Just flicking through my photo folders I suddenly realised how many pictures I take of bridges. They’re everywhere and I love them.
There you go, I admitted it. Yum – bridges. But then so too does the rest of the world. I think. They are an intrinsic part of my memory of so many places. The way they reflect or enhance their surroundings, the way they are both utilitarian and often beautiful and graceful at the same time. I take photos from them and of them, and more often than not there are plenty of other tourists doing the same thing. Nations seem to adore bridges because they are excellent border crossings. Many have an incredible history behind them, whilst others pootle along with more understated charms. They have stories to tell and they are a part of so many people’s lives.
This week, mainly because I’m completely snowed under with random life admin I think I’ll just put up a collection of some sexy bridges, with just a few thoughts on each. Some iconic, some unknown, but all pretty cool in their own right. I apologise now for the heavily British slant on them but we do ‘do’ bridges well…
London’s Millennium Bridge
This modern bridge was beset by a peculiar engineering problem when it was first opened. Spanning the Thames between Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral this new bridge was an immediate hit. The problem was that the footfall of the many hundreds of pedestrians was naturally synchronizing in a crowd. This created a shock wave that reverberated through the structure and caused the whole bridge to sway as if an earthquake was tickling it. People ran for safety, babies were thrown to people safe on the shore, helicopters winched terror-stricken people away from their paralysis, dozens were trampled beneath the stampede. Later a memorial plaque was erected and a government inquiry established rules to ensure this could never happen again. Yeah, sorta. In actuality people did just stand there enjoying it but the TV news reports that evening still managed to find a selection of numpties happy to relate how scared they were by a little bit of wobble. They soon made the bridge more rigid and those heady days of terror are long gone…
Tower Bridge, London
‘People’, even stupid Londoners, still call this London Bridge. I can forgive tourists as the iconic outline of Tower Bridge is synonymous with Britain’s capital city, but Londoners need a slap. Anyway, for me it’s not so much the bridge itself but what goes on in the jumble around it. You can’t find much more of a historic quarter of London than right here. A place where the mixture of old and new just doesn’t seem perverse or unseemly. In summer the south side of the Thames here is swarming with visitors and natives as there are a lot of restaurants and cafes east of the bridge, and grassy areas west of it. On the north side there is the Tower of London, from which the bridge gets its name – not because the bridge itself has towers. Looming behind that are some of the nerve-centres of western civilisation – the banks and stock exchanges clad in steel and glass. The Thames Path via Tower Bridge is a must-see for any visitor to London.
Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol
If you watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics you’ll have seen the top-hatted figure of Isambard Kigdom Brunel orating over the death of the British countryside, superseded by the rise of industry. This bridge was one of his babies. The design was altered quite a lot before it was completed but I still think its setting and design are hugely complimentary. Bristol is a pleasant city in the west of England and a stroll up to the Avon Gorge to see this is highly recommended.
Pulteney Bridge, Bath
Bath is jammed full of history but this bridge is one of its quirkiest attractions. Just like the medieval London Bridge this one has its thoroughfare flanked by shops and houses on the structure of the bridge itself. It sits just upstream of a crescent-shaped weir and all the surrounding buildings are of the same yellow hued rock as the rest of Bath. It is all quite a big sham though really. For all the beauty of the south face you can walk down some steps on the other side and see the pigeon-shit plastered north face. You can fully imagine long-drop toilets hanging over the edge of the span. Still, for a picture perfect tourist snap the bridge and the weir are central to any memories of Bath.
Workers hurrying home in Osaka
This bridge probably has a name, but I have no idea what it is. This one entranced me not because of any real beauty but because of the flow of people crossing over in the evening rush hour. Me and Kristina had spent the afternoon lazily following the north bath of the city centre’s river island footpath from east to west so that we hit this bridge just as all the offices emptied themselves. The lovely orange riverside lamps were like calm fires compared to the roar of traffic on the elevated roads above us and the dark suited Japanese on the bridge. These people probably didn’t even think about the bridge any more, it’s just a part of the routine. But for us looking in it was a curious insight to the working day, half a world from home.
Matsumoto Castle, Japan
The short red bridge over the moat at Matsumoto Castle seems like a historic relic. I’m not sure whether this was the original design but you get the feeling that the narrow width of it, as well as the dog-leg halfway along, would have made this a strong defensive position. The imposing donjon bares its walls of arrow loops at the bridge so that you can imagine the sky darkening for a moment as a volley peppered attackers. At the same time it’s just a pretty little bridge used by tourists to invade the keep in the twenty-first century, and I like that.
