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Clifton Suspension Bridge

London has Big Ben, New York has the Statue of Liberty, Bristol has the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This astonishing sight is 1352 ft long, 31 ft wide and 1500 tonnes heavy, and welcomes four million vehicles a year. The brainchild of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, there were several abortive attempts to begin construction in the mid nineteenth century until Brunel’s design including Egyptian-style towers was deemed the best by Thomas Telford in 1831. Initially Telford had claimed that no one could build a suspension-type bridge longer than his own Menai (which links Anglesey with mainland Wales), but Brunel ultimately proved him wrong. The bridge was completed in 1864 after Brunel’s death. Amongst the bridge’s unique engineering features are triple wrought iron chains, roller mounted ‘saddles’, parallel eyebars and wooden planking.

You will notice the high number of Samaritans signs dotted around as you cross over, as the Clifton Suspension Bridge has been a favourite site for suicide cases over the years. High wire fences have helped to reduce the instances of suicide. Unbelievably, in 1885 a woman named Sarah Ann Henley actually survived a fall from the bridge of 245 ft, her dress acting as a kind of a parachute. At the Leigh Woods end of the bridge is an intriguing mini-museum and shop that offers an audiovisual potted history of the landmark’s construction and past use. Here you can buy postcards, T-shirts, badges, place mats and prints all depicting the iconic exterior of the bridge. It’s completely free of charge to walk across the bridge as a pedestrian, but if you want to drive you’ll have to pay 50p.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge has played a big part in popular culture and earned its place in the national psyche. It has appeared in such blockbusting TV series as Casualty, The Murdoch Mysteries and The Worst Jobs in History, not to say various adverts and documentary programmes. Fine views of the bridge are afforded by both the garden of the Avon Gorge Hotel on the Clifton side and the Camera Obscura on Clifton Down.

© 2011 Abiyoyo SL

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