Address: Castleford, Tintagel PL34 0HE

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Tintagel History

It could be the most dramatic piece of coastline in the UK, so it’s quite a fitting place for all the history and legend that makes Tintagel such a fascinating place. Much is known, but much more is mythical with some believing the area to be Camelot, the fabled castle and court of King Arthur.

It’s known that the Romans inhabited Cornwall in the 1st century and recent archaeological finds in the area confirm their existence. But whilst Roman relics have been found, their occupation of Tintagel was believed to have been fairly modest, with the site believed to have been more important as a residence of the kings of Dumnonia, the Roman name for the area.

Recent archaeological finds confirm much greater activity a few hundred years later. A large amount of Byzantine pottery dating from the 5th and 6th centuries was unearthed and a settlement from this time is believed to have emerged. The 100 or so rectangular buildings found on the site are thought to date from this time. The pottery and some glassware found in the area is believed to have been traded from Mediterranean regions, with the site being used as a store area. Cornish tin was thought to have being exported in return.

From this important era of trading came the two most significant times in Tintagel’s history. The first relates to events of legend, and specifically to do with King Arthur, whilst the second is to do with the building of the castle.

The Arthurian legend was chronicled by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his book ‘The History of Kings’. This was written in 1137 and puts the events at a time of around the 6th century. It tells of Arthur’s father King Uther Pedragon fighting Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, and legend has it that Pedragon desired Gorlois’s wife Queen Igraine. To protect her, Gorlois had her taken to Tintagel for safe keeping and had guards create an impregnable island defence. The story tells of Pedragon and his magician, Merlin going to Tintagel with Merlin changing their appearance to that of Gorlois and his guard. The guards were fooled, as was Igraine, with Pedragon spending the night with her and Arthur being conceived as a result.

It may be fable, but in 1998 a piece of slate was unearthed, dating from this time, with the inscription ‘ARTOGNOU’, thought to be a reference to Arthur. Around the same time, one of the kings of Cornwall was King Mark, who had a nephew Tristan. Tristan fell in love with Isolde and their doomed romance is a famous legend.

The castle itself was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1233 and is thought to be an attempt to reinforce the ancient origins of the place and to connect the rulers of Cornwall with the legend. It was built in a more ancient style than was used at the time in an attempt to authenticate it and could also have been built to take advantage of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous tales. It was built on the site of the earlier castle of Earl Reginald which was constructed in 1141.

As can be seen today, the castle was built part on the mainland, part on the island with a connecting structure running along the top of the narrow rock between the two. After Richard’s era, the site became less inhabited and over a period of time fell into disrepair. It was at this point that the central portion collapsed into the sea.

In Victorian times, the castle became a tourist attraction and in 1975 a wooden bridge was constructed to allow safe entry.

Major events of the twentieth century have mainly involved excavations with the most famous taking place in the 1930’s under archaeologist Ralegh Radford. A fire on the island in 1985 revealed fascinating details with many building outlines emerging that hadn’t previously been seen.

Today the site is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and run by the English Heritage.

 

Tintagel Visit

Pronounced Tin-Tajell, it’s certainly spectacular and you can imagine what an impressive place it would have been all those years ago. It’s an impressive piece of landscape anyway, and that’s before any building work took place.

The composition of the area was of a tall island of perhaps a few football pitches in size, and this connected to the mainland by a very high and very narrow strip of rock. Part of the castle was built on the mainland, part then ran along the top of the narrow strip and opened out again onto the island.

At some point in time, the top of the narrow strip collapsed into the sea taking with it the mid section of the castle, and what remains now are the ruins of one part of the castle on the mainland, the ruins of the other side on the island and a newly constructed bridge in the middle that connects the two and allows visitors to explore the whole site.

There’s been some more modern renovation – and it wasn’t a bad idea, in fact if they’d totally rebuilt it, it would have been even more spectacular – but certainly an engineering nightmare! The stonework now seen is mostly cemented together which provides a degree of safety, helping to prevent kids climbing the walls and ending up in the sea – and the cementing of the stones doesn’t detract from the overall effect, in fact it enhances it. There’s a relatively new slate floor in the great hall, which does give it the look of a modern kitchen and I think would have been better grassed over, but overall, it’s a spectacular, interesting site.

Parking’s restricted to the town, so this necessitates a five or ten minute walk down the steep hill to get to the castle, although there is a Land Rover shuttle service for a small fee. When down the hill, you’ll find the usual visitor facilites of a cafe, shop and visitor centre, making it an ideal stopping point. The cove beach to the east is obviously great for families and it’s nice to make a day of it.

The English Heritage entrance is higher than the beach and this means a fairly steep climb up the steps to reach both parts of the castle.

It’s the type of place that offers a lot. To those with an interest in history, it forms part of the national heritage and is a fascinating place, whilst those with less of an interest can go on a nice day and enjoy the views and spectacle and take advantage of the beach below.

If you visit, it’s a good idea to pay for a little extra parking time in the village as it’s the type of place to relax and enjoy at a leisurely pace on a nice day.