I love the King Arthur Legend–Merlin, Malory, brave knights. That’s why I included Tintagel, supposed site of Camelot, on my Cornwall itinerary. Travel writer Kirsty Fergusson said, “You might be tempted to give it a miss” after encountering the crowds and tourist shops of modern-era Tintagel. But then she added that missing the castle where Arthur might have pulled the sword from the stone and the coastal walk would be a shame. I had to go there. Now I have to go back to see both.
Slow travel in Cornwall is the only way to get around, so Ruth and I didn’t arrive in Boscastle until afternoon. Boscastle, where our ancient hotel was located, was more than 4 miles from Tintagel, so we had to wait for a bus to take us there after checking in and hauling our luggage up to our tiny 3rd floor room. The hotel was too old to have elevators. After arriving in Tintagel, we had to walk through the town, a continuous string of unpleasant tourism-oriented stores, to get to King Arthur’s castle. I saw only 2 places of interest on this walk, A Cornish hall-house dating from the 14th century that survived because it became a post office and an Arthurian research center. To get to the castle meant either a descent down a steep, rugged path and then back up again or paying to take a shuttle. Ruth opted for the ride but I walked.
When we met down below, we headed for the ticket booth. It was now approaching late afternoon and the entrance fee for each of us was close to £10. Then I read the sign that destroyed all my illusions. The castle on the island where King Arthur was supposedly born dated from 1230, centuries after Arthur would have lived in the area. It was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, not King Uther. Interest in the legend was at a high point in Richard’s time thanks to the success of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s retelling of the legend. I flashed on the picture of the modern, hole-filled Arthur sculpture I saw on almost every piece of tourist literature and had a melt down.
Waiting for the bus that would take us back to Boscastle, we met a couple who had started on the coastal path that Kirsty Fergusson raved about and found it difficult. Part of the reason why they abandoned it was the late-afternoon time. A more-than-four mile walk on a difficult path back to Boscastle seemed risky.
The next day at Launceston Castle, which I loved, the lady selling tickets said that keeping old castles up was a maintenance nightmare, especially the one at Tintagel on an exposed promontory overlooking the ocean. No wonder it cost so much to enter the island! She told us how to get a discount. Launceston Castle was also built by Richard, William the Conquerer’s half-brother. I was now filled with regret and vowed to return to Tintagel.