Magere Brug, Amsterdam
I just think this is a pretty bridge over the Amstel river. Magere Brug means ‘skinny bridge’, because the historic predecessor was extremely narrow. This one dates from 1934 but it’s based on the older 1871 version. Today you can only pass over it on foot or by cycle but for the best view of this quintessentially Dutch river crossing you need to hop onto a sightseeing boat. These pass underneath and loiter for a few seconds on the other side, just enough time to snap away.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
There are few bridges as famous as this one. Arguably Tower Bridge is more famous because of its unusual look but Sydney’s immense bridge is the centrepiece of the city’s new years fireworks every year. In the flesh it is indeed very impressive – far larger and bulkier than you might have imagined, whilst on the other hand the Opera House is so much smaller. You can climb the bridge but it’s expensive. Instead Macquarie Park provides a good view of two of Australia’s three famous attractions in one go. I wasn’t massively taken with Sydney but I sure could appreciate the majesty of this bridge even when I only crossed it in a car.
Beijing’s Summer Palace
What an oddball. We arrived at the Summer Palace by boat and this bridge is one the first things to greet you. Immediately I was struck by the absurdity of it. The exaggerated parabolic curve making the only sensible crossing by foot alone. And even that is a bit freaky. The steps are angled downwards so it feels like a dastardly trap from Scooby-Doo or James Bond. At any second you could be whizzing down the slope on your bum. The arc itself acts as a window onto the main lake of the Summer Palace and you can spy various structures underneath it, like a huge stone window. It’s not practical but it is interesting, unusual, and relatively attractive. Though I still can’t decide if it might just be vulgar.
Alice in Wonderland graffiti, South London
The Brits might do bridges quite well but they also have a good stab at graffiti. This unremarkable bridge along the Waterlink Way in South London has a real work of art lurking troll-like below it. If you crossed the bridge itself you might not even notice this Alice In Wonderland inspired piece but approaching along the River Pool you can’t fail to spot it. So often it’s tucked away places like this that get the best graffiti whilst you get awful tags and gang signs on more visible ‘canvases’ like people’s creosoted fences. It’s such a shame, but at the same time the structure itself will help to conserve this art from the elements.
Gentrified warehouses, Shad Thames
Only a few minutes from Tower Bridge is this road between old spice warehouses. Called Shad Thames the street used to be a hive of activity where wharves unloaded cargo into these beautiful buildings. Now these are all flats, studios, or offices. Gentrified. The bridges between each side of the road have been retained but they float high above you, seemingly redundant forever. Walking along here you can imagine huge barrows piled with crates and sacks being transported over your head. They seem a bit surreal now but this is one of my favourite streets in the city.
The Second Severn Bridge
If you drive from England to Cardiff you’re likely to use one of the two bridges across the River Severn. The newest one is, I think, pretty smashing. From a distance it has quite a sleek outline compared to the older and more blocky original bridge a few miles away. Driving across the newer one is like transporting yourself into the White Stripes video for Seven Nation Army as the cables zig-zag high above. I just think this one is a cool suspension bridge, basically.
Story Bridge, Brisbane
This bridge reminds me of burgers. In Brisbane’s New Farm area there was (is?) a burger joint called Burger Urge that made one of the nicest dinners I’ve ever had. The two members of staff were super-cheery and abundantly welcoming. And then the food was delicious. Me, Kristina, and Martyn had all spent the day walking all over the city and by the time the sun had set we were under Story Bridge. All lit-up at night it’s very pretty indeed. But for me this reminds me of salivation…
Richmond Lock footbridge, London
Once upon a time there were lock keepers, they lived in little bridge houses beside their workplaces and looked after all the barges that passed through. Richmond Lock footbridge is a pretty example of that. The tidal Thames is partially tamed at this point, but today it’s all automated. I’m often in favour of automation in ordinary places – Tube trains for example really don’t need drivers – but I simply enjoy the idea of a bloke looking after a bridge. His whole life revolving around its operation and other people’s interactions with it. This span is a nice ornate number. Well cared for today by the powers that be, instead of a lock-keeper. The Thames Path and the Capital Ring walking routes use or pass by Richmond Lock and it’s worth a brief stroll from Richmond to see a bit of history still being cared for.
So yeah, I guess here is where I sum it all up. Where I’m supposed to invite a bit of audience participation. I’m not going to. I think I’ve done enough damage to my massive street-cred just by saying I REALLY LOVE BRIDGES. But then I used the term ‘street-cred’ too.
Christ, I’m done-for.