Take a Magical Walk around Tintagel
A walk around Tintagel, made a romantic destination for Victorian tourists by poets such as Tennyson, whose ‘Idyll of the Kings’ set the tale of King Arthur in what is still one of Britain’s most visited resorts. A brilliant walk for children, who will love the atmospheric ruins of ‘King Arthur’s castle’ on Tintagel Island. A great walk in springtime, when the sea is blue in the bright sunshine and there are primroses and new scrolls of bracken under the gorse and the blossoming thorn bushes. In autumn it’s at its best on a windy day, when flocks of fulmars and kittiwakes stream by on their way south, and gannets can be seen offshore.
From Tintagel Visitor Centre walk towards the village centre, past King Arthur’s Great Halls and then the Old Post Office.
King Arthur’s Great Halls was built in the 1930s by businessman FT Glasscock as the Headquarters of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table, established to promote Christian ideals and the chivalry of the Arthurian legends. Built of Cornish granite and slate, it has 73 stained glass windows depicting Arthurian tales, and since the centre opened in 1933 over 200 million people have visited it.
Now owned by the National Trust, the Old Post Office was built in the fourteenth century as a yeoman’s farmhouse. In Victorian days it held a licence as the letter-receiving station for the district.
At the Cornishman Inn turn left and follow Vicarage Hill down to St Materiana Church.
The current St Materiana Church is Norman, and the tower dates from either the thirteenth or the fifteenth century. There are some features suggesting that it was built around an earlier Saxon church. The first holy building on the site is thought to have been a fifth-century chapel associated with the mother church of the same name at Minster, just outside Boscastle (see the Minster Wood Walk). Both were founded by the Welsh princess, St Materiana, daughter of Vortimer, King of Britain.
From the main entrance to the church walk straight ahead to the gate. Turn right in front of the car park and walk down to the South West Coast Path. Turn right on the Coast Path and walk to Tintagel Castle. From here drop down to the beach at Tintagel Haven, returning afterwards to the Coast Path to carry on around the headland.
The Earl of Cornwall built Tintagel Castle in the thirteenth century, but archaeologists excavating on the island in the 1930s found traces of a Romano British settlement dating from around the fifth or sixth century. There was evidence of a holy site of some kind from the same time, and substantial trade carried out with Mediterranean lands. The historians were able to date the site precisely. It fitted perfectly with the idea that so delighted the Victorian tourists flocking to Tintagel in search of medieval romance: that there was indeed a Celtic chieftain based here in the time of the legendary King Arthur, and that he and his knights were engaged in efforts to repel the Anglo-Saxon invaders swarming through southern England.
Tintagel has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rocks. Here the sea has carved cliffs and platforms into the lower Carboniferous and upper Devonian rocks. Erosion along fault lines and softer rocks has produced an intricate set of bays, headlands, stacks, blowholes and caves. There are several caves in the cliffs around Tintagel Haven, made all the more intriguing for the coastal waterfalls where streams cascade to the shoreline from the cliffs above.
One of these caves is known as ‘Merlin’s Cave’, where King Arthur’s magician lived. (He is said to have been born in another such cave further up the coast, at Clovelly – see the Clovelly & Mouth Mill Walk).
Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Idyll of the Kings’, published between 1859 and 1885, told the Arthur legend in twelve narrative poems and brought Tintagel into the public eye. He wrote of Merlin’s discovery of the infant Arthur on the beach below Tintagel Castle:
‘… And then the two
Dropt to the cove, and watch’d the great sea fall,
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 “The King!”‘
Carry on along the Coast Path to the next big headland at Barras Nose. Detour left to the tip of the headland for fine views out across the Atlantic.
Barras Nose is an important geological site. Here the rocks have been deformed and changed by Earth movements during the Variscan mountain-building period, some 400 million years ago. Intense heat and pressure have turned the slate to schist in places and crumpled it into dramatic folds elsewhere, demonstrating the effects of volcanic action in an area known as the ‘Culm trough’.
Returning to the Coast Path, ignore the small paths heading inland to continue above Smith’s Cliff to where the Coast Path turns right and appears to be heading inland.
As the Coast Path turns left again in front of the fields, take the path carrying straight on ahead, heading inland towards Bossiney. Follow the green lane and then the tarmac lane to the main Bossiney Road.
Immediately in front of you as you reach the road, the mound topped by a Scots pine, to the right of the Methodist chapel, is Bossiney Mound. Arthurian legends claim that Arthur’s round table lies beneath the mound; and one midsummer night, when Arthur and his knights are due to make their comeback, the table will rise out of the mound for their use.
It is thought that this too was the site of a Romano British settlement. As at Tintagel Castle, the Normans later built a castle on the early site, (a motte and bailey in this case), and it is these remains that are visible today.
On the main road turn right and follow Bossiney Road around onto Fore Street and back to the Visitor Centre.
To find out more, including how to get here, click the link below.
Pictures and route courtesy of southwestcoastpath.org