Big ones, small ones, tragic ones, moving ones; there are more than 500 bridges in Dorset so how on earth did writer Michael Russell Wood pick the ones he’s featured in his latest book?

“They are entirely my favourites,” he says, explaining how researching Dorset’s Legacy In Bridges gave him the excuse to ‘drive all over the county, enjoying myself’.

But why bridges?

“They’re a theme of a lot of the things I write about,” he says.

“People see them but they don’t really look at them. You go over a bridge but very often you don’t know there’s a bridge there.”

It’s certainly opened his eyes to the civil engineering wonders around us. His favourites are the packhorse bridges, structures built near a ford, enabling a river to be crossed at any time of the year.

“They are narrow, just wide enough for a horse and the parapets are low or non-existent, so the loads on horses, hanging down from the animals’ backs in panniers would not be damaged,” he says.

His favourite – placed fondly at the front of his book – is the bridge at Fifehead Neville with its two pointed arches. He has another soft spot for the preserved bridge at Gussage St Michael, where he lovingly describes its ‘ashlar voussoirs’, the curved wall supports, and explains that you can actually walk across it and: “It’s not as steep as it looks.”

His quest for a fascinating bridge took him to Cannington viaduct; ‘Strictly it’s in Devon’ but it carried Dorset trains.

“I had heard about it but never seen the place and you drive down this road, stop, and there it is,” he says, explaining that it’s closed to travellers now.

He’s seen bridges with “Nothing underneath them” such as the ones over the dry stream at Didlington, and others which are possibly not quite what they seem, such as the elegant Peacock Bridge in Frampton Park.

“It was attributed to Christopher Wren although Pevsner dismissed it as a standard mid-eighteenth century design,” he says.

He’s documented the gaudily-painted Town Bridge in Weymouth, and the Bailey Bridges at Bagber.

Possibly the county’s saddest bridge is the one in the aptly-named Watery Lane at Broadwey.

“In 1955 there was a terrible rainstorm at Martinstown,” he says, describing how 28cms of rain fell in nine hours.

“It was actually coming over the top of the bridge there and a hole was scooped out underneath it.”

He says a young boy called Robin Crump saw some sweets floating by in the flood and tried to grab them.

“Sadly he was sucked in and died because he couldn’t get out,” he says.

Looking at his peaceful image of the scene now, it’s difficult to imagine that terrible day.

Equally poignant is the Salkeld Bridge near Sturminster Newton, upon which is a plaque commemorating Lieutenant Philip Salkeld, formerly of Fontmell Magna, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for helping to end the siege of Delhi during the Indian Mutiny in 1857.

“It’s amazing how much local history you can learn from studying bridges,” says Michael.

  • Dorset’s Legacy In Bridges is by Michael Russell Wood