Two Bridges and a Castle

Although I don’t really use a Fuji camera any more I still use the owners site, mainly to keep in touch with the friends I have built up over the years, but also for the forums and photoblogs, which form a large part of the MyFinePix community.  During this last year there have been several photo meets, not sponsored by Fuji, just organised by the members themselves and that’s what we were doing last Sunday, the 16th October. Previous meets have been in York and Lincoln but this one was in North Wales…..

……and that’s where Two Bridges and a Castle comes into the title of this blog.

North Wales is rich in historical buildings and there are two fantastic bridges crossing the Menai Strait” to the island of Isle of Anglesey. Not much further away is the town of Caenarfon with its magnificent 13th century castle, so where better to organise a photo meet than the site of the bridges, which are quite close to each other, and the town of Caernarfon. Attending this one were Nigel and Sharon, Uncle Steve, Glynis and myself.

I know, I know, fewer words and more photographs, so first up is the Britannia Bridge

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The Britannia Bridge (Welsh: Pont Britannia) is a bridge across the Menai Strait between the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales. It was originally designed and built by Robert Stephenson as a tubular bridge of wrought iron rectangular box-section spans for carrying rail traffic. Following a fire in 1970 it was rebuilt as a two-tier steel truss arch bridge, carrying both road and rail traffic.

To get this viewpoint, which would enable us to photograph both bridges, we walked down from the car-park, through the woods and down to the shoreline. There’s a well-marked path and at the end of this blog I’ll give you directions for parking in the car-park should you wish to have a go at this yourself. Right then on with the photos. Staying with the Britannia Bridge we followed the path along the shoreline which will take us right under the bridge. There were plenty of photo opportunities as we walked towards the bridge but I was pleased to spot this one.

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The opening of the Menai Bridge in 1826, a mile (1.6 km) to the east of where Britannia Bridge was later built, provided the first fixed road link between Anglesey and the mainland. The increasing popularity of rail travel necessitated a second bridge to provide a direct rail link between London and the port of Holyhead, the Chester and Holyhead Railway.

Other railway schemes were proposed, including one in 1838 to cross Thomas Telford’s existing Menai Bridge. Railway pioneer George Stephenson was invited to comment on this proposal but stated his concern about re-using the suspension bridge. By 1840, a Treasury committee decided broadly in favour of Stephenson’s proposals, with final consent to the route including Britannia Bridge given in 1845. Stephenson’s son Robert was appointed as chief engineer.

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The design required the strait to remain accessible to shipping and the bridge to be sufficiently stiff to support the heavy loading associated with trains, so Stephenson constructed a bridge with two main spans of 460-feet (140-m) long rectangular iron tubes, each weighing 1,500 long tons (1,700 short tons).

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Supported by masonry piers, the centre one of which was built on the Britannia Rock. Two additional spans of 230-feet (70-m) length completed the bridge making a 1,511-feet (461-m) long continuous girder. The trains were to run inside the tubes. Up until then the longest wrought iron span had been 31 feet 6 inches (9.6 m).

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Stephenson retained the services of two distinguished engineers as consultants. William Fairbairn was an old friend of his father. Eaton Hodgkinson was a leading theorist on strength of materials. Hodgkinson believed that it would be impractical to make the tubes stiff enough, and advised auxiliary suspension from chains. However, Fairbairn believed chains unnecessary declaring:

Provided that the parts are well-proportioned and the plates properly rivetted, you may strip off the chains and have it as a useful Monument of the enterprise and energy of the age in which it was constructed.

The consensus of received engineering opinion was with Hodgkinson, but Stephenson, rather nervously, backed Fairbairn’s analysis. A 75 feet (23 m) span model was constructed and tested at Fairbairn’s Millwall shipyard, and used as a basis for the final design. Although Stephenson had pressed for the tubes to be elliptical in section, Fairbairn’s preferred rectangular section was adopted. Fairbairn was responsible both for the cellular construction of the top part of the tubes, and for developing the stiffening of the side panels.

On the way to the bridge we came across a group of fire-fighters from Norfolk who were practising rescue techniques in fast flowing water of the Menai Straits. They had just come ashore and it was an ideal photo opportunity. They were happy to pose for photographs and in return we are sending them the ones we took.

