02 May 2009

Thames Crossings 17: Westminster Bridge

Downriver from Lambeth Bridge is Westminster Bridge. Looking downstream you have the Eye right on the bend of the river, perhaps with the bridge's fancy triple-headed street lights in the foreground.

Looking north up the bridge you have one of the iconic views of London: the Houses of Parliament and the Clock Tower being snapped by a thousand tourist mobiles.

They tend to do that comedy backwards shuffle into the road so that their partner can get them and the Clock Tower in, so watch out. At least if there's an accident the photo will show exactly what time it occurred.

Normally I'm all for stopping on bridges and enjoying the view, but be aware that as a cyclist you're just an information point on wheels for many a visitor, so watch out here. Escuse pliz, ware Backeenam Palass? Tett Modarn has eet much far? Why plisman arrest me for take peechar tren steshan like Staleen Rassia?

In rush hour this is a busy crossing for cyclists, luminous with hi-vis commuters heading north. With luck there'll be yet another demonstration in Parliament Square protesting that something somewhere should stop. The only thing they do succeed in stopping is the motor traffic, in which case us cyclists have the bridge to ourselves.

Dating from 1862, it's the oldest bridge in this stretch of the Thames. From the side it looks the same sort of steel-arch affair as Lambeth Bridge, though painted a different colour. The previous structure here was immortalised by William Wordsworth on 3 Sep 1802 in his poem 'On Westminster Bridge', claiming 'Earth has not anything to show more fair'.

Not even an Islington estate agent would go that far. However, recent scholarship has established that, according to the original manuscript, he in fact wrote 'Erith has not anything to show more fair'.

From here on the north bank it's along busy Embankment; on the south bank it's a push along the crowded promenade past some visitor attractions and the London Eye. Either way, the Jubilee Bridges are about half a mile away.

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