Kirkby Lonsdale’s Devil’s Bridge – and the bikers who live there

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Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, CumbriaThere are several reasons why you may want to visit Kirkby Lonsdale. Not least, because it’s a fine old Cumbrian market town, with a lovely church, St Mary’s, and, beyond that, Ruskin’s View – a panorama allegedly described by the Victorian polymath, without a trace of hyperbole, as “One of the loveliest views in England, therefore in the world”.  But forget all that for a moment, because we’re going to talk about a bridge: the Devil’s Bridge, no less.

St Mary's, Kirkby Lonsdale, CumbriaRuskins View, Kirkby Lonsdale, CumbriaI don’t know how many Devils’ Bridges there are in the UK – or even the world – probably dozens; there is certainly a famous one near Aberystwyth.  The one at Kirby is a superb example of a medieval bridge with three graceful arches spanning the River Lune and the dramatic rocks below.  It has been variously and confusingly declared as belonging to the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries; however, Historic England (and they should know) say the existing structure dates from the 15th or early 16th century – which is old enough, for a bridge.  There are records showing that a bridge was repaired here in 1365, though, and it is also logical to assume that there would have been a crossing point over the Lune somewhere in the vicinity of Kirkby Lonsdale before the Conquest.  It is generally claimed the later medieval bridge was constructed by St Mary’s Abbey in York, but I also read somewhere that monks from Furness Abbey built it.  Perhaps they both did, a joint venture, maybe to assist with the wool trade.

Visit Kirkby Lonsdale, Devil's BridgeIn any event, being judged too narrow for modern use (it is about 12’ wide – roughly 3.5 metres), the Devil’s Bridge was given a brand new replacement in 1932.  The new bridge is called Stanley.  You’re perhaps thinking this is an odd name for a bridge and that it looks more like a Basil – or something else entirely.  Well, the Mayor of Kirkby Lonsdale at the time was called Oliver Stanley and the people who name bridges for a living, rejecting ‘Oliver’, settled on Stanley.  So, Stanley Bridge now takes the traffic along the A65 between Kendal and Skipton, by-passing the old bridge just to the south.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby LonsdaleStill, the old Devil’s Bridge remains a very popular attraction.  There are some pleasant walks nearby and, in summer, you’ll find people swimming, sometimes even scuba-diving, in the river beneath.  Unfortunately, the bridge has also been used for ‘tombstoning’ – jumping off the bridge into the deep waters about 40 feet below, which can, and has been, fatal. It is forbidden to jump from Devil’s Bridge…the penalties can be severe.

Devil's Bridge, visit CumbriaBy far the biggest fans of Kirkby Lonsdale’s Devil’s Bridge, though, are bikers; they simply love the place.  And when I say ‘bikers’, I’m not talking Lycra, shades and Shimano; I mean brake horsepower and leather.

During weekdays, bikers – also known as ‘riders’, ‘motorcyclists’ – and other things – are usually solitary organisms.  Some even lead secret lives as car drivers or pedestrians from Monday to Friday, keeping their fairings polished and ready for action as it were, but well-hidden under tarpaulins.  At weekends, they venture out, one at a time; and then they group together in packs, a type of social unit sometimes referred to as ‘a rideout’.  Bikers have been known to mate for life and it’s not unusual to see a happy pair riding together – probably more often once the young have left the garage.  It is thought that female bikers tend to be slightly smaller than males (but not always) and have oddly curved arms sticking out at right-angles in front of their bodies; otherwise male and female look pretty much the same.

