The Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of Bristol’s most recognizable landmarks, but not many of the people who walk across it know about the 12 vaulted chambers hidden below the Leigh Woods Tower.
In 1831, the young engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was awarded the contract to build the Clifton Suspension Bridge, intended to be the highest and longest bridge in the world. Immediately, the project was plagued by problems and was eventually abandoned altogether in 1853. Brunel died in 1859, leaving the bridge only half completed. His plans and drawings of the Leigh Woods abutment were lost, and the 12 enormous vaulted chambers inside were forgotten.
The bridge was later completed in 1864, but it wasn’t until the early 21st century that the chambers were rediscovered. A builder carrying out some repairs on the bridge found the mysterious vaults in 2002.
Today, the vaults are now open to visitors between April and October each year. Two of the biggest chambers can be explored as part of a guided visit, where it is possible to see stalactites almost 23 feet long and squeeze through a small passageway into an enormous cathedral-style hall with amazing echoing acoustics.
Know Before You Go
Tickets are limited and often sell out very quickly so it is a good idea to plan ahead. There is no access without a guide.