When the low-cost airlines took off (sorry), it gave me the opportunity to visit some places that I’d always wanted to visit – and also some that I hadn’t; places such as Kaunas.
Kaunas was to be my first destination to the Baltic States, simply because it was the only place in that part of the world that I could fly to from my regional airport at the time. So, in the summer of 2012 I took off from Bristol not really knowing what to expect, so before I completely lose my marbles, here is an account of what I remember.
Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania with an urban population around the 400,000 mark, so it’s not surprising that we landed in the country’s second largest airport.
What did surprise me though was that it was so warm it was like arriving in Spain – and it was 10 o’clock at night.
I usually try to use public transport where possible, but on this occasion, I just jumped in a cab which took me directly to the hotel, which although it was called the Ibis Kaunas Centre, wasn’t quite in the city centre but convenient all the same.
The following morning, I was pleased to see the sun shining, and so after breakfast I didn’t waste any time in making my way past the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation to Laisves aleja.
Brycgstowe, Brigstow, Bricgstoc – It doesn’t matter how it was spelt, to the Saxons it meant the same thing – ‘Place by the bridge’.
The tendency for Bristolians to add the letter ‘L’ onto the end of words is no doubt the reason for today’s spelling, but why did they build a bridge here?
The answer is not just because it was the lowest convenient crossing point of the River Avon, but also because it was an ideal trading location.
Situated six miles upstream from the mouth of the river where it meets the Severn meant that it had both good protection and good access.
The River Severn has the second (or third) highest tidal range in the world, and you don’t have to witness the Severn Bore to see how fast the river can ebb and flow. This tidal range also affects the Avon, and for ships sailing up and down the river this was good news – or at least it was back then (see my post on the Floating Harbourfor how things changed).
The Forth Bridge has to be one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks, and is only around 10 miles from Edinburgh city centre.
Some people refer to it as the Forth Rail Bridge in order to distinguish it from the much later Forth Road Bridge, but it was never officially called that.
Both bridges, along with the new Queensferry Crossing, span the Firth of Forth between South Queensferry in West Lothian and North Queensferry in Fife, and just in case you’re wondering, the name Queensferry originates from the ferry that was established by Queen Margaret in the 11th century, and which continued operating right up until 1964.
When the Roman Emperor Hadrian came to Britain in 122 AD he set about building his famous northern frontier wall between the Cumbrian coast and the North Sea, and at the eastern end he constructed a bridge and fort on the River Tyne known as Pons Aelius, or Hadrian’s Bridge.
The wall was later extended to Segedunum (now called Wallsend), and the fort at Hadrian’s Bridge has become the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
After the Romans left, little is known about Anglo-Saxon Newcastle, which is surprising when you think that the great chronicler of the time, the Venerable Bede, was living only a short distance away on the other side of the river at Jarrow.
What we do know though is that the original Roman bridge was replaced, and that bridge too was replaced after a fire in 1248. Today, the site of all these bridges is occupied by another one – William Armstrong’s practical and wonderfully designed Swing Bridge of 1876. There are now seven bridges that span the river from this part of the city and this is definitely one of my favourites.
Some bridges have a great design and some are just practical, but what captures my imagination about Tower Bridge is its ability to achieve both.
40,000 people a day still use the bridge in one way or another, but ships passing underneath still have priority, and that’s around a thousand times a year: Even President Bill Clinton’s cavalcade on a state visit got split up when they didn’t time it right.
The need for another crossing downstream of London Bridge came about with the growth of London Docks.
The Industrial Revolution and the ever-expanding British Empire helped the burgeoning London Docks become the busiest in the world, and apart from providing access across the river downstream from London Bridge for the first time, the new Tower Bridge was going to have to allow shipping access in and out of the Pool of London.
The first Hungerford Bridge was opened in 1845. It was a suspension footbridge designed by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and named after the market which stood where the present day Charing Cross station is.
