RUNNING Whitney Toll Bridge has been a voyage of discovery for husband and wife team Grahame Penny and Maggie Taylor who will shortly be passing the baton on to new keepers.

With a background in corporate business, 56-year-old Graham and Maggie, 53, had an overarching vision to capitalise on the beautiful setting of their 243-year-old home.

Yet when Grahame was diagnosed with bowel cancer last year, they had to “refocus” those plans. But they are delighted that the new owners, who move in later this month, have every intention of pursuing that dream.

Indeed, the proposals to establish a restaurant with balcony and a downstairs’ visitor centre are all “ready to go”, says Maggie.

What’s more, an ‘expression of interest’ has been made in the latest rounds of Herefordshire LEADER grants towards rural tourism through DEFRA for developing the toll house and grounds.

When they sold a training company, Grahame and Maggie’s sights were set on a move to the Dorset coast.

Instead they found themselves drawn to a stretch of river and a bridge built in the late 1770s. “It hadn’t been promoted, so we felt it needed pulling up by its boot straps,” says Maggie.

One of only eight privately-owned toll bridges in the country, it is exempt from tax under Act of Parliament and brings in an annual income of £100,000. Steeped in history and local lore, the bridge, Grade II listed toll house, gardens, grounds, camping area, fishing platform and rights have a price tag of just under £800,000.

The living quarters are “bijou”, explains 53-year-old Maggie, yet over the six years since they came to Whitney they have succeeded in making the famous landmark into a bankable business.

The ancient crossing point attracts wildlife, swans, kingfishers, Canada geese, passing otters - and TV programme makers -in equal measure. The One Show, Secret Britain and Tim Wonnacott’s Antiques Roadtrip have all been here.

Thousands happily crossed the bridge en route to the recent Hay Festival – despite the official sign introduced three years ago to direct traffic on to Clyro. Prior to the sign, crossing traffic totalled 13,500, after, down to 10,000.

But not everybody has enjoyed the new park & ride system, so that loyal visitors have returned to the toll bridge.

During the 10-day festival an acceptable £7,500 has come into the coffers, a “big pot of money” to plough back into the business.

Like the famous Forth Bridge, there are constant maintenance jobs – painting, dealing with masonry.

“The wind coming off the water has quite an effect,” says Maggie.

Before the Second World War, a house occupying the site opposite the toll house proved a useful arrangement for a quarrelsome couple who once tended the gate.

Tragically the house was gutted by fire in the 1940s and the poor husband died. Little remains of his house, but a “heap of poppies” appears on the site every year.

Maggie points out that “every bridge has its own troll”, and Whitney is no exception.

When she and Grahame leave this summer they will leave a strong legacy of enterprise - and a book published by Whitney Bridge entitled ‘It’s Walter under the Bridge’.