We woke up early at the Eden Project (see this post) and made the journey up the M5 to Bristol. The first stop was the beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge which spans the Avon Gorge.
It was the 23-year-old Brunel’s first commission after he entered a competition looking for a design for a bridge linking Leigh Woods in Somerset to Clifton in Bristol. Due to money problems during construction it wasn’t completed until 1864, unfortunately a few years after Brunel’s death in 1859. Brunel’s colleagues at the Institution of Civil Engineers raised the funds to complete the bridge in his memory. The bridge as it stands was based on Brunel’s design, rather than being a Brunel design.
The chains were recycled from a different Brunel bridge – the Hungerford suspension bridge, which was a footbridge replaced by a rail bridge for the new Charing Cross station. At the time of construction the Clifton Suspension Bridge’s 214 metre span made it the largest suspension bridge in the world.
On the Leigh Woods tower you can see the Latin inscription “SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT” which translates as “a suspended way made with difficulty”. This description is very apt – the idea for the bridge was conceived in 1753, many years before Brunel was born, and the bridge was finally completed 111 years later.
If you are thinking of going, the 60p bridge tour leaflet from the visitor’s centre was a good buy – it had all the facts about the bridge and detailed a walking tour around the site.
Update September 2015: We drove over the bridge a few months later when we stayed in Clifton for a few days and the visitor centre was gone!