Clapper Bridges
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Walking in Glamorgan, South Wales. Guided walks, routes & local information

Last updated  12.8.07

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Clapper Bridges

Huntsman.jpg (110275 bytes)

The Huntsman by Septimus Dawson

This picture is called the Huntsman and is by Septimus Dawson who lived from 1851 to 1914 in the North East - Sunderland, West Hartlepool and Scarborough. It is uncertain whether the scene showing a clapper bridge is real or imaginary but if anyone recognises the scenery or the bridge, please send us an e-mail - bruce7@btinternet.com 

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The Clapper bridge at Castle-upon-Alun, passed on the Wick and Ewenny long walks

Clapper or pack-horse bridges are quite uncommon in the UK, there being only about 40 recorded to date. These bridges served as a way across streams or rivers and were often on pack-horse routes. A clapper bridge is usually constructed of one or more slabs of stone either with one stone stretching from bank to bank on a narrow stream or several supported by piers of dry-stone construction. Of those still surviving some consist only of the uprights with some or all slabs missing.

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Top view of bridge, narrower nearer the camera

They vary in length from 3 to 54 metres and the purpose was to carry foot passengers and pack-horses but were too narrow to take wheeled vehicles. Within Britain the surviving examples are concentrated in Devon and Cornwall, particularly around Dartmoor and also North and West Yorkshire. They are more common where large slabs of flat but resilient stone could be found locally.

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Side view showing gaps and pier to reduce water impact

Dating is difficult unless there is other documentary evidence but their origins are likely to be from the late mediaeval period through to the early 19th century. The Anglo-Saxon word 'cleaca' refers to stepping stones and clapper may derive from this and in Sussex clapper is the term for a plank particularly where used as a footway.

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Side view showing gap and pier

So, the clapper bridge at Castle-upon-Alun, passed on both the Wick and Ewenny walks is not only unusual in South Wales but scarce throughout the UK. The length of this bridge is 28 metres. The width of the bridge varies as it tapers as you cross away from the road. At its narrowest it is 1.2 metres and 1.9 at its widest. Whilst the depth of the water will change through the year, typically the height of the top of the bridge above the water is just under 1 metre and it is 1.6 metres from the bridge surface to the bottom of the stream.

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Gap tapering downwards with dressed stone above

The stone used is a mix of rough slabs and dressed rectangular blocks, the largest slab being 1.13 by 1.5 metres. The gaps in the bridge for the stream to pass through vary between 0.6 to and 1.1 metres in width.

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Close-up of stonework showing use of different shapes and sizes of boulders

Small Clapper Bridge near Sullu

Clapper on Cog.jpg (152100 bytes) Clapper on Cog2.jpg (162632 bytes)

This shows a smaller Clapper Bridge on Cog Moors near Sully with a single span consisting of a slab of limestone. It is on a footpath at ST 15025/68714 and passed on this walk.

If you know of any other old clapper bridges in Glamorgan, please let me know at bruce7@btinternet.com.

Clapper Bridges from elsewhere

Lower Slaughter clapper.jpg (134391 bytes)

This small clapper bridge is at Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds

Clapper Youlegrave.jpg (186059 bytes)

The Bradford Dale is the location of this clapper bridge near Youlgrave in Derbyshire