It may not be ideal for sufferers of vertigo but it does sound spectacular. A competition to build a new footbridge at Tintagel Castle has been won by a design featuring a gap in the middle.
The daring concept proposes one cantilever on the Cornish mainland and another on the island fortress, where, legend has it, King Arthur was conceived. The two structures stretch out to each other across the void but do not quite meet.
According to the team behind the design, this gap will represent the “transition between the mainland and the island, here and there, the present and the past, the known and the unknown, reality and legend; all the things that make Tintagel so special and fascinating”. The faint-hearted may not be so enthusiastic.
For hundreds of years – since a narrow natural land bridge that used to reach out to the rocky headland on which the castle sat crumbled into the Atlantic – tourists, poets, hikers and King Arthur enthusiasts have had to scramble up and down hundreds of steps and across a modest wooden bridge to visit the attraction. So testing is the exercise that a tough old manager of Tintagel football team used to harden up his players by getting them to run up and down the steep slopes. It is simply beyond many people now.
English Heritage, the custodian of the site, decided enough was enough and launched a competition to build a 72-metre footbridge that would cross high above the waves and the current wooden structure and retrace the line of that lost land bridge. It will cost £4m and should be ready for the spring of 2019.
More than 100 architects from 27 countries expressed an interest in the project. This was whittled down to a shortlist of six, who have provided their concept designs.
Marks Barfield, creator of the London Eye, suggested a bridge called the “Bronze Blade”, evoking King Arthur’s sword Excalibur, supported by twin pillars designed to remind the viewer of natural stone stack formations and Cornish tin mine chimneys.
Niall McLaughlin’s design was of a stone arch of Cornish granite and “seemingly tethers the island to the mainland”, while Wilkinson Eyre proposes using oak and stainless steel for a bridge made of small components “wheeled to site by hand”.
The winning concept is the brainchild of Belgian company Ney Partners Civil Engineers and British architects William Matthews Associates. It was partly inspired by the original drawbridge at Tintagel Castle and includes local slate for the decking.
Kate Mavor, chief executive of English Heritage, said: “The winning team’s concept is daring and very exciting. It is not the final design but instead a brilliant indication of the team’s talent and imagination. We will now work with them on a design that will both complement the spectacular landscape and unlock for the visitor the history of the site.
“We are looking for new, imaginative ways to interpret the sites in our care and inspire our visitors – this bridge forms part of that approach.”
Laurent Ney, founder and managing director of Ney and Partners, said: “We believe the experience of visiting Tintagel Castle is all about discovery and revelation, so it is important to us that our bridge lets the majesty of the site communicate, that it is not too intrusive.”
Tintagel has been at the centre of controversy in recent weeks. A face of the wizard Merlin has been carved into a rockface, and other plans include installing a larger-than-life sculpture partly inspired by King Arthur and a compass installation that may remind visitors of the round table.
Some critics have claimed English Heritage is turning the site into a “fairytale theme park”, focusing on the Arthurian legend rather than what it sees as the site’s genuine Cornish history.
English Heritage will work with the winning team on the final design, which will be subject to a number of consents and approvals, including planning permission and scheduled ancient monument consent.