CONCERNED: Thomas Magnay says trade at Fernaville’s Rest has dropped by half since the closure of Whorlton bridge. The restaurant has now been closed temporarily because it is so quiet
CONCERNED: Thomas Magnay says trade at Fernaville’s Rest has dropped by half since the closure of Whorlton bridge. The restaurant has now been closed temporarily because it is so quiet

ONLY a month after a historic bridge was shut because of a safety defect, a dale restaurateur says the closure has had a “catastrophic” impact on his business.

Whorlton bridge was closed to vehicles after officials found “significant” issues requiring urgent repairs.

Durham County Council says the repairs to the grade II-listed structure could take up to a year to complete.

However, just a few weeks after it was shut to vehicles, the owner of Whorlton’s Fernaville’s Rest, Thomas Magnay, says the closure has hit his business hard.

He said: “We didn’t know when it happened what it would be like for our business. I was quite flippant and thought what will be, will be. But my wife has described it as catastrophic.

“It’s been a month now since the bridge was closed and we were reviewing the takings and they have dropped off by 50 per cent. There is a massive difference.”

The bridge, designed by John and Benjamin Green of Newcastle, was constructed in 1829 and has a single-track, wood-planked roadway supported by iron suspension chains. It is a popular route across the Tees for many motorists getting to Barnard Castle from outlying villages. The bridge remains open for pedestrians and cyclists, but a detour for motorists needing to cross the river has been put in place using Winston bridge, three miles away. However Mr Magnay, who has spent the past four and a half years building up his business with his wife Nicola, added: “A lot of our customers come from villages such as Ovington, Hutton Magna, Wycliffe and Caldwell and use the bridge.

“We do have some lovely loyal customers that have parked on the opposite side of the bridge and walked over, but the novelty soon wears off especially with the rain and the nights starting to draw in now.”

He said customers have told him not being able to use the bridge means they are now travelling and on extra 35 minutes to get to him.

Signs erected by Durham County Council at the crossroads of the A67 to Whorlton have had a big impact with many people assuming the road to the village is closed, Mr Magnay said.

“We have spoken to Durham County Council about the signage, but they have said their hands are tied and they need to put the statutory signs out. The problem is the signs are putting people off coming to Whorlton.”

Mr Magnay added: “We have never been busy during the week but we’ve gone from serving about 35 to 40 meals on an evening to just four. On Sundays we normally do about 60 covers but looking at the figures we have only done 20 each week since the closure.

“The bookings have pretty much dried up and we’re

relying on passing trade, but no one is passing as they think the road is shut.

“They have said it will take a year to carry out the repairs to the bridge and the rumour mill has gone into overdrive as I have heard when it does reopen it may only be to pedestrians and cyclists.”

He said the restaurant will be closed until Friday, September 20, because it is so quite and will give him time to concentrate on the opening of another restaurant at Catterick Garrison.

“What should have been an exciting time looking forward to opening D’Antonio’s has been overshadowed by this. As we’re so quiet we’re going to be closed for ten days and then we’ll have to reassess then.”

Mark Readman, Durham County Council’s highways services manager, said: “The decision to close the Whorlton Suspension Bridge to vehicular traffic was made in the interest of public safety.

“We apologise for the inconvenience caused, however since the critical safety defect on the bridge was identified, our engineers have been carrying out further inspections which have revealed the element of the bridge that failed is made from the same material as the other suspension chain links.

“To eliminate the risk of further failure we are working with Historic England to fully assess the condition of the other elements on the bridge. Once this is complete, then we can develop a repair scheme and apply for Scheduled Ancient Monument Consent and set a start date for the major repair work to commence.

“We would like to thank the public for their patience and understanding during this time.”