Sunday 6 December 2015 00.03 GMT
Tintagel’s chance to bridge gap of centuries Locals and visitors in the Cornish village give their views on the six options for a new bridge to Arthur’s legendary birthplace
“That one frightens me to death,” said Mary Dyer, the 80-year-old chairman of Tintagel parish council. “It looks terrifying. I’m not sure if I’d be brave enough to walk across it, especially if it is windy. Now this one I like. It looks much safer and very spectacular too. I could see myself on that – on a nice day at least.”
Dyer was the first resident of this wave-battered, wind-lashed village on the coast of north Cornwall to cast her eye over an exhibition of six dramatic new designs for a footbridge that will link the mainland with the island fortress of Tintagel Castle where – legend has it – King Arthur was conceived.
For hundreds of years – s
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 trip-trap 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, has decided enough is enough and has launched a competition to build a 72-metre long footbridge that will 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.
“It will be wonderful,” said Dyer, who moved from London in the 1950s. “It’s really too difficult for people like me to get there. But I also see parents with young children struggling up and down those steps. The designs look so good that I’m sure the bridge will be an attraction in itself. It will bring more people, which can only be good for the village.”
More than 100 architects from 27 countries expressed an interest in the project. This has been whittled down to a shortlist of six, who have provided their concept designs. The winner will be chosen in the new year.
They have clearly had fun with the scheme. Marks Barfield, the creator of the London Eye, has 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 is 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”
One not for the faint-hearted, by Belgian firm Ney and Partners, leaves a small gap in the middle to represent “the transition between the mainland and the island … the present and the past, the known and the unknown, reality and legend”.
Catherine and Ian Sandbrook, who live at nearby Camelford, liked the Ney design when they viewed the exhibition at Tintagel visitors’ centre. “It doesn’t mean I’d walk across it,” said Ms Sandbrook, “but it is elegant. We like the more minimal designs.”
Roger Wickett, who was born and bred in Tintagel and for years ran a caravan site here, admitted he had harboured reservations about the project. “It will have a huge impact on a very beautiful spot; it will change it for ever.” But he was impressed when he saw the designs. “The castle is vital for the economy of the village. Anything that helps that has to be a good thing.” He also liked the Ney concept, not so much for the dizzying gap but for the way it framed the sea.
Some in the village cannot believe the bridge scheme is real. “It feels more like a dream to me,” said Chris Grose-Callan, who runs the Cats Whiskers gift shop. “I walk my dogs up there. It seems odd to think there’ll be a bridge.”
John Mappin, co-owner of the Camelot Castle Hotel, an extraordinary Victorian pile complete with a round table, was reassured that because the site is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles will run an eye over the design. “If Prince Charles likes it, it will be fine by me. It’s his land and I’m sure it won’t be a carbuncle.”
Opinion is divided on English Heritage’s Tintagel Facebook page. “Amazingly beautiful,” one fan posted. “Please don’t, plain ugly,” said another. “Keep it old school, we need the exercise,” pleaded a third. “Maybe Arthur will finally come home,” added another.
There are some separatists who find it hard to accept that an organisation called English Heritage is in charge of a Cornish site. “Beautiful Cornish Heritage. That’s Cornish Heritage. Time for some little Englander organisations to jog on,” posted proud Cornishman Lee Sanders
Certainly, the place has a crucial part in the history of Kernow. It is believed to have been a seat o Cornwall and Devon’s dark-age rulers and a key trading settlement that linked the region with the Byzantine world.
Then in the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth, arch-spinner of Arthurian legends, laid the foundations of its worldwide appeal by declaring the island fortress to be the place of King Arthur’s conception. Monmouth’s claims may have prompted Richard, Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of King Henry III, to build a castle on the spot in the 13th century. As early as the 17th century tourists started to visit and in the 19th century the explosion of interest in Arthurian legend and the arrival of the railways in Cornwall brought vast numbers to the site.
Tintagel is now one of English Heritage’s top five attractions, drawing around 200,000 visitors a year and up to 3,000 a day in the peak summer season.
Down at the castle, Beata Dybala, a visitor from Poland, was taking photographs of her daughter, designer and illustrator Sonia Hensler, who was sporting a top hat and glittering red jacket for the shoot. Dybala was in favour of the idea. “I like the combination of the old and new.” Hensler wondered if it would be better if the new bridge were made of wood. “More natural, more in keeping with this place,” she said. But not practical.
Property manager Matt Ward can’t wait to stride across the new bridge. “It will make the castle so much more accessible for more people.” But he also loves the idea that, for the first time since the land bridge eroded half a millennium ago, visitors will be able to precisely follow in the footsteps of their forefathers. “You’ll see a view of this magnificent coast that vanished centuries ago. Incredible.”
Copyright by: The Guardian.