A recent trip to Cornwall led me to the birthplace of Arthurian legend: the castle of Tintagel…
Tintagel. The very name sounds magical, doesn’t it? This ancient fortress, high on a cliff of Cornwall’s rugged coast, is the birthplace of the greatest legend of them all: King Arthur. Historical truth and fantastical fiction have been blurred across the centuries, storytellers blending what they have heard with their own imaginings. However, there is no escaping that a certain enchantment lies over this place – it is a place where fact could indeed be stranger than fiction and where fantasy could become reality.
Scaling the many steps to the heights of the castle is an effort worth making. Here, against the impossible blue of the Atlantic ocean and the lush green of the hills, the ruins of the once-great castle stand proudly, if a little precariously, on their island.
The distinctive slate of the castle creates jagged frames for the natural surroundings of cliff, sea and stone. It is not so hard to imagine a great and noble King standing triumphantly at one of these windows, taking in the view of his unspoilt kingdom, halfway between land and sea.
A lone bird perches for a moment on the stone wall of a forgotten room, waiting and watching as tourists pass by. Then, without a sound, it soars back into the sky – as if taking a message to someone far away.
Modern-day visitors cannot resist walking to the edges of the cliffs surrounding the castle, looking back at the village and down towards the sea below.
Even on this tranquil day, the bold Atlantic waters swirl and crash in a white foam at the foot of the vertiginous cliffs.
But at the top, nature is becalmed, with flowers barely swaying in the breeze. They overlook the rocks and the sea, but from here, the white of the frantic water appears motionless.
One of the most charmed spots is the small cove below the castle. A clamber over boulders befitting of giants leads to a shale beach adorned with seaweed. rocky islets punctuate the sea.
And here, the most spellbinding place of all – Merlin’s cave. A crevasse in the cliff itself, a dark coolness of rocky, watery underworld.
In the bright sunlight of the cove, fairytale waterfalls trip and slide over a carpet of green moss. It is no longer difficult to believe in magic; rather it is difficult not to.
But Tintagel, the castle built on the cliff-face of an exposed island, has defied both the destructive will of nature and the stubborn curiosity of humans. There is just enough of it remaining to provoke questions, to inspire stories, to create legends, but the truth was lost long ago, swallowed up by the sea perhaps, or lurking in the darkness of a cave.
So the Cornish coast keeps Tintagel’s secrets for another day, another year, another century. It guards the castle, caves and coves with ancient wisdom. But it doesn’t stop me dreaming of legends of old.