I used to work with a woman who cut out pictures of castles from magazines and taped them up all around her cubicle. One day when we were talking I asked her about them. She replied that she had always wanted to see a real castle. “That’s easy enough” I told her. “Europe’s full of castles–you can see bunches in one trip.” She just sighed and said that no, she’d never go to Europe. She said that her husband only wanted to go to the beach on vacation so that’s what they did.
It’s been years since I saw her, I don’t even remember her name. But I hope she figured out how to see a real castle.
As far as castles go, Tintagel leaves a lot to the imagination. But if your imagination has been honed by T.H. White; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Lerner and Lowe; Mary Stewart and even Monty Python, then you know that Tintagel is a place of awe and wonderment as the birthplace of King Arthur.
Truro was our base in Cornwall. It is what we in America would call the county seat. It’s full of 15th century buildings, but our church here in Franklin is older than its massive cathedral. We had planned to rent a car for two days to explore, but the fact that Husband’s driver’s license was left at home nixed that plan. Unfortunately, this caused him undue stress that I was unaware of at the time. But the good people at our Truro hotel came to the rescue with Henry’s Taxi.
Henry picked us up an off we went to Tintagel.
The southwestern coast of England is a raw place in January. The out-of-place palm trees are buffeted by high winds and freezing temperatures. The roads through Cornwall are narrow, twisty and unforgiving. Truth be known, I was glad we had a native driving us.
I will say that Tintagel could do with a little lesson in signage. We drove around the tiny village which had no signs pointing to its most famous landmark. We made our way to the Camelot Hotel and inquired.
Every girl who has ever read a historical novel by Victoria Holt or Phillipa Gregory (and they may very well be the same person) will recognize this locale–the castle overlooking the wild and windy coast. Finding Arthur’s birthplace was simple, according to the woman who greeted me. I just needed to take the path towards the sea.
After a few breathtaking moments, it became clear that we had traveled down the wrong path. The actual castle ruins were across the way from our perch nearer the sea. But in this case, it was a happy mistake. We would not have had nearly as good a vantage point of the scant remains if we had been near them. See that wall just over my shoulder? That’s all that remains of Tintagel Castle.
And see that opening in the shoreline? That’s Merlin’s cave. There’s a lot of magic right there.
So now I’ve been full circle (though backwards as Merlin lived his life) when it comes to Arthur. I’ve seen where he was born, and in 2006 I saw where he was buried in Glastonbury.
The marker reads as follows: “SITE OF KING ARTHUR’S TOMB./ IN THE YEAR 1191 THE BODIES OF/ KING ARTHUR AND HIS QUEEN WERE/ SAID TO HAVE BEEN FOUND ON THE/ SOUTH SIDE OF THE LADY CHAPEL./ ON 19TH APRIL 1278 THEIR REMAINS WERE/ REMOVED IN THE PRESENCE OF/ KING EDWARD I AND QUEEN ELEANOR/ TO A BLACK MARBLE TOMB ON THIS SITE./ THIS TOMB SURVIVED UNTIL THE/ DISSOLUTION OF THE ABBEY IN 1539.” .
But there’s one more place from Tintagel I want you to see.
This is the Tintagel church. It was built between 1080 and 1150.
This ancient holy place is open to anyone who ventures in. If it were in the United States, it would be cordoned off with a red velvet rope and you’d be charge $10 to enter. As it were, the doors were open and all comers were on the honor system–leave a pound if you took a guide book. Which I did.