Tintagel, The Island and the Castle

The castle ruins date from the twelfth century, and evidence suggests this site had an earlier history as a trading post and, at some time in far off days, was probably a Celtic Chieftain's stronghold. The island and castle were first opened to the public in 1852; today, the ruins and headland are under the management of English Heritage.

At shore level, there is Merlin's Cave and, towering above it, the headland that reaches nearly 300ft above sea level, forming what must have been an almost impregnable stronghold against the enemy. The headland is not a true island, as it is still connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus of land. There has been considerable erosion by the mighty seas over the years, resulting in notable large rock falls, the most damaging being those recorded in 1820 and 1846.

Good weather, bad weather, whatever the prevailing conditions, the sheer majesty of the towering cliffs and ever present might of the Atlantic Ocean will not fail to impress when you visit "King Arthur's Castle" at Tintagel. Even the most sceptical amongst us will surely conjure up a fitting scene, from our perceptions of times long past, that will fit the spectacular vista laid out before them.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, the twelfth century author of “The Kings of Britain”, wrote convincingly of the conception (and birth) of Arthur by Uther Pendragon and Ygerna, wife of Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, at Tintagel Castle.  Merlin, the magician, aided Uther by changing his appearance to that of the absent husband Gorlois.  Gorlois was at battle to the north of St Austell, at St Dennis, where he was eventually killed leaving Uther free to marry Ygerna and proclaim Arthur their rightful son and heir to the throne.

There is written evidence to confirm that the chasm from the mainland to the island fortress was formally only accessible via a drawbridge.  This would seem logical as, prior to years of erosion, the joining spit of land would have been taller and narrower. A bridge joining the island to the mainland is referred to in the 1602 "Survey of Cornwall" and in other historical manuscripts



An interesting description of Tintagel Castle is given in the translation from the thirteenth-century French romantic story “The High History of the Holy Grail” 

"Arthur", Lancelot and Gawain came into a very different land, scarcely inhabited of any folk, and found a little castle in a combe.  They came thitherward and saw that the enclosure of the castle was fallen down into an abysm, so that none might approach it on that side, but it had a right fair gateway and a door tall and wide, whereby they entered.  They beheld a chapel that was right fair and rich, and below was a great ancient hall.  They saw a priest appear in the middle of the castle, bald and old, that had come from the chapel.  They are come thither and alighted and asked the priest what the castle was, and he told them it was the great Tintagel".

During the 1930s, Ralegh Radford’s excavation team found remnants of imported pottery used in the fifth century, which suggests the presence of a wealthy community on the headland adjacent to the island.  In 1998, an inscribed slate stone was unearthed on the island, believed to date from the sixth century and have Latin markings which may refer to King Arthur.

Merlin's Cave

King Arthur’s Great Halls, Tintagel

 Fredrick Glassock, a millionaire, of "Monk & Glass" custard fame, was so smitten with all things Arthurian that he retired to Tintagel to form the "Fellowship of the Round Table", and to build, with over fifty varieties of local stone, "King Arthur's Great Halls" in the centre of Tintagel, opened on June 5th, 1933. It is a building worth viewing in its own right, not only for the Arthurian story it tells, but also as an example of the eccentricities of the British!

King Arthur's Great Halls are open most days of the year. The stained glass windows of the Great Halls depict the Knights of Arthurian fame and their many deeds. The actor, Robert Powell, provides the voice of Merlin as he takes you on a journey through Arthurian times to the accompaniment of suitable musical, light and sound effects. This is both entertaining and informative. 

As you enter the building, there is a small gift shop with an interesting selection of Arthurian books, prints and memorabilia, certainly worth a visit if you require more reading matter on all things Arthurian.

King Arthur’s Great Halls, Fore Street, Tintagel, North Cornwall.  Telephone 01840 770526

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