Not many people know that Peebles is a town of bridges. There are some obvious ones, of course; after all, Peebles sits either side of the River Tweed and for centuries there has been a need for people, livestock and, later, vehicles, to cross from one side to the other. But even the most knowledgeable of locals might be surprised to learn that Peebles has a total of 20 bridges. Between them, they tell the story of the town.
And one man who has become known for telling that story is Jim Lyon, a retired civil engineer who spent the first 15 years of his career designing bridges. In recent years, Jim has led a regular walking tour of the town’s bridges as part of the annual Peebles Arts Festival (and will be doing so again this year during the new-look Creative Peebles Festival).
Starting from Kingsmeadows Car Park (opposite the Tontine on the southern bank of the River Tweed), the circular walk is approximately 4.5 miles long and takes from two to three hours to complete. “There’s a story behind every bridge, and I provide background on each as we walk around,” explains Jim. “There’s always a tale to tell.”
So, where are all these bridges? There are the most visible ones, such as the Tweed Bridge – for now the main vehicle artery across the river – as well as the nearby Priorsford Bridge for pedestrians, but a little more exploring is needed to discover the others.
Peebles is a town of bridges in part because it is also a town of rivers. While the Tweed hogs the limelight, the Eddleston Water (or Cuddy as it is known locally), which flows into Peebles from the north, has a variety of bridges along its length: a metal structure at Kingsland Road; a road bridge on March Street and another at Bridgegate (also known as the tree bridge because of its original construction); a pedestrian bridge at Northgate Vennel; the main Cuddy Bridge near the bottom of the High Street; plus two further metal bridges by the swimming pool close to where the Cuddy empties into the Tweed. The road bridge there was once the service entrance to the old gas works.
And let’s not forget the bridges that span the delightful Soonhope Burn on the outskirts of Peebles. Mountain bikers heading for the trails at Glentress Forest will know the bridge at Janet’s Brae – once the main access point to the town from the east – although few realise that the main road to Innerleithen also passes over the burn later in its course.
And again, like the Cuddy, there is a further footbridge just as the burn meets the River Tweed. “That one was built by John Hay of Kingsmeadows so that people walking to church on Sundays didn’t have to pass the lounge window of his house,” explains Jim. “He was also responsible for a wire bridge on the bend in the river a little further downstream. It was one of the first suspension bridges in the UK, although it was washed away in the 1950s.”
Elsewhere, honourable mentions should go to the various railway-related bridges around the town, the Fotheringham Bridge in beautiful Hay Lodge Park – donated by old Peeblean and one-time mayor of Johannesburg, John Fotheringham – and the disabled access timber bridge to the Parish Church, which local wags have dubbed The Stairway to Heaven.
Why not take a stroll around our lovely town and see how many bridges you can find?
Look out for Jim Lyon’s 20 Bridges of Peebles walk during this year’s Creative Peebles Festival (25 August to 4 September). Popular with visitors and locals alike, it’s a wonderful way to learn more about the town while also enjoying an excellent walk!