Causey Arch in County Durham is the oldest surviving single arch railway bridge in the world. It was built in 1725 for a group of coalmine owners to facilitate the transport of coal from Tanfield Colliery to the banks of the River Tyne from where it was loaded onto colliers at Newcastle upon Tyne for shipment to London and other markets.
The Tanfield Waggonway which ran over the bridge was a railway with wooden rails with coal waggons drawn by horses. It was converted to iron rails in 1839. Tanfield Railway is still going . It is said to be the world’s oldest railway.
Causey Arch bridge was built by Ralph Wood, a local master stone mason. Since it was the first stone arch bridge of its kind to be built anywhere in the world since Roman times he had no prior experience of this type of construction and he had little confidence that it would not collapse, in fact he was so worried that he took his own life by jumping from the bridge before it was completed.
In its heyday, the bridge carried 930 waggons per day with an interval of only 20 seconds between waggons but by 1770 the Arch was little used and it fell into neglect for 200 years until it was restored from 1975-81.
A section of the waggonway is currently being recreated with the aim of completion in time for the Tanfield Waggonway’s 300th anniversary in 2025.
Aside from the bridge itself, other attractions here are:
Tanfield Railway. This is a volunteer-run heritage railway with preserved steam trains stopping at four stations. You can find details on their website.
A pleasant 3km circular walk starting at the car park, taking in Causey Arch and through the woods alongside Causey Burn. You can see the route on this map:
Beamish, the Living Museum of the North