I was first drawn to Allerford to admire its remarkable packhorse bridge. In the many times that I have visited the village, I find myself attracted to this structure which has crossed the river Aller for over 500 years. It’s a mystery to me why I am attracted to this particular bridge, rather than to the many other packhorse bridges dotted across Exmoor. This bridge is a vital trade artery for the whole region and is constructed so that packhorses can cross the river laden with goods. The parapets on either side of the bridge are low so as not to interfere with the overhanging loads on the horses’ backs.
Packhorse bridges open up new possibilities: they make trade and travel possible. I imagine Exmoor ponies piled high and wide with wool on their way to the medieval yarn market in nearby Dunster crossing this cobbled bridge at Allerford. Wool from Exmoor Horn sheep was for a long-time the life-blood of Exmoor. Many roads and tracks were inaccessible by wagon and so the hardy Exmoor pony was called upon for transportation.
The bridge was built for times long past, yet it continues to speak powerfully across the ages. In 1830, when the wool trade was in decline and the number of horses crossing it were fewer, a boy called John Moresby was born and brought up in the small village of Allerford. The packhorse bridge would have been engrained into his young memory as he watched people from near and far using it to travel and trade. John eventually became Admiral Moresby, a British naval officer and explorer, who surveyed the coast around the Pacific islands of New Guinea. Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, was named after him. His thirst for new ways and possibilities encouraged him further, to chart shorter routes between Australia and China.
There is a link between the small Exmoor village of Allerford and Papua New Guinea. I like to think that John Moresby experienced a similar mysterious attraction to the bridge as me. Perhaps passion for exploring and discovering new and shorter routes for trade and travel may have been kindled, fed or even inspired by his watching Exmoor ponies crossing this packhorse bridge in his native Allerford.
We live in a small world which has deep and unfathomable roots.
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