Today’s civil engineering skills mean they are bridged with apparent ease. In earlier times these rivers were challenging obstacles – often necessitating ferries or fords.
“The great age of stone bridge building begins in the reign of King John (1199-1216). Before that, river crossings were either fords or wooden bridges. Even now in the fourteenth century, many significant rivers have wooded bridges , in various states of repair. Some are rickety so you would be well advised not to risk crossing them but to ride through the original ford, which usually remains to the side.”
Ian Mortimer – The Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England
Even until the 1960s travellers to York taking the route via Selby crossed the Ouse on a part wooden toll bridge dating from 1791!
In times before satnav and readily available maps, rivers were a primary method of navigation – along with the sun and stars (and, eventually the compass). Routes along rivers clearly made navigation straight forward but the route between London and Edinburgh rarely offers this option. The rivers drain the higher central spine of the country heading east to the sea. The Great North Road is thus punctuated by a series of crossing points – and intersections with other east-west routes along the river valleys.
The towns and cities we know have often grown from earlier settlements where the intersection of road crossings and rivers stimulated travel and trade.