TODAY'S Echo Memories is about the Wynch Bridge near Bowlees in upper Teesdale. It was first built in 1741 when it was Britain's first suspension bridge and Europe's second. In 1829, about 60 looping miles downstream, the world's first railway suspension bridge was built, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

There is a third historic suspension bridge over the Tees. It is at Whorlton. I wrote the article below in 2003 when Durham County Council was spending £90,000 restoring it: ============================== JUST finding Whorlton Bridge is something of a triumph. From the southern side, it is only stumbled across by meandering through the countryside on zig-zag lanes between dots of villages such as Ovington, Wycliffe and Hutton Magna.

From the northern side, it's only a little easier as Whorlton village lies in a backwater between Barnard Castle and Gainford. To reach the bridge you have to squeeze between bollards - which indicate the colour of the car that went before and scraped its sides - and then make a hairpin descent.

But the bridge, with its wooden decking, its arcing suspension cables and its place in history, is so picturesque that it is worth any amount of map-reading.

Finding out why Whorlton Bridge is there is even more difficult than finding out where Whorlton Bridge is.

There are plenty of places to cross the Tees in this neck of the woods. In ancient times, there were fords between Whorlton and Wycliffe, Winston and Hedgeholme, and Gainford and Barforth.

Several hundred years ago, Barforth ford was replaced by a packhorse bridge which, in its heyday, was a crucial crossing point as mules laden with coal trudged over it from Cockfield Fell on their way into the Yorkshire Dales.

In 1691, the Durham Sessions granted £1 to James Browne to buy a passenger boat to sail between Whorlton and Wycliffe, "it being of great use and benefit to both counties". This ferry plied its trade until the 1850s, with its customers stoking up on Dutch courage at a vanished riverside inn called the Boot and Shoe before daring to pay the ferryman.

And then there were Sir Thomas Robinson's colossal stone projects. He lived in Rokeby Park, and his first attempt at bridge-building was the 111ft single span monster at Winston. Even the architect who designed it - a Mr Johnson from Wolsingham - was so convinced that it wouldn't stand up that he fled from the project, and the clerk-of-works - a Mr Green from Hexham - had to complete it. The bridge opened in September 1763 and still carries vehicles over the Tees.

Sir Thomas's second bridge was the equally delightful Abbey Bridge, which opened on June 19, 1773, beside Egglestone Abbey. Even with all these crossing points in their neighbourhood, the people of Whorlton were still prepared to go to the expense of building one on their doorstep.

There must, then, have been money to be made. Presumably it came from the south Durham coal trade - soon after Winston Bridge had been built, for example, 18,000 tons of coal were passing over it a year.

The 1829 Act of Parliament which granted permission for the building of Whorlton Bridge talks of it being part of a new Staindrop to Greta Bridge turnpike (toll road). Tolls for crossing Whorlton Bridge continued to be collected until around the time of the First World War when the ownership of the bridge passed from private hands to Durham County Council.

But, on the debit side, Whorlton Bridge must have cost a pretty penny to build. Work started on June 9, 1829, when Miss Headlam, daughter of the Venerable Archdeacon John Headlam, laid the foundation stone "amidst great rejoicings".

Work progressed until October 13 when there was a great flood which washed all the stones away. The builder found himself washed up as he went bankrupt.

The notables of the district gathered round - the Venerable Headlam, Thomas Harrison of Stubhouse, Captain Robert Dinsdale, Thomas Wheldon and probably Colonel Cradock MP, of Thorpe Hall on the Yorkshire side. They delved deep into their pockets.

For their money, they wanted something that would not be easily washed away. The answer was obvious: a suspension bridge which didn't require piers standing in the middle of the river. And, at the end of the 1820s, suspension bridges were suddenly extremely fashionable.

The first suspension bridge in Britain had stood up-stream of Whorlton at Middleton-in-Teesdale. It was called the Wynch Bridge and had been erected around 1740 so leadminers could cross near High Force.

Very few other suspension bridges had been built in Britain until, in 1820, Sir Samuel Brown slung the Union Bridge over the River Tweed at Berwick, Northumberland.

It was 361ft long, the biggest of its kind in the world, and it cost £7,000 - but the equivalent masonry bridge would have cost more than £20,000. Sir Samuel suddenly found himself in demand as every town in Britain wanted to save money and get itself a trendy bridge.

