Site unseen / The Royal Albert Bridge, Cornwall

Life is full of firsts. The first step, the first drink, the first cigarette, the first boy/girlfriend, the first driving test, the first ...

An important addition to this list must include the first journey to Cornwall by train. Leaving Exeter, prepare for staggering sights such as the stretch along the sea wall at Dawlish, where the spray batters against the windows and wakes up even the deepest of somniacs.

The rugged terrain ensures that the railway's perilous passage through hill and dale offers some spectacular views, reinforcing yet again our admiration for the great Victorian engineers and their workforce who carved out these routes in a world devoid of bulldozer and crane.

But nothing prepares one for the epic passage across the Royal Albert Bridge. Way down below is the River Tamar marking the boundary between Devon and Cornwall. Alongside is the suspension bridge of 1961, full of motorists whose eyes are understandably riveted to the road in front of them.

The train crosses the bridge and then swings away to the left, thoughtfully allowing passengers yet another opportunity to look and admire. At this point, the chief steward will probably start waffling on about tea, coffee and light refreshments. Only the most leaden of minds will pay attention to such announcements.

There is no need to ask the name of the genius responsible. Only Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineers' inventor and builder of everything from railway stations to steamships, could have fashioned a structure that triumphs both functionally and aesthetically. Look up at the tower arches and you will see his name and the date of completion, 1859. Even today, the simplicity of the two oval arched tubes seems modern, making Brunel's creation seem a century older and not earlier than the neighbouring suspension bridge.

So what is "sight unseen" about the Royal Albert Bridge? It is the wrought- iron chains and struts which, like the bones of a skeleton, provide the necessary but often overlooked structure - in this case, to tame the outward thrusting pressure caused by the passing trains. The extra weight of our 125s mean that Brunel's iron links have been augmented by modern steel supports bolted on the sides. The only way to tell the difference is to stick one's head out of the window and scrutinise.

Just before his death in September 1859, the ailing Brunel was taken across the bridge in an open truck in order to inspect his work. So if you do stick your head out of the window, you will certainly be in very good company.

ANDREW JOHN DAVIES

The Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash, Cornwall

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York