The next morning we set off again, this time to visit the town of Wadebridge, which we had spotted the previous day from a large overpass carrying the A39, intriguing us very much…
Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: River Camel, Old Bridge, Wadebridge Town Hall, Challenge Bridge, Molesworth Arms, Egloshayle Parish Church, Anneke Bridge, Polmarla River, The Swan Hotel, High Street, Eddystone Road etc
If you look at the very back of the picture above, just above the magnificent Old Bridge which crosses the River Camel to link the two halves of the town, you can just see another, much larger bridge. This is the A39, also known as the Wadebridge Bypass, which we travelled along the previous day on the way back from Port Isaac. Even from that distance, as we passed the Old Bridge stood out and is what convinced us to return to the area to investigate, the following day.
The original settlement here was simply called Wade, which is possibly a reference to the fact that before any crossings were established here, many hundreds of years ago residents were forced to wade across the river at low tide to reach the other side. Chapels on either side marked this, and locals could give thanks to God for a safe passage. This was eventually negated with a new river ferry crossing, however it was notoriously dangerous, which led the Reverend Thomas Lovibond to build the town’s signature Bridge in 1468. It is now known as the “Old Bridge” thanks to the arrival of the bypass, and other modern river crossings. At the time, this crossing was the last over the Camel before it reached the Atlantic near Padstow. This helped Wadebridge to grow as a major port, and to honour the bridge, the name was changed from Wade, to Wadebridge.
Since it was originally built, the bridge has been widened a few times to cope with the growing amounts of traffic, in 1853 and 1963. It is telling that the final widening occured in the mid 20th century, when personal transportation began to take off rapidly.
The port here was located just on the other side of the Bridge, and was connected to the rest of the country by a railway on the Western Quay, over to the right, by 1880. The railway itself has opened in 1834 as the “Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway” which eventually became part of the Great Western Railway towards London, where goods could be traded and sold.
Leaving the riverside, we headed into the town centre, which we joined outside the stunning Town Hall. Completed in 1888, the building was opened by Sir Paul Molesworth (1821 – 1889, 10th Baronet), and originally known as “Molesworth Hall”. The title originated from Hender Molesworth (1638 – 1689) who sat as the Governor of Jamaica during the 1680’s, and passed it on to his sons etc.
The building also appears to feature a rather intricate looking Weather Vane on the roof, in the shape of a large Steam Engine. Until 1967 when the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway (later extended on to Padstow) was closed, the Railways were an important feature for the town and it’s economy. Perhaps most crucial is the year of 1888, as not only was the Town Hall completed, but the local railway was joined to the GWR direct to London, so it’s fitting to immortalise such an important part of the towns history.
To either side of the Steam Engine are the flags of the United Kingdom (left) and the Cornish Flag (right). As Cornwall has a distinct national identity Cornish flags can be seen in almost every town and village around the county.
The rest of the High Street is marked by colourful bunting, which hang from similarly colourful buildings, all varying shades of reds, blues etc. The Town Hall is of course the defining structure on the street, which leads directly round a small corner towards the Old Bridge, just behind where I took the picture.
There are a number of other standout buildings in the town, including “The Swan Hotel”, shown above. It was originally built during the late 19th century (presumably the 1880s/90s as more tourists could access the town on the GWR) as “The Commercial Hotel”. An extension (shown to the left of the main building) was completed a few decades later, and it was later renamed as The Swan Hotel.
Directly to the right of the Hotel is “Molesworth Street”, the main pedestrianised shopping street in the town. It also extends off either end, East over the Old Bridge to the far side of the Camel, and West past the shops into the heart of the town. The main road we were already on is called “The Platt”, which joins onto “Eddystone Road” where local masons crafted granite blocks to build the new Eddystone Lighthouse of 1882. This lead to the new road name to celebrate their work.
We began to follow Molesworth Street, and later on we discovered that much of the area contains a number of 19th century buildings. The street has a lovely charm of it’s own, with more multi-coloured bunting fluttering in the wind. All the buildings blend in well together, although some of them are even older than you might think, including the “Molesworth Arms”, a stunning Coaching Inn from the 16th century. Long before the A39 Bypass was built, the main route through Northern Cornwall would have passed through the town, and the Inn was just one of many along the route which would have allowed travellers to rest and change horses.
Presumably the Inn was named in connection with the Molesworth family I mentioned earlier, although seen as the original Baron Molesworth Hender was only born in 1638, and the Pub is 16th century it may have been renamed Molesworth at a later date. Other sources state it is 17th century, so whilst that would make more sense, I’ll let you decide which you would like to believe. It could also have been named after an earlier family member before the family became Barons.
Leaving the shops behind us, we couldn’t resist taking a stroll across the famous Bridge itself, across the River Camel. The structure was built with a mammoth 17 arches, although today only the centre 12 are still visible as the rest at either end were bricked up and converted into cellars, although still obviously supporting the bridge above.
As noted earlier, the Bridge has been widened numerous times, with the last widening almost doubling the amount of space on the Bridge, to fit in two lanes of traffic.
The view from the far side is stunning, across the mudflats that line the edges of the river, and what is almost an island that has built up in the centre of the river around the arches of the Bridge, with the river forking to either side of it.
In the distance, the Clock Tower of the Town Hall was visible, an instant landmark on the skyline. To the left of the Town Hall, sat on the riverbank itself is an inlet to the River, where the Polmarla River joins the Camel through what appear to be specially constructed Sluice Gates, perhaps to limit the effects of flooding.
Looking South East along the River (with the Town Centre to the right) you get a better view of the island I was describing at the rivers centre. It’s a fantastic view, and we picked a great day weather wise, with the sun glinting off the water. To think that centuries ago the locals had to wade their way through this just to get to the far side is incredible, and they must have been quite thankful when the Bridge was originally built.
Further upstream is another bridge, albeit a much more modern affair. Completed in 1991, it is named after Anneke Rice (Born 1958) a contemporary celebrity from South Wales who actually designed the Bridge, in response to concerns by residents that there wasn’t enough easy access to the Town Centre from that side of the River.
As we drove out of the town, we spotted an ornate looking Church on the road heading South towards Bodmin, and stopped to take a look. Whilst we hadn’t come far from the town centre, it turns out this is the Parish Church of Egloshayle, a separate village which runs contiguously with Wadebridge. As it happens, the builder of the famous “Old Bridge”, Thomas Lovibond was at that time the Reverend of Egloshayle.
Officially dedicated to St Petroc (Died c 564), a Welsh Prince who travelled around England and famously founded a monastery in nearby Padstow, the building primarily dates back to the 15th century, with various surviving sections built by the Normans 300 years previously.
Pressing on, we made it to Bodmin, which briefly served as Cornwall’s County Town from 1835…