Thursday, July 12, 2007

Birthday Bridge

This week has seen TV interviews of civil engineers supporting the 250 years anniversary of the birth of Thomas Telford, who built the Menai Suspension Bridge in 1826. According to this fine group of engineers Telford was their first president and the man who really brought order and structure to their ranks.

During the next two months there will be travelling exhibition visiting Edinburgh, London, Ironbridge and Menai Bridge. It will show the impact on civil engineering by this remarkable man. He gave the profession the basic approach to building which is still in use today. His basic principles are still used in construction work all over the world.

If you visit Conwy you will see just by the castle walls a smaller bridge spanning the Conwy river. You could be forgiven for thinking the Menai Bridge had been brought to Conwy and shrunk. But it is constructed from the same design but is a smaller version. The Menai Suspension Bridge had to be high enough to allow the tall masted ships of the day to pass below it. If you sail under this bridge you appreciate how high above the water level it is. I sailed below both bridges earlier this year when cruising on the MV Balmoral.

More recently a group of Macmillan supporters stretched over 2,000 bras across the bridge to raise several thousand pounds for our charity. It was the first time since 1960 that I had stood on the centre of the bridge. On that first occasion I was enthralled by the beauty of Telford's bridge over the Menai Strait. Also, it was the sole road access to Anglesey as the Britannia Bridge was simply the rail access to the island. Many years later when on holiday with my family I was told of the problems of huge road gas tankers arriving on the ferry from Ireland at Holyhead and then thundering across a lovely bridge designed for horse traffic. It was also the only route on and off the island. Had a tanker exploded the island would have been cut off from the mainland.

We have lived in Anglesey for almost three years and in that time the bridge has undergone a repaint. It took something 10 or 11 months to complete with an alternating one way system in place for traffic. From 6.00am to 2.00pm the traffic flow was from Anglesey to Bangor and then the flow reversed until 6.00am the next day. Whenever you wanted to use the bridge you had to look at your watch to make sure it was available in the required direction. I can tell you that the painting contractors used poor quality timepieces to calculate when to reverse the traffic flow. One day at 1.55pm I found the traffic already flowing from Bangor!

The bridge is, without doubt, a thing of beauty. It can even be seen on the reverse of Welsh pound coins along with the Severn Bridge. If you want to see an entertaining activity, just watch the local buses navigating through those narrow arches as they drive from one end to the other. Their drivers creep up to the arch and then, looking from one mirror to the other thread the bus through. Believe me, there is only a couple of inches clearance at each side!

For those who enjoy a pedestrian's life there is a very pleasant walk to be taken beneath the bridge on the Anglesey end. Just find the path running behind the local Co-op and you can soon be down at the water's edge to take a stunning shot of the bridge towering above you.

All in all we have to admit that this bridge is an important part of our lives as residents of this wonderful island. It has been the historic way to Holyhead all its life. in its day it wasd a most imposing edifice. Perhaps today, despite its stunning lines, we don't rate it sufficiently. We have become used to such world class bridges as the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and a smaller but perfectly formed bridge over the Menai Strait does not impress any more. For me that will never be true. It is part of our heritage and is just as essential as it was when built.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Keith,

Great post about the bridge. We always stop to have a good look at the both the bridges once we're on the island.

Just got back from a couple of weeks in Devon, nice, but all it did was re-enforce my opinion that North Wales, Angles and North West UK is by far the better palce for angling, walking and just 'being'.

Hope you are well.

Sea Fishing and Walking in the UK

8:46 am  

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