Review: Tintagel Castle and Merlin’s Cave

So last week I sort of took a break from blogging to go on holiday to Tintagel. You may have noticed the radio silence, especially as I didn’t even write up and post my weekly poem – watch out for that this week though!

Yes, I went to Tintagel in Cornwall, UK, and despite the unsettled weather, we (my mum and I, with our dogs) had a lovely time. I wanted to do a review of the trip as a place to visit, and as we went to so many places I thought – why not do separate reviews of the places I visited, recommending them to those of you looking for somewhere to visit in the UK? First up is the actual Tintagel Castle, with Merlin’s Cave thrown in for good measure.

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel is a little village on the North West coast of Cornwall. What makes it memorable is the ruins of the castle of Tintagel, named as the birthplace of King Arthur. There are a number of car parks in the village, all within easy walking distance of the castle entrance. With COVID-19, and the fact that only a certain number of people can cross the bridge at any one time, you will need to pre-book your ticket in advance.

There’s a lovely little guidebook you can purchase when you enter, which details the history of the site, but I’ll give a bit of a breakdown here.

“For on the shore… standeth Tintagium [Tintagel], the native place of that great Arthur, partly upon a little ridge… and partly within an island, having both of them sometime a bridge between.” William Camden, Britannia 1610

The site itself has over 1,500 years of history and archaeology attached to it. From the fifth century, during the Early Middle Ages (also known as the Dark Ages), rulers of the ancient Cornish kingdom of Dumnonia used it as a royal citadel and trading port. It was abandoned for some centuries after, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t used as an inspiration for tales and legends – from King Arthur and his wizard Merlin to the lovers of Tristan and Iseult, the castle has an air of history and myth about it.

In the 13th century, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, built a castle and many of the remains survive for you to wander through. A lot of the buildings from the 13th century were built on the remains of the buildings from the fifth century, and you have to look out for small information plaques to get an idea of what is from the Dark Ages and what is more recent.

As you pass the entrance, known originally as the Barbican, you step into the Gatehouse and the Gatehouse Courtyard area, located on the mainland. Some areas have fallen into the sea, but nonetheless you can explore the old ruins and walls at your leisure, even walking up some steps to the upper mainland courtyard. There’s evidence here of Early Middle Ages use, but mainly the ruins are from the 13th century from Richard, Earl of Cornwall’s time. 

After the Gateyard Courtyard you travel across a bridge built in 2019. The bridge is located where once there would have been a natural land bridge during the Early Middle Ages, but today again, that land bridge has fallen into the sea.  

I actually visited Tintagel a fair few years ago, when there was no bridge linking the two sites together, and you had to climb several flights of steep steps to reach both sides. These steps were constructed in the 19th century, at the time that Tintagel was becoming a popular tourist attraction. This time, I was delighted to see there was a large bridge connecting both mainland and island this time though, and the steps that I’d climbed originally were for climbing down rather than up. 

Crossing over the bridge, you encounter the Island Courtyard, consisting of the Great Hall, lodgings, kitchen, and latrines. The Great Hall used to be longer, but again, parts of it have fallen into the sea over the centuries. In the 1300s it was already described as ‘ruinous and its walls of no strength’, so you can imagine the state of repair that needed to be done at the time.

As you walk through the gate, you’ll notice more stone foundations of homes and buildings along the side of the cliff, where you can walk across grass to see them. A lot of them date from the sixth or seventh century. Then there are steps to climb as you walk on, taking you to the top of the island, showcasing more ruins of Early Medieval Buildings, a walled garden, a well, and a small chapel. I really liked the walled garden area, which had plaques in the ground telling the story of Tristan and Iseult.

The last bit on the tour, standing right at the top of the island, is a sculpture of King Arthur, with sword in hand. A good spot for a picture for sure.

To exit, as mentioned, you take the steps down from the Island Courtyard towards the cafe, shop, and Exhibition. We didn’t end up going into the Exhibition as there was both a queue to get in, and we had our two dogs with us.

The great news is, quite a few people had dogs with them, so it was safe to explore with our four-legged friends. The steps going down were a little steep, but our dogs seemed to handle them just fine.

Also to note, while I don’t have a baby, there were a number of people who did have children in buggies and prams that were told the paths would be unsuitable for such, and therefore people had to carry their children on their backs rather than struggle the steps – especially on the way down. 

At the end of the tour round the castle, when you reach the bottom, you can then go on to explore Merlin’s Cave – which you don’t need to book to see.

Book your tickets for the castle with English Heritage

Merlin’s Cave

Past the cafe and shop at the bottom of Tintagel Castle, next to a small beach called ‘The Haven’, is Merlin’s Cave. We travelled down steep steps and rocks that our dogs really didn’t like, but the good news is they made it down without too much of a fuss. 

The tide was out, which meant we could walk properly on the sands, but I did wonder how far the tide came in. The Haven was used as a port for smaller boats in its time, so I think the tide comes in quite far.

As you may be aware from my review of Tintagel Castle, there’s a lot of myth and legends about the place, and Merlin’s Cave is part of that. The Haven next to it is where according to some legends, the baby Arthur was washed ashore into the arms of Merlin. 

There’s a lovely waterfall as you walk down, along the right hand-side, and we saw a few people dive in to be washed down by it. There are other caves along the right-hand side, but Merlin’s Cave had to be one of the largest, where the waves have cut a hole right through to the other side.

Overall, it was a very interesting visit, and it’s all outside (except the Exhibition, Cafe and Shop), so I certainly felt better about visiting in pandemic times.

Watch out for later in the week where I review some of the other places we visited on our Tintagel tour.

Kate @ Kandid Chronicles x


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