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Town of Bridges

Free Photos, Castleford, West Yorkshire

Article By: Dave Roberts

First Published: 4 September 2011

Always have a back up plan! Indeed all photographers should try to plan their work, but you should always have a 'Plan B' just in case what you set off to do is scuppered due to some unexpected occurrence. That's just what happened to me the other day when I visited Fairburn Ings near Castleford in West Yorkshire.

Plan 'A' was to spend a few hours taking photos of the wildfowl and other birds from the official hides dotted around the lakes of Fairburn Ings, but the recent lack of rainfall has resulted a dramatic reduction in the level of water within the lakes, and the very thing that had created the lakes in the first instance, was now its achilles heel. The swans exemplified just that, instead of their usual graceful and unspoilt perfection, they were pretty much sorry looking creatures, as almost all of them were caked in thick black mud.

The lakes around Fairburn Ings are the culmination of the area once being heavily mined, the former coal-mine works which are up to half a kilometre below ground have subsided, causing huge earth bowls at ground level into which the surrounding wetlands have created lakes, these are topped up by the overspill from the river Aire during heavy rain. Many of the hills surrounding Fairburn Ings are slag heaps - many thousands of tonnes of valueless waste from the mining industry was dumped in this area. It is the run off of rainwater from these slag heaps that causes the black silt to build up, which was now caking the swans as they waded though it and sifted for food within it.

To be bluntly honest, I didn't have a 'Plan B', but I am always open minded to what I can achieve and have grown used to the fact that what I set off to do, can often be taken over by one or more factors outside of my control. As I walked along the dry banks of what would usually be deep water, I noticed in the distance an old half moon shaped iron bridge, so I headed for that, the bridge turned out to not only be a delightful surprise, it also set the theme for the day.

On arrival at the old half moon shaped iron bridge, I was captivated by its wonderful industrial revolution style structure of red brick, stone and iron. The now disused rusty bridge with its twisted railings would no doubt have its own story to tell, a story of a time when it served the local coal-mining industry and local communities. It was clearly heading at least in one direction into the centre of Castleford, the other direction possibly towards Garforth via Allerton Bywater - but I am just guessing at the latter.

As I passed under it I noticed holes where daylight peeped through, then on seeing a not so well trodden path leading up the banking - I had to investigate. It was from the banking that I shot the 2nd image of this set - the not so well trodden path no doubt created by the passage of curious feet like mine. I made my way to the top, where to my delight I discovered that left in place were the now rust covered railway lines. Nature was taking over as foliage creeping in from both sides is creating a natural multicoloured tunnel through which the path of the steel railway lines could still just be seen resting on old wooden sleepers, the sleepers are packed around with grey to blueish stone ballast. The ballast acting like a mulch inhibiting the creep of vegetation, but quite obviously mother nature is winning this battle and soon all the lines will be completely hidden from sight.

Turning now to face the bridge and the twisting of the rusty old structure seems to have in turn been mirrored by the railway lines, as the rails themselves are evidently out of kilter, I wondered how long such a wonderful monument of our industrial heritage will be left for sightseers to enjoy... not long I suspect.

From high up on this disused railway embankment I could see what appeared to be either a river or a canal in the distance and so now the theme which was evolving 'Plan B' seemed obvious, the industrial revolution - eureka!, or so I thought. And then, to my surprise a lady ascended the same not so well trodden path, which I was about to descend, we chatted for a few moments about the area. She told me about a new footbridge in Castleford which was all very contemporary by design and controversial due to its cost. But the main factors were that it is illuminated at night and to quote her: "There's an old sunken barge under it, which was loosed from its moorings during a flood". Who could resist that. I took from her brief directions, then headed off to investigate.

Everything the lady had said about the bridge appeared to be 'on the money', dusk was arriving, but still no lights on the bridge - I took the opportunity to pop over the other side where I found a nice fish n chip shop. Having refuelled my own engine with a delightful cod and chips, I didn't have to wait too long for the sun to go down and the Castleford Illuminations to begin, and just as the lady said, it was contemporary, but from a photographer's point of view - a true gift.

The illuminations on and around the bridge are the work of a true expert, someone with a complete understanding of the effects produced through excellent theatrical lighting. Here, regardless whatever controversy there may - or not be over the costs, Castleford can claim to have a real thing of beauty for all to enjoy, and even when the swans are caked in mud. The design of the bridge itself majestically curves across the river Aire with a now unused mill to the left, then following the contours of the weir, it passes over the old sunken barge (just as the lady said). The flowing timber decking intermittently housing glass windows though which the pedestrian along its promenade can look straight down to the waters below. As I walked over this modern work of art, I noticed an old Victorian era triple arched stone bridge just along the river, a view of which can only be enjoyed from this vantage point. Not only have the designers created a fantastic new footbridge, they have completely succeeded in enhancing the environment with something new and found a way of highlighting the old. Plus they had unwittingly given to me - a 'Plan B'.

Castleford may be losing some of its industrial heritage, but with this kind of creativity ongoing in the town, added to the potential created by Fairburn Ings, Castleford may yet appear on the tourist map.

 

 

 

 

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