MOULTON PACK-HORSE BRIDGE
Moulton Pack-horse Bridge
Moulton Pack-horse Bridge (Fig. 1), which is under the care of English Heritage, is sited on the old road between Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds, spanning the River Kennett, in the pre-Domesday village of Moulton, Suffolk. Built in the late medieval period of flint and stone and with some 18th century repair/re-enforcement/alteration work, it is one of the few largely original medieval bridges in Britain, and a superb example at that. It is Grade II listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument that carries a public footpath. It has four arches and low parapets, about 65cm high, to allow for pack-horse luggage over-hang (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2 Fig. 3
I visited the bridge with a view to extending my experience beyond the ecclesiastical to the practical, not to say mercantile, and I did not really expect too much in terms of medieval ‘vibe’ yet, in a strange way, it proved to be the most atmospheric and I think this was because of the dimensions of the bridge and the river flowing past (Fig. 3).
The modern road (to the right of photo) now lies pontoon-fashion (obscuring the long-time fording point) over the R. Kennett.
One fact that was very interesting to discover, and which I discerned for myself having never read anything about it, was the funnelling system employed at both ends of the bridge. Pack-horse trains could be up to fifty horses and so the funnelling system allowed the horses to pass over the bridge in an orderly single file. For carts, a ford adjacent to the bridge (now overlaid with a flat, level bridge which acts as a road; Fig. 4), had to be negotiated.
I found walking on to and over the bridge and standing alone on the apex, treading in the footsteps of so many people throughout six to seven hundred years, an uplifting experience. My imagination was working overtime and as I stood on the highest point and turned around, in my mind’s eye I caught the horses and a man leading them, clad in his loose-fitting, worn jacket and trousers, stick in hand.
I had thought, prior to my visit, that the bridge might act like some kind of metaphor for ideas – by crossing from one state to another – but I realised this was incorrect and that, rather like Japan’s 11th century Lady Sarashina’s, As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, who interspersed personal reflections with accounts of her travels, whilst retreating from a harsh world into her imagination, I discovered that using the bridge as part of life was more rewarding, for I was able to share the past with the present.
In the grounds of Walsingham Priory there is a 19th century replica (Fig. 5), of a medieval pack-horse bridge. It is sited on the old Norwich road, so maybe it replaced an earlier structure? In these days of Health and Safety, it is refreshing to see that hand rails have not been added. The width of the bridge was less than Moulton and far less workman-like. I have little doubt that Walsingham Priory bridge is purely ornamental – a folly, if you will, but still not without charm.