by Martin Mitchell
Footbridges of Moccasin County
by Robert Dunn
Letter from Cambridge
by Martin Mitchell
I discovered Grantchester quite by accident, while biking around the country lanes to the south of Cambridge. I knew nothing of it before that first encounter, but was fascinated by the old church that poked out, making the road I was on take a sharp bend, slowing me down so that I noticed a sign for "The Orchard" just before the bridge. The river at that point is known as the Granta; it turns into the Cam as it reaches town.
The village, which is actually about four miles south-southeast of Cambridge, owes its notoriety to poet Rupert Brooke, who celebrated it in his writing and is now celebrated in turn by the village--although his work has gone out of fashion everywhere else. (Fellow World War I poet Wilfred Owen, less chauvinistic, has stolen some of Brooke's glory.) [For a bio of Rupert Brooke, go to Pegasos at www.kirjasto.sci.fi/rbrooke.htm.]
Soon I returned with a young couple, New Zealand immigrants who had befriended me, and who knew Cambridge much better than I. Most important, they knew it well enough to get to places like Grantchester by way of one of the countless and not always noticeable bicycle paths that make for splendid, safe shortcuts.
One thing about the village that can be fairly quickly dispensed with is the home of disgraced politician and highly successful writer Jeffrey Archer, whose lovely-looking cottage is surrounded by odd statues of people, something like those by George Segal, yet startlingly upright and looking extremely out of place. Just up the street is the thatched-roof "Rupert Brooke," which caters to tourists and is not the best of the village's three pubs. That honor belongs to "The Green Man," whose indoor size belies its outward quaintness, and which has a lovely garden with ample benches for customers. Not far away (and nothing is far away in tiny Grantchester) is "Byron's Pool," a widened part of the river, just beyond a lock, where Byron supposedly swam, and where Brooke and Virginia Woolf swam by night au naturel.
Best, though, is "The Orchard," a restaurant popularized during the first decade of the last century by Brooke and his now-famous chums, Woolf, Bertrand Russell, E. M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, and Ludwig Wittenstein. With a cup of tea and a scone, you can sit on a deckchair amid the blossoming apple trees and, weather permitting--we were several times lucky in September--just sit and sit. The Orchard's little history booklet contains a list of the famous people who were regulars there, categorized bizarrely according to whether they were, for example, actors, comedians, TV personalities, royalty, or spies. At the edge of the grounds is a little museum, devoted to the life and work of the local poet, whose poems I reread on the wall and would today, as an editor, have found unpublishably mawkish.
Heading back on our bikes along the path across the fields by the river, we stopped to pick blackberries, filling the plastic containers we'd pilfered from the pub. Distant voices rang out in the autumn air, small insects swarmed, fragrant natural scents combined, and dogs ran barking after their tweedy owners. The scene was idyllic to the point of cliché until one frisky canine, unimpressed by the surroundings or by human bliss, relieved itself on my sprawling bike.
(Martin Mitchell is
the editor-in-chief of Rattapallax and former editor of Pivot.)
The Footbridges of Moccasin County
by Robert Dunn
Moccasin County, Pennsylvania, with its toehold on the Laconic Mountains, is proud of its two dozen footbridges, some of which predate the era when William Penn, as a little-known sideline, designed the county's first fountain. It's still referred to locally as the "Water Moccasin" and its designer, as the "Fountain Penn." The Water Moccasin was in continuous use for over three hundred years--as were some of the pool fish the county tossed in as a decorative touch. Well, the hapless fish disappeared a few years ago during a hazing. The fraternity in question must remain nameless until the litigation is concluded. However, it's no accident that tartar sauce is still its official condiment.
Moccasin County built a footbridge as a memorial to the late, lamented pool fish. Now, footbridges are traditionally constructed of indigenous wood. But, due to an engineering miscue, this bridge was built out of slippery elm, which meant that people were hard-pressed to keep their footing, and the occasional velocipede attempting to cross would invariably end up fishtailing. It could have been worse: The thing could have been built out of quivering aspen.
Another famous Moccasin County footbridge, the Splinter Hill, which spans Streep Creek, is reputed to have been built in part by a young Abraham Lincoln, who split rails while the County Commissioners split kickbacks. Honest Abe never saw a dime--an oversight that helped him decide that Illinois was a better bet for his future. The Splinter Hill Bridge was very popular until some confused beavers dammed it instead of Streep's rushing torrent underneath, rendering both impassable. The result was a controversy quite nearly as intense as the Whiskey Rebellion--especially after some local environmentalists got an arts council grant to preserve the beaver dam as "found art." The Splinter Hill is now a scenic rest stop and museum just off U.S. 322.
One footbridge you won't be able to see is that designed by John Rubling. He's the engineer best remembered for designing the original Brooklyn Bridge--with both ends in Brooklyn. The redesigned version now in use goes to Manhattan and offers a very scenic footpath--if you can survive being run over by a bicycle. Well, Rubling was later hired to build a footbridge over the Susquehonka River. He took the assignment a little too literally, and built the bridge in the shape of a foot. Still, it was hailed as an artistic masterpiece.
Unfortunately, Rubling's bridge suffered the fate of most artistic masterpieces in our great land: Shortly after it opened, a local farm boy drove his cow (probably a stick-shift) over the bridge to market--or tried to. At any rate, the cow's weight-- too much for the bridge--fractured its "ankle," causing the whole thing to collapse, pitching boy and cow into the swirling currents of the Susquehonka. Several weeks later, the pair washed ashore at Absecon, New Jersey, with little ill effect. (No mean feat in itself.) They returned home to the Keystone State as local heroes, and the town was renamed in their honor. It's now called "The Jersey Shore." (Look it up if you don't believe me.) Furthermore, as compensation to the County, Theodore Roosevelt, fresh from his Panama Canal project, offered to build them a new river, which is why the Susquehonka nowadays has east and west branches respectively. Ferry service was frequent until the interstate came in.
One curious thing about Moccasin County footbridges: they are all covered bridges. Some even have roof racks and sports stripes. When I consulted the Recording Secretary of the Moccasin County Bridge and Tunnel Authority, a Mr. Reese, he explained that the preponderance of covered bridges was not curious at all; in fact, the coverings were essential. It seems that when the rivers in Moccasin County rise during the Spring flood season, they rise so high that the bridges become tunnels.
Well, that's history for you: just a lot of water over, under, around, and through the bridge. Allow about thirty minutes for the complete Moccasin County tour: If you've seen one of these bridges, you've seen them all.
(Robert Dunn is the executive editor of Medicinal Purposes Literary Review.)