WALKERS and cyclists crossed Lydbrook’s Black Bridge for the first time in two years last Friday (September 28) - despite the failure of a Heritage Lottery bid to fund a full bridge repair.

A temporary solution has been installed for the bridge to be re-opened as a result of safety work which started in June.

The reopening of the 149-year-old railway bridge was delayed by a week owing to high winds holding up the completion of the works.

Forest Council ward member Cllr Andrew Gardiner (Lydbrook and Ruardean, Ind) described it as “wonderful” to be able to walk over the bridge again and has now called for the crossing to be urgently registered as a public right of way to help protect its future use.

The bridge, also known as Stowfield Viaduct, became a walkway after the closure of the railway in 1964, and links Lydbrook in Gloucestershire with Welsh Bicknor in Herefordshire on the other side of the River Wye.

Forming part of the 136-mile Wye Valley Walk, it has traditionally been used by 20,000 walkers a year and saves residents a six-mile detour via either Huntsham or Kerne bridges.

But it was closed on safety grounds in 2016, and an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for initial funding towards a proposed £1.7m bridge repair project was rejected in July, throwing the bridge’s future into doubt.

Safety work to ensure that canoeists and walkers were safe from falling debris when passing underneath threw the structure a lifeline, though, as the 1,000 pieces of scaffolding boards used allowed engineers the chance to devise a “safe, workable, short-term solution” to get the bridge re-opened.

A temporary walkway has now been added supported by the remaining columns and beams, allowing its reopening.

Cllr Vernon Smith, cabinet member for highways, said: “I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to come up with a safe way to temporarily get this important walkway open again.

“Following the disappointment of the unsuccessful Heritage Lottery Fund bid this is a real boost.”

Cllr Terry Hale (Con, Drybrook and Lydbrook) said: “I know how much the local community and our visitors value this key crossing point over the river that forms part of the popular Wye Valley Walk.

“As a result I’ve done all I can to support the work to get the bridge re-opened and I hope that like me, people will be delighted that this will now happen and much sooner than we’d originally thought.

“I will continue to support everyone’s efforts to find a long-term solution.”

Cllr Barry Durkin, Herefordshire Council’s cabinet member for transport and regulatory services, said: “Obviously the news regarding the Heritage Lottery Fund bid is disappointing, but because of our proactive partnership work I’m sure people from both sides of the river will be delighted to know that the bridge will be accessible on foot once again.”

Construction of the bridge took place between 1869 and 1873 to carry the connection between the Ross-Monmouth Railway and the Severn and Wye Railway at Lydbrook junction station, for the Edison Swan Cable works.