The remains of a historically important County Durham bridge have received a much-needed makeover.

Gaunless Bridge, West Auckland, was once a vital thoroughfare for the pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway. It is believed to have been the first iron railway bridge built anywhere in the world.

The iron parts of the bridge are now in the National Railway Museum in York, but the bridge’s abutments can still be seen on the site where the bridge spanned the River Gaunless.

The abutments and the land around them have, however, in recent years been affected by vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

As a result, the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone have been working in partnership with local people to find ways to improve the Gaunless Bridge area.

So far, Durham County Council’s Civic Pride and Clean and Green Teams have worked to erase graffiti, collect litter and cut back undergrowth. The Environment Agency has also cleaned up parts of the River Wear close to the bridge.

The long-term goal is to rejuvenate and restore the historic railway in time for its bicentenary in 2025.

Cllr John Clare, Durham County Council’s representative on the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone, said, “The Gaunless Bridge abutments are a part of the Stockton and Darlington Scheduled Monument so are of national significance.”

“It is, therefore, incredibly important that we do all we can to preserve and protect them and the surrounding area.”

“Our ambition is to make the site a place that the whole community can access and enjoy, including as a stop-off on the Stockton and Darlington Railway walking and cycling route.”

“This clean-up is a significant step towards developing the area for that purpose.”

Gaunless Bridge (1)
The clean-up close to Gaunless Bridge

Andrew Foster, specialist field operations team member for Durham and Tees at the Environment Agency, said, “The work delivered by the field operations team aims to reduce flood risk to residents, communities and properties, which perfectly fits in with the clean-up operation on the River Gaunless.”

“We were able to implement our specialist skills to work with our partners to help rejuvenate and enhance these areas of historic significance.”

“Another key element of the operation is environmental leave, as some of the people taking part in the project are volunteers, who are using their enthusiasm to do their bit for the environment and the local community.”

“They are working alongside our Durham and Tees Field Operations Team, who are specialised in tackling tricky locations like rivers and waterways, and were able to retrieve some bulky items like a storm tree and even a supermarket trolley.”

If you would like to learn more about the plans to improve Gaunless Bridge and its surroundings, please email Richard Starrs on [email protected].

(This article’s featured image shows the clean-up taking place near the abutments of Gaunless Bridge.)

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