Floodwater swept away one of Britain’s oldest bridges yesterday and forced the cancellation of the New Year’s Day race meeting at Cheltenham Racecourse as rain again lashed the country.
The stones of the Tarr Steps clapper bridge on Exmoor in Somerset, thought to be about 1,000 years old, were washed away after trees being carried by the torrent in the River Barle snapped two steel hawsers designed to protect the bridge. Most of the 50-metre bridge was destroyed, despite the stones weighing as much as a ton each, with the river swelling 10ft above its usual height.
Meanwhile the track at Cheltenham was declared unfit for racing, forcing organisers to cancel this year’s celebrations. A statement on the Cheltenham Racecourse website said: “Racing has been abandoned following further overnight rain and the onset of more rain this morning. Anyone who has booked tickets, dining or hospitality in advance will receive a full refund.”
The Environment Agency has 211 flood alerts and 90 flood warnings in place, although forecasters have predicted the start of the year will bring some respite. The Met Office said a band of wet weather was moving south-east and was expected to clear last night, leading to a drier spell over the next two weeks.