Barmouth Bridge 150th Anniversary Fireworks
This week saw the 150th Anniversary of the Barmouth Bridge. The town council were hosting a weekend of activities and events to celebrate the anniversary with the highlight being a themed laser and firework extravaganza centred on the harbour and bridge. The Machynlleth firework display and lantern parade, which we’ve being going to for the past few years, isn’t on this year. We decided therefore that the Barmouth Bridge fireworks would make a welcome change.
We had originally planned to spend the day there Saturday, camp over in the campervan and then head to North Wales for a kayak time trial on Sunday. Plans changed though and I decided to ride in the Aberystwyth Cyclocross on Sunday instead so we headed up just for the day. We did think of going on the train but the last train out of Barmouth was at 9:45pm. We weren’t sure what time we would be finished so didn’t want to risk rushing only to miss it, or having to wait around for hours to catch it. We took the car instead. Anna popped into work on Saturday morning and I went for a nice little cyclocross ride with Richie, so we headed off around 1pm. Part way there we thought about parking up on the Fairbourne side of the estuary and walking across the bridge itself. We changed our mind at the last minute as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to walk back across the bridge later at night once the fireworks had finished. We therefore took a detour into Penmaenpool and across the Penmaenpool Toll Bridge. This little bridge across the Mawddach is a mere 134 years old – A baby in comparison to the Barmouth Bridge!
The Barmouth Bridge
The Barmouth Bridge, also known as Barmouth Viaduct is a truly outstanding example of 19th century engineering. It is a single-track, largely wooden railway viaduct that carries the Cambrian Coast Railway across the River Mawddach estuary. It sits between Morfa Mawddach and Barmouth and caters for rail, foot and cycle traffic.
The bridge opened in 1867, and originally included a drawbridge section at its north end for tall ships to pass. This was later replaced by the current swing bridge section. In 1980, woodworm threatened the safety of the bridge, which needed major repairs to avoid closure. Tolls were collected for foot and cycle traffic until 2013.
Thanks to lasers projected onto the cliffs behind Barmouth we discovered that the bridge is a Grade II* listed structure, is the longest wooden bridge in Wales and is the longest timber viaduct still in regular use in Britain. Barmouth Bridge provides a platform to enable stunning views from the viaduct itself while at the same time being an integral part of the beautiful scene framed by the Cader Idris mountain range and underlined by the Mawddach Estuary.
Once in Barmouth, we parked in the main car park and I set off for a walk around Barmouth looking for a suitable shop from which to buy a bar of chocolate so that I could get some change for the pay and display. This took longer than it should have but once the ticket was in the car window we set off to explore.
Model Railway Exhibition
First stop was the leisure centre were there was a model railway exhibition. My parents had wanted to join us for the weekend and my Dad would have liked to see the model railway exhibition, but they were unable to make it. We therefore went into the exhibition ready to take lots of photos for him to see. It’s probably a good job that he didn’t come all the way to see it though as there wasn’t much to see. There was a group of people building a suspension bridge in one corner of the hall.
There was a display about a proposed walkway to be built between Barmouth harbour and the Barmouth Bridge. There was a random display advocating the tourist attractions of Welshpool, and there were about 6 fairly small model railway set ups. None of them were that impressive as far as we were concerned. But then again what do we know about model railways.
The best thing was a model of the Barmouth Bridge. As you can see I tried to take a couple of photos to make it look real!
We then went for a little wander around the shops of Barmouth. There wasn’t much to see or buy but Morgan did get a bag of pick ‘n’ mix. We popped into an art exhibition about Barmouth Bridge, again, there wasn’t really much to see here. Although local school kids and obviously been hard at work painting pictures of the bridge and building a model of it too.
We then headed to the Harbour and chilled there for a while watching the hustle and bustle.
We wandered over to the beach and then along breakwater where people were fishing and families were crabbing. We sat there for a while admiring the views and then headed back towards the harbour area to decide what to have for dinner.
It was getting quite busy here now with people milling around all over the place. The cafÃ©s and restaurants were full to bursting points and queues outside the ice cream parlour were growing. People were already taking up vantage points along the harbourside ready for the fireworks despite the fact that it was over 3 hours until they started.
We managed to find a table in the pizzeria and stayed there for dinner. It was even busier when we left.
After dinner we headed to Co-Op for some sweet snacks, back to the car to get the camera and tripod and then back to the pizzeria for some take away coffees. With provisions for the evening in place we wandered over the beach towards the dunes where we took up a comfortable vantage point. Darkness fell and anticipation rose.
Barmouth Laser Light Show
It was quite a nice evening. Cloudy skies but really warm and with no wind. Sitting on the dunes watching the world go by was a nice enough place to be, even if we did have two hours until the fireworks started. There were thousands of other people doing same so we sat there and chatted, watching as the crowds grew and torches and lights made their way across the beach.
