Tintagel is really two castles, both dramatically sited with stunning views over the water. One castle is a medieval one and is on an isolated headland on the mainland. The other dates from the 13th century and is on an almost island linked by a bridge and reached by 100 steep uphill steps. Crumbling cliffs have taken away large parts of the mainland castleís courtyards as well as the connection between the two castles.
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The island, with its own water supply, was inhabited as far back as the dark ages with archaeological evidence unearthed as well as finds of Mediterranean and African pottery and glass. When arriving at the site of the island castle the wall that is encountered dates from 1852 and replaces a 13th century one.
The medieval castle was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall and King Henry IIIís brother, c 1235. First on the priority list was building a stone wall with towers for a first line of defence. A narrow approach led to the gate tower into the castle grounds and the courtyard. The courtyard would have had store rooms, stables, and other necessity buildings.
Much of this area has been swept away by sea eroding the cliffs, including parts of the upper courtyard and one end of the great hall. The upper courtyard was the site of a number of rooms that provided accommodation. Records show the weather played havoc with the hall, an insecure building site and much was taken down in the early 1300s. The castle roof was dismantled, never to be replaced. To replace it a two-storey house was built within its walls, but removing the castle roof hastened its status to that of a ruin by the 1500s.
On the more sheltered side of the island are further ruined buildings. How these buildings were used is not clear, but the earliest ones date from the early 5th century. At the very top of the island, connected by steps to the lower part, are more ruins and a natural collection point for water. One building was used as a chapel dedicated to St Juliot and dates from the 11th century.
Tintagel is associated with the legend of King Arthur. This association is not based on fact but on Geoffrey of Monmouthís writings and later Tennysonís Idylls of the King. Archaeologists have not yet learned who stayed at the castle and how long it was in use. The castles may have been busy trading sites for vessels coming up the coast until the early 1200s when the large harbours became the centres used by traders.
Tintagel village, 660 yards from the village
Cornwall, South-west Counties
Tel. 0 1840 770 328
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 10am-6pm; Oct, daily, 10am-5pm; Nov-end March, weekends, 10am-4pm;
English Heritage property; audio tour introduction; shop; cafe with local Cornish ingredients; pay parking in the village; to reach: walk downhill on uneven track or take the shuttle (April-Oct) to the site.
Note: The site teems with people; go early and, if possible, off-season. It is important to go in good weather due to the over 100 steep steps and the views.
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard