I am the bridge. Can you hear the horses’ hooves from centuries ago clip-clopping over my arched stones? Listen carefully and you might catch the lovers’ whispers as they linger in my parapets before being gently blown on the night air over the stream that flows beneath me. Or maybe you can hear the sound of the men in clogs as they click-clack over my back on their way back from the White Swan or the Hole in’t Wall to be scolded by long-suffering wives in their terraced domains.
I am the bridge. Put your ears close to me now and slide back through the half millennium to which I have borne silent witness. Can you smell the acrid smoke as it drifts up the mill-scarred river and wraps its choking embrace around me? Or further back still, breathe in the deep fresh air of rural grazings through which the pack horses sniff their way to find me. I am the only place they can cross the river to take their woollen loads to far flung markets. I have breached the watery barrier that hitherto kept different folk in their separate places, closed them off to opportunity and commerce, which now flourish over my enjoining form.
I am the bridge. See, the steam rises from the horses’ snorting and whinnying, and rises from their backs and their shanks as they labour to carry up, over and down me. See the workmen pause to take in the view upstream, see the chattering, chapel-bound ladies in all their finery. What tales I could tell, tales of deals done, promises made, rumours started, here on my stones. Here have children played, old men complained, young women joked and sweethearts kissed. But I won’t tell the tales, you will have to guess what happened here, for I betray no confidences. Can you see in the reflection of ripples beneath me the faces of some who have crossed me, their features indistinct and shifting? Can you hear in my crannies the echo of children’s laughter and mill-wheels turning, or is just the sound of the river running underneath me? Can you pick up the hints and tell the tales that I won’t tell?
I am the bridge. Come here and stand on me and listen to my history. I am the reason that your town is here: inns, shops, businesses and then mills all grew from me at the epicentre. I am the pebble dropped in the pond of ever increasing circles as Hebden Bridge has grown. I was here when war was declared, when peace returned, and when war broke out again. I have seen the river flowing so high it tickled my underside, and in times of drought I have seen it reduced to a winding trickle. I have seen revolutions – industrial, social and economic – but I have not turned. I have stayed constant in a changing world, providing that link from one side to the other.
I am the bridge.