Random discoveries are a staple of our travels. It typically it happens like this: Motoring along we come upon a curiosity visible from the road. A moment of indecision follows. Do we stop and visit or do we continue on? A discussion ensues as we speed on down the road. Ultimately we decide we must see more. We turn the car about and head back. After a prescribed period of an activity that looks to many like “getting lost” but for us qualifies as “navigation” we return to the roadside mystery. Once back we explore and snap a few pictures.
Unless there’s a plaque, we often know little more about what we’ve seen other than it was “interesting”. Research is required; somewhere on the Internet there’s an explanation. In this manner we’ve discovered all sorts of cool places like the Navajo Bridge, the Trophee des Alps, and Osoyoos’s Spotted Lake. Our impromptu visit to the Menai Suspension Bridge followed this pattern.
The Menai Suspension Bridge (Pont Grog y Borth in Welsh) links the island of Anglesey to the mainland of Wales. On our first pass over the bridge we were intrigued by the sixteen large chain-cables that support a deck suspended below. After our return crossing we pulled to the side to look at the structure more closely. When we searched the Internet later we learned that the Menai’s bridge was one of the first modern suspension bridges constructed. Completed in 1826, the bridge crossing the Menai Strait is a Grade 1 historical site, whatever that means, and has been proposed for UNESCO World Heritage designation.
Thomas Telford led the engineering design of the Menai Suspension Bridge. (Telford also collaborated on the design Pontcysyllte Aqueduct that we visited earlier.) Rather than using suspension cables, as is commonly done today, Telford supported the bridge’s deck below an arcing eyebar-linked chain.
An eyebar chain is constructed of plates pinned together with bolts. In 1819 the Bessemer process for producing cheap steel had not be developed. Telford’s original chain was constructed from the best material available at the time, wrought iron. Starting in 1938, after over a century of use, Telford’s original wrought iron suspension chain was replaced by a sturdier steel version. Today the steel suspension chain remains as the most striking feature of the bridge; it looks like it was taken from a very, very large bicycle.
Despite the early 19th Century technology, the Menai Suspension Bridge’s still functions today, barely. The bridge’s two narrow lanes carry passenger cars over the Menai Straits without major difficulty. Modern municipal buses, on the other hand, plug traffic as they brake and creep slowly through each tower’s tight passageway.
The Menai Suspension Bridge is mentioned in Lonely Planet’s Great Britian. But the truth is, if we’d actually read our guidebook’s three-sentence long Menai Suspension Bridge blurb, we’d likely not have made the effort to visit. In print the Menai Bridge does not seem like much. At times it’s best to decide what to see after you it.