The Clifton Suspension Bridge Summer Solstice alignment

Completed in 1864, Bristol’s most photographed landmark Clifton Suspension Bridge was the creation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is a spectacular marvel of engineering – straddling the Avon Gorge, with its’ steep sides, which cut through Bristol. It is an iconic sight – and something which greets any visitor to the city arriving from that side of Bristol. My very first memory is actually of the bridge, sat in the back seat of the family car driving over.

I often spend sunrise at the Suspension Bridge, however one very early June morning in 2018 I discovered something very interesting about the bridge.

Summer Solstice alignment

It was around the 20th June 2018, and sunrise was super early. The forecast was good, so I made my way to my go-to sunrise destination – Clifton Suspension Bridge.

After taking photos from the Observatory at sunrise, I made my way across the bridge.

By this point the sun had risen high enough. As I reached the opposite side of the bridge I could see the road and other areas bathed in golden light – and as I stood in the middle of the road I noticed that the sun was perfectly placed within the opposite tower. Everything was lining up perfectly. It was a pretty cool moment.

The line-up

I found that on the Summer Solstice, shortly after sunrise the sun rises directly in line with the two towers of the bridge. If you stand on the Abbots Leigh side of the bridge, beyond the toll booths, on the central crossing, you will be able to capture the sun directly through the central tower of the opposite side. It appears like this for the week or so either side of the Solstice – not dissimilar to the famous Durdle Door Winter sun alignment, but a Bristol version.

Summer Solstice Clifton Suspension Bridge alignment

Planning the alignment

Reviewing this in Sun Surveyor or PhotoPills you can see that the alignment, once the sun is high enough – around 45 minutes after sunrise – is perfectly placed to light up the opposite side. It’s an almost Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark moment…

Summer Solstice Clifton Suspension Bridge alignment
Summer Solstice Clifton Suspension Bridge alignment

Is this a coincidence, or something more?

For a long time, legend has had it that Isambard Kingdom Brunel aligned the two-mile long Box tunnel railway near Bath – another of his creations – so that the sun would rise and shine through it on his birthday, the 9th April. A retired engineer and physicist, Peter Maggs, found that it actually aligned closer to 6th April – the birthday of Brunel’s sister, Emma Joan.

So, is it therefore possible that he could have intentionally done a similar thing with the Suspension Bridge? To me, it seems way too coincidental. Brunel had a reputation as not just a genius, but also as having a mischievous sense of humour. So who knows!

Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you go and photograph it yourself, please don’t forget to give me a shout out when you post any photos, I’d love to see what you capture!

Fine art Clifton Suspension Bridge photo prints

If you are looking for a Clifton Suspension Bridge print, check out my Print Shop. I have lots of bridge prints – and plenty more I can add from my Instagram account. Just drop me a message and I can add them. If you are looking for a Clifton Suspension Bridge canvas or wall art, I can quote for these too.

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