NERVOUS onlookers watched as a crane operator carefully lowered a 28 tonne footbridge into place over the canal.

The 35-metre long steel structure will connect Waitrose with the new Hall and Woodhouse pub at Wichelstowe.

Under leaden skies this morning, contractors working for construction firm Knights Brown tethered the bridge to the crane’s chain. The crane, weighed down with around 110 tonnes of ballast, made little noise as it gently lifted the bridge over the Wilts and Berks Canal.

Flanking the canal, several dozen onlookers watched from Waitrose car park and Hall and Woodhouse’s terrace.

Speaking as workmen lowered the bridge the final few inches, Mandy Dennis, 50, from Old Town said: “It was very impressive. We’ll definitely use it in the future to walk across to Waitrose, get a bit of shopping then come back to Hall and Woodhouse for a cup of tea.”

Jenny Stratton, 69, of Royal Wootton Bassett, added: “Seeing this part of the canal growing up with Waitrose and now this has been tremendous.”

Chris Barry, of the Swindon branch of the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust, said: “It’s tremendous. It’s the first new bridge over the canal in Swindon for 20 years.”

The footbridge, which was delivered to the site last Sunday, has been more than two years in the making.

It was designed by artist Sebastien Boyesen, whose previous works include the 20m-high statue of a coal miner in south Wales commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Bells Colliery disaster.

Installed into the steel superstructure of the Wichelstowe footbridge will be plant-inspired designs cut into metal and resin panels, designed to catch the fading light.

Mr Boyesen said: “I wanted to come up with a concept informed by the local surroundings - the wildlife and flora - holding a memory of what could have been found in the Wichelstowe of the past. A secret history.

“The casual observer would be unaware of the beautiful flowering plants that would once have proliferated on the site, such as the horseshoe vetch and Bath asparagus.

“By creating graphic designs based on these, and other, plants, it is hoped that the bridge will serve as a daily reminder of nature’s abundance and the site-specific references.”

The bridge’s panels will be installed over the coming weeks, together with new lighting to guide walkers over the canal. It is expected the bridge will be open within the next month.