Monday, 10 December 2012

Brunel's West Country

Anyone travelling to England’s West Country cannot fail to spot the legacy of Britain’s most famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859).

In an earlier posting, I mentioned the three options for travelling to an MEI Conference in Falmouth, rail, road or air. The first two options are our preferences.

If travelling by train, you will meet up with Mr. Brunel, or at least his statue, at London’s Paddington Station, the gateway to the West Country. Brunel designed the Great Western line from London to Penzance, one of the world’s great train journeys, and none more so than the stretch between Teignmouth and Dawlish, where the track skirts the coastline, cutting through the new red sandstone cliffs, formed during the Permian period.
The Great Western line near Dawlish, Devon
If you choose to travel by road, as you cross the River Tamar, via the modern suspension bridge, you will see Brunel’s famous iron railway bridge running parallel across the Tamar, which separates the county of Devon from Saltash in Cornwall (which incidentally is where the name Wills originated- but that’s another story).
Into Cornwall
If you can spare an extra day, I would really recommend that you break your road journey at Bristol, 180 miles from Falmouth. Leave the M5 at Junction 19 and take the short journey to the Avon Gorge Hotel, which overlooks the gorge, carved out of the carboniferous limestone by the River Avon, as it makes its way to the River Severn at Avonmouth, once the home of the UK’s lead-zinc Imperial Smelter.
The Avon Gorge

The hotel is only a couple of hundred yards from one of Brunel’s most famous designs, the Clifton suspension bridge. As this was completed before the age of the motor car, the road is surprisingly narrow.

There are some excellent restaurants near the hotel and on the following morning I suggest a pleasant 2 mile stroll along the river to Bristol harbour, where you can visit another example of Brunel’s eclectic designs, the SS Great Britain, the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic, which she did in 1845, in the time of 14 days.

Then after a light lunch at the excellent museum, drive back to the motorway to complete your journey into Cornwall.

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