The Gem Bridge. How often do you get to see a new viaduct being built? For most people, the answer is 'never', but things are rather different in Devon – at least on the former GWR line from Tavistock to Plymouth via Yelverton. South of Tavistock, Grenofen Viaduct used to carry the branch over the River Walkham, but it was demolished after the line closed in 1962. However, in recent years, Devon County Council has been re-developing this old line as 'Drake's Trail', which will be a largely trackbed-based walking and cycling route between Tavistock and Plymouth. The highlight of the route will be a replacement viaduct called the Gem Bridge, named after Gem Cottage which used to (and may still) stand beneath the viaduct. The cost of the bridge is a hefty £2.1 million.

The pictures below show the viaduct under construction. It was opened officially in April 2012. A couple of photographs of the nearby Grenofen Tunnel – also part of Drake's Trail – will be found in Photo Gallery 67.

Left: Bridge that gap. This was the scene at the site of the new Gem Bridge in January 2011. The slope down from the trackbed (constructed by DCC) can be clearly seen, as can the temporary, low level bridge over the River Walkham. (Neil Wester)

Above: One of the piers of the new Gem Bridge, showing their slender, middle-tapered design. The new viaduct will stand about 30 ft lower than its railway predecessor, but – as can be seen – it will still cross the valley floor at an impressive height. 22nd October 2011. (Bob Spalding)

Above: A view through the safety fence at the construction site reeveals that the new viaduct will stand on at least three piers. In the foreground, the first span has been fitted into place; the rail trail will run on top of the girder section. 22nd October 2011. (Bob Spalding)
Above: An impressive view of the new viaduct taking shape from just above the level of the River Walkham. Residents of Devon cannot have seen anything like this since the late 19th century, when the GWR finishing replacing, in stone, Brunel's original timber-topped viaducts, of which there were several on this line. 22nd October 2011. (Bob Spalding)
Right: By January 2012, the new viaduct was beginning to take shape. The slope seen in the picture at the top of this page has been churned up by contractors' vehicles, and a more substantial lower crossing installed over the river. We understand that this has since been removed to do service on another trail elsewhere in the county. (Neil Wester)
Left: The view in May 2012 – the Gem Bridge is now complete and ready for service. It is a little lower than the original viaduct, a design decision which no doubt reduced the costs slightly. We wonder if the stones in the foreground were salvaged from the remains of the original abutment. (Neil Wester)
Above: Flight of fancy. The new Gem Bridge viewed from the bank of the River Walkham. Our photographer was lucky enough to visit the site on a day of sunshine in this greyest and wettest of springs. He reports: ' I was there yesterday [12th May] and the authorities are doing the last bit of surface dressing, so I would think it is probably totally accessible today [13th May]. I have also explored [Genofen] tunnel and a lot of work has been done in preparation for making that accessible as well'. 12th May 2012. (Bob Spalding)
Above: Finishing touches. It will not be long now before walkers and cyclists can start using the new Gem Bridge. 12th May 2012. (Bob Spalding)