Little Emily’s Bridge, Wharfedale

Little Emily's Bridge, Wharfedale (1)On a recent walk with Verity and Chris along the bank of the River Wharfe in North Yorkshire, we came across this lovely little bridge.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  With low parapets and a stone-flagged surface, it incorporates a stile consisting of two slightly angled boulders, which I think is called a ‘squeeze stile’, often used in the Yorkshire dales to prevent livestock from passing through.

Little Emily's Bridge, Wharfedale (3)The bridge spans a stream known as Captain Beck, in the quiet village of Linton, near Grassington.  I believe it is known as ‘Little Emily’s Bridge’, a name which can only intrigue us still further.

And how old is it?   A search online brought up conflicting answers.  One source says it’s 14th century, but another says it is much later, from the late 17th or early 18th centuries.  I’m not entirely sure which to believe – the worn step at the base of the stile tells a story of long, continued use;  but, even if the later date is correct, 400 years is still a long time!

Some sites describe this as a ‘packhorse bridge’, but no horse, laden or otherwise, would be able to squeeze through that gap.  The stile could have been added later, but it doesn’t look like an afterthought.   I suspect there may be some confusion between this and another, larger bridge over the River Wharfe:  by the look of it, I would say it has always been a footbridge.

When we crossed the bridge, we noticed a female mallard with her brood of five or six ducklings, all newly hatched and fluffy, hiding in the shallows.   Sadly, another shower was heading our way and the light wasn’t good enough for photos of any quality.

Little Emily's Bridge, Wharfedale (2)

So, who was Little Emily?

According to folklore, during the English Civil War a local girl called Emily Norton took refuge nearby – but from whom, and why?

The Romantic poet William Wordsworth might have hit on something in his rather lengthy offering entitled ‘The White Doe of Rylstone’.  This draws on a local legend from much earlier, and tells the fate of the Norton family at the time of the Reformation in the mid-1500s.  In it, Emily Norton is left alone after her nine brothers are killed during a Roman Catholic uprising.   According to Wordsworth, she represents ‘undisturbed humanity’ and ‘pure ethereal spirituality’.   Even more interestingly, a white doe was said to appear in the churchyard at Bolton Abbey every Sunday, following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.   Perhaps Emily and the white doe were one and the same.

Little Emily's Bridge, Wharfedale (4)

Photos copyright ©  Colin & Jo Woolf


  1. anniedm778 says:

    Fascinating photos!

  2. Love this! Love love its name, love the wee odd design, love the name of the stream, too– “Captain Beck” oh my! Hank would cross and re-cross this bridge all day long.

  3. What a wonderful bridge! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. An intriguing story about Emily, too. You make me want to get myself down to Wharfedale.

    • I know – nor have I! I love coming across these little gems, especially when there’s not a lot known about them – they’re just there, and people have been using them for centuries.

      • I was thinking that if I’d come across that bridge it’d be featuring as an ‘intriguing sight’ on my blog. Your photos are excellent as well, I forgot to say that.

      • It would make a great subject for an ‘intriguing sight’! Thanks for the comment about my pics. My camera is showing signs of wear, there’s a spot on the sensor apparently. The top dial also has an annoying habit of switching modes while in my bag!

      • Oh dear, that sort of thing happened to my little Panasonic Lumix before it packed up entirely. I hope yours holds out a bit longer. You can clean the spots on the sensors, if it’s the same problem I had. There’s a chap called Graham Houghton who has very useful videos on youtube about how to do it:

      • Thank you! I’ll take a look at that. I’m not ready for it to bow out just yet!

  4. You are quite fortunate to have these gems to discover. I’m afraid here in the US, there’s nothing quite as wonderful.

  5. Very cool, I love old stuff like this…and the history that goes with it!

  6. I really like these! Even though the real age is in dispute, you can tell they are really old.

  7. That is one sturdy, hefty bridge for Little Emily. We have some pretty unique bridges in New Zealand but I doubt there is one like this gem.

  8. Went walking around Linton yesterday and took a couple of photos of this bridge and a search coincidentally brought up your article whilst I was researching it today! Well done for finding out all that information – and great pictures! I couldn’t really get any decent ones of the bridge because of the dense foliage!

    • Haha, that is a coincidence! 🙂 We must have just timed it right with our visit, before the leaves were fully out. Yes, what a fascinating little bridge – but it was hard to find anything about it online. I loved how well-worn the stone was!

  9. judenearl says:

    I’ve loved this little bridge for years. Stephen Johnson posted a picture of it on the Facebook group page “We Love the Yorkshire Dales” along with a link to this blog page – many thanks for your research and musings on it.

    My thoughts on it are that it was originally a pack horse bridge, the low walls are just right, and that the upright stones were added later to keep stock in the field.

    • Thank you – yes, it’s such a lovely little bridge! That’s an interesting idea about how it has evolved, and you could well be right. It does make sense that the upright stones and the step could have been added later. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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