Showing posts from 2007

The Story of Tower Bridge

WHY did they build Tower Bridge?

Let me take you back to 1860. London had a problem: TRAFFIC! (Does that sound familiar?) Thousands of people and carts and horses crossed the River Thames. You could take a boat across the Thames, but that was slow and expensive. You could cross London Bridge for free, but it was really crowded. You could swim across, but that, well, it was wet! And in the winter, pretty COLD!

Obviously, the River Thames needed a new crossing. But the new crossing needed to 1) allow carts and horses and people to cross over it, and 2) allow ships to come into the Pool of London. At the same time!

After all, London was one of the world's busiest ports. The big question of the day was: How do you design a bridge which carts and horses can cross over, while tall ships to sail under it?

All sorts of architects submitted all sorts of designs -- there were TUNNEL designs; there were designs for really tall BRIDGES; or BRIDGES with steep roads; there was a design for a &…

Exploring Iceland

To really understand Iceland, you have to go WAAAAY back in history. To PRE-history, in fact. So let's [REWIND] about one hundred thousand years, to what geologists might call "yesterday." The Late Quaternary Period. (You know the one; it comes after the Pliocene Epoch in the geological timescale. The Quaternary Period started 1.8 million years ago, and we're still living in it today.)

One hundred thousand and ONE year ago, it seems, Iceland wasn't even here. It was just a burp on the ocean floor - deeeeep down beneath the waves. Hot magma spilled from the mid-Atlantic ocean rift and cooled into the land mass which is now the island of Iceland. (Ta da!)

And it's still happening! Iceland is getting larger - about 2 centimetres each year - because Iceland is straddling two geological plates.

Beep! Beep! Beep! (That's me, backing up a bit, to fill you in on some GEOLOGY!)

"Plate Tectonics" is an idea that once upon a…

Marc Brunel & the Thames Tunnel

Marc Brunel built the first tunnel under a river in the history of the world. Let me repeat that.

Marc Brunel built the first tunnel under a river in the history of the world. Ever. Impressive, no? (Well I think so, and so should you!)

They say the Assyrians dug an underwater tunnel in Babylon, but the Assyrians moved the River Euphrates out of the way, dug their tunnel, and then returned the river to its original course so that the tunnel ran underneath it.

It's odd to say Marc Brunel 'built' the tunnel; maybe I should say he 'dug' the tunnel. But many men had tried to dig a tunnel under the River Thames, and exactly for that reason, they had failed.

You see, the soil underneath the River Thames (or any river) is very soft. When you dig a hole underneath a river, the water creeps in and collapses it. If you've ever dug a hole in the sand at a beach, you'll know what I mean. The waves come along, and it's 'good-bye' hole. Just a bunch of soggy …

Exploring Big Ben

There are THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FOUR steps to the top of the clocktower (whew!) which houses Big Ben.

That's right, Big Ben is NOT the clocktower. And he's NOT the clock. Big Ben is the BELL, the really BIG BELL, which hangs alongside four other bells in the clocktower at the Palace of Westminster.

I know what you're thinking: "Hold it, there! I thought Big Ben was in the clocktower at the HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT." And yep, you're right. It's the self-same clocktower. But the OFFICIAL name of the "Houses of Parliament" is, in fact, the Palace of Westminster. Feel free to impress your friends with that little fact, the next time you're chewing the fat.

Despite the fact that Big Ben is ONLY the BELL (and you might think I'm pedantic for having mentioned it), most people think of 'Big Ben' as the whole tower, the clock mechanism, the clock face, and the bells. So you'd be forgiven for thinking the same thing (except, of course,…