The story of Arthur’s conception at Tintagel comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. In it, Tintagel was the seat of the King Goloris and his wife, Iggraine. High King Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, falls in love with Iggraine on first sight. When Goloris is killed in battle, Merlin casts a spell on Uther to make him look like Goloris. He enters the castle unquestioned and sleeps with Iggraine, who conceives Arthur. Nine months later, when the child is born, Merlin comes to Tintagel to spirit Arthur away to safety. Thus, does this impressive castle enter Arthurian legend.
The Tintagel of today is definitely an imposing structure. Situated high (and I mean high) on the Cornish coast, the visible ruins are all that is left of a 12th century castle. To get there, you have to walk up a crazy series of stairways that jut this way and that, and many of the steps are uneven and difficult for a 5’1” person to get up. (My calf muscles will never be the same!) But it is all worth it when you get to the top. In addition to the monastery ruins, there are several stone foundations of early Celtic settlements, where you can see where different buildings, even different rooms would have been. These, wisely, are on the part of the cliff most sheltered from the unforgiving wind.
A few other attractions up top are an ancient, acoustically perfect cavern that no one knows the purpose of. It’s speculated it was for ritual. The walls were hand dug, but are so smooth, they appear machine made. Then there is a flat piece of rock with nearly perfect circles carved into it. Again, no one knows the purpose (ancient cup holders? :)).
Getting back to King Arthur, there’s a rock with an impression in it called King Arthur’s footprint, where, legend says, he was crowned and symbolically married to the land. It does indeed look like a large man’s foot made the impression. You can put your own foot in it, too. Not far away, just off the coast, is a triangular island known as Merlin’s hat.
Far below are several caves, only one of which actually connects to the mainland. That cave is known as Merlin’s cave, home of the legendary enchanter. It floods at high tide, which we witnessed, since the tide came in while we were there. It is a beautiful cave, with a vertical fissure that lets in the light. It may or may not be magical, but I did capture an orb in a photograph there, the only one in over 1,000 photos.
We went swimming in the water just outside of the cave, which was so cold it hurt your feet. Well, Jamie was the only one brave enough to actually swim. I clung to the rocks (which had algae that felt like Astroturf) like a mermaid, only daring to get about waist deep when the waves splashed me. My friend Tres waded out to a waterfall to get a closer look and said she couldn’t feel the lower half of her body when she came back.
I have to put in a plug for the Camelot Castle Hotel, where we stayed during our time in Tintagel. There are a lot of negative stories about it on the Internet, but I truly enjoyed my time there. It’s a fancy hotel on top of the cliffs that is currently undergoing a five-year renovation. I paid for an upgraded room, which I would recommend to anyone staying there. My room had a four poster bed and a bathtub that was big enough to swim in! (I kept wanting to quote Pretty Woman: “His bathtub is bigger than the Blue Banana!”) Plus, it had a private balcony overlooking both the ocean and a labyrinth carved into the grass below. I went out on the balcony after dark to look at the stars and was blown away by how many more you can see than in the city. It was a spiritual experience.
The food is also very good and we got to meet the artist in residence. He’s very kind, maybe a little eccentric (aren’t we all), but I really liked him. I even bought one of his paintings that I fell in love with. And I don’t ever do that – that is the only piece of real art I own.
So, what do you think of Tintagel? Is it Arthur’s birthplace? I have my doubts, but I’d love to hear what you think. Have you been there? What was your experience like?