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Fords, Wet Lanes, Tidal Roads and Irish Bridge

There are many roads in the UK that take you through water some of the time, sometimes only occurring after heavy bouts of rain, many just because our antiquated drainage system can't cope with the large amounts of water that are currently falling with our rain storms/showers. However the UK is also littered with part or full wet roads left over from our heritage, most of these now on country roads and most known as Fords.  Of course many have also disappeared with new road developments, improvements and some only on health and safety grounds, and many will continue to be lost in the future as road management tries to deal with causes of flooding and local councils try to limit compensation claims from people who use them wrongly.

When I started to research this area the biggest problem was going to be how to identify them. Many Fords are listed/shown on some versions of Ordnance Survey maps, but going through these as an exercise was going to be a tall order and not practical. So like all modern researchers today I searched the internet. Many of the websites I came across have been created for and by people who have made it a passion to try and identify them and cross them in their vehicles, mainly 4x4's that have been adapted by adding a snorkel or other adaptations to allow them to go through the deeper ones. From this research I came across not only Fords but also other classifications of roads with water in them and here I will try to explain each type before moving on to how to go about identifying and photographing them.


The technical definition of a Ford is a place in a watercourse, whether that be river, stream or brook that crosses a byway and is shallow enough to be crossed by horse and cart, wading, on horseback or in a wheeled vehicle. It is mostly a natural occurrence and in the past was usually the only way across the watercourse. They are still a part of the UK road network, although most are now resigned to the smallest roads or left in villages, as they can become impassable after heavy rain or during flood conditions. For this reason many also now have small bridges by them allowing pedestrians and cyclists to get across, and some bridges are large enough to take cars, but lorries, farm vehicles etc still needing to take the ford. They are usually to be found in pretty village settings or down country lanes which make them a great photographic experience, and probably not one that first comes to mind. Some are so picturesque that they are regularly used by the local community in the summer as a weekend picnic area and the chance to paddle in the water, while some have become tourist attractions being the focal point of a small village. 

Wet Lanes

Most Fords are on a crossing point of the river or stream and when you stand on one side you can see the exit on the other, like the one in the picture. However there are some types of Ford which have an entry point and then follow the course of the river for a while before exiting further down the other bank side. This type of Ford is referred to as a Wet Lane. They are a historic feature that still exist in some places, there are two examples in Gloucestershire where the river and road share the same space for a longer distance. Their purpose historically was to wash off the cart wheels before entering villages and towns, they are generally shallow in nature and have cobbled bases and they vary in size. Sometimes they go just a little way like the one in the picture here, or they can go for a lot longer distances. They can sometimes be the only way for vehicles to get from point A to B in a village, and generally on one side there is a higher footpath for pedestrians and cyclists to use. They are not differentiated as being different to a Ford on maps and the majority that are left are to be found on unclassified unnamed roads. 

Irish Bridge

As well as bridges for vehicles and pedestrians to use to cross the road there is another structure usually around at or near fords called an Irish Bridge. This is not in most cases a bridge, but a method used to funnel the water under the road when the water level is low but still allowing the water to run over the roadway in flood conditions. Sometimes it is also used to describe a foot bridge to take pedestrians over the water or marshy ground, such as Mauds Heath Causeway in Wiltshire. Generally an Irish Bridge will not have water by it unless there has been a heavy storm or some condition which has caused the ford area to flood. However some like the one shown here can still be an interesting feature to photograph.

Tidal Roads and Causeways

As well as Fords which mainly today are found within our beautiful countryside there is a similar form found around our coastlines. These are classified as tidal roads or in some cases causeways. The difference between the two is that a tidal road is a road which connects coastal communities on either side of a river tributary by a pathway or road at low tide, whereas at high tide it is not passable. Sometimes they will also connect islands just off the coast with the mainland, such as that which connects St Micheals Mount in Cornwall. A causeway on the other hand is a road that has been created on an elevated sandbank across water to get to an island from the mainland. Some of these are also tidal, but most causeways by their definition have been created to be able to be used irrelative of the tidal conditions. Tidal roads should not be navigated without checking the tide times first you don't want to get caught out.

These are probably the most interesting feature in the UK countryside which are overlooked but many of them have great photographic potential and for this reason we have put together a section on Fords, with more articles, lists and many location guides of the most spectacular ones.


See Also:

Finding Fords

Safety at Fords

How to Photograph Fords



By: Tracey Park Section: Nature/Flora/Countryside Key:
Page Ref: fords_explanation Topic: Fords  Last Updated: 09/2009

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