After two other aborted filming attempts the good weather held out long enough for us to get all the shots we needed at the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. What an amazing experience – and yes that is me pictured on the chains!
The bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel when he was just 24 and was his first major commission. Work began on its construction in 1831 but was stopped in 1843 as a result of financial and political problems leaving only the two towers on each side of the vast Avon Gorge that it was to span. Unfortunately, Brunel never saw the end result of his work as he passed away in 1859 at the age of just 53-years. The bridge was finally completed as a memorial to Brunel some five years later – and what a memorial it is!
The filming assignment was to capture two different aspects of Eiger Safety’s work – namely latchway testing and re-fitting. Atop the bridge chains there’s a latchway cable running their entire length (land-to-tower each side – plus the central long chains) so that the regular maintenance team can safely do periodic checks, cyclic painting and change light bulbs.
The testing was carried on the first day whilst the bridge was still open to vehicle traffic. The footpath was also kept open but restricted to one side – depending on which chain was being tested. The land-to-tower chains on the Leigh Woods end of the bridge were going to be replaced on the following day so these did not have to be tested. Replacement is a lengthy process and cannot be carried out whilst the bridge is open so it’s costly for the bridge authority and is usually organised alongside other planned closures.
In this occasion the planned closure was between 18:00 and 24:00 hrs on 12 August to coincide with final event at the Bristol Balloon Festival which is held just the other side of the Leigh Woods end of the bridge. During this event the bridge is shut to avoid damage that could be caused by around 120,000 participants trudging their way back across the bridge to central Bristol at the end of the festivities. Despite its timeless design, Brunel’s bridge was only ever intended to carry 19th century light horse drawn traffic. Whilst today it handles 11-12,000 motor vehicles crossing it every day, the swaying effect of foot passengers can have a catastrophic effect on any bridge – as witnessed with London’s famous wobbly Millennium footbridge across the Thames which didn’t originally avoid this phenomenon despite its modern design and construction.
Eventually all the latchway cables will be changed but this might be spread over a number of years and, of course, planned closures. In the meantime Eiger have given the original latchway system a complete bill of health so that the bridge maintenance and use can continue safely.
I had thought this was my last day of filming for Eiger Safety but it’s going to carry on for at least another day – this time at one of their sites where they’ve installed and maintain a roof handrail system.
Yep – probably another day on top of some spectacular structure somewhere. It’s hard work, but someone has got to do it. : )