A hanging bridge connects Tintagel Castle on the rugged north coast of Cornwall. The ruin is one of the most spectacular historical sites in Britain. For a long time, however, the route to the castle was a challenge for visitors to the high village. Over a hundred steps led to the ruins on the cliffs. However, the commissioned architects found a solution by using a newly built bridge as a pedestrian bridge.
Sea view and hanging bridge
The architecture firm William Matthews Associates and Ney & Partners created a built-in suspended bridge of two 30-meter-high cantilever spans that don’t quite meet in the middle. The Tintagel Castle Bridge is a pedestrian bridge over a 58 meter high slope between two cliffs, which connects two sides of a medieval ruin again. All twelve steel sections of the new footbridge were installed on the North Cornish site. The fine-tuning required to align the bridge is now complete. Both the castle and the hanging bridge have been open to the public since Sunday, August 11, 2019. For the first time, the organizers have introduced season tickets for the castle, which can be booked in advance on the website. However, it is recommended that you reserve in advance to ensure access at the time you want.
A historic walkway
In October work began on a groundbreaking project to reconnect the divided landscape of Tintagel. In the Middle Ages, residents walked from one side of the site to the other over a narrow land bridge that was as high as the cliffs. However, the intersection disappeared between the 14th and 17th centuries and the castle was separated by a natural chasm. The new suspension bridge restores the original route and offers visitors the opportunity to experience the castle as its medieval residents once did.
The right design
The responsible authority launched a competition in 2015 to find the best team to design the new bridge. The architects mentioned above created the winning concept. The aim was to find a hanging bridge that was specially tailored to Tintagel Castle and blended into the iconic coastal landscape. The design has two arms that touch each other and are 40 mm apart in the middle. The gap represents the transition from the mainland to the island, as well as from the present to the past. The suspension bridge structure is paved with slate and has stainless steel parapets along its length. The bridge railings are so beautifully designed that they disappear into the sky from a distance. The architects provided a solution that did not require temporary formwork such as scaffolding during the construction process.
The building process
Tintagel Castle was closed by the local authorities in October 2018 due to the construction of the new bridge. They also installed a cable crane on site, which the contractor could use to attach the equipment and build the foundations. For this reason, scaffolding was no longer required. Prior to this work, the architects carried out a series of geotechnical studies to ensure that the subsoil could support this. At the time when the cable crane was in operation, work began on making the steel profiles of the bridge outside the construction site. These prefabricated steel profiles were transported to Tintagel Castle and positioned. In this way, the team re-established the historical connection between the mainland and the island piece by piece.
As mentioned above, the support arms are mainly made of steel and local slate from the Delabole quarry. This is England’s oldest working quarry and is oriented vertically for the trail. The handrails are made of oak. The walkways on either side are made of slate and are quite rustic. However, the architects first found that a very rustic finish to the bridge was not really appropriate. So they took the same material, but used it in a very fine and more modern way. The remote location on a cliff, the strong winds on the site and the development restrictions due to its historical and ecological importance made reconnecting the two halves of the castle a real challenge.
Correct construction technology for a hanging bridge
The contractor built the two booms over a period of one year in Devon and transported them to Cornwall in 5-tonne pieces. The engineers used a special cable crane to position each section as it was screwed together. For this reason, the assembly process only took two weeks. To anchor each side to the cliff, the specialists used ropes to hang over the ledge and drill supports into the rock face. It is a widely used method of stabilizing cliffs, as you can see on elevated roads in the Alps. So it’s an existing technology, but it’s quite unusual in the UK.
An approaching storm delayed the official opening of the bridge as the exposed island is unsafe in extreme winds. However, when visitors cross it, they can walk over a natural precipice that has not been crossed in this way in 500 years. Previously, visitors to England’s heritage had to climb steep steps and queue for a much smaller footbridge at the foot of the cliff. According to legend, it is the place where King Arthur was received.