For the first time in more than 500 years, the two separated halves of Tintagel Castle have been reunited thanks to a daring new footbridge unveiled by the charity English Heritage on 8 August 2019. From August 11, visitors have been able to walk in the footsteps of the medieval inhabitants of the Cornish castle – inextricably linked with the legend of King Arthur – and enjoy spectacular coastal views not seen since the Middle Ages.
Designed by Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates Architectural Practice, the Tintagel Castle Footbridge is a striking feat of engineering.
Set 57 metres above sea level, the bridge consists of two independent cantilevers of 33 metres long each that reach out and almost touch in the middle. At the centre, a narrow gap (40mm) has been designed to represent the transition between the mainland and the island, the present and the past.
The bridge has been designed to be as slight as possible in order to be as unobtrusive as possible and also to reflect the historical land bridge. So significant was the original narrow access that it gave rise to the stronghold’s name, the Cornish Din Tagell meaning ‘the Fortress of the Narrow Entrance’.
The site of Tintagel Castle is one of English Heritage’s most spectacular, attracting over 200,000 visitors annually.
In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about the original land bridge to the island that it was so slight that “three men shall be able to defend against the whole power of the kingdom”. The footbridge has been designed to be as slight as possible in order to reflect the historical land bridge and be as un-intrusive as possible in the landscape.
The overall width of the footbridge is just three metres–while its functional width is 2.4m, and this has been subjected to intensive wind-tunnel testing to ensure it can resist the strong winds which the north Cornwall coast regularly experiences.
Though the cantilevered structure is 4.4m high where it springs from the rock face, it tapers to a thickness of 175mm in the centre. This has been designed to spread the weight of the cantilevers at either end and also helps to underline the sense of crossing over from the mainland to the island wards of the castle.
The materials of the footbridge are simple, durable, and appropriate to the context of the site.
The main structure and balustrading are in steel, the deck surface is slate, and the handrail is oak.
In all 47.5 tonnes of steel, 40,000 tiles of local Delabole slate, and 140 metres of oak make up the striking new footbridge.
The main cords are fabricated from painted steel with machined Duplex Stainless steel connection blocks. The connections permit the bridge to be erected in sections that are bolted together in sequence from either abutment.
Beneath the deck, the diagonals linking the deck and the lower chord are in electropolished stainless steel. These bars, of varying sizes, are extremely compact, ranging from 30 to 65mm, and are designed to disappear from a distance. The balustrading is also fabricated from polished stainless steel and is capped by an oak handrail.
The deck of the footbridge is covered in Delabole slate tiles, hand-cut from a quarry just 3 miles from Tintagel. Laid vertically on edge, packed side by side in hidden stainless-steel trays, the tiles form a striking surface to the bridge and reflect regional slate mining traditions.
According to Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s Chief Executive, "Tintagel Castle has been made whole again. Once more, people can cross from one side of the castle to the other and their footsteps will echo those from hundreds of years ago. As a charity, English Heritage’s core purpose is to care for historic sites like Tintagel Castle and to inspire people to visit them. Our new Tintagel bridge does both – protecting the castle’s archaeology and bringing its story to life in a brilliant, imaginative way.”
Tintagel Castle welcomes almost 250,000 visitors each year and the new footbridge helps to reduce congestion – especially at peak periods – and provide a step-free route onto the island, helping more people to enjoy a visit to the castle. The bridge at Tintagel Castle is part of a larger £5m program of works by English Heritage which includes improving the footpaths around the site, helping to limit the impact of visitors on the castle’s unique archaeology and ecology.
Name: The Tintagel Castle Footbridge
Firm: Ney & Partners
Executive Architect: William Matthews
Client: English Heritage
Project Manager: Reuben Briggs, Senior National Project Manager, English Heritage
William Matthews, Founder, William Matthews Associates, London & Laurent Ney, Founder, Ney & Partners, Brussels
About the Architects
William Matthews Associates is an architectural practice established in 2013 and based in London. Prior to starting the firm, William Matthews was an Associate at Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Paris. Current and completed projects range from a handcrafted kayak for Wallpaper Magazine to a feasibility study for a 280m tall £600m office development in the City of London.
Ney & Partners is a team of engineers and architects working on the conception of structure and infrastructure. Founded in 1996 by civil engineer and architect Laurent Ney, the office today consists of a main office in Brussels, with offices in Namur, Antwerp, Luxembourg, Hanoi, and Tokyo.