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Tintagel, Cornwall

Located high up and an impossible site to launch any mass attack on. Some say this is the castle of Old King Cole mentioned in nursery rhymes. The village of Tintagel today, was originally known as Trevena. The castle remains we see today date from the 12th century. Before this there was a high status Celtic monastery and some say a princely fortress and trading post in the 5th and 6th century.

Many of the remains you see today are from the 12th or 13th century castle built by or for Richard Earl of Cornwall.  Prior to this there was a monastery on this site and suggestions of an earlier fortress. It is featured in the stories of King Arthur as his place of birth.

It is also featured in legend as the home of King Mark (of Tristan and Isolde fame).

Excavations have turned up pottery from the 5th and 6th century and glassware. A piece of slate around 1500 years old was found with two inscriptions, but they have not helped. Over 20 rectangular buildings were also discovered.

The location is on a finger of land, that is not quite an island, but highly defendable. It is the ideal place if you wanted isolation, so perhaps the monastery wanted to avoid all callers. The steps are so narrow and difficult to climb, that only one person could go up at a time, and could not have worn armour, this combined with the ability to see anyone coming, would have made this an impossible site to attack, so perhaps would be a safe place to leave wife and children when off fighting in another part of the country. It would also make a good strong room to keep goods.

Although there may have been the remains of the community established by St Juliot in the 6th century, when Earl Reginald, Earl of Cornwall built his stronghold here in 1141 there was no record of Arthur's castle. Reginald, the illegitimate son of Henry I, was responsible for the Great Hall and Chapel on the top, rather than the other castle parts.

Later, Prince Richard, Earl of Cornwall, acquired Tintagel, in 1233, and built a castle on the headland. The location was not ideal for building a castle and the area had no strategic value. Richard probably wanted to associate himself with the already popular Arthurian legends. Later Earls of Cornwall made little use of the castle, leaving it in the care of a constable, and by the late 15th century the castle was in ruins.

Prince Richard was brother to Geoffrey of Monmouth's patron, Prince Robert, Earl of Gloucester. In the original version of the story King Arthur was conceived here. William of Worcester first recorded that King Arthur was born at Tintagel in 1478. Conception and birth was not so well defined or understood in those times, so this is not as big a step as it is now.

Geoffrey of Monmouth told us of King Arthur's connection with Tintagel Castle in 1139 in 'History of the Kings of Britain.'  According to this, Duke Gorles of Tintagel lived at the Castle. One day, he brought his young wife, Igraine, to the court of his High-King, 'Uther Pendragon' of Britain, in London. Uther fell deeply in love with the beautiful Igraine and determined to have her for his own. Gorles noted the attention paid by the King to his wife and returned to Cerniw. Upon being summoned back to court, Gorles refused to return and quickly found his lands invaded by his overlord. Igraine was hidden away in the impregnable Tintagel, while Gorles himself defended the nearby stronghold of Dimilioc. Uther, meanwhile, persuaded his magician, Merlin, to turn him into the likeness of Gorles. Using this disguise, he slipped into Tintagel Castle unhindered and seduced Igraine. That night, their son, the future King Arthur was conceived. Gorles was killed the next day and Uther and Igraine quickly became husband and wife.

The narrow causeway that connected the castle to the mainland in Geoffrey of Monmouth's time has been washed away and access to the castle is now by two steep stairways. It is also probable that through erosion some of the castle or other remains have been lost. Major rock falls were recorded in 1820 and 1846. There could have been more there back in the 5th and 6th centuries. 

The original name Din Tagell, means the Fortress of the Narrow Entrance.

Its worth allowing time to walk along the Cornwall Coast Path from Tintagel Castle, going west along Glebe Cliff to St Matriana's - a Norman church in a stunning setting high on the cliff top. Views include back to the castle ruins, and north to Lundy Island, as well as far out into the Atlantic Ocean. There are also local coves, and many great views. Explore along the path and you get to see more including rocks standing in the sea.

As a tourist attraction , this area has not failed to realise the benefit of attaching connections between many local places and items and King Arthur. Boscastle with its witchcraft museum, and of course being featured following the flood and TV series on its Vicar is nearby.

Other items in village

The Old Office, Tintagel

This 600-year-old traditional Cornish Longhouse is a restored Victorian post office set in enchanting cottage gardens.

King Arthurís Great Halls, Tintagel

King Arthurís Great Hall is a granite and slate building dedicated to the legend of King Arthur. It contains a round table and granite thrones surrounded by 72 fabulous stained glass windows, depicting the Arthurian legend.

The Waterfall, St Nectans Glen, Tintagel

A 60ft waterfall at the end of a valley, only accessible on foot. The waterfall comes through a stone archway. This is accessible by several footpaths, but the last bit has an entry charge, I think. See http://www.tintagelweb.co.uk/St%20Nectan's%20Glen.htm and http://www.stnectan.currantbun.com/ for details. Grid Ref: SX080885. Nectan was a Cornish Celtic or older water god, so although listed, often as one of the 10 most important holy wells in Britain, there never was a St Nectan. You will still today find many offerings and other items left at this location, a well house is nearby, but is in need of restoration.

Re-enactments at the beginning of August most years.

People in costume re-enacting King Arthur battles etc.

Planning Grid


Tintagel, Cornwall

Grid Reference

SX 049890

Map Link:


Google Maps Aerial Photograph, you can zoom in to see a lot more detail.

Getting there:

From A39 at Camelford take the B3266 towards Boscastle, after 2 miles take the B3314 to Delabole and at fork take right on B3263 to Tintagel.


On Tintagel Head, 600 metres (660 yards) along uneven track from Tintagel; no vehicles except Land Rover service, extra charge.


Parking in village (not part of English heritage)  ? cost.


A short audio visual tour through the ages, introduces visitors to the castle, its legends and history. During the Summer you can also enjoy special introductory talks.

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Impressive scenery, remains of the castle, location.

What to take:

Don't take too much, the first part via modern steps is not difficult but then you get a narrow difficult part that is difficult if you are carrying too much.

Nature highlights:

Sea birds.

Best Times to Visit:

Its very busy in the tourist season, and not a site to go when its windy or stormy.




PL34 0HE


01840 770328, Local Tourist Information: Tintagel Visitors' Centre: 01840 779084; Camelford (Summer only): 01840 212954; Padstow: 01841 533449





Opening times:

21 Mar-30 Sep 10am-6pm

1-31 Oct 10am-5pm

1 Nov-31 Mar 10am-4pm

Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan


English Heritage members - Free

Adults £4.70, children £2.40, concessions £3.80, Family £11.80

Photo Restrictions:

None stated, but avoid commercial work

Other Restrictions: None known
Special Needs Access: Access to the castle is via at least 100 steep steps. Surfaces in the castle include grass, gravel, cobbles and flagstones. Many of the surfaces are uneven and include changes of level. The island element of the site is a natural Cornish headland which includes several cliffs. Parts of the castle can be viewed from Glebe Cliff; the National Trust has set aside an area beside the church for this purpose.
Special Needs Facilities: Not known
Children Facilities: Access to the castle is difficult for disabled visitors (via over 100 steep steps). There is a Land Rover service from the village which can take visitors to the exhibition and shop (Apr-Oct only).
Dogs Allowed: Not restricted but best not taken up to the top, as you have to pass others who may be nervous being so close to dogs.

Other useful websites:






CIN Page Ref:


Date Updated:03/08

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