Monday, October 10, 2011

Travel to Tintagel

On Saturday, October 8th, I traveled to Tintagel, on the North Coast of Cornwall. I had planned to go there and back again in a day, did not return until late Sunday evening. There are two stories here, both intertwined, one good and one bad.

I woke up early on Saturday, leaving the house at 6am. I took three trains from Oxford to Exeter, and the entire trip took 3 hours. I arrived only to find that the bus to Camelford (which is where pick up a bus to Tintagel) runs only three times on Monday to Saturday, and one of those buses had left five minutes before my train arrived. I waited at the station for two and half hours, reading on my Kindle, before spending two and half hours more on the two buses to Tintagel. The entire trip took eight hours. Tintagel is about three hours away by car, so that was frustrating. The first story, then, is a story of a frustrated traveler. I had not planned to spend the night, but seeing how infrequently the bus ran, I did not have any choice. The bus set me down in front of the large Tintagel Visitor's Center and Tourist Information building. I planned to ask if there was a hostel, or if not, was there somewhere cheap to stay. The Visitor's Center had a sign announcing it was closed due to budget cuts. I knew I needed to find somewhere, so walked through the town. Tintagel has a number of pubs that also have bed and breakfasts on top of them. I tried at a few of these, until I found one with vacancies. The first picture is of my room at the Wootons. It was ok, though right over the bar (so very loud), and honestly over-priced.

The second story of Tintagel began before I checked in, on the bus. It is a story of breathtaking beauty, and of history, myth and legend.

I will begin by explaining the legends associated with the place. According to legend, Uther Pendragon was transformed into the likeness of Gorlois, his enemy, by the wizard Merlin. Uther went to Tintagel Castle, where he slept with Igraine, conceiving Arthur, who would grow to become King Arthur. Tristan and Yseult, a separate myth later tied to the Arthurian cycle also takes place at Tintagel. The nearby town of Camelford, on the river Camel, claims to be built on the site of Camelot. Slaughter Bridge, a mile away from Camelford, is built next to a field where Arthur supposedly battled his son Mordred in the battle of Camlaan. King Arthur's Stone, is what some (including Tennyson himself) claim is the grave of Mordred. It should be noted that there are several other sites throughout England and Wales that claim to be the site of Arthur's birth or the site of Camlaan or Camelot. No one knows for sure if there even was an Arthur. However, Richard Earl of Cornwall (the younger son of King John, and Henry III's brother) believed the legends and in the early 12th century built a massive medieval castle on Tintagel, on top of an early Roman site. It is Richard's castle that is visible today, and his association with the Arthur myths (he is the same one responsible for burying Arthur and Guenevere at Glastonbury) helped create the modern town.

Whether Arthur was real, or ever had any ties to Tintagel, the place is still inspiring. The ride to Camelford was beautiful, driving through quaint Cornish towns, rolling countryside, and past churches and castles. There was only green hills and countryside, but everywhere we drove there were seagulls, reminding me we were on a peninsula.

After checking in I went to the castle. The path to the cliffs were directly behind the bed and breakfast (the view of the Tintagel Church on the cliffs is what I saw from my window). I spent about three hours climbing around the cliffs, Tintagel Island, and then to Glebe Cliff. The ruins are amazing, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I felt like I was in Middle Earth. You walk through woods, where you see nothing, then are suddenly on the ridge of an unprotected cliff face, looking at the Atlantic. The Cornish coast stretches to either side of you, crashing against the rocky shore. The climbs were treacherous, often no railings between you and the sea, and very difficult footing, but breathtaking nonetheless. I had dinner in the King Arthur's Arms pub, and then returned to my room, where I watched the television show Merlin.

On Sunday, I woke very early and walked to Barras Nose, the peninsula next to Tintagel. It is the one pictured in the static image above on the right. I watched the sunrise from Barras Nose, taking photos. The photos are blurry because it was extremely windy, and I actually had to crouch on all fours a number of times, to prevent being blown off the cliff. I then walked to Merlin's Cave, beneath Tintagel, and finally to Glebe Cliff again. I had a full English breakfast then left Tintagel, on the one bus offered on Sundays. I arrived in Camelford at 10:30, and the bus to Exeter did not leave until 1:30. It was cold, windy, and raining, and everything in the town was closed. I thought I was going to have a miserable time there, so wanted to find a pub to wait in. I walked to an inn where people were cleaning up and met a woman named Jo. She brought me to her pub, introduced me to her daughter Ellen, then decided I should go somewhere. On the bus we had passed the Arthurian Centre where they claim Camlaan occurred and where Arthur's Stone is located. I had not expected to go, since I had no car. Jo drove me there, and the owner of the Centre drove me back at the end. The people at Camelford were some of the friendliest people I've met on this trip. The Centre was fun, and though the walk to the Stone was through the rain and mud, it was very neat. I had a large lunch in Jo's pub, then took four trains to finally get home to Oxford.


  1. Hi, I really enjoyed your post. Would it be possible for me to contact you? I plan on going to Tintagel from Oxford. I'll be traveling alone, so I'm a little nervous. Let me know if that's possible! :)

    1. Seashia- I'd be happy to talk to you- Tintagel was one of the highlights of my time abroad, but it was tough, especially alone and without a car. I'd rather not publish my email publicly on the site. However, (since I have to approve comments) if you reply to this comment with your email, I simply won't publish your email, and would be happy to email you directly.