I asked my 81-year-old informant, Margaret Rutter, who was born and raised at Whippsbeck Farm in Harkerside, why the Reeth Swing Bridge is called the swing bridge, when it’s clearly a suspension bridge and doesn’t swing.
“Doesn’t swing?” said Margaret. “Oh yes it does!”
We were talking about the original bridge, built in 1920 and which was destroyed by a flood in 2000. So what follows doesn’t necessarily apply to the modern replacement bridge, albeit that it’s said to be an almost identical replica of the original.
“No,” said I. “It didn’t swing. I know what a swing bridge is. The span pivots on a central pier so that ships can pass on either side. There’s one on the River Tyne.”
“Well Reeth Swing Bridge used to swing,” said Margaret.
“How?” said I.
“Easy,” said Margaret. “We children used to gather at one end, grabbing onto the wires, and by throwing our combined weight around, we could get it to swing brilliantly.”
“What, side to side?” said I.
“Oh yes, and up and down,” said Margaret, gleefully. “It was great fun to see how far we could get it to move, and it really did swing.”
So that’s why it’s called the Reeth Swing Bridge. It was probably named by Harkerside children of the 1920s. By the time Margaret and her friends were swinging the bridge in the 1940s the name had well and truly stuck.
And maybe the floating tree that felled the bridge in 2000 was slightly assisted by 80 years of swinging action by local children.
NB: In the interests of responsible journalism, readers are urged not to attempt to get the replacement bridge to swing, or to incite or encourage others to do so. It’s probably too robust anyway.