A BRIDGE in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales has been closed to allow essential safety work to be carried out.

County council engineers have closed the Grade II-listed UshaGap Bridge, on the B6270 near Muker, for six days.

Diversion routes have been set up for traffic – and bus passengers are having to disembark to cross the centuries-old structure on foot.

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The bridge was hit by vehicles on two occasions earlier this the year, causing substantial damage to the parapet and raising concerns about its safety.

Once the parapet has been rebuilt, using existing stone, the bridge will be re-opened by Tuesday, August 18 - weather permitting.

Additional repair work will be completed under temporary traffic signals for a further seven days. The full works are expected to be finished by Tuesday, August 25.

The county’s executive member for highways, Councillor Dion Mackenzie, said: “Usha Gap Bridge is around two hundred years old and so any repair works must be carried out to conservation standards.

“However, we are doing everything we can to make sure these works are completed as quickly as possible during this summer season and our contractors are working through the weekend to this end.

“We are very conscious that nearby Ivelet Bridge was closed after it too was damaged by motor vehicles and so we are committed to keep any disruption to a minimum.”

During the bridge closure, the Little White Bus, which has been running an extended six-day-a-week shuttle service from Keld through to Catterick since April, is providing an additional bus link beyond the bridge works up to Keld.

Passengers, assisted by traffic management ambassadors when the works are taking place, walk over the bridge to make the link between the two buses.

The bus service, which uses 30 volunteer drivers, is run by the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership and its managing director is local county councillor John Blackie.

He said: “We have worked with the county council and are using our own funding to ensure that the Little White Bus advertised scheduled service keeps going whether the road is open or closed.

“To us and the deeply rural scattered communities we proudly serve it is hugely important that the show must go on.”

He added: “Our extended Swaledale Shuttle service is attracting many more passengers than under the previous arrangements so we were not prepared to let a bridge closure get in the way of a community success story.

“Nearly 5,000 passengers travelled on our various services in July and we wanted to keep this momentum going.”