Today I visited a unique historic transport monument, one I have long been familiar with but only recently had the privilege of traversing: the Chain Bridge, Llangollen. Originally opened in 1817 to transport coal to the A5, rebuilt in the 1870s and 1920s, it has been dilapidated since the 1980s and has just this last week been reopened following renovation. This is one of the oldest chain bridges extant and it is deserving of its international renown.
Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and hard work by all involved, the Chain Bridge is a splendid achievement for Wales and for the Vale. Gleaming white, the chains stretch across and create a pedestrian crossing between Berwyn and Llandysilio and thus direct connection to the Llangollen Railway’s Berwyn station to the canal, Horsehoe Falls and parking and walks on the northern side of the Vale. Read more about this historic re-opening here and here.
Sadly, the architecturally disturbing hotel bearing the bridge’s name has not been dismantled or renovated: it remains looming over its eastern end like a cranky malformed Balrog.
How is the project itself ‘commemorated’? This is a dimension that is pertinent to my blog. There is a warning sign noting that only 10 people can stand on it at any one time, a sign appended listing all those who funded the project, and a heritage board explaining the Chain Bridge’s historical significance. The sign also makes the evocative allusion to the First World War: a timely reminder of the connection of the bridge to many generations from the Vale and its parishes. Still, the bridge makes for a rather odd adopted centenary war memorial. Still, to over-stretch the tensions of a metaphor, the bridge enchains many memories down the last three centuries of Llangollen’s past.
I was excited to see the rejuvenated state and cleanliness of the bridge itself, but also the path that connects it to Berwyn Station, allowing direct access to the platform. Furthermore, the views the bridge affords are striking and subtly different from those gained from either bank. The marvellous torrent of the Dee, the steam railway and road bridge looming over it, and the wooded valley sides together make for a splendid spectacle.
We put this new pedestrian link to the test, my kids and I. It worked perfectly. We parked above the hotel and walked along to the Horseshoe Falls and Llandysilio church before back, across the bridge and then on the steam railway before returning once again over the bridge. With three little ones, this trip would have been dangerous and stressful using the narrow road bridge before the Chain Bridge’s re-opening. There you go Chain Bridge Project – we used it and it worked!
I am also extremely proud that one of my former students – Samantha Jones – oversaw is the Chain Bridge heritage officer. Well done Sam for all your hard work!