The Most Beautiful Bridges In England

| © Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo
Claudia Lloyd

Although news on English architecture is primarily focused on the urban jungle, with ‘The Shard’, ‘The Gherkin’ and ‘The Walkie-Talkie’, architecturally brilliant bridges must not be overlooked. Both modern and old here are some of the most beautiful bridges in England.

Tower Bridge – London, 1894

Tower Bridge is a visual spectacle that truly encapsulates all that is London – an icon of the city that is recognised around the world. Most famous for its operational bascules that move up and down, which allow boats thirty feet or higher to pass under its section of the Thames, the patriotic red, white and blue paint was added in 1977 as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations – an element of the design that makes it quintessentially British. Although the original design is attributed to Horace Jones, the project is the result of the architectural minds of five separate men and took eight years in total. Last year, Tower Bridge unveiled a new glass floor that you can walk along when exploring one of the high level walkways (West). The bridge even holds three separate venues to hire for events, including the high level walkway itself – that’s certainly one way to throw a party.

Severn Bridge – Severn River, 1966

There is no better drive than across the Severn Bridge at sunset or sunrise, with the fiery light sweeping across the expanse of the river and instantly uplifting your early morning or early evening mood. The uncomplicated architectural design, consisting of two undecorated viaducts, contributes to this feeling of fresh air and open space – highly modern and the best known of many celebrated bridges designed by Roberts who was knighted the year before the bridge opened.

Infinity Bridge – Durham, 2003

In April 2003, a competition was launched in order to produce a design for a bridge which would cross the River Tees – the winning design was entered by Expedition Engineering and Spence Associates. Its name was chosen because of the structural similarity of the bridge and its reflection to the mathematical symbol for infinity, the figure of eight turned on its side. One sweeping arch is followed by a second larger one in an unbroken curve – giving the appearance of when a skimming stone jumps upon the surface of a river. Lit up, this continuous flow of energy looks brilliant against the night sky.

The Rolling Bridge – London, 2005

The pioneering designer behind The Rolling Bridge has been a name more recently recognised as the mind behind The Garden Bridge, an innovative project that Heatherwick hopes to have completed by 2018. The Rolling Bridge, however, is unique for a pretty apparent reason. The commission was for a bridge that allowed pedestrians to cross an inlet of the Grand Union Canal at Paddington Basin but also maintained the ability to move up to permit admittance to the boat which resides there. It is very clearly an emblem of modernity and its form is reminiscent of an Armadillidiidae (an insect which rolls up into itself) with its eight sections allowing the movement into a circle to be smooth and measured rather than jarring and mechanical.

Royal Ballet School: Bridge of Aspiration – London, 2002

The dream duo behind this hidden gem, Chris Wilkinson and Jim Eyre, are also the creative minds behind larger and therefore more widely recognised projects such as the Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle. The Bridge of Aspiration is one of those intriguing pieces of architecture that you can’t help but think about all day. Despite its size, it catches any passerby’s eye in an instant, firstly due to its graceful design and secondly because its purpose is a mystery. It is in fact, unknown to many, where there is a pedestrian bridge built for the purpose of linking the Royal Ballet School with the Royal Opera House. Its swirling, twisting structure reflects the elegant and fluid movement of a dancer in motion, and is absolutely stunning.

Packhorse Bridge at Watendlath – Cumbria, 1700s

We all have one of these in our repertoire of favourites – the small and unassuming bridge, which sits over a babbling stream somewhere, that evokes nostalgia for your childhood. Whether that’s a game of Poohsticks, a family walk which tires out your tiny feet hidden inside red wellingtons or a game of make-believe played with friends on a summery afternoon, the bridge acts as the ultimate prop. This one is particularly picturesque when paired with the accompanying countryside; and it is no surprise that writer Sir Hugh Walpole used this hamlet as the setting of a novel. This bridge is imbued with history, originally built for trade purposes, so that horses could cross the river, and is now Grade II listed.

Millennium Bridge – London, 2000

Named for obvious reasons, The Millennium Bridge is symbolic of an exciting moment at the turn of this century. In fact, it was the only pedestrian bridge crossing the river to be constructed in the last century. Ironically, the bridge’s original steel structure and ‘modern’ engineering wasn’t as sturdy as intended and due to the slight oscillation felt by those who walked along it, it had to be closed for two years whilst the problem was fixed. Despite this, the given appellation ‘wobbly bridge’ seems to have stuck with most Londoners. Its design was also the result of a competition and is one of the best bridges when lit-up at night, its contemporary metal design juxtaposed with St. Paul’s waiting at one end in all its Baroque grandeur. Again, many may recognise this particular bridge from the Harry Potter films: there is definitely something ethereal about it glowing above the Thames in the darkness.

The Ribblehead Viaduct – Ribblehead, North Yorkshire, 1875

Technically speaking this isn’t actually a ‘bridge’ but it is close enough to fill the requirements and it is just too magnificent not to include. It is not to be confused with the Glenfinnan Viaduct which was shot in the Harry Potter films as the tracks for the ‘Hogwarts Express’, although it is as equally impressive. Its 24 arches sweep across the Cumbrian countryside – a simplistic yet grand design which is a memorial to the hundreds of navigational engineers who died whilst working on its structure. Industrial deaths were common at this time but it was an outbreak of smallpox in the area which took many of these builders’ lives.

The Bridge of Sighs – Cambridge, 1831

Oxford University also has its own covered ‘Bridge of Sighs’, but the river which flows beneath the version connected to St John’s College Cambridge may just pip it to the post. Both versions are named due to their architectural similarity to the actual Bridge of Sighs in Venice – although it has to be said that the visual appearance of all three is quite varied. The Neo-Gothic design here is architectural poetry; note the delicate looking stone windows.

Clifton Suspension Bridge – Bristol, 1864

Although three architects are listed, this iconic bridge was really the brainchild of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Tragically Brunel died before the bridge was completed in 1864, and so his ideas were passed on to and adapted by Barlow and Hawshaw. Especially fantastic was the fireworks display held in December 2014 to celebrate 150 years since the opening of the bridge, including a shower of sparkling fireworks released from the bottom of the bridge and melted down in shimmering stream into the Avon Gorge below: asight that adults, students and children alike stood staring at with mouths open in wonder.

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