Lasers were being projected onto the cliffs behind the town telling us various things about Barmouth Bridge in English and Welsh. As it got darker lasers started to shine out from various points around the harbour too.
A train crossed the bridge as we sat there. It painted a streak of light for the camera.
Soon there was a full on light show that was quite nice to watch. I do think they should have started the laser light show a little later and made a bit more of a fuss about it. As it was it started before it was dark and kind of gradually increased in stature. If they had waited and turned all of them on at once it would have had more of an impact. Instead the lasers were just there in the sky and gradually became more apparent as darkness fell.
Lights soon illuminated the northern end of Barmouth Bridge.
After a while the lights on the bridge changed. They reflected in the waters of the Mawddach below as lasers danced over the skies above.
Our vantage point on the dunes was perfect. We weren’t too crowded by other people, we could see the entire scene before us and the bridge was visible too. The overall scene was fairly spectacular at times.
It was somewhat marred by one bright green laser that kept shining directly in our eyes though. Not only did it blind us and prevent us from actually looking towards the celebrations but it didn’t help the photography either. Surely this wasn’t safe to be shining directly onto the eyes of the watching crowds?
Barmouth Bridge Fireworks
Thankfully the lasers were switched off for most (but not all) of the firework display. There wasn’t much of a fanfare before the fireworks started. In fact there was no fanfare at all. There wasn’t even any warning they just sort of started.
Soon they were illuminating the skies over Barmouth. As always, fireworks are nice to watch, and from our safe distance we had a good overview of the whole scene.
It’s difficult to take photos and watch the fireworks at the same time so I took a few overview shots, lots of the actual fireworks and also sat there and enjoyed them too.
I think the best shots were those that encompassed the whole scene and show the scale of the fireworks over the town below.
For some reason they switched the blinding green laser on for a little while in the middle of the display which didn’t help. The fireworks didn’t really last very long either and the usual grand finale that you expect from a firework display wasn’t that obvious.
Maybe we’ve been spoilt over the years by the Machynlleth Fireworks. I’m not saying that these weren’t any good but they were a little disappointing after so much hype and they were over with a little too quickly as well. We sat there for a few minutes expecting them to start up again but the lasers projected onto the cliff changed to some clapping hands and that was it, it was all over with.
Mass Exodus from Barmouth
We got up and followed everyone else as a mass exodus from Barmouth began. We were back to the car quite quickly, managed to pull out of the parking space and exit the car park fairly easily. It was getting busy so we let people go one by one as we made our way out onto the road. The road through the harbour was closed for the evening celebrations so there was only one way we could go. We joined the traffic, made steady progress for a couple of hundred yards and then came to a standstill. And that’s where we stayed for the next 45 minutes!!
I know it was busy but quite why there was no traffic movement at all I have no idea. Anna and Morgan went off to investigate. As they did the road through the harbour behind us opened. Lots of people turned their cars around and headed off that way. I couldn’t move as Anna and Morgan were off up the road so I pulled out of the way and waited for them to return. Once they did we too started to turn around. By now there was gridlock in the other direction as well.
For some reason a woman in a motorhome knocked on the window and asked if we could move so that she could get past! Was she completely mad?? No, we couldn’t move as we were stuck in gridlocked traffic in both directions! More to the point, quite where she was going to go in her motor-home if we could have moved out of the way I don’t know. Was she going to then knock on the window of the 500 cars in front of her one by one asking them to move out of the way so that she should get past?!
We did manage to turn around eventually and then sat there facing the other direction instead for a further half an hour. We saw the last train leave Barmouth – maybe we should have got the train after all? Parking on the other side of the bridge as we almost did would certainly have been a better option.
Eventually, 1 hour and 15 minutes later we gradually started moving and finally made our way out of Barmouth. Once onto the main roads there was barely any traffic and it was moving along at a normal speed of 50mph. I still don’t really understand why everything was completely gridlocked in Barmouth as there was free flowing traffic once out of the town. There was also no police presence or anyone directing the traffic at any point – surely someone should have anticipated that this would be an issue?
We drove back through the darkness of Wales, arriving in Machynlleth at about the same time as the last train would have done. We finally got home half an hour earlier than we would have if we had been on the train but the long wait in gridlocked Barmouth had put a bit of a downer on the evening.
All in all it was a nice family day out. The exhibitions were fairly disappointing, the laser light show was pretty but didn’t really have any structure and the fireworks weren’t quite the grand display we were expecting. The traffic chaos was a bit of a shambles too but none of that really mattered. We’d had a nice day out together, it made a change from the usual and we’d all had fun together. Other than the food, the parking and the petrol it was all free too.