After five years of planning, a new footbridge has taken pride of place in a South Lakeland village.
Residents and visitors can now cross Cartmel’s River Eea safely without having to use the busy road bridge 50 metres upstream.
Ford Footbridge is the culmination of years of determined work and fundraising by villagers and business owners, who came together under the parish council as the Cartmel Township Initiative back in 2015.
The nine-metre-long structure was designed and built from forged steel by renowned Ulverston blacksmith Chris Brammall.
Hopes of easing traffic congestion in the honeypot village – famed for its medieval priory, sticky toffee pudding and Michelin-starred L’Enclume restaurant – were boosted in 2016 when South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) awarded £60,000 for road improvements from its Locally Important Projects (LIPs) scheme.
Around £20,000 of that money went towards the new footbridge behind the Kings Arms and Rogan & Co bistro, following the line of a historic ford crossing used by horses and carts in years gone by.
Ford Footbridge is just one of more than 100 community projects to benefit from over £1.4 million in LIPs grants from SLDC in the past six years.
Cllr Jonathan Brook, SLDC Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Innovation, said: “We are delighted to see this long-awaited footbridge come to fruition in Cartmel. Our LIPs grants support many excellent projects which benefit our communities and neighbourhoods, helping to improve quality of life right across South Lakeland.
“LIPs money has already been spent on a wide variety of improvements such as new playgrounds and green spaces, renovation and conservation projects, restoring footpaths, modernising village halls, making cycling more accessible and much more.”
Talk of a footbridge to help pedestrians avoid heavy traffic on Cartmel’s narrow Church Bridge dates back to 1977, when villagers mooted the idea to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, but without success.
Since then several attempts have been made, but the formation of the Cartmel Township Initiative put the project on a firm footing for the first time.
As well as SLDC, funding partners included the Cumbria Fells and Dales LEADER programme, which gave £34,000; Lower Allithwaite Parish Council (now Allithwaite and Cartmel Parish Council); villagers and business owners.
As parish councillor Barry Dean explained, there were many complex issues to overcome, including engineering works to discover the site’s proximity to telephone lines, gas, water and electricity supplies.
He likened the process of positioning the bridge’s foundations to ‘trying to thread a needle in the dark’.
Potential impact on flood risk also required the design to be altered in discussion with the Environment Agency.
It had been hoped to make the footbridge DDA-compliant, but the required high-arched design and the constraints of the site meant this was not possible.
Manufacturing the bridge took three months at CB Arts’ workshop in Ulverston, and director Chris Brammall explained that its texture “mirrors the dappled light and leaves of the willow trees and of the water”.
Chris’s previous projects include White Moss Bridge at Rydal, the jetty at Brockhole and the bandstand at the Glebe, Bowness.
Ford Footbridge was fitted over the River Eea in one piece after being carefully transported by Gibsons of Kendal, who navigated Cartmel’s narrow ginnels to lift the three-ton structure into place.
Plans for an opening ceremony are on hold because of COVID-19,but people are already enjoying crossing the bridge and posing for pictures on its slender forged steel.
“It’s been a long road and it fits the bill,” said Cllr Dean, a former chartered surveyor who chaired the Cartmel Township Initiative.
“It’s already become a landmark point of interest in the village, and many people are now calling it Cartmel’s answer to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.
“After the time and effort from a host of local people in bringing the footbridge to fruition, it’s a thing of beauty and it sits well within the Cartmel Conservation Area.”