Learning by Being there: The Arthurian Legends at Tintagel Castle

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

The first thing I should point out about Tintagel Castle is that there isn't a castle there at all, not anymore. Only the ruins now remain of what was once a settlement of over 100 buildings. But there is much imagination to be used here, as you see the way this settlement would have once looked, and understand the reasons why Arthurian legends come alive upon the mesmerizing cliff-tops.

Tintagel Castle is run by the English Heritage and if you're a home educator and willing to visit English Heritage sites during term time only and not at the weekend, you can join for free. Otherwise, sign up as a member and enjoy sites up and down the country, or of course, book just a day trip instead. Click here for more details: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/

Archeological evidence points towards a late Roman occupation of Tintagel, so where do the links with King Arthur come from? It is said that King Arthur was conceived here with the help of Merlin, and in fact, it is because of the links with King Arthur the headland here was interesting enough for Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and brother to Henry III, to purchase it in the 1230s. Richard went on to put a castle on it himself but as a result of landslides and erosion, that has all now sadly disappeared into the unforgiving sea below.

When you arrive in the bustling village of Tintagel (don't worry about parking, there are lots of car parks), you will head down a steep path to the entrance of Tintagel Castle and this will be your last chance to head down a little further for the toilets before you head up to the top. Trust me, you won't want to walk all the way back down again once you've made that ascent!

If for nothing more you should come to Tintagel for the views. They are truly incredible. Keep hold of small children as there are very few barriers to stop you from toppling over the edge of cliffs into the icy water below. Once you get to the top you might be tempted to cross the new bridge straight away, but before you do that look out for the steps taking you to the headland above, this will be your last chance to go up before you cross the bridge.

Whatever you do, don't keep your phone out of your pocket as you cross the bridge, there are small slats a phone could easily slip through! Once you get to the other side, enjoy the ruins and the information boards, imagining what this place would have once looked like and what it would have meant for people to live here. Ask yourself, why would anyone build a settlement so high up? There are so many unanswered questions at Tintagel.

No matter where you go as you make your way around Tintagel, you cannot escape those views. They are hard to take in on a camera, and literally can make you swoon if standing too close to the cliff edge. However, it's a wonderful place to find a spot nestled inside the footprints of one of the ruins, to enjoy a packed lunch, or to just stop and take it all in.

As you make your way through that well-photographed arch, and most preserved part of the castle, you will find a few little paths you can venture down if you want to explore a little more and take the opportunity to get more memorable snaps. After that, you will rejoin the path that takes you to the very top of this headland, the most stunning and scary place of all. There are absolutely no safety rails to stop you from falling over the edge of the cliffs here, and yet, everyone is braving the edge to get those all-important photographs. We did too, but I had an extra grip and an extra eye on the children at all times. All it takes is one false move, one little trip on a rock. But if you can do it safely, make sure you do get some photos up here because it's rare to visit a place that hasn't been spoiled by health and safety materials paraphernalia.

Keep climbing and eventually, you will find some little tunnels you can head through but don't get distracted otherwise you will miss King Arthur! The tunnels are somewhat of a mystery, hand-carved but no one really knows why. Again, another opportunity to explore the reasoning with your children and allow their imaginations to run wild! From here you can miss the infamous sculpture of King Arthur despite the landscape being flat if you head off too quickly towards the next part of Tintagel. Instead, head towards the edge of the cliff and find King Arthur waiting for a photo!

I love the way the English Heritage have added stories to some of the sections of the ruins, bringing it to life and helping you to imagine what it must have been like. This can't be more true than when you get to the chapel and read the story of the lonely old priest, fed up with being left all alone to take care of the crumbling chapel.

Eventually, you will make your way back down where again, you can take the opportunity to get some amazing photographs.

When you get back to the bottom, make sure you visit the small exhibition, where the story of King Arthur really comes to life. There's an amazing holographic display, showing you what Tintagel might have looked like. It really is well worth a look and doesn't cost a penny.

You will have a long climb up the steep hill to get back to the village or you could treat yourselves to a Land Rover ride! We did for a bit of fun and it didn't break the bank either.

After the excitement of Tintagel Castle, head into the village which is a hive of activity. My top tips for the village are:

  1. Visit the Arthurian halls or just sneak a picture outside (we had a go at pulling the sword out of the stone)

  2. Pop your head into the window of Penganna Bakery to see Cornish Pasties being made

  3. Find treasures in the Wonder Rummage, a shop that has all sorts of long-forgotten trinkets spilling out of it.

After that, you could head to St. Nectan's Glen and Waterfall. It's usually listed as a must-see, but I don't agree. Don't get me wrong, it's lovely to see but it's a trek to get to it, you won't spend much time once you're there and the real kicker is the steep cost to see it. I understand conservation doesn't come for free, but with a shop, cafe, and snack bar on-site, I think almost £20 for a family of four to see the waterfall is far too pricey and it spoilt the experience for me. I will leave that one up to you to decide but here's a picture to help you make up your mind.

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