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The bridges of Orkney are rather better represented on CANMAP as far as I can tell but only as far as they are pieces of 17th or 18th century engineering . I feel that perhaps they fall between the two stools of archaeology and architecture. And even though it goes down to 1:10,000 scale I haven't come across a single bridge on my travels marked yet , however large they may have been in Orcadian terms. Surely they are every bit as important as tracks or field boundaries.

It is only this last year that I became sort of obsessed with looking at bridges. Most aren't that obvious, only revealing themselves when you look over the side of the road or track. The smaller ones are my preference and the bridges that distress me are those 'repaired' with chunks of concrete or having had large plastic pipes stuffed into them. Other than the modern accretions how do you date them, has anyone done a study of Orcadian bridges (which reminds me that I have often thought it would make a nice project for someone to survey the stone walls of Kirkwall, map them out and make a stab at dating them - strange that in towns elsewhere in Britain every piece of old stone wall is marked and treasured).

Some of the ones I have seen in recent weeks are obviously very old water crossings because the stone pavements under or alongside them must at one time have been fords (I wonder where the ford of Wideford Hill was , for I presume it is no more?). Some are obviously the result of two periods of building. The second stage probably came about when the modern roads were being built and the bridges had to be further across to accomodate these (and often come higher up), for one side is obviously older than the other and I presume the original other half is buried beneath (which prompts another digression. Look at some of the smaller farm buildings and you will see a line of thin stones running across a few courses below the point where the roof springs from, and my guess is that this is where an older turfed roof has been removed and the slate roof required a different kind of footing).

Take a Tingwall bus to the Lyde road and strike across to the hills. There is a road at the bottom of the hill that runs under the shadow of the hills all the way back to Finstown. Not a bad walk, a couple of hours say .And so many varieties of bridge in the first half. A few fall away steeply. Some bridges are only to let the water through - there is the cutest little one in front of a cottage, at right angles to the road in order to carry the end of a wall it seems.

This reminds me of another type of bridge you can see elsewhere in Orkney, now presenting an ornamental appearance but I think originally a simple ?clapper bridge. What you see now is a cottage the other side of a stream from the road and across the stream two or three areas of turf looking like garden overflow but really unwalled bridges. Often this type is very English-looking to my eyes, though they are not.

If you fancy a little picnic my suggestion would be Davies Brig that lies roughly halfway between Kirkwall and Finstown. Actually there are two bridges here, one as it stands now the result of an EEC development grant, and a small wooded area . There is a parking area for lorry drivers to take time out but it is really picturesque anyway.

Last year I walked the road that runs past Swannay Farm in Harray. I was surprised not to find it listed on CANMAP as it is a lovely example of a water-management system to my eyes, intricate but understated. Going past by vehicle you will see nothing. Get out and stretch those legs. None of the visible parts are really built to carry people, only water. A complicated system of stone-lined channels including an area under the corner of a wall where the stream forks into two channels. For some reason a large but slim slab of stone has been placed across the main stream stood up on its longer edge. Most curious. I assume the holes in the walls thereabouts are to drain the snows.

wideford Posted by wideford
28th January 2004ce
Edited 7th February 2004ce

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