Cornwall, a coastal county in England known for its rugged moorland and beachfront vistas, is home to several historic structures. One such building, which dominates the county’s northern landscape, is Tintagel Castle—a legendary medieval fortification that has long enjoyed associations with King Arthur. In the 19th century, the castle became a tourist destination, albeit a risky one. The ruins, which are maintained by English Heritage, the U.K. charity designed to care for the country’s castles, are notoriously difficult to navigate. In fact, “Tintagel” means “fortress of the narrow entrance” in Cornish. Over the centuries, visitors have had to climb 148 perilously steep steps to access the grounds . . . until now. A new footbridge, the design of which sparked a polarizing debate in the U.K. when it was announced in 2016, has finally opened.
This ambitious bridge serves to replace Tintagel Castle’s “lost crossing,” which once connected the two halves of the 13th-century estate. Codesigned by Ney & Partners, a Belgian structural engineering firm, and architect William Matthews, the new footbridge stretches 223 feet, and its surface is comprised of 40,000 slate tiles, which were sourced locally, according to the Guardian. In total, the project cost over $6 million.
While the footbridge is technically complete, a piece of it is missing by design. At the center, there’s a 4 centimeter—or about 1.6 inch—gap, a curious choice given the fact that the bridge lives directly over a choppy section of the Celtic sea. But the designers claim this skip in the structure (which is purely for aesthetic effect) is completely safe. The gap will increase ever so slightly in the cold, and decrease when it’s warmer out. “For it to almost close it would have to be [122 degrees Fahrenheit] for two weeks,” Matthews told the Guardian. “We have designed for extreme temperatures.”
The project has endured a rocky three years, thanks to fans and detractors of the bridge’s construction alike. Some citizens are afraid that the footbridge will commodify the culturally important ruins and attract even more tourists than the 250,000 per year who already visit. But others are embracing the controversial footbridge, as it will address the main issue plaguing the heritage site: safe (and easy) access. Visitors reportedly spend 45 minutes scaling the narrow staircase from one side of the castle to the other, which is equal parts annoying and dangerous.
This structurally complex footbridge is due to open on August 18, having been pushed back significantly; Tintagel Castle was closed in October 2018 in the hopes of having the bridge ready for the public in the spring of this year. In true British fashion, visitors are encouraged to mind the gap.