Saturday, 2 April 2016

Tintagel Bridge: A Step into the Past

'Stepped at one stride across the sea.....'

On 23 March 2016 English Heritage (EH) announced the winner of the Tintagel Castle: Bridge Design Competition to design a new structure linking the mainland to the island of Tintagel.

Tintagel is the place were King Arthur was conceived (and some say born) according to the legends. Archaeological investigations have revealed large amounts of 5th and 6th century Mediterranean pottery indicating that Tintagel was an important trading post from late Roman times until the end of the 7th century, long before the construction of the Norman castle in the early 13th century. However, it is the Arthurian link that draws many visitors each year to the site.

As part of EH's plans to improve the "visitor experience" at Tintagel Castle, they have refurbished the Beach Cafe and constructed a new exhibition exploring the history of Tintagel Castle and the Arthurian legends. Ongoing plans for 2016, EH claim, will include an “imaginative new outdoor interpretation” that will feature interactive exhibits and informative panels in addition to a range of artworks crafted in bronze and stone bringing history and legend to life. The first of these imaginative displays has seen the face of Arthur's legendary wizard Merlin carved into the rocks on the beach by the entrance to Merlin's Cave. This first sculpture, on display from February, has received a mixed reception.

As part of the improvements planned for Tintagel, EH intends to build a new footbridge at Tintagel Castle which will follow the path of the original crossing between the mainland and the headland, to improve access to the island and conserve the landscape.

A new bridge sounds welcome as one memory that visitors to Tintagel are guaranteed to take away with them is the many steep steps one has to climb to get to the ruins. There are currently over 100 steps leading up to the Island Courtyard. After leaving the island you have to climb up a set of even steeper steps to the Mainland Courtyard.

EH launched a competition in 2015 to find the best architectural and engineering team to design the new footbridge. Six were shortlisted. Following a period of consultation on the concept designs the winner was announced in March 2016.

An expert jury came to a majority decision on the winning team of Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates, beating 136 others to secure the commission for the £4m English Heritage project in Cornwall.

A Step into the Past
Ney & Partners concept for the Tintagel Castle footbridge is to restore the link that once existed between the mainland and island void by using two independent cantilevers that reach out from each side but don't quite touch in the middle, leaving a 4 inch gap. The design team claim the narrow gap between the two sides 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”.

The winning team's concept design for the new bridge at Tintagel Castle
© MRC/Emily Whitfield-Wicks and Ney & Partners 
The designers concept of a journey into the past which will start through the historic inner gate of the lower ward with dramatic views of the castle ruins and the Island of Tintagel. At this point the bridge will first come into view, without imposing its presence, but drawing visitors to it. The bridge entrance will be located between two slate walls clearly distinguishing the bridge from the mainland. The highlight of the crossing will be the rite of passage; in traversing the narrow gap passing from mainland to an island, from the  Norman 13th century to the Celtic Dark Age; from one world to another.

In presenting their winning design Ney & Partners said, “The narrow gap between the cantilevers represents 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 team’s inspiration is said to have come from their study of Celtic history and the original drawbridge arrangement of Tintagel Castle. Clearly it is the concept of the transition through worlds and time that the innovative bridge will symbolise that appealed to the jury.

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. with them on a design that will both complement the spectacular landscape and unlock for the visitor the history of the site.

“In our new role as a charity, 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.”

Yet, this has not prevented the accusation in the newspapers of English Heritage's “Disney-fication of the legendary Cornish castle” just as some saw the Merlin sculpture as vandalism.

The project is due to be completed in 2019.

Edited 20/07/19

A New Bridge For Tintagel Castle – Competition Winner Announced – English Heritage website

King Arthur's Tintagel castle to get death defying new bridge with gap in middle - Daily Mirror 23 March 2016

Work on Tintagel Castle's Bridge starts - English Heritage News 18/06/19

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