Thursday, July 12, 2007

Birthday Bridge

This week has seen TV interviews of civil engineers supporting the 250 years anniversary of the birth of Thomas Telford, who built the Menai Suspension Bridge in 1826. According to this fine group of engineers Telford was their first president and the man who really brought order and structure to their ranks.

During the next two months there will be travelling exhibition visiting Edinburgh, London, Ironbridge and Menai Bridge. It will show the impact on civil engineering by this remarkable man. He gave the profession the basic approach to building which is still in use today. His basic principles are still used in construction work all over the world.

If you visit Conwy you will see just by the castle walls a smaller bridge spanning the Conwy river. You could be forgiven for thinking the Menai Bridge had been brought to Conwy and shrunk. But it is constructed from the same design but is a smaller version. The Menai Suspension Bridge had to be high enough to allow the tall masted ships of the day to pass below it. If you sail under this bridge you appreciate how high above the water level it is. I sailed below both bridges earlier this year when cruising on the MV Balmoral.

More recently a group of Macmillan supporters stretched over 2,000 bras across the bridge to raise several thousand pounds for our charity. It was the first time since 1960 that I had stood on the centre of the bridge. On that first occasion I was enthralled by the beauty of Telford's bridge over the Menai Strait. Also, it was the sole road access to Anglesey as the Britannia Bridge was simply the rail access to the island. Many years later when on holiday with my family I was told of the problems of huge road gas tankers arriving on the ferry from Ireland at Holyhead and then thundering across a lovely bridge designed for horse traffic. It was also the only route on and off the island. Had a tanker exploded the island would have been cut off from the mainland.

We have lived in Anglesey for almost three years and in that time the bridge has undergone a repaint. It took something 10 or 11 months to complete with an alternating one way system in place for traffic. From 6.00am to 2.00pm the traffic flow was from Anglesey to Bangor and then the flow reversed until 6.00am the next day. Whenever you wanted to use the bridge you had to look at your watch to make sure it was available in the required direction. I can tell you that the painting contractors used poor quality timepieces to calculate when to reverse the traffic flow. One day at 1.55pm I found the traffic already flowing from Bangor!

The bridge is, without doubt, a thing of beauty. It can even be seen on the reverse of Welsh pound coins along with the Severn Bridge. If you want to see an entertaining activity, just watch the local buses navigating through those narrow arches as they drive from one end to the other. Their drivers creep up to the arch and then, looking from one mirror to the other thread the bus through. Believe me, there is only a couple of inches clearance at each side!

For those who enjoy a pedestrian's life there is a very pleasant walk to be taken beneath the bridge on the Anglesey end. Just find the path running behind the local Co-op and you can soon be down at the water's edge to take a stunning shot of the bridge towering above you.

All in all we have to admit that this bridge is an important part of our lives as residents of this wonderful island. It has been the historic way to Holyhead all its life. in its day it wasd a most imposing edifice. Perhaps today, despite its stunning lines, we don't rate it sufficiently. We have become used to such world class bridges as the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and a smaller but perfectly formed bridge over the Menai Strait does not impress any more. For me that will never be true. It is part of our heritage and is just as essential as it was when built.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cruising again but for Americans

This time the cruise is around the British Isles in a super cruise ship called the Grand Princess. In 2005 we saw her sister ship, Golden Princess. That was when our taxi drivers were being trained to smile and say "Have a nice day!" The Princess cruise line was then establishing the merits of a call at Holyhead on its itinerary. It has now become a regular event in the harbour. There was an occasional blip two years ago with poor weather early in the cruise season causing Holyhead to be excluded. You see, if the liner calls she has to be able to land her passengers. At Holyhead there are no facilities for her to tie up so she anchors in the outer harbour from where she launches her transfer boats.

Yesterday, Pauline and I decided that we would take advantage of the long dry period after the last few weeks of intermittent showers and drive out in search of something worth photographing. First we called at Cemaes Bay and took lots of harbour shots as the tide was in and all the small boats were afloat. We then went over to Holyhead to get some items from a store there. As we drove over I noticed a ship in an unusual position in the harbour. I said "Oh, there's the ferry turning in the harbour at Holyhead." It was only as we reached Holyhead that I could see it was the cruise liner. We drove down to the port and the harbour front but each angle offered obscured a good view of the Grand Princess. There was even a ship on the Anglesey Aluminium jetty getting in the way!

We therefore had to keep driving round until we found an uninterrupted view of her. It was quite a learning curve as we wound round a large housing estate by the ferry terminal looking for a good view. Eventually we discovered the huge green overlooking the out harbour where locals must have great fun on hot days. I walked all the way to the shore and took my photos. She was still only a small part of the original photo and the shot you see here was really contrived with the use of various tricks available through digital manipulation on a PC.

I read in the press later that the transfer boats could not operate until lunchtime which severely limited the options for the passengers as she was due to sail at 1800 hours. But as I watched there were many of them plying between the ship and the harbour. I hope those who left for a pleasant afternoon got what they wanted. It was the first time this was really possible after the recent rain. Any intrepid passenger had to get across the island before they could set off for places like Caernarfon or Betws y Coed. I doubt there was sufficient time. But it was nice to see the ship. In the photo you can see the fast ferry or catamaran setting off for Ireland. It usually looks a large ship but yesterday was dwarfed by the liner which weighs in at about 115,000 tons displacement. Imagine that all you folks who used to marvel at the Queen Elizabeth who weighed 86,000 tons as the world's largest liner in her day.

These ships are getting bigger and bigger as the naval architects add more and more facilities to their creations. This particular ship has a small golf course on board! I think this is probably the case where ships sail in cooler waters like ours. Such amenities are needed when you can't land in rough seas and you could otherwise go stir crazy! It is a far cry from the tiny MV Balmoral sailing up the Menai Strait!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Anglesey's Weather

My beloved island has a reputation for windy weather but recently there has been less wind and more rain. Having said this I have to point out that, judging by the news from elsewhere we appear to be experiencing better weather than other people. When April produced such warm weather it put everyone in good heart for the coming summer. But we keep asking, "What summer?"

It was during April that we sat out in the garden and enjoyed a few barbecues together. Whilst this warmth was happening we had the bad news that my dear mother in law was dying. This meant three journeys to South Devon over four weeks. By the time we had to return after her funeral we drove through atrocious weather. On arrival home in Anglesey we found better weather but whilst driving on the M5 in Devon the rain was incredibly heavy. Despite this we were overtaken by many fools who thought they were invincible!

But I have managed to keep the lawns reasonable in the sunny periods between showers. Also I have done two bits of concreting outside the bungalow. So it has not been constant rain during this period. In an earlier blog I mentioned the changeable weather whilst we were cruising the Menai Strait on the MV Balmoral. Although we had some rain, for the most part it was dry but overcast. Towards the end of June we had the Macmillan bra stunt across the Menai Bridge and the weather held off until we were removing 2,000 bras which had stretched across the bridge and back.

Therefore, although we feel like most people that there will be no sunny summer this year, we have done well so far. Because the island projects out into the Irish Sea we seem to benefit from the best of whatever weather is around. But once on the mainland or the mainland side of Anglesey the effect of Snowdonia takes hold and the rain falls quite a lot. They say it always rains in Bangor!