“My first child, my darling”

This is how Isambard Kingdom Brunel described the Clifton Suspension Bridge that has spanned the Avon Gorge on the outskirts of the city of Bristol for close on 150 years. However he never saw it completed. Although construction started in 1829, delays caused by political upheavals and financial problems meant that it was only completed in 1864, five years after his death in 1859.

Today it’s still a functioning bridge used by thousands of vehicles every day and a major tourist attraction, and was a “must see” during our recent trip to Bristol.

2013-05-09 10.26.18

412 metres long, the deck, which is 75 metres above the river is supported by six massive wrought iron chains which run over two 26 metre tall towers and are anchored in the rock. When it was completed it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.


There are good viewpoints from both sides. The picture above was taken fro the western side, standing on the hill that overlooks it.

This one was taken just prior to sunset from the eastern side


There’s an information board at a viewpoint below the bridge on the eastern side,


The bridge appeals to me in different ways. The design is simple, but effective. It does the job. Aesthetically I like the curve of the chains that support the deck, the simplicity of the structure, the colour of the stone from which the towers and abutments are constructed, the parabolic arches in the towers and the setting above the dramatic gorge.


If it had been constructed 100% true to Brunel’s design there would have been some significant differences. The towers would probably be clad with smoother stone and there would have been embellished with hieroglyphic decoration and sphinxes standing on top of them. In fact there are a number of alterations to his engineering aspects of his design too by  William Barlow and Sir John Hawkshaw and there’s a school of thought that the bridge should be attributed to them rather than Brunel.

Whatever! The simple design and the setting combine to create a fantastic sight. I’ve been to see it several times and never tire of looking at it.


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