a ceremonial barrier that is cut or knocked aside, to symbolize the old state now finished. Or, according to some, ancient human sacrifices.
I'm into first times, so had heard of "Devil's bridges" before. But in my neighborhood, some variety has been added to the standard rite. Instead of a ribbon, they shot off a bunch of fireworks from the end of one upraised bascule...