Friday, January 12, 2007

The Menai Suspension Bridge

My very first impressive sight locally was when I attended the Bangor Youth Conference at Easter 1960. It was the sight of the beautiful Menai Suspension Bridge. I walked across it and back to Bangor with a fellow delegate to the conference. It ws the first suspension bridge I had ever seen, then. My abiding memory is seeing Crossville double deck buses pass slowly through its narow arches. Further down the Strait you could see the Britannia Tubular Bridge that took the railway over to Anglesey, terminating in Holyhead. As a train spotter I knew that each day the Irish Mail passed over the Britannia Bridge on its way from London to Holyhead where passengers boarded the feries for Ireland.

Although the Britannia Bridge was not as pleasing to the eye as the suspension bridge it looked better then than today with its road deck and huge steel span beneath the rail deck. But we also have to remember that in 1960 there was only one road onto Anglesey and that was the A5 across the suspension bridge. Thomas Telford designed the bridge which opened in January 1826 with the first vehicle being the London to Holyhead Mail Coach. To this point the only way to reach Anglesey was by walking across sand banks at low tide and taking small ferry boats to the other side. Now, foot passengers and wheeled vehicles could cross in safety 100 feet above the sea. This height was insisted upon so that tall ships could pass beneath the bridge. Naturally the bridge had a toll for users and the building on the mainland side was where the tolls were collected. Later, a central toll booth was built in the interests of efficiency.

The toll ended in 1941. During the 1930s and 40s the bridge was strengthened and the wrought-iron chains were replaced by steel links. For ten months during 2005 the bridge had its first complete repaint for 60 years. In order to facilitate this work a one way traffic system was devised. From 6.00am to 2.00pm traffic from Anglesey to the mainland crossed the bridge and then for the remainder of the 24 hour clock it was traffic from Bangor that used the bridge. This caused quite a lot of traffic congestion on occasions, particularly during the tourist season that year. I can tell you that it caught us out from time to time and you always tried to beat the 2.00pm turnround! We often lost the contest!

I did hope that the repaint would include cleaning of the stone work at each end of the bridge but this was not included in the work. The buses still thread their way through the arches and hold everyone up as they do so. But they somehow don't impress me like the Crossville buses of days gone by. From a photographer's point of view there are some excellent views of the bridge from the lay bys on the A5 as you go down to Llanfairpwll. One view includes the rocks at low tide and really enhances the beauty of our lovely bridge.

It was during the seventies that I brought my family to Anglesey on holiday. On one occasion a poster had been attached to the bridge saying that the RAF Valley Open Day was on. I quickly went over to our holiday bungalow, dropped the luggage and then shot over to RAF Valley in time to see the Red Arrows for the first time ever. On one holiday I was speaking the wife of an Anglesey farmer who told me they were not too happy to see huge gas tankers arrive from Ireland and slowly cross the only road link to the island. She would have been glad, no doubt, when the road deck was built on the Britannia Bridge. The weight limit ensures that no juggernauts try to use this bridge, and, in any case, the A55 is the obvious quick route across the Britannia Bridge for all traffic.

At times of very high winds we experience the imposition of speed limits over the bridges but this does not really affect the suspension bridge as one's passage across is always slow and safe.


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