The Britannia bridge is one of the two iconic routes to Anglesey and every year many thousands of tourists literally drive right over the top of four majestic statues, completely unawares.
When the original Britannia bridge was built by Robert Stephenson (1846-1850), the entrance was flanked by four stone lions – two at each end. Sculpted from limestone by John Thomas, they were designed to complement the Egyptian references in the bridge’s architecture. They would have been a wonderful sight for train passengers and were immortalised by John Evans, Bard of the Cockles, in his rhyme:
Pedwar llew tew
Heb ddim blew
Dau ‘ochr yma
A dau ‘ochr drew
Which translates as:
Four fat lions,
Without any hair,
Two over this side
And two over there
For many years, the lions greeted visitors to and from Anglesey, until the bridge was destroyed by fire in 1970. The story goes that on the evening of 23rd May, 1970, some boys playing in the tunnel dropped a flaming torch which ignited the tar covered, wooden roof. Although the bridge was intact after the fire had burned itself out, the structural integrity of the iron girders was compromised and the decision was taken to rebuild.
In 1980 the new bridge, which now included a road as well as a railway, was opened by HRH the Prince of Wales. The lions however, now lie below the road level and can’t be seen from the A55. You might catch a glimpse of them if you take the train, but the best way to see them is on foot.
How to get there:
From the mainland side, you can follow the Wales coastal path from Treborth botanical gardens until you reach the bridge. Alternatively, it can be reached from Ffordd Bronwydd. At the foot of the bridge is an area of scrub land with a section of the original bridge on display, accompanied by some information and bronze plaques.
If you walk down to the Menai Strait, you get an uninterrupted view of the whole bridge. Look out for the white house on Ynys Gored Goch in the middle of the strait. It used to belong to the diocese of Bangor and was leased for £3 and a barrel of herrings per year. In the early 20th Century it opened to tourism and visitors would ring a bell on the Anglesey shore to call a boat. On the island they could enjoy a ‘whitebait tea’ which consisted of tea, fried whitebait and bread & butter. The island and house is now privately owned and no longer open to the public.
The lions on the Anglesey side can be reached from Llanfair PG, by following the coastal path. Directions can be found here.
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