Bikers, Devil's Bridge, Kirkby LonsdaleSo at weekends, on highways and bye-ways across the land, small vrumvrums* of bikers form up together and converge on sacred meeting places.  Once there, ritual intercourse takes place, often involving hundreds of individual bikers simultaneously and resulting in an enormous climactic revving of engines.  Scientists have been unable to work out how they conglomerate in this way, but believe it is based on a primitive form of communication known as ‘making an arrangement’.  However, the pack will also follow a dominant alpha male.  Bikers’ sensory powers are thought, by bikers themselves, to be scarily acute, though only the most mature are able to cooperate fully with other species sharing the same habitat.  This means you will often spot riders who, like White Van Driverman, are seemingly exempt from the same laws that govern other highway creatures; and what a real treat that can be. Rogue behaviour suggestive of a curious desire to reach out and touch other vehicles by following or passing too close, or by overtaking and pulling in with insufficient space, has been explained by the theory that a faulty gene renders some bikers blissfully unaware of other road users – much like the motorist that fails to ‘think bike’.

Bikers, Devil's Bridge, Kirkby LonsdaleThe Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale is a well-known rallying point for biker tribes from across the north of England, and even further afield.  And a wondrous, colourful, throbbing, sight they are on a peaceful Sunday.  Bikers are particularly attracted to testosterone, burgers, tea and coffee, all of which are amply available here; but what makes this site especially alluring is the local bye-law that says only bikes can park at the bridge on Sundays and Bank Holidays.  So there they all are, happily comparing notes on crash helmets, brake horsepower, leather, torque, sprockets, pensions etc.  And leather; don’t forget the leather.

Now you want to know why it’s called the Devil’s Bridge, don’t you?  Are you sitting comfortably?  There once was an old woman who owned a cow.  The cow saw some nice, fresh, juicy grass on the other side of the nearby river and, the water being shallow, wandered over to eat it all up.  Later, the old woman came searching for her cow.  By this time it had rained and she was unable to cross the foaming, treacherous, torrent.  Quick as you like, the Devil appeared and generously offered to build the old woman a bridge; all he asked in return was to possess the soul of the first living being to cross it.  A small price, surely?  The old woman agreed and the bridge was duly built.  On completion, our canny heroine brought along her pet dog and threw a tasty canine-morsel across the bridge.  Fido promptly trotted over to gulp up the snack, to the fury of the Devil.  Apparently, dogs don’t have souls.  Is that true?  It must be – unless the story is a complete fabrication.  I still don’t understand why the Devil, who I hitherto imagined to be fairly powerful and resourceful, didn’t just knock the bridge down when he failed to get his own way.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, CumbriaIncidentally, ’tis said there are various bits of masonry scattered about that the Lord of the Underworld dropped during his construction projects, including the Great Stone of Fourstones.  It’s interesting that our superstitious ancestors often attributed the existence of structures or objects they did not understand to the Devil, rather to God or some other generally more amenable deity.

* What is the collective noun for a group of bikers? A triumph, perhaps? But that might offend those that ride BMWs, Nortons, Harleys, Hondas etc. Answers on a pinhead, please*.


* In retrospect, I realise the answer to the question is, of course, ‘a pack’ –

51 thoughts on “Kirkby Lonsdale’s Devil’s Bridge – and the bikers who live there

  1. Helen Devries

    Super post, thank you! I think I would prefer to visit on any day but Sunday, though.
    Bikers are quite a breed. A good friend took to it when he had made his pile and retired…as he had made a large pile he could buy Harley Davidson bikes. He and his wife used to go to these Sunday get togethers and they, with some other well heeled oldies, used to ship their Harleys over to the U.S. and ride coast to coast once a year. His wife removed her helmet when they stopped in some Godforsaken desert and, hit by the sun, keeled over. She came to, aware that her husband was prodding her with his foot and hissing ‘Get up woman, you’re embarrassing me…’

  2. Clare Pooley

    Fun post, Mike! I used to ride pillion a lot in my teens and early twenties but not since then, sadly. Kirkby Lonsdale and it’s bridge are going on my ‘must visit’ list.

