The Gem Bridge near Tavistock cost more than two million pounds and forms part of a cross-channel cycle link stretching more than 260 miles. The new bridge spans the River Walkham about five miles south of Tavistock where one of Brunel's magnificent viaducts once stood. It was officially opened today to almost universal acclaim, even from locals worried that it would spoil this wonderful wooded valley on the edge of Dartmoor.
– Jeannie Arnold, resident
I must admit we were rather sceptical about it being built because it was so beautiful and we did think it might spoil it. But we've been down every week watching the construction of it and we think it has turned out absolutely beautiful. We're thrilled to bits with it. And it's a delight to walk across. The views are superb, absolutely superb.
– Cllr Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council
I think it is value for money, and what we've got to remember here is that 600 thousand pounds of this money has actually come from Europe and that's so we can attract more visitors and more cyclists over from Europe and to take part and experience what Devon has to offer with the cycling and the walking. And so when you think £2.1m it's not going to take that long to regenerate or restore that into the local economy.
The bridge provides another link in the 'Velodysee', a 265 mile cycle route all the way from
southern Britanny to Ilfracombe. It's hoped the long distance route will attract tourists from
both sides of the Channel as well as locals enjoying a healthy day out. The new bridge is 24 metres high, or about the height of five double decker buses. But Brunel's original bridge was nearly twice as high. Local resident Barney Gawman was one of the team of just four men who demolished the old bridge nearly fifty years ago.
– Barry Gawman, former bridge demolition worker
"There was just the four of us, but it was well organised and it just went along in different phases and the steel was all cut up and carried away in lorries. I've been saying it for days now that Brunel would turn over in his grave to see this new bridge here, but after saying that it is a nice bridge, well built.
Some of the old stonework has been rescued to make a picnic area, designed by children
from nearby Whitchurch Primary School. Children from several local schools helped choose
items to go in a time capsule buried under one of the rocks to tell future generations about
this corner of Dartmoor in the year 2012. There are some sections of the long distance cycle route yet to be finished, including a section of tunnel just south of the new bridge. It’s hoped it will be complete by the autumn and there are plans for a further opening ceremony then.