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The Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale


Devil's Bridge over the river Lune, is associated with a legend that can be found throughout Britain, with minor variations from region to region. A woman who was separated from her cow by the river made a pact with the Devil. He would build a bridge across the river, in return for the soul of the first living thing to cross the bridge. The woman tricked her dog to run across the bridge and the Devil had to be satisfied with an animal soul.

This legend may be related in some way to the folk memory of a foundation sacrifice, as the black dog of the churchyard is. Perhaps a dog was sacrificed when bridges were built in the remote past to guard against the spirits of the river, or to protect the bridge, which is neither on land or water from evil spirits.

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Ian Topham

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Ian Topham
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Re: The Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

According to Edmund Bogg in 'A Thousand Miles of Wandering along the Roman Wall, the Old Border Region, Lakeland, and Ribblesdale' (1898)

The Devil's Bridge, a remarkable structure, composed of three beautifully fluted arches, and so named from having, it is said, been built by his Satanic majesty; if so it is certainly inconsistent and in direct contradiction to his general character, and the good that has come out of evil in this instance is most remarkable. Respecting the building, the legend which nearly all Kirkby people will tell you, is as follows:

A cow belonging to a poor woman had strayed across the river at some convenient wading place, and not having returned with the town herd at milking time, the woman went forth to seek her. In the meantime the water had risen considerably, and, not being able to cross the river, the woman was in a dilemma, for her good man, a laborer, and her cow, were on the opposite side. At this juncture the devil, in human form, appeared on the other bank, no doubt assuming the soft guile of the tempter, promised to build a bridge, on condition that the first living thing which passed over should become his lawful prize; to this the woman gladly assented.

Darkness deepened rapidly -- necessary for diabolical thought and deed, which in this instance was frustrated by the forethought of the woman, whose husband or herself had been singled out for the victim which was to propitiate the building of the bridge. At the appointed hour she returned, bringing with her a dog, and a delicious morsel wherewith to tempt it. The bridge was complete, and there stood his sable majesty, anxiously awaiting his victim.

Suddenly, across the bridge, she threw the tempting morsel, and after it sprang the dog. The devil, seeing how cleverly he had been outwitted, gave forth a terrific howl, which aroused all the inhabitants in the old town, who at once rushed down to the river to ascertain the cause, thinking there had been an earthquake, instead of which they were agreeably astonished to find a substantial bridge, across which the woman, accompanied by her husband and dog, were driving the cow.


And there still stands the remarkable structure to witness or attest the truth, as story says, if I lie, and as a further proof, below the bridge is still to be seen the Devil's Neck Collar -- a rock with a large perforation, which he lost from his neck in that wild unearthly plunge from the bridge, on finding his hellish scheme thwarted.



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