“It takes both sides to build a bridge.”
Bath – Pulteney Bridge
I mentioned that one of the two bridges in Europe that have shops on them is the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Well you guessed it, the second is the one in the beautiful Roman city of Bath, now renowned also for its Georgian architecture.
The 45 metre long, 15 metre wide Pulteney bridge in the city centre has shops on both sides. It was designed by famous architect Robert Adam and completed in 1774.
The story goes that an American fell in love with Tower Bridge, so much so that when he heard London Bridge was for sale and thinking it to be one and the same, he purchased it and transported lock, stock & barrel to California.
The truth of this tale is unsubstantiated, but what is without doubt is the beauty of Tower Bridge, the bascule & suspension swing bridge built between 1886 and 1894.
Its twin towers are alongside Big Ben the iconic landmark of London. The towers, swing mechanism and the upper walkway form part of the Tower Bridge experience costing just under £10 for adults and just over £4 for kids.
As rivers go, the Thames in London is hard to beat for wonderful vistas day and night. Perhaps in Europe only La Seine in Paris can compete in this department.
The bridges themselves are architecturally interesting, be they Blackfriars, Southwark, Millennium, Hungerford or the many others (there are over twenty in total in Central London), but is also the landmarks that surround them that make such wonderful sights.
HMS Belfast, The Tower of London, The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral, Sea Containers House, The Oxo Tower, The Millennium Wheel, The Houses of Parliament and many more.
The best way to view it all is from the Thames itself on a river cruise or high up in one of the many skyscrapers, whilst the night time views from London & Waterloo Bridges are awe-inspiring.
Edinburgh – Forth Bridges
There used to be a saying ‘it’s like painting the Forth Bridge’ to describe something that was never ending on account of the fact that a team of painters used to decorate the bridge and by the time they had finished, it was time to start all over again.
This is no longer the case, but the bridges remain as architectural jewels. Spanning the Firth of Forth and connecting Edinburgh with the county of Fife, there are now three bridges, two road and one rail.
The magnificent railway bridge was built between 1883 and 1890 by Sir John Fowler, Benjamin Baker and over 4,500 men, whilst the most recent road bridge was only opened in 2017 with the aim of relieving congestion by making each bridge one way.
One unknown fact is that my good friend Chris Clipson claims to be the first person to drive over the bridge wearing his slippers (or baffies as they are known in Scotland’s capital). I cannot corroborate this fact but suspect it is true!
Newcastle-upon-Tyne – Tyne Bridges
The bridges that span the River Tyne in Newcastle make for an amazing view. Approaching the city by train gives you great glimpse as you cross the Tyne, but getting down to river level gives you the best perspective.
There are seven bridges in fairly close proximity to each other, namely Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Tyne Bridge, Swing Bridge, High Level Bridge, Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, King Edward VII Railway Bridge and Redheugh Bridge.
The road and rail bridges in Berwick also make for a fine spectacle. If you travel by train to Edinburgh from London, Berwick situated on the English side of the border will be your final stop before you reach the Scottish capital.
If you get the chance, you should break your journey for at least a few hours. This enables you to get close and personal with the bridges, most notably the 659 metre Royal Border Bridge that spans the River Tweed.
The railway viaduct was built between 1847 and 1850 for the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway.
An interesting fact about Berwick is that they are the only English based football club to play in the Scottish League, albeit now a lower league.
If you take the Jacobite steam train from Fort William in Scotland to Mallaig, you will cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct at some point. This magnificent structure of 21 arches was made even more famous in the Harry Potter film series when it was traversed by the Hogwarts Express in four films.
Set against stunning Highland scenery, the Viaduct has a 1,000 feet span and is 100 feet above the ground, with construction completed in 1898.
The bridge across the River Severn between England & Wales is a fine modern example of a suspension bridge.
I have driven across it several times and the good news is that from the end of 2018 the journey into Wales became free of charge in an attempt to help stimulate the economy in Newport and beyond. Car drivers now save the £6.70 crossing charge.
The views through the white steel supports out across the blue Bristol Channel are a fine sight indeed.
Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol
The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol is a fine example of the engineering skills of one of the greatest ever Brits, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the architect of such mighty fine structures as Paddington Station, the Great Western Railway, SS Great Britain and the original Thames Tunnel.
The toll bridge opened in 1864 built to a design by William Henry Barlow and John Hawkshaw, but based on the earlier design by Brunel.
Spanning the Clifton Gorge over the River Avon, it may only be 214 metres long, but the feat of engineering is admirable and it was in fact the longest bridge in the world when constructed.
It is best appreciated on foot when you can truly appreciate the dizzying height of the structure as you look 79 metres down into the river.
There is even a see-through platform on which you can stand to give you an even greater perspective. Not advisable for anybody who suffers from vertigo!
Iron Bridge, Shropshire
When I am asked the things that make me proud to be British, the nation being at the forefront of innovation from the 18th Century onwards is my number one.
We may have been eclipsed by other nations now, but from 1750’s onwards Great Britain led the world in industrial progression in what became known as the Industrial Revolution.
From this time inventions such as the steam engine, water mill, printing press & gas turbine saw Britain lead the world in manufacturing as it was able to automate production, which up until then had been done by hand.
The Midlands region led the way and Shropshire was at the forefront and is known today of the birthplace of automated industry.
Nothing encapsulates this better than the bridge made of iron over the River Severn in the Shropshire town that is succinctly called Ironbridge.
Built in 1779, it is the oldest iron bridge in the world and draws visitors from far and wide to cross it and wonder at the pioneering planning and engineering that put it there over 200 years before.
As an aside, Ironbridge is also home to an amazing pork pie shop. If the bridge doesn’t draw you in, the pies should!
Tamar Bridge, Plymouth
The railway bridge connecting Plymouth in Devon with Saltash in Cornwall is another Brunel masterpiece.
Humber Bridge, Hull
Completed in 1981, the bridge over the Humber River near Kingston-upon-Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire/North Lincolnshire region is 2.22 km long.
I have never been to Hull and have to thank Andrew Petcher for the nudge to include this fine example of a suspension bridge.
When it opened, the bridge was actually the longest of its type in the world, which was not surpassed until 1998.
Thanks to the New Civil Engineer website for the picture below.
There are other fine bridges in the UK too that I have not seen. Where are your favourites?
Coming next – the bridges of Central Europe.