Damage to a well-known 17th-century bridge in the North York Moors National Park has been labelled as a staggering act of vandalism by conservation experts.

Beggar’s Bridge is set over a picturesque part of the River Esk on the edge of Glaisdale village and alongside the path of the Coast to Coast trail. It is popular with walkers, photographers and historians alike, but a recent act of vandalism – believed to have been caused with an angle grinder – has thrown the immediate future of the 400-year-old structure into uncertainty.

Last month the North York Moors National Park Authority was alerted to significant damage across four pieces of the bridge’s parapet wall, consisting of inscribed letters or initials that up to 1.5 inches deep. Because the wall is relatively thin in places, it is uncertain whether some or all the damaged stonework will need to be replaced.

Annabel Longfield-Reeve, Heritage and Conservation Officer at the North York Moors National Park Authority, said:“Beggar’s Bridge is an irreplaceable historic asset that we are keen to preserve for future generations.

“We’re shocked that someone or a group of people would commit such a crude act of heritage crime and we urge anyone with information that might be helpful to contact the police.”

Expert Conservation Officers will now assess whether the damage, which is located in a prominent position on the Scheduled Monument can be removed or repaired, without causing structural instability to the monument.

Annabel added: “Although built in 1619, the bridge incorporates stonework from an earlier 14th century crossing, so you can’t just replace the stone like for like. You would be losing that age, the history and some of the story of the bridge over time.

“Although particularly destructive, this also isn’t an unusual occurrence. Crime against our heritage assets is on the increase. Many of our monuments are in rural locations and cannot be regularly monitored, so we often rely on local communities to help keep an eye on them. Sadly though, as is in this case, it isn’t always enough.”

Glaisdale Parish Councillor Roger Norris said local residents were shocked by the vandalism.

“Beggar’s Bridge is a national treasure that has survived for such a long time.

“To think that someone would carry a grinder there for the purpose of damaging it in this way is outrageous. This isn’t children scratching stones, this is criminal vandalism.”

Anyone with information regarding the damage should contact police on 101. The crime reference number is NYP-27072023-0395.