Artlegarth Beck packhorse bridge. Courtesy of Ravenstonedale Parish History Group
A packhorse bridge crosses Artlegarth Beck, at the south end of Ravenstonedale village. The bridge dates to the late 18th or early 19th century. It is a single-span segmental arched bridge carrying a former packhorse route at a skew across the beck. It has split voussoirs under low, solid parapets of limestone rubble with level, limestone blocks forming coping stones. The south-east parapet was rebuilt in the late 20th century – its south end is angled and incorporates a stone bearing a bench mark (formerly located in an adjacent stone wall). It was angled to allow motor vehicles crossing the bridge from the village to turn sharp left; this was reportendly to allow access for the milk lorry to local farms.
The bridge may have been constructed by the locally prominent Hewetson family. A bridge in this position is depicted on Cary’s 1789 map of Westmorland and also on an estate map of 1848, and on all Ordnance Survey editions from 1859. It has survived considerable flooding events in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Maggie B. Dickinson writes that packhorses ‘could travel at three miles an hour, sometimes in strings of up to twenty-five ponies. They would maintain that steady pace for around eight hours, and few breaks were necessary’.
Led by a packman or woman, the nimble-footed animals could climb the steepest hill carrying all sorts of trade goods from producers to their markets. Crossing a fast-flowing stream wile heavily-laden was dangerous, so, first timber beams resting on stone abutments, and then, by the 18th century, single-arch stone packhorse bridges were built with low side walls so the panniers didn’t get caught.
Packhorses crossing Artlegarth Beck bridge would mainly be heading towards hillside routes south to the Rawthey Valley and on down to Sedbergh.
The bridge was closed to motor traffic in 1973 and concrete bollards were placed at either end. The bridge was at risk of demolition, however the local community protected it by applying for it to be listed.
Historic England, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1455814
Maggie B Dickinson (2017) ‘Galloway Gate’ Cumbria (March edition) pp32-36
YDNPA, A Way Through: Ravenstonedale (2023)