The opportunity to climb the 276 steps to the top of the Newport Transporter Bridge, walk across the top, descend in an orderly fashion and ride back in the gondola, all for the princely sum of £2.75, was much too good to miss. On my last visit in July 2008 the bridge was closed for repair but now it’s back in action with a resplendent repainted gondola and open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday. £2.75 buys a day ticket and the right to ride to and fro all day should the mood take you.
When these bridges were new they were seen as technological marvels – an ingenious engineering solution to the problems posed to shipping by low bridges. The simplicity of the concept is impressive – nothing more than a mobile section of roadway, supported and cradled by an enormous heavy metal superstructure. Part of their appeal lies in the contrast between the fragility of the gondola with its ornate fixtures and fittings and the massive presence of structural steel that surrounds it. The sheltered seating and the turreted captain’s cabin on the gondola have the air of a seaside pavilion or a spa resort while the towers, cross-ties, rivets and gantries of the bridge remind us of electricity pylons and heavy industry. Most of these bridges fell by the wayside more than 50 years ago and the handful of survivors have become something to cherish.
Watching the gondola transit back and forth is like observing a theatrical stage in motion. For an all too brief 102 seconds the occupants are launched into a zone of detachment, set free from immobility and guided on a voyage of enchantment. It’s a Steampunk vision of Edwardian heavy engineering accompanied by a lighter than air receptacle that appears to glide through space of its own volition until you notice the cables that prevent it from being dashed into the waters below.