I’ve been meaning to go to Tintagel for oooh… about a decade. Its one of those must-see attractions in Cornwall, especially for a total mythology geek like me. So why did it take so long?
- Its renowned for being busy. Like the Eden Project and the Royal Cornwall Show, if you mention you are heading there to a local you’ll find them sucking their teeth, shaking their head and warning you to pack provisions incase it takes you three days to get through the queues.
- Its closed in bad weather. Which we get a fair bit of in Cornwall. Tintagel castle is on a promontory that sticks out into the sea, with steep cliffs on all sides. You can only get to it by climbing up steps cut into the cliffs, and across a little wooden bridge. Trust me, you do not want to do this if its windy.
- Its a long drive away. Cornwall sounds lovely and small, a quick dash from one side to another, but it is long East to West. Tintagel is at the North East edge and the roads getting to it are not all nice big A-roads you might expect. (Did you know there is no motorway in Cornwall? That still amazes me!)
- There’s just so much to do in Cornwall!
But we finally made it! It was a glorious day, not a breath of wind, little fluffy clouds in a blue sky that made the sea sparkle as though someone had dropped a boat-load of precious stones into it.
Tintagel village was bustling with the kind of busyness that made me worry we had made a dreadful mistake, and the car-parks were clearly making a fortune that day. The village funnels visitors down through its little streets to a not very big English Heritage kiosk selling tickets to the castle. From there, its a long walk down a wide path that really set the tone for the whole day- Tintagel is all about walking.
If you aren’t the fittest walker then there are cars that ferry up and down the hill for a fee, but unfortunately if you aren’t able to manage a lot of walking up steep stairs, then there isn’t much point trying to visit the castle. That may all change if English Heritage get permission to build a bigger bridge, but for now its inaccessible for anyone who depends on wheels to get around.
At the bottom of the hill there is another ticket office, a tiny museum and a cafe. Hopefully the walk has warmed you up by now, as this is where the serious exercise starts.
There are steps. And more steps. And more steps.
Then yet another ticket office.
And then more steps.
By the time I got to the top I was just so glad to have stopped that it took a few moments (and some water gulping) before I could really take it in. Somehow the crowds had dissolved. The promontory is so cut off it is very nearly an island. On all sides there are precipitous cliffs down to the sea, but on one side there are a series of ledges that are covered top to bottom with ruins. If you stick to the main path you would miss half of them. The whole place is crisscrossed with little paths leading you around the ruins, right up to the edge of the cliff. To have lived in those houses must have been quite terrifying in stormy weather!
At the top of the island, you expect to see.. well, you expect a castle. There isn’t one. There are some more small ruins, an odd little tunnel, a well, a spring that defies gravity and somehow brings water right to the top of the island and fills a little pond. And a rather odd statue that I would guess is supposed to be King Arthur. All the tourists were swarming around the statue so 1. it was impossible to take a good photo, and 2. the rest of the place was almost deserted. Noticeably devoid of castle, most of the top of the promontory is bare rock and stubby grass speckled with tiny, wind battered flowers.
By this point we were hungry and thirsty so we had a little picnic on the grass. I was particularly pleased I had brought food and water since there was no-where to buy anything once you passed the cafe at the bottom of the mainland. There was no way I was walking back just to get some sandwiches!
Then it was time to make our way back down all those steps. This time at a pace we could admire the ruined church that lies opposite on the mainland, the tiny beach at the foot of the island, and the shimmering sea. You can reach the beach by following the steps from the island all the way to the bottom. Well worth the extra effort for a little paddle and cool off hot feet ready for the walk back up to the village.
If you want to visit Tintagel, you can find out about opening times and so on through its pages on English Heritage.