Earlier this month I crossed the Tamar river to find a few geocaches just outside of Saltash in Cornwall. I parked in Forder village and walked alongside the water from the creek out toward the Lynher river. Whilst doing so I took a few photographs of the rail-bridge that connects Cornwall to the outside world.
I marvelled at the size and scope of the bridge, thinking how it was just one bridge in a tiny corner of Cornwall, but yet it stood tall and proud. It reminded me of what a friend told me a week before whilst looking up at a similar rail-bridge in Ivybridge; he commented how the Victorians were so puffed up with their confidence that they spent vast sums and energy in constructing these monuments. It was almost as if the Victorians themselves wanted to brag to the rest of the world – and to future generations – that they were able to create structures so spectacular that it cemented their place in history.
So, whilst taking snaps of the bridge I simply assumed that this was another one of Brunel’s bridges. My understanding of Brunel definitely increased with my visits to the excellent SS Great Britain (which you can read about here and here), and it was my understanding that Brunel was responsible for the rail route through Devon and into Cornwall. The Royal Albert Bridge remains a great testament to Brunel’s talent, and a small bust of Brunel can be found beside the Fore Street of Saltash.
However, on returning home I thought I would dig a little further into the bridge at Forder Creek. And, as it turns out, the bridge that I looked at was not one of Brunel’s, after all.
The railway line was constructed in the middle of the 19th century, with it opening (from Plymouth to Truro) in 1859. Because of the massive cost of constructing this line – which was particularly tough due to the hilly landscape of the westcountry – the company looked to cut the expense wherever they could. One way in which this could be achieved was by constructing wooden viaducts rather than stone ones. More than forty of these were built and Forder viaduct was one of these.
Eventually these timber viaducts were replaced by all-stone ones; this process was completed over several decades into the 1930s. It appears that a deviation line from Saltash and St Germans was constructed in 1908, which saw the replacement of the old wooden one at Forder.
All of this means that the bridge that I wondered at was not Brunel’s. However, the line itself remains, in origin. Brunel’s brainchild. As such, it feels appropriate that this local area – in Saltash and Plymouth – pay homage to this great, influential Briton.