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The Menai Strait (Welsh: Afon Menai, the “River Menai”) is a narrow stretch of shallow tidal water about 25 km (16 mi) long, which separates the island of Anglesey from the mainland of Wales. So why practice here? Well, the differential tides at the two ends of the strait cause very strong currents to flow in both directions through the strait at different times, creating dangerous conditions. One of the most dangerous areas of the strait is known as the Swellies (or Swillies – Welsh Pwll Ceris) between the two bridges. Here rocks near the surface cause over-falls and local whirlpools, which can be of considerable danger in themselves and cause small boats to founder on the rocks. So it’s ideal for practice and apparently rescue services can be seen here regularly.

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I don’t quite know who Glynis was waving to at this point because the fire-fighters were out on the water by now. Maybe she spotted someone up on the bridge?

Just to the side of were we were standing was this old rusty old relic. Who knows what it was for but it was worth a photograph

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When you go on walks like this it’s amazing what you find. Steve found this from the front part of a Vauxhall

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It was time to head back to the car-park. On the way back you can see between the two bridge crossings a small island in the middle of the strait called Ynys Gorad Goch (trans. English: Red Weir Island also known as Whitebait Island), on which is built a house with outbuildings and around which are the significant remains of fish traps, no longer used.

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The earliest known document relating to the island dates from 1590 when it is listed as belonging to the Diocese of Bangor which leased it for £3 and a barrel of herrings a year as the island was used as a fishing trap. During high tides fish would swim into the traps set near the island. The catch would then be collected at the subsequent low tide. After 1888 when the house was sold into private hands the whitebait (herring), people would often travel to the island to taste the fish. The tidal flow in the Menai Strait around the island is so severe at times that large over-falls and whirlpools develop. This prevents crossings to and from the island for several hours during each tidal cycle. Due to the large tidal range of the Menai Straits the size of the island varies between 0.25 acres and 3.7 acres. The height of the sea is known to exceed 10 metres (33 ft) during high with spring tides which makes it appears that the building are on two separate islands. When this occurs, the flooding happens. Occasional storm surges have even increased water levels up to 11.2 metres (37 ft).

The island’s location makes it a popular theme in photographs of the Menai Straits and its bridges. Next we are going to be travelling to the Menai Bridge, shown below, but first a short detour to Church Island.

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Well, our first detour was to Waitrose for coffee and a pastry, although if I remember rightly in someone’s case it was actually a pastie. No names, no pack drill but their name starts with the letter ?…… you didn’t think I was going to tell you, did you? What happens in Wales, stays in Wales.

Right then, suitably refreshed we walked down the hill to Church Island (Welsh: Ynys Dysilio) which is a small island in the Menai Strait on the shores of Anglesey. To get to the island you have to cross a short causeway that is reachable only on foot off the Belgian Promenade. The whole 2.7 acres (11,000 m2) of the island is taken up with St Tysilio’s church, constructed in the 15th century and the churchyard.

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Inside the church is a single stained glass window. There is no lighting so you are relying on the light coming through the window if you want to photograph it.

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As with most churchyards, there is a great deal of historic interest amongst the graves on the island. The cross-section of graves come mostly from local families, but there are graves of some of the workmen who worked on construction of the bridges who either died during construction or settled in the town after work was completed.

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Welsh bard Cynnan is buried on the island as are members of the Davies family, who were successful local entrepeneurs during the nineteenth century. On top of the highest point of the small island is a memorial to the local men who died during the World wars. This is also the best place on the island from which to view the Menai Strait and the two bridges that cross it. In 2002, Little Egrets bred in Wales for the first time on a small islet just off Church Island.

Leaving Church Island we continued walking along the Belgian Promenade which forms part of a scenic walk beside the Menai Strait from the Menai Bridge to Church Island.

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It was built during the First World War by refugees from Mechelen in Belgium. The residents of Porthaethwy provided them with food and shelter and, in gratitude, the refugees built the promenade. It was completed in 1916. After storms and high tides caused erosion in the 1960s, the promenade was rebuilt by the local council. As well as providing a pleasant walk, the Belgian promenade is an excellent place for bird watching.

