Art in the Wild

Paper Bridge - 22 of 51

Steeper than I imagined, I got up through a combination of running, grabbing, scrambling. Once on top, though, the view from the bridge wasn’t half bad. Looking back over the Grisedale valley that we had walked, and up the other way towards Helvellyn, it was a great spot to admire the expanse of the Lake District.

Paper Bridge - 8 of 51Although the valley, the beck, the fells are the usual draw to the Lakes, this time the bridge was the major attraction. Made by the artist Steve Messam, the bridge has been straddling the Grisedale Beck around two miles from Patterdale for ten days this month (8-18 May).

And what’s so good about it? It’s red, and it’s made of paper. Not just any old scraps of paper, though, over 22,000 sheets of it that weigh over 4 tonnes. The paper was made locally at Cropper’s Paper Mill Cumbria too, partly because they were one of the few factories that could supply this particular red that wouldn’t run or fade. They also make the paper for Remembrance Day poppies.

A picture of the bridge was enough to draw four of us to this small town on the edge of Ullswater. We had all travelled for two and a half hours before 10am on a Saturday morning to get there, but we certainly weren’t the only ones. A steady stream of people walked the easy couple of miles to the bridge, to take photos of it, stand on it, and maybe take away a souvenir piece of left over paper from behind the fence to one side.

Paper Bridge - 26 of 51

Paper Bridge - 24 of 51It seemed to capture people’s imaginations in different ways. The technological feat was amazing, built without glue or nails. The sight of it in the landscape was also incredibly striking, a bold flash of colour that harmonised well with the bright rainbow of waterproof jackets. It encouraged you to look in all directions – including down at it, and through it, as it framed the falls and the fells behind it. Ecologically, too, it spoke volumes as both the paper and the stone buttresses used to support the structure will be recycled locally.

It was fun, it made you think, and it gave people a human-sized, accessible point of interest to aim at in the wide expanse of walks and trails across the Lake District. And the adventure continued: after seeing the bridge we carried on up to Grisedale Tarn, seeing a part of the Lakes that we hadn’t visited before. Then it was back to the Patterdale Hotel for a pint of local ale, Patterd’ale, naturally.

Find out more at Lakes Culture.

Photos (c) Galen O’Hanlon.

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