Best of British: Bridges

BY Fiona Hicks

1st Jan 2015 Travel

Best of British: Bridges

These feats of engineering aren’t just functional, they’re brimming with tales.

Tower Bridge


Tower bridge London

Thousands of tons of steel, Cornish granite and Portland stone come together to create this iconic bridge. Perhaps its most famous feature is its bascules—giant, moveable roadways that raise to 86-degree angles to allow ships to pass through. In an average year, these will lift an impressive 850 times. 

In 1952, London bus driver Albert Gunton had to speed and leap from one bascule to the other as the bridge began to rise with the number 78 bus still on it.

An engineering marvel to this day, its construction employed more than 400 workers and took eight years of labour to complete. The bridge has now withstood the elements for more than 120 years.

Today, it’s both a functional bridge and a popular tourist attraction. Along with an exhibition, visitors can amble along the high-level walkways that were designed to allow pedestrians to cross the bridge when the bascules were raised. 


Iron Bridge



The first arch bridge in the world to be made of cast iron, this revolutionised the craft of bridge-building. Opened in 1781, it was a crucial factor in the development of the iron trade in Shropshire and is recognised as one of the great symbols of the industrial revolution. 

Pedestrians can still wander over the bridge, and an exhibition within The Tollhouse explains the history and the secrets of the structure. 

Planning a visit? The bridge and surrounding village (pragmatically named Ironbridge), along with the neighbouring gorge, form a World Heritage Site that sports ten family-friendly museums.


Tarr Steps


Tarr steps

This clapper bridge (from the Latin claperius meaning “pile of stones”) is a treat, whether walking across it or wading through its history. 

Believed to have been built around 1000BC, the legend is as follows: the Devil built the bridge and claimed he had the exclusive right to sunbathe on the stones, swearing to kill anyone who attempted to cross it.

To prove his point, he vaporized a cat who unwittingly ambled across. It wasn’t until many years later, when the local parson stood on the bridge and challenged the Devil, that he relented.  

Now—as the story goes—visitors are allowed to walk over the bridge, unless the Devil is there sunbathing. How you tell if he’s present is unclear, but it’s perhaps best to leave your cat at home.


Infinity Bridge


Infinity bridge

Humbly entitled the “North Shore Footbridge” during its construction, the bridge was awarded its grander name when it opened in 2009. A total of 260 yards in length, its construction took a hefty £15m from the Tees Valley regeneration fund.

The bridge is perhaps best enjoyed at night, when its special feature literally shines. The blue-and-white LED lighting built into the handrail changes colour as pedestrians cross the bridge, giving the effect of a “comet’s trail”.

What’s more, the bridge arches are illuminated white, while further LED lights cause the water below to glow with a blue tinge. On a calm night, the reflection of the arches in the water appears as an infinity symbol—the inspiration behind the name chosen by the observant public.


Forth Bridge


Forth bridge

Not to be confused with the Forth Road Bridge, this continues to operate as a rail route with up to 200 trains crossing its 8,000-feet length every day. The longest single-cantilever bridge of its time, this employed 4,600 workers at the peak of construction.

The ambitious design didn’t come without a price, however, as a heart-wrenching 38 men fell to their death during its erection in the 1880s. 

It was opened in 1890 by the Prince of Wales, who drove home the last (gold-plated) rivet. This year it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site. 

Unsurprisingly, the iconic structure infuses popular culture: it featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, inspired Iain Banks’ novel The Bridge and has adorned posters for the iconic Scottish drink Iron Bru.


Humber Bridge


Humber Bridge

A new bridge in relative terms, this nevertheless has a long history. The Humber Estuary had long been a barrier to trade between the two banks, much to the frustration of their inhabitants. Local businesses first put forward a proposal for a crossing in 1872, with repeated appeals arising for the next 100 years. Approval for the construction of a bridge was finally granted in 1959—with work beginning 14 years later. T

he suspension design was difficult but crucial: as a busy channel for craft, it was essential there were no mid-stream piers to obstruct the way.

After eight years of meticulous planning and construction, the long-awaited opening was commemorated by a visit from HM The Queen. The persistent appeals have certainly been validated, as almost 180 million vehicles have crossed the bridge in the last 34 years.


Pulteney Bridge


Pulteney bridge

This Grade-I-listed building is one of only four bridges in the world to sport shops across its length. 

The name comes from William Pulteney, who was purportedly the wealthiest man in Britain when he decided to build a bridge in 1769. Pulteney enlisted architect Robert Adam to design the structure, which connected his home Bathwick Estate to the bustling city centre.

Despite having recently celebrated its 240th birthday, the bridge is still open to buses and taxis. Of course, with The Antique Map Shop, the Bath Stamp and Coin Shop and others offering their wares, it’s filled with eager shoppers too.