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Cornwall Council approves Ney and William Matthews' Tintagel footbridge


Cornwall Council has backed plans by Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates for a £4 million footbridge at Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall 

Backed by English Heritage, the new footbridge will link the ruins of the 13th-century castle, the legendary home of King Arthur, to the headland.

Ney and William Matthews’ winning design, which will stand 28m higher than the current crossing and span more than 70m, is based on two cantilevers and was inspired by studies of Celtic history and the castle’s original drawbridge.

The Belgian civic engineering firm and the London-based architect saw off Níall McLaughlin, Marks Barfield, WilkinsonEyre, Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes and Jean-François Blassel Architecte to land the prize job in early March (see AJ 23.03.16). 

See the schemes by all the finalists here

More than 130 entries were received in the contest, run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, with almost 40 per cent of submissions coming from overseas.

The plans were given the green light by the county council’s strategic planning committee, despite objections from The Cornwall Geoconservation Group, Cornish cultural organisation Gorsedh Kernow, campaign group Kernow Matters To Us, Natural England and the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit.

A final decision on the application will now be made by Sajid Javid, secretary of state for communities and local government.

Liz Page, English Heritage’s historic properties director for the West, said: ’The footbridge is an exciting and necessary addition to the site which will improve access, enjoyment and understanding of Tintagel Castle. Tintagel Parish Council supports this bridge, as do the Cornish Buildings Group, the Cornwall Archaeological Society, and Visit Cornwall, and we are grateful for their support and the support of others.

’The bridge will follow the original crossing between the mainland and island, help us to manage the pressure of visitors, and provide better access onto the island. Combined with the new footpaths, the bridge will also help us to protect important archaeological remains. The bridge has been designed to be an object of beauty, sensitively balanced with the surrounding landscape.’



Project description

At a height of roughly 55 metres above sea level, the proposed bridge consists of two independent cantilevers, each more than 30 metres in length, reaching out and touching, almost, in the middle. At the centre, a narrow gap between the cantilevers has been designed to offer visitors a sense of transition between the mainland and the island, the present and the past, as they step into the mysterious past that makes Tintagel so special.

Twelfth century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that the original land bridge to the island was so slight that ’three men shall be able to defend against the whole power of the kingdom’, and the bridge has been designed to be as slight as possible in order to reflect this historical land bridge and have the least possible impact in the landscape. The width of the bridge is just three metres, 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.

The proposed bridge uses materials designed to be simple, durable, and appropriate to the context of the site, with a main structure in steel, handrails in oak and a deck surface made from Cornish Delabole slate. The slate deck would be interspersed with a pattern of quartzite tiles, designed to reflect the quartz intrusions seen on the Tintagel cliffs and the quartzite boulders that adorn the tops of the Cornish hedges in the area.

The bridge is part of a larger programme of landscape works, costing a total of around £4million. The programme of landscape works – which has also been considered as part of the planning application – would seek to improve the footpaths around the site, working with the proposed bridge to create step-free access to the castle’s island and limit the impact of visitors on Tintagel Castle’s unique archaeology and ecology.

General view of tintagel castle ¬ english heritage

General view of tintagel castle ¬ english heritage



Readers' comments (7)

  • So to what extent has the ability to create that gap in the middle come to increase the structural complexity, visibility - and maybe cost - of what might have surely been a more elegant design, had it not been in the form of two cantilevers?
    Time will tell, but just how clever will the idea of that gap prove to have been?

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  • Well done, it looks a beautiful design.
    It would be interesting to know how large that gap will be once the maximum contraction of the steelwork is taken into account either side. Either way I'm looking forward to seeing this develop.

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  • Industry Professional

    Slate can be quite slippery, particularly in a damp place near the sea. I wonder how they will treat it to create a safe walking surface, yet presumably still provide access for push-chairs?

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  • Congratulations to Cornwall County Council for awarding planning permission to a beautiful, competition-winning design. The Tintagel site is undoubtedly special and sensitive but so is this bridge, and the designers have the opportunity to reinforce the dramatic qualities of the location while providing much improved access for all. The practicalities of materials, structural design and construction should be very much within the skills of this winning architect and engineer team and it is reassuring to see them taking the project forwards.

    Regrettably this is still a rarity in the UK for bridge design, with far too many competitions awarded to designs which turn out to be unbuildable or undeliverable, for a range of reasons. Whether the fault lies with the designer, the promoter or the jury, it remains the architectural profession which bears the primary burden of such wasteful procurement and improvement in the quality of bridge design competitions is frustratingly slow in coming.

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  • For Martin Knight:
    Are you sure that we're not being seduced by an innovative and daring design to the extent that we're turning a blind eye to reality - and practicality?
    If you look at image 8/17 - the disconnect between the two cantilevers - can you honestly say, with confidence, that this bridge will provide 'much improved access for all'?
    I once had a dog that froze at the centre of a springy suspension footbridge, and it doesn't matter how structurally sound the Tintagel bridge is in the minds of the design cognoscenti, if there's any significant movement between the two halves of the bridge at the central gap then surely there's the real risk that many people will be put off using it.

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  • Hi Robert,

    The Matthews / Ney design is undoubtedly seductive but should be deliverable without undermining those qualities which won the competition. Generally, it is important that competition designs (which are generally arrived at in a short time and for a very small fee) are not treated as the finished product, rather they are beautifully presented concepts which must be carefully and properly developed, as with any project. Critical in their selection is a jury with the technical as well as artistic sensitivity to know which concepts are credible and deliverable as well as which best answers the brief. For example, the minor addition of a pin connection in this design would keep the important acknowledgement of the middle point of the span yet would prevent differential vertical movement.

    There are physical aspects of this site which are quintessential – the current approach to Tintagel Castle is steep, high, exposed and difficult to access – yet to try and remove these would ruin the place so, in my view, the competition-winning design retains the overall drama but makes it much more accessible. The benefit of the competition process was that six designers were selected to tackle this challenge and their differing designs gave a highly competent jury the material from which to select the best design.

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  • For Martin Knight

    It's interesting reading the discussion between you and Robert on the bridge structure. You note that the addition of a pin at the centre of the bridge would prevent differential vertical movement, whilst only being a minor change to the scheme.

    To me, this would seam to be a rather significant change, completely changing the look and, more importantly, the concept of the bridge from what is shown in the image of the scheme, particularly in image 8/17.

    I do hope that they are able to create the bridge as they have shown in the competition winning entry and the planning application, so that you can take that dramatic (albeit small) leap onto the Island.

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