Britain’s bridges span not only some of our greatest scenic rivers, gorges and cliffs but the centuries, too. They’re architecturally spectacular, have intriguing stories to tell and are attractions in their own right. Here’s our top 10. Tower Bridge, London, England London’s iconic twin-towered bridge with its patriotic red, white and blue colour scheme – added for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 – was opened in 1894. Its twin bascules are raised for taller river traffic around 1,000 times a year, a spectacle which is well worth seeing; for bridge lifting times see the Tower Bridge website. You can also make your way up the North West Tower to see an exhibition on the bridge’s history and, of course, spectacular views over the Thames. Did you know? In 1952 a London bus had to leap from one bascule to the other when the bridge began to rise with the number 78 bus still on it. Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England Built to span the spectacular Avon Gorge, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s masterwork was finished in 1864, five years after the great engineer’s death. Spanning 214m it’s best seen from the charming Bristol suburb of Clifton on the bridge’s eastern side. Enjoying a pint of cider from the terrace of the Avon Gorge Hotel as the sun dips behind the bridge is an experience not to be missed. Did you know? In 1885 Sarah Bennett jumped form the bridge after an argument with her boyfriend. She survived the fall and was rescued from the mud some 76m below. It is thought her fashionably expansive crinoline petticoats slowed her fall. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Antrim, Northern Ireland Strung precariously between the mainland and Carrick Island this wobbly rope bridge was originally built by fishermen. These days it attracts those in search of sublime views, sea air and rare birds. The coast round here is spectacular and on a clear day there are views across to Rathlin Island and Scotland. Did you know? Each year several visitors who can’t face the precarious walk back have to be rescued from the island by boat. Millennium Bridge, Newcastle, England The sweeping steel arc of Gateshead’s Millennium Bridge is the world’s first tilting bridge, the latest spectacular span across the River Tyne that joins the Tyne Bridge and Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge. Bridges don’t come much more elegant and watching the structure tilt to allow boats through is mesmerising; it’s locally known as the ‘winking bridge’. For tilt times check the Gateshead Council website. Did you know? The Millennium Bridge is self-cleaning. Anything dropped on the deck automatically rolls into special traps at each end of the bridge each time it opens. The Rolling Bridge, London, England Unfurled, this wonderful bridge within the Paddington Basin looks like any other. But every Friday at midday it lifts, curls up on itself to form a sculptural octagon and allows boats to pass. Designed by engineering wunderkind, Thomas Heatherwick, the brains behind the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo and the new Routemaster bus, the bridge is engineering at its best – practical, innovative and stylish. Did you know? The bridge was built on the Sussex coast and then floated up the Grand Union Canal to London. Iron Bridge, Telford, England Opened in 1781, the Iron Bridge is the defining symbol of the Industrial Revolution. It was the world’s first cast iron bridge, built using iron made in the nearby blast furnace, a feat made possible only by the flowering of coke-powered industry in this area. The bridge and the surrounding area were granted World Heritage Site status in 1986 in recognition of their historical and cultural importance. Did you know? The Ironbridge Gorge had more furnaces and forges within 3 kilometres (2 miles) of a riverbank than anywhere else in the world. Forth Railway Bridge, South Queensferry, Scotland The world’s first major steel bridge was finished on 4 March 1890 when HRH Edward Prince of Wales tapped into place a ‘golden’ rivet. It’s now seen as one of the world’s engineering marvels and still carries around 200 trains per day. It’s officially Scotland’s largest listed ‘building’ and was famously painted continuously for its first 100 years. Nowadays, advances in paint technology mean that it only needs painting every 20 years. Did you know? The bridge has appeared in two film versions of The 39 Steps. Pulteney Bridge, Bath, England Designed by the renowned classical architect Robert Adam and finished in 1773, Pulteney Bridge is a Grade I listed structure in the World Heritage City of Bath. Cut from the city’s signature honey-coloured stone it’s one of Britain’s finest neoclassical structures as well as one of the most romantic. It’s best seen from Bath’s Park Gardens. Did you know? Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, it’s one of only a handful of historic bridges in the world with shops built along its length. Devil’s Bridge, Aberystwyth, Wales Not one bridge but three span the dizzying gaps of the Devil’s Bridge Falls near Aberystwyth. The best way to see them is to take the scenic Vale of Rheidol Steam Railway which snakes its way into the mountains from the town below. The scenery here is spectacular with 100m-high waterfalls tumbling between wooded hillsides and there are several good walks to choose from. Did you know? Legend has it that the Devil himself built the earliest of the bridges in a pact with a local woman. Her cow had been stranded over the river and she agreed to offer the Devil the first living thing that crossed the bridge he would build. He was outwitted when the woman, instead of walking across herself, sent her dog first. Glenfinnan Viaduct, Glenfinnan, Scotland The best way to experience this sweeping railway viaduct is to take a West Highland Line train across it. Steam trains thunder along the route – voted as the most scenic in the world – from Fort William to Mallaig each summer. If you take the train, make sure you sit on the left side for the best views. Did you know? The ‘Hogwarts Express’ train crosses the viaduct in the Harry Potter films.
Britain’s beautiful bridges
Friday 01 April 2011