More importantly it leads to our second bridge, the Menai Suspension Bridge (Welsh: Pont Grog y Borth), which is a suspension bridge between the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales. Designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826, it was the first modern suspension bridge in the world.

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Before the bridge was completed in 1826, the island of Anglesey had no fixed connection to the mainland and all movements to and from Anglesey were by ferry (or, with difficulty, on foot at low tide). The main source of income on Anglesey was from the sale of cattle, and to move them to the markets of the inland counties or London, they had to be driven into the water and swum across the Menai Straits. The Act of Union 1800 increased the need for transport to Ireland, and with Holyhead as one of the principal terminals to Dublin it was decided to build a bridge.

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Thomas Telford was assigned the task of improving the route from London to Holyhead, and one of the key improvements was his design of the suspension bridge over the Menai Strait between a point near Bangor on the mainland and the village of Porthaethwy (which is now also known as Menai Bridge) on Anglesey. The design of the bridge had to allow for Royal Navy sailing ships 100 feet (30 m) tall to pass under the deck at high tide, and no scaffolding was allowed during construction as that would have violated the rule.

Construction of the bridge began in 1819 with the towers on either side of the strait. These were constructed from Penmon limestone and were hollow with internal cross-walls.

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Then came the sixteen huge chain cables, each made of 935 iron bars that support the 176-metre (577 ft) span. To avoid rusting between manufacture and use, the iron was soaked in linseed oil and later painted. The suspending power of the chains was calculated at 2,016 tons and the total weight of each chain was 121 tons. The bridge was opened to much fanfare on 30 January 1826 and reduced the journey time from London to Holyhead from 36 to 27 hours, a saving of 9 hours.

Damaged by winds in 1839, the road surface needed extensive repair, and in 1893 the entire wooden surface was replaced with a steel deck. Over the years, the 4.5 ton weight limit proved problematic for the increasing freight industry and in 1938 the original wrought iron chains were replaced with steel ones without the need to close the bridge. In 1999 the bridge was closed for around a month to resurface the road and strengthen the structure, requiring all traffic to cross via the nearby Britannia Bridge.

On the way to the bridge using the Belgian promenade we came across a Druidic Stone Circle which made for a comfortable resting spot for Nigel. Meanwhile Sharon was having a go at taking his photo.

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I’m not sure how old these stones are or what effects they can cause if any but this later photograph seemed to be showing something happening, Sharon obviously noticed it but it hadn’t quite got to Nigel yet….

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Something else we found on our travels a lovely little house. So who lives in a house like this?

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This is reputed to be the smallest house on Anglesey, although not in Wales or Britain. That distinction goes to the house at Conwy which has gotten into the Guiness Book of records as the smallest house.

Time was getting on and sadly we had to leave Anglesey, head back to the mainland and the castle town of Caernarfon, which is about 8 miles away.

Caernarfon is one of my favourite towns for photography. The castle, narrow streets, the marina, birdlife, fabulous sunsets over Anglesey, old buildings, statues, the list goes on. What more could a photographer ask for?

Right then, to business. We parked in the castle car-park, £4 for the day but Steve negotiated a discount of 3 for the price of two. But before we do anything else an ice-cream van is spotted, c’mon, give us a break, it was a beautiful sunny day, photography could wait a little while.

At this point our numbers swell, as Alison and Geoff join us. They’re staying in Caernarfon for the weekend and have been watching out for us. After the great surprise and some chat we get down to business again.

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Caernarfon Castle (Welsh: Castell Caernarfon) is a medieval building in Gwynedd, north-west Wales. There was a motte-and-bailey castle in the town of Caernarfon from the late 11th century until 1283 when King Edward I of England began replacing it with the current stone structure. The Edwardian town and castle acted as the administrative centre of north Wales and as a result the defences were built on a grand scale. There was a deliberate link with Caernarfon’s Roman past – nearby is the Roman fort of Segontium – and the castle’s walls are reminiscent of the Walls of Constantinople. I’m sure Alison will be telling you more about the castle in her blog.

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Whilst i was on the opposite side of the bridge, the team spotted a bird. Initial thoughts were a penguin (wrong) which explains all the activity here.

From the bridge you can walk along the shore-line to the marina or head into town.

