Boscastle & Tintagel
Many writers, historians and
artists have made a link
between Tintagel and the
- Steeped in legend and history, yet both still very much alive today
- Tintagel probably dates back to Romano-British times (1st Century AD)
- Guests have included Edward Elgar, AA Milne, Sir Winston Churchill and Hollywood legends Ava Garner and Sir Noel Coward.
In reality, the settlement at Tintagel probably dates back to Romano-British times (1st Century AD) when it is thought to have been of some importance. Various luxury artifacts dating to this period have been found, although as yet no evidence of any permanent structure. The ruins you see today are part of a fortification built in the later medieval period (c. 1225) by Richard, Earl of Cornwall. But Tintagel is more than a place of factual history; it is woven into the fabric of English and Cornish myth and legend.
Cross the footbridge which links Castle Island to the mainland on a misty day, sunlight streaming in bands through the cloud, and it’s easy to conjure ancient legends of heroic King Arthur, magical Merlin and the knights of the Round Table, to this place.
Many writers, historians and artists have made a link between Tintagel and the Arthurian legends. The historian and writer Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote his History of the Kings of Britain in the 12th century, cited Tintagel as the home of the Duke of Cornwall, Gorlois and his wife Elaine. The young Uther Pendragon, with the help of the magician Merlin, appeared to Elaine disguised as her husband and lay with her at Tintagel, resulting in the birth of a son. This boy, Arthur, would become the legendary ‘once and future king’ who would unite Britain and whose adventures, comrades and adversaries would become the stuff of myth and legend. The poet laureate Tennyson made Tintagel the birthplace of Arthur in his seminal work Idylls of the King, making the site a tourist draw since Victorian times.
Although there is no archeological evidence for the connection between Arthur and Tintagel, this hasn’t stopped the town capitalising on the pull of its links to this most famous of English legends, and nearby you’ll find plenty of attractions relating to Arthur and his knights.
Visit King Arthur’s Footprint, a hollow rock on the southern side of the castle with a history stretching back to the Dark Ages when it may have been used as a place of inauguration for Cornish chieftains and even kings.
At low tide you can venture down a series of steps to the mysterious Merlin’s Cave, a large and evocative grotto that legend has it was once home of the great hermit-wizard. It’s also a lovely spot for a refreshing dip on a warm day.
And don’t miss the amazingly eccentric King Arthur’s Great Halls on Fore Street. Built by retired custard magnate Frederick Thomas Glasscock in the 1930’s (using 53 different types of Cornish stone), the place feels like a film set. It features a round table and a granite throne as well as 73 stunning stained glass windows depicting the stories, weapons and coats of arms of Arthur and his knights. There’s also an excellent specialist bookshop on site if you’re keen to learn more.
Visit King Arthur’s Footprint, a hollow rock on the southern side of the castle with a history stretching back to the Dark Ages
Then stop by for great views and morning coffee, afternoon tea or a drink in the stunning bars of the Camelot Castle Hotel where the luxurious and ornate reception rooms will transport you to a bygone golden age. Guests have included Edward Elgar, AA Milne, Sir Winston Churchill and Hollywood legends Ava Garner and Sir Noel Coward.
If Tintagel is best known for its Arthurian connections, then neighbouring Boscastle, found 5km to the north east, is famous for altogether more recent events. In August 2004 a month’s rainfall fell in just two hours causing two of the three local rivers to burst their banks. The resulting flash flooding flung this tiny village onto the TV news bulletins and front pages of the nation as cars bobbed along the high street and residents were airlifted to safety.
The residents of this romantic fishing village rallied following the devastating events of that evening and returned their beloved village back into a picturesque tourist destination.
The author Thomas Hardy met his first wife Emma Gifford in Boscastle in 1870, whilst working as architectural consultant on the renovation of St Juliot’s Church. His experiences and his love of the Cornish landscape would inform A Pair of Blue Eyes, his third novel, but the first to feature his name on publication. It is one of the few novels he wrote that is set outside his native Wessex.
Boscastle was named after the medieval Botreaux Castle, located at the top of the village. Little remains of the castle, although it is said the village is built from its stone. It’s easy to spend many happy hours here exploring the picturesque village and harbour, visiting the quirky Museum of Witchcraft or taking in the dramatic views on the South West Coast path. Visit in spring to join in the increasingly popular Boscastle Walking Week, or in October for the Boscastle Food and Arts Festival.
Steeped in legend and history, yet both still very much alive today, Tintagel and Boscastle are a truly magical part of north Cornwall.
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