Building bridges with Wales’s Georgian heritage

Monday 23 October 2017

The Hafod Estate Bridge

A ruined bridge in one of Wales’s most breath-taking heritage estates has been restored to its former glory, thanks to a £17.5k grant by the Welsh Government’s historic environment service (Cadw).

The Hafod Estate, situated twelve miles south-east of Aberystwyth, features 200 hectares of landscaped grounds and a network of historic walking routes designed by Thomas Johnes (1748-1816) — the estate’s most celebrated owner.

Now open to the public, the new bridge reunites two halves of the estate’s carriage driveway and forms part of the “Ystwyth Gorge Walk” — a Johnesian trail designed to offer optimum views of the estate’s dramatic waterfalls.

Developed in the late eighteenth century, the “Ystwyth Gorge Walk” is one of five restored routes within the estate, together forming one of the most important picturesque landscapes in Europe.

Johnes’ landscaping ingenuity transformed Hafod into one of Georgian Wales’s most popular tourist attractions but by 1950, the renowned estate had fallen into disrepair, off the map and out of the guidebooks.

The bridge installation — arranged with support from Natural Resources Wales and the Cefn Croes Community Windfarm Trust — is just one element of a 27-year project to rectify this, by repairing, restoring and reinstating the estate’s original features.

Led by the Hafod Trust / Ymddiriedolaeth yr Hafod, the renovation project has focused on practical conservation of the estate’s Johnesian paths in an effort to rejuvenate and do justice to Johnes’ creative vision.

The bridge is testament to this philosophy, allowing autumn walkers to view the Peiran Cascades as Johnes intended for the first time since the last known crossing collapsed more than thirty years ago.

David Newnham, project manager at the Hafod Trust, said: “Restoring and maintaining such a large and complex landscape as Hafod is no mean feat, so support from bodies like Cadw makes all the difference.

“The bridge’s installation will allow visitors to follow in the footsteps of Georgian tourists and enjoy the walk’s wooded valleys, rushing streams and waterfalls for generations to come.”

Based on an 1843 sketch of a Victorian ‘floating’ structure, the new bridge pairs a Victorian aesthetic with modern day engineering to ensure strength, safety and longevity, all while protecting the structure’s abutments which are legally protected.

Indeed, the entire design of the bridge — which sits on a concrete pad — has focused on limiting physical impact upon the abutments while retaining the appearance of being fixed to them.

Plus, it’s wide enough to permit pushchair and wheelchair access, unlike the existing footbridge further upstream.

Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, added: “This much-needed investment will help reignite the Hafod Estate’s reputation as a world-class historic landscape and in doing so, create a better visitor offer that will bring increased tourism to the area.

“It’s crucial that we continue to identify and protect historic environments like this to safeguard Wales’s rich heritage for future generations to explore and enjoy.”