A man so tired of a 40-minute round trip detour after a bridge has been closed for four years has resorted to rowing across the River Tees to go and care for his elderly mum.

Eddie Peat, who lives in the County Durham village of Wycliffe, Teesdale, is primary carer to his 88-year-old mum Jane who lives on the other side of the river in Whorlton, just a mile away.

The easiest way for Eddie to visit his mum is a trip over the 150ft Whorlton Suspension Bridge, but that closed to drivers in 2019, and then pedestrians in December 2020 leaving him making a 14-mile round journey instead. Repair work is currently underway.

The Northern Echo: Whorlton Suspension Bridge is currently closed to traffic.Whorlton Suspension Bridge is currently closed to traffic. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

Sick of a detour which adds 20 minutes to the previously five-minute journey, the 66-year-old has turned to rowing about 100ft over the river to visit his mum, friends or go to the shops.

Eddie, a semi-retired chartered surveyor, told The Northern Echo: “I go and see my mum five times a week.

“It’s much more difficult in an emergency since the closure.

“If she doesn’t answer the phone I get worried and I have to go see her to check she’s alright. She might be in the garden, but she might have fallen.

“She’s fallen out of bed a couple of times and not been able to get up.

The Northern Echo: Eddie Peat in his boat on the banks of the Tees.Eddie Peat in his boat on the banks of the Tees. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“She’s 88, coming up to 89 – I like to call in and see her as much as I can. I’m her primary family carer. She’s very much isolated by the closure.

“Before it was easy, probably a mile there and a mile back. I’d either drive or walk. Now it’s a 15 or 20 minute drive one way.

“In the boat, it’s very quick to get across the river.

“I’ve had a boat for 20 or 30 years and the children played with it, but it’s actually come into its own now.

“This is an ancient crossing point on the river. There would have been people travelling across here by boat historically – I am just continuing with that tradition.”

The Northern Echo: Eddie has resorted to rowing over the river as the bridge works continueEddie has resorted to rowing over the river as the bridge works continue (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

When the Grade II*-listed crossing is open the journey is about a mile. But since the closure four years ago the easiest route between the two villages has been a seven-mile diversion, crossing the river by the next crossing at either Winston Bridge to the east or Eggleston Abbey Bridge to the west.

Whorlton Suspension Bridge is reportedly the UK's oldest unaltered suspension bridge having opened in 1831.

The Northern Echo: Whorlton Suspension Bridge.Whorlton Suspension Bridge.

Durham County Council said work is now underway to dismantle parts of the bridge and repair them.

It involves dismantling the bridge and carefully removing, cataloguing, inspecting, and repairing its 1,800 individual components, The work is due to be completed by December 2024.

Eddie, who first spoke to the BBC, added: “It will be an enormous relief when it reopens. I believe it’s intended to be completed this year.

“I’m just pleased the work has started. My wish is that this is the last time that I see this bridge closed.

The Northern Echo: The closure makes Eddie's one-mile journey a seven-mile trip.The closure makes Eddie's one-mile journey a seven-mile trip. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

Mark Readman, the council’s head of highways said: “We understand the importance of Whorlton Bridge to residents and appreciate the impact its closure has had on travel.

“As one of the UK’s oldest road suspension bridges, restoring Whorlton Bridge has been an incredibly complex project involving structural assessments, extensive design, and ensuring consents are in place with the appropriate bodies.

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“Preparations are now underway to dismantle the bridge, which involves carefully removing, cataloguing, inspecting, and repairing the 1,800 individual components.”

The repair work is said to be costing £8.4m with funding coming from Levelling Up cash.

The council last month insisted levelling up projects are on track to be delivered despite criticism from MPs that the flagship funding scheme had been hit by “astonishing delays".

Last week the BBC reported that councils are struggling to pay increasing repair bills for bridges which are closed or at risk of becoming dangerous. Durham councillor John Shuttleworth told the broadcaster it was a "a major concern".