On 9 September Orient Express’s Northern Belle departs from Paddington for a grand reception in Bristol. The fare is £295 (0845 077 2222; www.orient-express ).MORE INFORMATIONSee www.brunel200 ; To visit Brunel’s South West, call 0870 442 0880 or see www.livingheritagesouthwest.co.uk.. Steam (01793 466646; www.steam-museum .uk), Swindon, daily 10am-5pm, £5.95. The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum (0117 925 4980; www.empiremuseum.co.uk) daily 10am-5pm, £6.50.EVENTSDidcot Railway Centre’s Fire Fly steaming weekend is 29 April-1 May, £9.50/£7.50.
TRAVELLER’S GUIDEGETTING THEREFirst Great Western Trains (08457 000 125; www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk) runs half-[hourly services between Paddington, Didcot, Swindon and Bristol.ATTRACTIONSDidcot Railway Centre (01235 817200; www.didcotrailwaycentre .uk), 10am-5pm Sat-Sun and some weekdays, £9.50. On 15 September that year he died, worn out by a lifetime of achieving the seemingly impossible. He might be amused to know that his terminus at Paddington is still used by millions of Bristol-bound travellers each year – and some continuing on across the Atlantic, though now the Bristol-New York part takes place not aboard a Brunel-designed steamship, but a Boeing. Curving around the naval dockyards at Devonport, Cornwall-bound trains slow for the Royal Albert Bridge across the Tamar as though passengers deserve the chance to admire the last of Brunel’s works. The Grade I-listed bridge is dominated by the two immense wrought-iron bowed tubes from which the single track railway is suspended.Brunel was too ill to attend the opening by Prince Albert on 2 May 1859.
He saw the completed bridge only once, lying on a couch on a flat truck drawn across by a GWR locomotive. The chains from Brunel’s dismantled Hungerford Bridge across the Thames were incorporated to link the two immense towers.An even greater structure can be seen about two hours down the track, just beyond Plymouth. Towering above the Severn Gorge, the Clifton Suspension Bridge was completed to a modified design by Brunel’s engineering friends as a memorial to him. Within a whistle blast of the Great Britain is a bridge begun by Brunel when he was 25 but not completed until 1864, five years after his death. The rooms illustrate the conditions in which the ship took more than 16,000 emigrants to Australia, though she also served as a Crimean troopship.A special exhibition, The Nine Lives of I K Brunel, is being staged in the adjacent Maritime Heritage Centre until October. Some 322 feet of decking, funnel, masts and skylights have been reinstated, as have most of the deck levels with their cabins and public rooms, fitted out with period furniture.