When I dreamed the recurring dream for the third time, I knew it was no ordinary dream. The manifestations of my inner eye took the form of a medieval castle with fortified walls that went all around the raised mound of earth. A softly flowing river graced the eastern side of the castle, gently touching the arching branches of the weeping willows that grew alongside its edges. The outer curtain walls were connected by four circular towers of colossal measurements. A wooden drawbridge connected the outer gate of the castle to the rest of the landmass. The castle turrets hosted the golden dragon embroidered on a red shield and these banners fluttered more and more aggressively with the rising wind. I was at Camelot.
Months later, I was standing in front of the Camelot Castle Hotel at Tintagel, admiring the green cliffs against the cerulean blue waters of the north Atlantic ocean. Camelot is the legendary castle of King Arthur and makes its first appearance in Geoffrey Monmouth’s Historia Brittanum (History of the Britain) published in the 12th century. In the History of the Britain, Geoffrey states that Arthur was conceived in Cornwall and establishes a link between the ruined castle of Tintagel and the birth of one of the legendary figures of Britain’s folklore. In the nineteenth century, Lord Alfred Tennyson, the English poet, associates Tintagel with the birth of King Arthur in his Idylls of the King. Deeply rooted in Arthurian traditions, Tintagel is a place where one confronts the past with the present amidst the stunning views of the Cornish coast.
The northern coast of Cornwall is characterised by rugged cliffs, sloping valleys, harsher winds and near circular coves. The featureless cliffs are exposed to the rough winds from the Atlantic and the south-west coastal pathway runs along the precipitous edges of the Cornish coastline. During high tide, swelling waves come crashing down on the massive boulders and patches of thick algae growth in the rock pools gives the water its distinctive colour. When the water level recedes during low tide, cave formations appear along the cracks in the cliffs and these caves were used by smugglers to hide their smuggled goods in the olden times.
Today, the Tintagel castle lies on two separate landmass. A wooden bridge connects the mainland with the peninsula, also known as the island. There was a time when the island was connected to the mainland and formed an isthmus. It is believed that it was this narrow entrance which led to the naming of the island: Din Tagell or the Fortress of the Narrow Entrance.
On my way to the island, I stopped at the legendary birth place of King Arthur – Merlin’s Cave. High tide had started to come in and the water that flowed in and out of the cave had assumed a greenish blue colour. According to Tennyson, it was this very site where the infant Arthur was washed ashore and lay at Merlin’s feet:
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame:
And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin’s feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried
On the wooden bridge, I stood for a moment and savoured the breathtaking views of my surroundings. The breeze had momentarily stopped and the ocean was in a trance; an unusual silence had descended upon all visitors of the island.
The ruins of the Tintagel island can be traced back to the Dark Ages and fragments of imported pottery from the fifth to the seventh centuries were discovered on the excavated sites. The more prominent ruins are those of a thirteenth century castle built by Richard, the Earl of Cornwall. The entrance to the castle is marked by a nineteenth century gateway which leads to the Great Hall and the iron gate.
I walked past St. Juliot’s chapel and arrived at the site that was once the castle garden. By the twelfth century, it was believed that King Mark of Cornwall was based in Tintagel and this was the garden where Tristan fell in love with his queen, Iseult.
To celebrate the association of King Arthur with Tintagel, an iron statue of the rightful king is erected on the site of the northern ruins. The statue of Arthur is seen drawing a sword, the Excalibur, which in turn will bestow him with leadership over the land and its people.
The medieval town of Tintagel is relatively small with a few local pubs, eateries and cake shops. There is just one main street with a postoffice and a visitor centre. While in Cornwall, one is encouraged to try the Cornish pastry and the Cornish ice-cream. I ended the day on a high note by treating myself to a freshly made Cornish pasty, salad and a cup of coffee.
The next morning, I headed towards one of the primary attractions of Tintagel – King Arthur’s Great Halls. It was built under Frederick Glasscock in 1927 and honours the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It houses a brilliant collection of Arthurian artefacts including the round table, the sword in the stone and stained glass paintings depicting events from Arthur’s life.
I spent the rest of the day at a neighbouring village called Boscastle, which is about four miles away from Tintagel. Situated between two wooden valleys, the picturesque village of Boscastle is one of the hidden treasures of Cornwall. It is one of the most flourishing villages of north Cornwall and has a fishing port, a museum of witchcraft and magic, an artist’s residence and a pottery shop. The Boscastle harbour is a natural inlet; the Valency river flows past the Boscastle village and enters the Valency valley.
The south-west coastal pathway passing through Boscastle offers phenomenal views of the north coast and Boscastle turns into a busy little village during the peak summers.
On the last day, I decided to hop onto a local bus and go sightseeing all the way up to Bude. The bus made its way through the vast undulating plains of the Bodmin moors and went past various bays, lighthouses, surfing centres and holiday resorts. I got off at Widemouth bay which is famous for its sandy beaches, marine life, sand dunes and twisted cliffs. The beach was about two miles in length and I spent most of my time looking for sea shells to take back with me to London.
Every time I think of Tintagel, it conjures up images of the ruined castle resting peacefully on the fair waters of the Cornish coast. It is a place where history meets legend, creating a saga that inspires generations to come. Tintagel’s unspoilt beauty reminds me of the beginning of time: “….the beginning of the world, all wonderful.”
To follow me on my journey, check out the interactive map below.
Note: This post is dedicated to my friend Allan Erickson who made this trip come alive .
Some useful tips:
- If arriving by train, the closest station is Bodmin Parkway. You need to hire a taxi to reach Tintagel. For more information on taxis, click here.
- The bus services often do not run on time. Plan your itinerary with sufficient time in between any two locations.
- Boscastle is a walking distance from Tintagel. It is a beautiful and highly recommended walk along the south-west coastal pathway.
- For Daphne Du Maurier fans, the Bodmin Moors are a must visit! Don’t forget to visit Jamaica Inn at Bolventor, Launceston.