Cornwall Life finds a great attraction at Tintagel Castle
PUBLISHED: 12:29 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013
Cornwall Life finds a great attraction at Tintagel Castle and pays it a visit in this July issue
Tintagel Castle has long been associated with King Arthur, myths and legends. Cornwall Life finds out how attractive the site is for locals and visitors
Tintagel Castle is set high on the coast of North Cornwall, among cliffs that are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Providing spectacular views of the Atlantic, Tintagel is a romantic spot, long associated with myths and legends, and is said to be the birthplace of King Arthur.
It's in the care of English Heritage and Tintagel Castle's acting Visitor Operations Manager, Matt Ward, describes the appeal of this magical location and why it's definitely worth a visit. "Tintagel Castle is probably most famous for its associations with the legend of King Arthur, but what people might not know is that Celts inhabited the island for more than 200 years in the 5th and 6th centuries. We think that they used Tintagel as a trading post with the Mediterranean, exchanging local tin for exotic oils and spices. More than 150 Dark Age buildings are thought to have been built on the slopes of Tintagel Island - the remains of around 50 were unearthed through excavation work in the 1930s.
"Tintagel Castle was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in the 13th century and is thought to be the result of the Earl's obsession with Tintagel's links to King Arthur. Sadly, following Richard's death in 1272, the castle fell into disrepair and it wasn't until Tennyson wrote his Idylls of the King in the late 1800s that the castle's legendary links resurfaced and it came back into favour with visitors. The local vicar, Kinsman, saw the castle's potential as a tourist attraction and he got permission from Prince Albert to open Tintagel Castle to Victorian holidaymakers," explains Matt.
"Today, Tintagel Castle is one of English Heritage's top attractions in the South West, attracting 170,000 visitors every year. It's popular with locals and tourists, who all love roaming the castle ruins and learning about its history. Some people like the sheer age of the site, while others find a spiritual draw, and for families the summer events programme keeps the kids entertained," Matt says.
The castle is a great vantage point for spotting seals, pods of dolphins and even basking sharks. Birdwatching is also popular as there are a number of kestrels living on the island, as well as fulmars and gannets. Matt adds: "Tintagel Castle is a great social meeting point and we refurbished our Tintagel Castle Beach Caf last year."
Legend states that Arthur, the son of King Uther of Pendragon, was born at Tintagel Castle. Just after Arthur's birth, his father was killed by his enemies and Merlin the magician swore to protect the baby. Merlin smuggled Arthur into Wales and arranged for Sir Ector, a trusted knight, to become the baby's foster father.
Some people believe that Merlin used a series of tunnels under Tintagel Castle to make his getaway with baby Arthur. There is even a cave on Tintagel beach known as Merlin's Cave, which people can explore but only at low tide.
Tristan and Yseult
After a period of Roman settlement, Tintagel is thought to have been a trading post for Celtic kings. Rumour has it that one of these was King Mark, whose nephew Tristan fell in love with his betrothed, Princess Yseult (or Isolde). The tale sees the lovers' forbidden romance discovered and Tristan banished from the kingdom. The couple were reunited many years later when Tristan was mortally wounded, but sadly both died of broken hearts as Yseult arrived at his death-bed too late to care for him.
What to look for
In June 1998, excavations unearthed pottery from the 5th and 6th centuries, as well as some fine glass fragments believed to be from 6th- or 7th-century Malaga in Spain.
An even more remarkable find was a 1,500-year-old piece of slate inscribed in Latin. The inscription reveals Artognou, father of Coll, as the maker of the artefact. Who Artognou was continues to be a subject of lively speculation. Examples of the pottery and a replica of the slate (the original is on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum) are available at the information hut.
How to get there
From the car parks in the centre of Tintagel travel 600 metres along an uneven track to Tintagel Head. There is no access by car to the castle. Visitors can approach on foot and mountain bike or a Land Rover service is available for an extra charge. Access to the castle is difficult for disabled visitors, as there are more than 100 steep steps to climb to experience the magnificent views. The Land Rover service can deliver you to the exhibition and shop.
Every Wednesday in August
Madcap, swashbuckling, piratical entertainment with those travelling tall-tale tinkers Captain Jeremiah Obadiah, the luckiest man in England, and Dr Thomas Clinker. Hear of strange voyages and cargoes, ships and shipmates, fortunes and hearts won and lost.
Performances at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.15pm
Every Thursday in August
King Arthur's Tales
Back by popular demand, in the legendary castle of Tintagel, meet King Arthur and Merlin as they spin tales of magic, mystery, adventure and the days of the Round Table. Hear tall tales of adventurous exploits and ferocious battles as King Arthur and his trusted Merlin recall old friends and foes of medieval England. Recited by the fantastic Rattlebox theatre, King Arthur's Tales is guaranteed to enthral.
Performances at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.15pm
For further information about your legendary visit to King Arthur's Tintagel Castle call 01840 770328 or visit www.english-heritage.org.uk.