musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Clifton Suspension Bridge

Looking for Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel looms over the transportation system of Southern England, his influence left a legacy that can still be seen today, many years after his death. His influence on the Great Western Railway (GWR) is easy to find if you know where to look. 

I suspect the first real discovery I made was when I found his grave in Kensal Green Cemetery in London in 2013 

Image from 2016

Image from 2016

My travels took me to Southampton, and inevitabley to Portsmouth too, and it was there that I found a monument to the engineer; that was unveiled on 7 April 2006 to commemorate the bicentenary of his birth on 9 April 1806 at Portsea. 

From Southampton I moved deep into GWR territory and relocated to Salisbury where I used GWR trains quite regularly.  The current station at Salisbury is not a Brunel building, however, the former GWR station still exists, albeit in a different role as the Railway Social Club.

A blue plaque proclaims the heritage of this small easily overlooked building.

One of my expeditions took me to Bristol in January 2014. And it was in this city that I encountered one of the very tangible relics of Brunel.

The SS Great Britain was one of the many ships I had read about as a child, I even remember seeing photographs of it on it’s way back to Bristol for preservation.  Standing on the decks of this grand old lady was really something, It is however one thing to read about a ship like this, and a totally different thing to stand on board her.  I have been hoping to get back to the ship, and almost got there in 2015 but got distracted along the way. 

Bristol is also home to Bristol Temple Mead Station, yet another Brunel creation. However, the current building is not the original Brunel station.  I have still to investigate the Brunel station, although it seems to be perpetually under renovation. The glorious wedding cake of a station that is currently in use was expanded in the 1870s by Francis Fox and again in the 1930s by P E Culverhouse. Brunel’s terminus is no longer part of the operational station. It stands to the left of the current station façade (where the coaches are). I do not have images of the entrance of the station yet, but hopefully one day. 

Bristol also houses yet another Brunel creation, the magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge that I visited in August 2015.

Between Bristol trips I was somewhere else, and while I was there I paid a visit to “Steam, Museum of the Great Western Railway” in Swindon. It was here that GWR had it’s locomotive workshops. You can also come face to face with the great man and one of his broad gauge creations. 
Actually those drive wheels are from Brunel’s broad Gauge Locomotive “Lord of the Isles”, built in Swindon in 1851. They are 8 feet in diameter and weigh about 4 tons. Brunel was just over 5 feet.

Inside the museum I came to a replica of  the 1837  “North Star”, and it is really a comparatively simple loco when compared to the machines that rule the rails 100 years later.

The original was purchased by GWR and ran one of the first trains between Paddington and Maidenhead in 1837. There is no consideration for crew comfort in this machine, although I am sure these locos did not break too many speed records. This locomotive was not a Brunel design though, but it was modernised to run on his Broad Gauge (7 ft (2,134 mm), later eased to 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm)). Unfortunately Broad Gauge was not too good an idea and was not universally accepted and GWR had to change all of its rolling stock and relay its track down the line.

Leaving Bristol the train passes through Bath Spa, and the station there is also attributed to Brunel.

In June 2016, travelling South East from Cheltenham I passed though Swindon, Reading and finally into London Paddington Station which is where GWR terminated. The station today is quite a hodge podge of design, having to cater for the massive expansion of rail into the capital.

If you known where to look you will even encounter Brunel seated on a chair watching the comings and goings. What would he have to say about what they did to his station?

And if you tarried long enough in London you could always retire to your hotel that was a part of the station.

This imposing building is the London Hilton Paddington, or, as it was known: The Great Western Royal Hotel and it was opened in 1854. 

And that sums up my Brunel discoveries for now, I know there are others, because most GWR stations had a hotel attached to it, and I am quite sure that Brunel was involved in at least one of them, but that is another exploration for another day.

Brunel was an engineer. He was a man who could turn his mind to bridges, ships and tunnels. He left behind a legacy that has endured, and his work will probably be here long after this blog has closed down. He created and designed and influenced, he was an inspiration, and the world sadly has been replaced by accountants who create nothing, or managers who could not manage their way out of paper bags, and directors who dip their hands into tills with alarming frequency. Where did we loose the engineers?  why do we not have engineers that create on a scale like this? Brunel made mistakes, but his success outweigh his failures. He was a man of legend and we are so much richer because he was in the right place at the tight time.

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 01/11/2016  

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:35

The Banana Bridge

While doing my Bristol blogposts I remembered that I wanted to do a separate post about the “Banana Bridge”. I had first crossed it in 2014, but that was as far as it got.

Built in 1883 by Finch and co, Chepstow, it is a footbridge that spans the Avon. Originally erected 1883 as a temporary footbridge on the site where Bedminster Bridge now stands, it was then transported by barges to Langton Street where it now stands. 

As far as bridges go, it is one of many in Bristol, and the unusual colour really makes it stand out amongst the herd. It is also a firm favourite with the Minions. 

There are other bridges in the city that I have crossed, but they are generally not easy to photograph. This is the Bedminster Road bridge.

And this is the Bath Road Bridge from 1885, with its slightly outdated information sign.

There is also a railway bridge that is close to the Bath Road Bridge, and this is it from the station. It does not however cross the Avon River

This is the Totterdown Bridge, and I have finally gotten across it.

