28 June 2012

Tips for pontists

Visiting 35 bridges in 3 days certainly brings home the importance of good preparation. Here are some thoughts on what the dedicated Pontist planning a bridge tour ought to take with them.

As I discovered in Scotland, some of the finest bridges can be quite tricky to find. I visited two in private forests, far from the main road, and several which were down obscure footpaths, not always visible on street maps. A combination of different maps was invaluable. Google's satellite views and driving directions are helpful, but proper Ordnance Survey maps were essential to locate some of the bridges. For historic bridges in Scotland, the RCAHMS website has coordinates for bridges and links to good quality OS maps at various scales. It might have been useful to have GPS to locate some of the sites.

Google street view is also invaluable for "casing the joint", particularly in working out where to park. For one bridge, I parked in what turned out to be somebody's back garden, which wasn't ideal. The ability to make a quick getaway is also essential in getting through a long list of bridges ...

Camera equipment
My camera broke down on the second day of my trip, leaving me reliant on my mobile phone and my travelling companion's camera. Their camera was hampered by a lack of space on the memory card. So, take a good camera, take a spare camera, take spare memory cards etc. I travelled with a laptop, so I backed up photos at the end of each day.

As for what makes a good camera for bridge photography, a wide-angle lens and good low-light capability are helpful, but portability also matters, as does the risk that an expensive camera might get dunked in a river.

There's a lot to be said for knowing as little as possible about a bridge before visiting it, so it can come as a surprise. But I've had many occasions where I've visited and photographed a bridge, then learned more about it later and discovered that I never even bothered to look at a key feature. For the Scottish bridge trip, I did my homework, and it definitely helped. It also turned up links to other bridges which I was unaware of but which turned out to be well worth visiting.

Advance research also included working out which bridges were publicly accessible, and which were on private land. Scotland has a broadly-based right to roam which allows access to large areas of private property, but not to all. This bridge trip involved crossing both farmyards and private gardens, neither of which are included in the right to roam. The right also only covers only non-motorised use - there's no right to park a car on private property. For two of the sites, I wrote to the landowners and sought permission in advance. I will try to flag up any access issues when I post the individual bridges here, but do your own research if you are considering visiting any of these places.

This has to be the latest gadget in any Pontist's kit bag. My tool of choice was the Accelerometer Toy app for an Android phone, but there are other apps including ones for the iPhone. With this, you can record bridge vibrations, and use the data to determine natural frequencies and possibly even coefficients of damping.

Waterproof clothing
I'm sure there are some places where this isn't necessary, but in Scotland? In early summer? Absolutely vital. Waterproof clothing isn't just about being proof against water - it also guards against stinging nettles, scratches from clambering through bushes etc.

Walking stick
On the last day of the trip, I found an abandoned walking stick below one of the bridges. I wish I'd had it for the whole trip. To get to several bridges, and to gain good viewpoints for photography, it's often necessary to clamber down steep and unstable slopes, climb walls, perch precariously at a river's edge etc. The walking stick really helped, and I'll be carrying it on future bridge trips for certain.

On that point, several of the bridges I'll be covered are actually quite dangerous to approach, particularly when trying to find a good place to take a photo. I'll try and highlight particular cases, but at the risk of being highly patronising, be careful out there!

Machete and/or axe
I've mentioned above the need to scramble through bushes and other undergrowth to get to bridges and viewpoints. A machete might be ridiculous, but a strong stick does help beat a path through dense vegetation. At some bridges, almost impossible to photograph due to trees and bushes, I wished I had an axe to clear a better view.

A companion
This particular trip would have been far poorer without a travelling companion. A fellow Pontist can help with navigation, but also with safety. There were several places it would have been much riskier getting to if travelling alone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I'm looking in vain for a roman and a medieval illustrated bridge book or books for western and eastern Europe. I have a pontist husband, we are journalists and travel a lot and he is always detouring for a bridge. I'd be really grateful for any suggestions.