There were, though, safety problems with suspension bridges as the Wynch Bridge had shown in August 1802. One of its chains had snapped, sending three haymakers plunging 60ft into the Tees below. Amazingly, two survived - but a fellow called Bainbridge was dashed to bits on the rocks.

Of course, argued the men of Whorlton, the Wynch Bridge was rudimentary technology: it was 70ft long, only 2ft wide and had only one handrail. Accidents were bound to happen on such an old, out-dated bridge.

So they weren't deterred by its failure - in fact, the Duke of Cleveland's decision to replace the collapsed Wynch Bridge in 1830 with another suspension bridge (which still stands) may well have spurred them on to build one that was bigger and better.

But on March 19, 1830, Sir Samuel Brown's suspension bridge at Montrose collapsed. It was less than a year old, and it sent the 700 people who had gathered on it to watch a boat race plummeting into the river beneath.

Still undeterred, the Whorlton men pressed on, and on August 19, 1830, they completed their tower on the Durham side of the Tees.

Then, in December 1830, came dreadful news from downstream. Sir Samuel Brown had just completed the world's first railway suspension bridge for the Stockton and Darlington Railway over the Tees at Stockton. But as the first train had gone over it, the bridge wobbled and shook. It rose up in the middle and the pillar on the Yorkshire side cracked. It clearly wasn't up to the job, and the only way the railwaymen could get their cargoes across was by chaining batches of four wagons nine feet apart. This distributed the weight more evenly, but still wasn't satisfactory, and Sir Samuel's bridge was pulled down in 1842.

And at the start of 1831, the men of Whorlton heard news from Broughton, near Preston, where a suspension bridge - built in 1826 - had spectacularly collapsed when a column of troops tried to march over it.

Still the men of Whorlton persevered and on April 1, 1831, they successfully threw their chains over the Durham tower and attached them to rocks on the southern side. Now all they had to do was attach the wooden decking to the chains and, hey presto, they had their bridge.

Perhaps they were so confident because they knew they had engaged a pair of the best known civil engineers of their day: John Green (1787-1852) and his son Benjamin (1813-1858).

They were believed to have been descended from the Mr Green who had completed the Winston Bridge in 1763. More importantly, John Green was the Duke of Northumberland's architect and was applying to Whorlton all the techniques he was learning in Newcastle where he was building the Scotswood Bridge.

Scotswood opened on April 16, 1831 - only 15 days after Whorlton had successfully moored their chains. Scotswood cost £15,000 and was 670ft long. By contrast, Whorlton was just 180ft long. No danger.

So, on July 7, 1831, "this elegant structure" in Whorlton was opened. The local people were so confident in its safety that a long procession stomped across it. The Barnard Castle Subscription Band led the way, followed by John Green. Then on horseback came the Whorlton bridge committee, led by the Venerable Archdeacon Headlam, followed by 27 carriages. Sundry other carriages and pedestrians brought up the rear.

They all processed up to Col Cradock's Thorpe Hall, turned round, marched back across the bridge and climbed up the hairpin to Whorlton where they held a celebratory gala. In the evening, members of the committee wandered back over the bridge and off to the Morritt Arms at Greta Bridge, where they dined long into the night.

The Whorlton Bridge wasn't perfect, though. "To cross it in a hurricane was a trying ordeal", wrote a local vicar in 1934. "The bridge heaved up and down in a peculiar manner, resembling somewhat a ship at sea."

The bridge was overhauled and strengthened just after the turn of the 20th Century and much of its vibration was halted. Now, at the start of the 21st Century, Durham County Council is to give it another £90,000 overhaul.

As the chains are due only to be repainted, this should enable Whorlton Bridge to stand by the claim made for it by the Durham Federation of Women's Institutes, which says in its recent Durham Villages Book that it is "the oldest suspension in the country supported unaided by its original chains".

========================= FOLLOWING Whorlton, John Green's extraordinary career included Blackwell Bridge, at Darlington, where he also built Paradise Chapel in Coniscliffe Road and Harewood Grove. His most famous work was the Monument to the Earl of Durham on Penshaw Hill. His Scotswood Bridge, though, was replaced in 1967.