The prolonged heavy rainfall that resulted in severe flooding on the Somerset Levels during the winter of 2013-14 also wreaked havoc further afield here in East Surrey. Part of the natural life cycle of a river is to flood and the River Mole is no exception as it passes through the local area between Sidlow and Brockham. Over many years I’ve often viewed such flooding from my bike and on occasion had to cycle through it, as on Wonham Lane in Betchworth where the road runs along the riverside and is prone to flood at such times. The road from Woodhatch to Leigh has long been the key to many of my local rides and as it too passes across the Mole, often breaks its banks after heavy rain turning the surrounding landscape into a shallow lake, complete with waterfowl instead of cows!
Originally built in the 19th Century, Flanchford Bridge provides a critical transport link from the south of Reigate to Leigh, Brockham and Dorking, thus avoiding the busy A25 to the north. As a result it is very popular with cyclists and at this time of the year finds hundreds if not thousands of cyclists passing over at weekends. Constructed of attractive Victorian brickwork, the old single lane bridge consisted of just two small arches. The adjacent banks are a popular location for fishing in the summer but in the winter the narrow bridge arches can cause the river flow to back-up and eventually flood over the road. Furthermore, such conditions have taken their toll on the bridge structure until in January 2014 the downriver (west) side of the bridge finally collapsed!
After initially closing the bridge for obvious safety reasons, the council placed some temporary barriers along the edge, installed a couple of fixed bollards at each end to restrict vehicle size and re-opened the bridge. Notwithstanding, it was now clear that the bridge would need to be replaced and about a year later the road was closed for work to commence building a new bridge. Unfortunately the closure coincided with my return to cycling after a knee replacement and has therefore seriously compromised my riding. Although the bridge span is quite short, the projected construction time of 6-months was soon extended to nine months and only very recently was I able to cycle over the new bridge and beyond once again.
Aesthetically the new bridge is far from inspiring and is boring at best. It is still one-way in order to reduce vehicle size and speed with a footpath along the western edge but significantly it is single span, which should stop blocking the upstream section of the river in future periods of high water flow. However, I still expect the downstream river section will still flood during periods of high rainfall, it is after all a floodplain and that’s what rivers do – flood. I now look forwards to enjoying this spectacle again on my bike from the comfort and safety of the new bridge.