To begin this tour, stand in the corner of the viewing point next to the stone pillar and face towards the bridge.
The railway on the far side of the gorge was built in the 1860s. It once carried passengers to Portishead on the coast but is now used for freight only, to and from the Royal Portbury Dock, about 5 miles down river to your right.
The bridge piers or towers are 26 metres high and are made of local pennant sandstone, with some Bath stone near the top. The flared capping is not stone, but cast iron which is painted.
Look along the length of the bridge and you will see that beneath the tarmac the bridge deck consists of two layers of thick planks of ‘Douglas Fir’ wood. The Victorian planks were replaced in 1958 – although many of the other components of the bridge are original. The chains holding up the bridge have a total of 4,200 wrought iron links. Two of the chains on each side were originally used on the Hungerford Bridge in London which was built by Brunel in 1845. When that bridge was demolished the chains were brought here in 1863 and a third chain added. All the ironwork was forged at the Copperhouse Foundry at Hayle in Cornwall using iron ore from Dowlais in South Wales. The chains, suspension rods and decking together weigh about 1,500 tons.
Somewhere along the span, you may see the maintenance cradle. This hangs beneath the bridge deck and is used by engineering staff to get beneath the deck for inspection and repairs. A hand crank is used to move it along the 214 metre span of the bridge.
Now move towards the footpath which crosses the bridge. No lorries or buses are allowed to use the bridge which is restricted to light vehicles. Just as you step onto the bridge gangway, stop and look at the place where the stone pillar of the abutment meets the bridge deck and watch how passing traffic causes the footpath to rise and fall; you may even feel some vibration! Depending on temperature, wind and load the deck can rise and fall as much as 25 centimetres in the middle.