I’m pretty sure that when people think of Wales, and in particularly of Welsh architecture, the images that spring to mind are of grey stone castles – moats and keeps, flying buttresses, gatehouses and turrets, crenellated parapets and battlements, embrasures and arrowslits.
The castles of Wales are certainly wonderful, and just typing up that list of terms has set my spirit soaring with the sheer joy of fairytale magic, medieval romance and valiant deeds of derring-do. Personally, though, I think the iconic Welsh architectural feature is functional rather than picturesque and rather more prosaic. For me, it’s the bridge.
Perhaps I’m biased, as I have for many years had a strong emotional tie to the short stretch of coast that lies along the estuary between the two Severn Bridges. But there’s more to it than that.
At the other end of the country, I have memories of crossing the the Menai Suspension Bridge to the Isle of Anglesey on a family holiday many years ago. On a different family trip, I remember visiting the triple bridge at Devil’s Bridge outside Machynlleth.
Again travelling as a child, I was enchanted by the wild rhododendrons in bloom on the river bank near an old stone bridge at Betws-y-Coed. And in the next village to where I lived for a time in North Wales, there was a little seventeenth-century packhorse bridge with alternating bays in the parapets to facilitate passing.
Back in South Wales, as well as many other road, rail and foot bridges that cross the Severn and the Wye in the Chepstow area, there’s Newport’s fascinating transporter bridge, which crosses the Usk just a little bit farther along from the rail, road and footbridges in the next photo.
And, finally, there’s Bendigeidfran, Branwen’s brother in the Mabinogion tale, a giant of a man, who lay across the Shannon river in Ireland so his soldiers could cross safely to avenge the wrong done to Branwen.
Which brings us back to castles and romance, treachery and magic, and allows me to end with the wonderful Welsh motto:
A fo ben bid bont – he who would be a leader, let him be a bridge.