Saturday, May 14, 2011

viaduct? vy not

Talk amongst yourselves for a bit while I indulge my odd obsession with maps, industrial architecture in general and old railway remnants in particular. I was trying to remember, in the aftermath of going out cycling for the first time since last year, where it was that I'd been cycling in the Newport area a while back and gone over the top of a quite impressive viaduct. Eventually I remembered that it was on the cyclepath between Pontypool and Blaenavon - my recollection is that I came here for a quick bit of bike-checking and training in advance of the Forest of Dean trip back in May 2008. That seems about right as I remember it was one of the first excursions I did after getting the car in April.

Anyway, the viaduct in question is properly known as the Garndiffaith viaduct, apparently, and does indeed carry a cyclepath over the top, although it's my recollection that it's heavily fenced on either side of the track which spoils the view a bit - presumably this is not so much to prevent suicidal cyclists from cycling the four miles or so up from Pontypool just to hurl themselves off the parapet as to prevent local ne'er-do-wells from lobbing chunks of masonry onto passing cars down on Viaduct Road. Like the nearby viaducts at Hengoed and Cefn Coed it's built on a gentle curve; whether this is something enforced by Welsh geography or just Welsh architectural whim I have no idea. Anyway, the Cefn Coed link is from the fascinating Forgotten Relics website, something of a guilty geeky pleasure for those fascinated by abandoned bridges, hidden tunnels and the like. So much so I've added it to the sidebar.

While much remains to be sought out and casually trespassed on, much stuff has inevitably been obliterated by the ruthless utilitarian jackboot of progress. Here's a good example from my long-time place of residence, Bristol: the bit of the Frome valley now occupied by Eastville Tesco, Ikea and junction 2 of the M32 was previously spanned by the impressive Clay Bottom viaduct (colloquially known as Thirteen Arches viaduct to locals), which ran east-west across the river valley (while the M32 now goes north-south along it). The only evidence nowadays that it was ever there is the continued presence of its smaller sibling a few hundred yards further along at Royate Hill. Ignore the Google aerial view which suggests that some horrific tectonic incident has befallen it, it's still intact and in fact these days houses a miniature nature reserve.

How did they get rid of the bigger one? Well, they blew it up. If you don't believe me, have a gander at this fairly remarkable bit of old footage from 1968 which shows them doing exactly that (the picture above is a still from the same film). The excellent SABRE maps website provides before and after maps for comparison.

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