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Around the marina you will find some coffee bars but there’s not much else. It’s worth a look though because it takes you round to the Maritime Museum

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Caernarfon Maritime Museum at Victoria Dock is not large, but it contains many fascinating artefacts, pictures and information tracing the maritime history of the town. The museum was originally Caernarfon’s public mortuary; now it houses exhibitions of past industries and activities.

A gigantic anchor from HMS Conway, a training ship that ran aground in the Menai Straits in April 1953, looms in front of the little building.  Inside are the exhibits based on various aspects of maritime life, including the fishing industry, shipbuilding, the import and export trades, the Menai Strait ferries and more.

There is also a tribute to an unusual woman, Ellen Edwards, who ran a successful maritime school in the 19th century.  She taught vital navigational skills to the mariners of her day – an amazing accomplishment for a woman of that time.

Leaving the museum and heading away from the shore, following the castle walls we came to one of the gates into the town. Some of the streets in Caernarfon are quite narrow…….

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…..with some unusual buildings

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Back in the town square I found this statue of David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor who was a British Liberal politician and statesman. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the head of a wartime coalition government between the years 1916–22 and was the Leader of the Liberal Party from 1926–31.

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During a long tenure of office, mainly as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was a key figure in the introduction of many reforms which laid the foundations of the modern welfare state. He was the last Liberal to be Prime Minister, as his coalition premiership was supported more by Conservatives than by his own Liberals, and the subsequent split was a key factor in the decline of the Liberal Party as a serious political force. When he eventually became leader of the Liberal Party a decade later he was unable to lead it back to power.

As it was nearly sunset we headed back down to the harbour to catch the sun setting over Anglesey and prepare for Nigel’s Light show. The sunset wasn’t that great but I did make up for it with  some spectacular skies.

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Now to the highlight of the evening and in my opinion the whole day together. Nigel’s Lightshow. Ably assisted by Sharon, Nigel first treated us to a display with an orb.

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Next came the sparklies…

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….and finally the Domes

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By now it was getting late and quite cold so it was time to retire to the pub and a well deserved meal. The Black Boy Inn (or just Black Boy) in the Royal Town of Caernarfon in Gwynedd, Wales is a hotel and public house which is thought to date back to 1522, making it one of the oldest surviving inns in North Wales. It is within the medieval walls of Caernarfon, a few hundred yards from Caernarfon Castle.

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Formerly the ‘King’s Arms’ and the ‘Fleur de Lys’, one landlord bought the other out and created the Black Boy Inn as it is today. Prior to 1828, the ‘King’s Arms’ was known as the ‘Black Boy’. The Inn signs each show a ‘black buoy’ on one side and a ‘black boy’ on the other.[4]

The Inn’s name has caused controversy and there are least three theories to explain its name. One is believed to come from a ‘black buoy’ which existed in the harbour in the early days of the Inn. Another refers to the nickname given to Charles II by his mother because of the darkness of his skin and eyes, as well as the fact that Royalists met at the Inn secretly at that time. Later, the place became the local fishermen’s favourite drinking place and the name of ‘black boy’ may come from this.

13 replies to “Two Bridges and a Castle

  1. Brilliant photos Mike and a great blog. Pity you wern’t able to show it to the Fuji site.


  2. brilliant blog Mike with cracking shots and really interesting text, thanks again for a great day out – hope to see you in the Lakes for Ian’s meet xx Glynis


  3. Really nice photos…If you would please tell us about your post process on these images. Example: Phtopshop, Lightroom, Photomatix…etc. If in Photomatix I would be curious as to what selections. I really like the smooth silky feel of the photos. Possibly unsaturated just a bit? Very nice and I hope you will share. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aah Steve, if only I could remember how I did this. It’s so long ago 2011. I know I will have used Photomatix way back then. Chances are afterwards I would have used NIK Color Efex pro Contrast and a touch of Glamour Glow, but like I say it was so long ago. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help


      1. Mike, 2011 wow…… well they still hold up today my friend. Not over HDR’d and no halos’s. I really like the post. Nice sky color and textures! Curious as to what Glamour Glow is? Also, do you have a website? I would enjoy seeing your work today. Thanks……Steve


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