Competition from nearby Covent Garden saw the demise of the Hungerford market but the name has remained ever since. The same couldn’t be said for Brunel’s bridge however, because in 1859 the South Eastern Railway bought it and replaced it with a new railway bridge and station at Charing Cross. The resourceful Brunel took the chains from the old bridge and then re-used them in his construction of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The railway bridge was opened in 1864 and has been here ever since. It’s had a succession of footbridges alongside it over the years, and the latest were introduced in 2002 in recognition of the Queen’s golden jubilee.
The Golden Jubilee Bridges, to give them their official name, connect the Victoria Embankment with the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. The two bridges afford some great views both up and downriver and have become the busiest in London, and in my opinion, are an attractive and practical addition to the rather nondescript, but functional, railway bridge.
Collectively they’re known as the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges, but apart from being a mouthful, I think it’s easier to just remember them as the Hungerford Bridges.
Until the first Westminster Bridge was built, there were only two bridges crossing the Thames in London – the old London Bridge and the new Putney Bridge, and to cross the river from Westminster to Lambeth you had to either pay the ferryman to take you across, or wait for low tide when it could be forded.
When the first bridge was proposed, the ferrymen got the idea blocked, but when they were paid off and enough lottery tickets were sold, the Swiss engineer Charles Labelye, was able to start work on the new river crossing.
Construction started in 1739 and finished in 1750 but unfortunately it didn’t last as long as it was hoped for and a hundred years later a new bridge was deemed necessary.
Not to be confused with the Borough of Camden, Camden Town is known for its markets, music venues and alternative cultures, it’s a place that attracts younger people with a zest for a more unorthodox style of living. If you’re into Punk, Goth. or Emo, then you’ve come to the right place.
Camden is named after Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden who took his title from Camden Place, his estate near Chislehurst in Kent (now part of the outer London Borough of Bromley).
Originally a part of the manor of Kentish Town, the Earl acquired the manor through marriage, and in 1791 started to change its appearance from a quiet, rural village on the road north out of London towards Hampstead, by granting leases for houses to be built.
Chalk Farm Road and Camden High Street are the main roads through Camden Town which still form part of that very same route, and at the Camden Town Tube Station junction is a pub called the World’s End, which was a rural hostelry as far back as 1690, but these days is an ideal place to go if you you’re looking to get a headache.
The Southbank is not a defined area, but for this review it refers to the riverside area south of the river between Westminster Bridge and Lambeth’s border with Southwark at Bankside.
It may be difficult to imagine now, but this area known as Lambeth Marsh, was virtually undeveloped before the 19th century. The wet terrain was hardly a prime location for the type of development that had taken place across the other side of the river, but during the Victorian era, the shallow bank and mudflats became an asset for industries such as printing works, coal wharves, dye works and breweries, to name just a few.
The first half of the 20th century wasn’t kind to Lambeth with factories either in decline or being destroyed by WWII bombs, and so when it was suggested that a Festival of Britain would have its centrepiece here, things started to take a different direction.
The festival was supposed to be a national exhibition celebrating British achievements, but it was to become more than that. The ravages of WWII had left the country in need of a lift from austerity, and so entertainment and culture were deemed just as important as science and technology, and so various forms of entertainment were included when the festival opened on 4th May 1951.
The Southbank site was only ever going to be temporary and most of it was demolished after the festival was over five months later, but the Royal Festival Hall remained.
The Bankside area of Southwark roughly equates with the riverside between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.
The distance between the two bridges is about a mile and there are not only plenty of things to see, but also a fair number of pubs to hold you up along the way, and if you stop at all of them you’ll need holding up yourself.
Next to Blackfriars Railway Bridge is the Founders Arms, which although modern is in a great location overlooking the river, but as this isn’t a pub crawl I’ll assume that you’ll want to move straight on to the first real point of interest which is the Tate Modern.
Housed inside the former Bankside Power Station, this gallery of modern art won’t appeal to everyone, and depending on your taste in art you can either spend the best part of a day in here or hardly any time at all. Either way, you should go in and take a look, not just because it’s free, but you can always take the lift up to the viewing level of the Blavatnik Building for great views over the City of London and beyond.
Outside the river entrance to the Tate Modern is the Millennium Bridge. No prizes for guessing where it got its name from, but you may be tempted across it because on the other side of the river is St Paul’s Cathedral, but as tempting as it may be, it’s best left for another time.