Tintagel Castle Bridge

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Tintagel Castle Bridge
Tintagel Castle Bridge

Dramatic windswept cliffs, romantic ruins, and of course, a dash of Arthurian legend – what more could you ask? The dramatically remote location of Tintagel Castle in North Cornwall draws hundreds of thousands of visitors in a typical year – and its very remoteness is one of its attractions as well as one of its challenges.

It's not so long ago that the only way to reach both sides of the site involved a hundred steps winding up to the castle – although in the Middle Ages residents of Tintagel moved around via a narrow land bridge at the same height as the cliffs. Between the 1300s and the 1600s, the crossing disappeared.

The new Tintagel Bridge is built on the original route and is the result of a 2015 competition, which was won by Ney & Partners Civil Engineers and William Matthews Associates. The bridge had to be in harmony with the landscape, as well as offer a good "fit" for one of the most romantic castle ruins in the UK.

View to Tintagel Castle and Bridge
View to Tintagel Castle and Bridge

The landscape proved particularly challenging. The location is known for regularly being subject to high winds, and while there are occasional days of utter stillness, they're not exactly predictable.

So, the story of how the bridge was built is almost as fascinating as the bridge itself – getting building materials up there was one of the first hurdles. Initially, there was some lifting of materials via helicopter, before a cable crane was installed to get equipment up to the cliffs. (Oh, and there were thorough surveys too, to ensure the bedrock could take the weight of the structure.)

The 18 steel sections of the bridge were made in Plymouth – in total, the walkway spans 70 metres. When it comes to the engineering details, there are two cantilever sections which are anchored into the cliffs on either side. Perhaps the most astonishing feature about this bridge is that the two halves do not meet in the middle - instead there's a 40mm gap. It was created for thermal expansion, but also as a fun reminder about the transition from present to past, island to the mainland. The balustrades that run the length of the bridge are made of stainless steel, and from a distance, they're all but invisible against the sky; the handrails are made of oak. The paving on the bridge uses slate from nearby Delabole, the oldest still-working quarry in England.

Tintagel Castle Cornwall
Before the new bridge

Astonishingly, the whole structure was in place in just two weeks. The sides of the bridge were anchored to the rock face by specialists who used ropes to hang over the edges while supports were drilled into place. It's a technique often seen in the Alps, but still quite rare in the UK.

Oh, and that Arthurian link from earlier? This was allegedly where the legendary warrior was conceived; you can also see "Merlin's Cave" just below the castle.