Tintagel Castle

A trip to Tintagel Castle is a trip back into history itself to a place of myth and legend, an inspirational ground for historians, poets, ghost hunters and walkers. The remains of Tintagel Castle sit on a dramatic projection of land, an island whose previous contours now lie in the fathoms below (along with parts of the castle). The force of the Atlantic has done its work and parts of the castle are now heavily buttressed to preserve them for posterity.

Tintagel Castle is best known for its connection to the legend of King Arthur. In 1136, George of Monmouth, a Welsh cleric wrote a Latin work, ,Historia Regum Britanniae, or History of the Kings of Britain. A best-seller of its time, the work describes the adventures of King Arthur and his conception at Tintagel Castle through the sorcery of Merlin, the Magician. When Uther Pendragon, King of Britons felt an overwhelming desire for Ygerna, the wife of Gorlois, he unsuccessfully besieged Tintagel to gain his prize who was securely locked away inside its fortifications. Frustrated, Uther applied for Merlin's help and was given a magic potion that effectively turned him into the living image of her husband. The con worked, Uther penetrated Tintagel Castle and nine months down the line, King Arthur, the epitome of English manhood was born. The legend was kept alive in various literature, most notably works such as Malory's Morte D'Arthur, Tennyson's Idylls of the King and A. S. Smith's Trystan hag Ysolt (Tristan and Isolt).

So much for legend and history but how true is the tale? Monmouth specifically cited Tintagel Castle as King Arthur's birthplace and talked of Merlin's Cave in the vicinity. Tintagel Castle does fit the description and a cave can be found below its boundaries near the sea. Believers in the myth also enthusiastically point to the fact that archaeological excavations have unearthed evidence of a significant range of buildings from the 5th and 6th centuries. The time line also fits the age of King Arthur. However, speculation over the extent of the validity of Monmouth's work still occupies historians. Unfortunately, Monmouth's writing dates to some six centuries after the events themselves with fiction and fact being subsequently interwoven in his history. As such, the legend remains firmly rooted, neither wholly proved or disproved.

The story of King Arthur is only one chapter in the history of Tintagel Castle. Originally known as Din Tagell or the Fortress of the Narrow Entrance, much of its story was covered for centuries until a fire swept across the headland, revealing evidence of a much earlier occupation than had previously been thought. This was compounded with two major archaeological expeditions which revealed that Tintagel was inconsistently used as a fortified dwelling between the Roman occupation and the medieval era. The first, conducted in the 1930's revealed a large range of buildings from the 5th and 6th centuries thought to be the remains of a monastic site. However, excavations conducted by the University of Glasgow in 1988 overturned this finding and concluded that Tintagel Castle probably served as a stronghold in the Dark Ages. They also excavated artefacts such as pottery and fragments of glass. The latter originated from 6th or 7th century Spain and provided evidence of a previously unknown connection between the two countries at the time. Even more surprising was an inscribed piece of slate found covering a drain. Dating to approximately 500 A.D., the inscription reads "Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had (this) made". Who Artognou may have been and what he actually constructed is another mystery that Tintagel Castle has yet to share with us.

The bulk of the remains which you'll see on your visit date to the 13th century when Richard, Earl of Cornwall built a castle at Tintagel probably to consolidate his hereditary connection to the legendary king. From a strategic perspective, Tintagel Castle had now lost its value and by the 15th century it fell into disuse and decay. On your tour, you'll see remains of the outbuildings, Great Hall, Church of St. Julitte as well as Merlin's Cave - all surrounded by breath-taking coastal scenery.

Address: Tintagel Castle
Postcode: PL34 OHE
Town/city or near: Tintagel
County: Cornwall
Adults: 4.30
Children: 2.20
Opening Times
Tintagel Castle is open every day from 10am. Open till 6pm from 1st April to 30th Sepember,till 5pm in October and 4pm from 1st November to the 31st March. Closed 24th-26th December and 1st of January.
English Heritage

9 out of 10 stars (5 votes)

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