Not that it’s easy to pick just five, but here are five that have made an impression on me over the years.
The Royal Albert Bridge
We’ll start with Brunel’s famous bridge across the Tamar linking Devon with Cornwall. Because the approach spans are on a tight curve with a 15mph speed limit you get a good view of the bridge from the train window while crossing it, and the low speed does make it feel like you’ve crossing into another country.
Back in the late 1970s the timber viaduct across the Mawddach estuary was being eaten by worms, and the cost of repairs was used as justification to close the Cambrian Coast railway, which was said to be losing too much money. But wiser councils prevailed, the bridge was repaired, and it’s still possible to travel by train up the top left-hand corner of Wales. Crossing the bridge at high tide it feels like you’re on a boat rather than a train.
The only non-railway bridge of the five. This medieval pack horse bridge across the river Fowey links the railway station to the pub, neither of which existed in the 13th century when the bridge was first built. But what more can be asked of any bridge?
Switzerland is full of spectacular railway engineering, and this graceful viaduct is a faviourite of mine. It dates from 1915, built to carry the Bern Lötchberg Simplon main line across the Kander valley a mile south of Frutigen. The rather more utilitarian concrete structure alongside is a later addition, built in the 1970s when the railway was doubled to cope with increasing traffic.
This is not one bridge but several, and the combination of railway bridges at multiple levels and canal basins forms a kind of Victorian spaghetti junction. Some of the railway viaducts are still in use, one has been reused to carry the trams of Manchester Metrolink, though the most impressive one visible in the background has been disused since 1969, and now has trees growing on it.
What are your five favourite bridges?