Walking backwards along this route towards the station brings you to yet another interesting structure, and as yet I do not have a name for it. It is a railway/pedestrian bridge that crosses the Avon, and the pedestrian side comes from Victor Street. The bridge is painted a jaunty blue colour and was quite a nice one to cross.


Of course in my opinion, all these bridges pale into insignificance when measured against the Clifton Suspension Bridge  which I visited in early August this year. It really makes everything else look like a poor relative.

There are many more bridges in Bristol, but they are not easy things to photograph as a rule, I hope to add to this post as I explore more of the city, although with Winter coming my days of heading off on a whim are drawing to a close. Watch this space though, this may not be the end of the story.

Update 2018. 

I have added a few more bridges to the collection.

The first is the Redcliffe Bridge.

The Temple foot bridge 

The Bristol BridgePrince Street Swing Bridge

Pero’s Bridge

© DRW 2015-2018. Images migrated 02/05/2016. More images added 04/08/2018

Updated: 09/12/2018 — 17:42

Bridges not too far.

When I did my original trip to Bristol in January 2014,  I decided that on my next trip (whenever that was) would take in the Clifton Suspension Bridge, assuming I could find it and get to it from where I was on that particular day. However, my plans did not happen and I have still not gotten back to Bristol.

Yesterday, while on a trip to Lymington I mentioned that I would really like to see this bridge, and seeing as we had to go past Bristol could we stop by on the way? and having some time to kill we did so on the way back. And what a score it was.
Naturally finding it was troublesome, I only know Bristol from the area around the station, the cemetery and the SS Great Britain, so we really had to rely on the GPS to get us close, and then work at it from there. Eventually, after traversing the town we spotted the bridge in the distance.
And now for the weather: as you can see above it was cloudy and gloomy and not really photography weather, but we still had to find the route to the bridge, and by the time we did the weather was clearing and the view turned out so much better. The odd thing is, that for such a landmark structure it is really very poorly signposted, so we struggled to get up there. 
Eventually we found our way and we were soon on the approaches of the bridge. Please deposit £1 in the slot!
The tower that we now approached was sheathed in plastic as it was being restored, so it did detract from the approach.  We parked close by and walked down to the bridge, although you could not really see it from where we had parked. And then we were there. And what a beautiful bridge she is. This is the Leigh Woods Tower. 
At first I thought that it was a Brunel built bridge, but in reality it is based on his design, Brunel never saw the completion of the structure.  
The view from the bridge is stunning, and it depends on whichever lane or side you are on at the time.
This image is taken towards the Avon Gorge from the Leigh Woods Tower. Out of frame on the right hand side of the image is what I assume is a lookout tower, or possibly a guard tower (aka The Observatory), and that was the destination we had in mind as we headed across the bridge.
It was from that point where we would get our best views of the bridge. The purpose of the tower still puzzles me and I will have to do some reading about it. Oddly enough there was no information board on the tower.
The wrapped tower is the Clifton Tower, and it is not identical to the Leigh Woods Tower. 
This view is of the Avon Gorge, and is taken from the park on the Clifton Tower side. 
The park is dominated by the Observatory, and the small blue oddity at the foot of it is a Shaun the Sheep figurine.   
And the best views of the bridge are from here.
The major difference between the Leigh Wood Tower above and the Clifton Tower are cutouts on the Clifton Tower, although that tower is wrapped in plastic and cannot be seen in any detail. 
A travelling gantry is used to perform maintenance on the roadway, and the guard rails now include a anti suicide precautions because the bridge does have a high suicide rate. Only recently an elderly lady jumped from the bridge area after being hounded by “charities”.
And then it was time to recross and head for the car.
The view from this side is of the approaches to Bristol along the Avon. This used to be a very active waterway, and one of the stipulations around the bridge was that it had to be high enough for tall masted ships to pass under it. Sadly, only two yachts transited while we were there.
The Leigh Wood Tower has the Latin motto “Suspensa Vix Via Fit” which translates as ““A suspended way made with difficulty”

The bridge is a testament to the Victorian Engineer and those who have vision. It was completed in 1864, and sadly Brunel never got to see the end result.

Leaving Bristol we headed North, and then West towards Wales and the two bridges that span the Severn Estuary. It was really one of those whim moments and I am glad that we did do this slightly expensive detour.

The first bridge we crossed over the Severn on was the Second Severn crossing, and it was inaugurated in 1996.  Unfortunately time was marching so we did not go looking for a vantage point, and the images taken here are from the car and through the windscreen. It is a toll bridge (Deposit £6.50 in the slot please).


This bridge is a cable stay bridge and links South Wales and England at the Severn Estuary.

Our return trip after our brief sojourn in Wales was over the M48 Wye Bridge and Viaduct, The Wye Bridge is of a stayed girder construction and is located between Beachley in Gloucestershire and Chepstow in Monmouthshire.


These are relatively modern bridges and have an attraction all of their own. They are functional and have the modern lack of aesthetics so beloved of the Victorians. Would Brunel have approved? I don’t know, he would have probably lined them with brick and added a lion or a sphinx or two.

Bridges are structures that are with us for a long time. The Clifton Suspension Bridge has been around over a century and hopefully will still be there in another 100 years time. These two will probably be with us for a long time too. They become part of the scenery, and as far as I am concerned enhance the view, because they are still amongst the most beautiful structures that mankind erects. 

© DRW 2015-2018. Created 02/08/2015, images migrated 01/05/2016 
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 16:31
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