The circus is in town, well ok some of it is, the clowns are in the village or to be precise the clowns have been performing at Lustleigh. But before we come to their latest stunt it may be as well to have a look into a piece of Dartmoor’s history in the form of an early Ordnance Survey map. Below is an extract from the 1888 map and on which you can clearly see that a footbridge is marked crossing the river Bovey:
The actual structure is what is known on Dartmoor as a clam bridge and in the local area of Lustleigh this particular one is more commonly known as simply the ‘Tree Trunk Bridge’. Hemery, p.30, describes a clam as being, ‘a wooden footbridge‘, Crossing, p.14, uses the same terminology but adds, ‘seldom seen on Dartmoor‘. Whilst there is not an abundance of such bridges there are at least 10 place-names which include the ‘clam’ element, others being; Doe Tor Clam, High Down Clam, Sherberton Clam, Mary Tavy Clam, Swincombe or Fairy Clam, Lydford Clam, The Clam and Clam Bridge. So as can be seen we are not talking about a common feature of Dartmoor as Crossing rightly says in which case any surviving examples could be deemed to be an important part of Dartmoor’s heritage.
In the case of the Lustleigh Clam, the Dartmoor National Park Authority state the following: ‘The site of the existing Clam Bridge in Lustleigh Cleave has been a point of access across the River Bovey for over 120 years. However, it has now become unsafe and work is required to provide a new bridge structure…‘. Ok, the actual construction of the bridge consisted of two logs with a handrail attached to the downstream side, the logs had grooves cut into their surfaces to allow for grip. Over the centuries the logs have been replaced when they began to decay which it’s estimated was every 30 or so years and now they need renewing again.
On August the 8th 2007 the Dartmoor National Park Authority proudly announced a, ‘Major replacement bridge project’ and stated that 18 months previous a series of informal meetings were held with the folk of Lustleigh and Manaton parishes and their respective council to, ‘engage opinion on the possibility of a new structure across the River Bovey at the existing bridge site‘. Apparently following the consultations the plans for a new bridge were approved. The Dartmoor National Park authority also clearly stated, ‘It was also agreed that the existing clam would stay in place because of its historical significance and that the maintenance of it would be taken over by the Parish Councils‘. The work for the new bridge was scheduled to begin on the 23rd/24th of July 2007. The project would involve member of; 42 Commando (Air Assault) Roborough, RNAS Yeovilton MOAT and 846 Helicopter Squadron, The Joint Air Transportation Evaluation Unit, South West Highways Department and Devon County Council. The materials involved were 35 tons of aggregate, 4 steel beams measuring 13.4 x 9.3m, wooden cladding, hand rails, kick rails along with all the necessary fixing bolts etc. The wood and metal fixings were delivered on site by heavy horse power due to the site’s remoteness. The costs of building the new bridge were in the region of £35,000 and was completed by the September of 2007.
Quite straightforward so far, but then the dreaded Health and Safety concerns began to creep in and probably due to fears of insurance claims the Dartmoor National Park Authority decided that perhaps the old bridge should be removed. This is despite their previous promise that the old bridge should remain in light of its, ‘historical significance‘.
Then the proverbial hit the fan and local opposition to the bridge’s removal was voiced, a website and petition appeared on the internet and soon gained 300 signatures of support. This story was then reported on the BBC Devon website on the 18th of March, on the 2nd of May 2008 the Dartmoor National Park Authority announced that:
‘It is accepted that the old Clam Bridge is of local cultural interest but officers have advised that its historic value as an artefact is diminished by the fact that the wood has been replaced on more than one occasion and will in the future require further replacement… The Authority should offer practical support to Manaton and Lustleigh Parish Councils if they find a way to take responsibility themselves for the protection of the Clam Bridge, and that the Authority should not take on responsibility or liability for the clam bridge‘.
As usual, a lot of words that mean nothing, what practical support could they offer? Following this announcement Devon County Council announced that they would be erecting a fence at each end of the bridge which would effectively prevent public access. On the 5th of May 2008 The Times newspaper reported on how the compensation culture was leading to the closure of the bridge. Further articles appeared on the BBC Devon website and also on the 10th of May the Guardian newspaper noted how the fences would be erected during the week commencing the 12th of May thus closing off a centuries old tradition. Apparently the fences will remain until a solution has to be found as to exactly who will take on responsibility for the repair and liability of the old bridge. If this issue is not resolved then according to the Dartmoor National Park Authority removal of the bridge, ‘might be an option‘.
Two points emerge from this story, firstly why did the Dartmoor National Park Authority state the old bridge would stay in place and then back-track? Secondly, is it assumed that we are all thick as the logs that cross the River Bovey? You are presented with two options, a brand spanking new eyesore or a traditional clam bridge, if you feel the old bridge is dangerous to cross then use the new one, if not then ahead go you – simple. One could also beg the question as to why it was deemed necessary to spend £35,000, enlist the help enough military support to invade France when surely it would have been much cheaper to cut down a couple of nearby trees and rebuild the bridge with two hand rails and a non-slip surface?
Let’s hope some agreement can be reached in order for the old clam to remain, perhaps it could become a memorial bridge for some event or person? Afterall a new granite clapper bridge has just been erected over the Aller Brook to mark the retirement of a previous Dartmoor National Park Authority chief executive?