Well, it had to be done. Today being the first day that the High Level Bridge was open, I just had to pay it a visit. Well, I paid it two visits, as I walked across it on my way to work. I think it might have added a minute or two to the journey, but it was well worth it to see the restored bridge, and indeed the views form the bridge which have been unavailable for so long. At lunchtime, I went back to take some pictures. The light wasn’t up to much, but if I waited for a sunny day, I’d never get there!
At the Newcastle end, there’s a display describing the work done, in a lot more detail than I’ve seen before. In order to preserve the historical structure, some innovative techniques were used, including the use of extremely strong adhesives and what amounted to keyhole surgery to repair components inside large beams. Perhaps the most innovative part was the approach taken to testing: before work started, a theoretical analysis suggested that parts of the bridge were beyond their safe load. If that had been accepted, it would have had to shut, which would have caused enormous disruption to rail services. So, they took samples into the lab and tested them for real. It was found that, with suitable strengthening, the bridge would take the load without any further problems for many years to come.
As I walked from one end of the bridge to the other (and back again), it really struck me what an elegant design it is, and how much better it looks now it’s back in its original colour. I really can’t imagine what went through the mind of whoever decided that painting such an iconic structure in dingy grey. Now for the first time in decades we can see it as it was intended: a glorious sweeping symbol of Victorian ingenuity and a belief in progress. It was the first rail crossing over the Tyne, and was a remarkable achievement in 1849, when the rail level opened. And when the road deck opened the following year, it was the first time that it was possible to cross the Tyne without negotiating the steep banks of the Tyne Gorge.
To have this bridge back at all is wonderful. To have it so beautifully restored to a glory it hasn’t seen in many years is stunning. This set of pictures tries to capture the feel of the bridge, to show how it all fits together, and just to show it off a bit. I have some more pictures to come of the view from the bridge…