  3. Denise at Forest Manor

    Hi Mike,

    Wow, that view IS beautiful! I’d love to visit this spot, but preferably without the bikers. We see plenty of those over here when Hal and I drive to the mountains for the day. I enjoyed the story about the old woman and her cow; I didn’t know the devil could be outsmarted so easily. 😉

    I hope you’ve had a good summer, Mike; I hope to be visiting “A Bit About Britain” more frequently in the future.



  4. Carla TePaske

    Fun post Mike. The Governor of Wisconsin is a big biker 😉 he is a Harley guy. We have several friends who have bikes, but I have never been on one.

  5. artandarchitecturemainly

    Ruskin’s View was the name of a Turner landscape, presumably of the same site. As Ruskin was Turner’s champion and executor, who named the painting and who named the view?

  6. milliethom

    There are several places I know of where bikers congregate on a Sunday. One is the Horseshoe Pass in North Wales and another is at Matlock Bath in Derbyshire. We’ve been to the Devil”s Bridge on a Sunday, too! It’s a lovely old bridge in a lovely setting, but I can’t t say we’ve ever seen people swimming in the river. Kirby Lonsdale is quite a pretty town and not too far from my aunt’s house in Carnforth. A fun read, Mike.

  7. RedPat

    This is the favorite village of my friend who lives in Preston so she took us there for a day during the week. It is a lovely little town and it was nice to revisit it through your pics!

  8. Jane Sturgeon

    Great post, Mike. Basil for a bridge name; I am still chuckling. So much humour and history woven into this. Dogs have souls….and I used to go ‘biking’ in my early twenties and loved it. x

  9. mekslibrarian

    Kirkby Lonsdale looks like a nice place to visit – but not on a Sunday, when the bikers are about. I am not keen on noise and fumes.
    As for Ruskin’s View being called one of the best views in England, the same is said about the view from Sutton Bank. I have blogged about that here

  10. Lisa G.

    Your final thought is a good one, Mike – why don’t they attribute these things to God? But I have no answer. The scenery there is dreamy, though! Thank you.

  11. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – love the story about the sensible woman – clever of her … poor old Devil! Still a group of Howlers for the bikers … gosh on some of our lanes – they are a ‘right pain’ … but I’m sure they love it. That scenery is just brilliant isn’t it … cheers Hilary

  12. Gael E Phillips

    Love reading about old bridges in Britain. Thank you. My suggestion for a collective noun for bikers is ‘a roar’ of bikers. Another possibility is ‘an acceleration’ of bikers, or perhaps ‘a passing of bikers’! Best regards, Gael Philips

    1. Gael E Phillips

      Yes, a ‘pack of bikers’. Thank you Mike. What is the collective noun for bridges – a crossing of bridges or a falling of bridges, perhaps?

  13. Ellen

    I think the biker tribes are descending on a few cities in the U.S. this long Labor Day weekend. Funny story about Devil’s bridge. Looks like another worthwhile spot to visit.

  14. Judy@CranberryMorning

    What a fun post, Mike! Is this the same woman who was looking for her dun cow in the vicinity of the (now) site of Durham Cathedral? And btw we saw a triumph (love that collective noun!) of bikers at Hawes when we were there. I’d love to see the bridge on a weekday and also St. Mary’s.

  15. Cape Cod Curmudgeon

    Great tale Mike, Thank you. I must enthusiastically disagree however, on the matter of dogs and souls. I believe they do, at least I hope so. There are more than a few I would very much like to see again. BTW, Mr. Ruskin’s view is magnificent. Over here, the state of Vermont offers some comparable countryside, on the way up to the mountains and my favorite trout brooks. – Rick

  16. franklparker

    My sister’s husband is a member of this tribe. Maybe I’ll ask him about the collective noun as for me I’m a lycra wearing Sunday morning cyclist (but don’t tell anyone). Another superb piece, Mike.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      I had to look HOG up – for the benefit of other non-bikers who may read this, it’s a Harley Davidson, possibly because a pig was an early mascot or possibly an acronym of ‘Harley Owners’ Group’

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