I thought, while I was in Port Isaac, I’d catch a bus out to Tintagel. There’s a castle there, or the ruins of one. It was built in the 13th century by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry 111, with an outer bailey on the cliff tops of the mainland and an inner ward with a great hall and chambers on an isolated and inhospitable rocky headland.
It’s thought he built the castle in this strange place to write himself into the mythology of King Arthur, who was said to have been conceived here. The story goes that ancient king of Britain, Uther Pendragon, lusted after Ygerna, the wife of one of his barons, Gorlois of Cornwall. The ‘prophet’, Merlin, decided to help him out by means of a magic potion, which transformed him into the likeness of Gorlois, thereby tricking Ygerna and having his way with her. The end result of this was Arthur. Whoever said history was boring?
Now, I knew on some level there would be heights involved. But I’ve been working hard at alleviating the fear of heights that’s got in the way of so many experiences I could have had, and had convinced myself I’d be alright.
And I almost was. I could actually have managed the staircase across, as it was wide and looked like any other staircase.
But from there, the pathway headed skyward along perpendicular cliffs. That’s how it looked from where I was, anyway, and I knew I couldn’t do it. Fear of heights is to do with being in the open (I’m perfectly alright in an aeroplane) and this was definitely in the open.
So much for exploring Tintagel Castle. Instead, I wandered around the upper court yard on the mainland. The castle didn’t actually last long, battered as it was by the elements. Soon after this court yard was built, a cliff collapsed, taking part of a wall with it. The new wall built to replace it included two latrines, that projected out over the cliff edge. Very convenient, except if you happened to be a seal down below, having a quiet sun bake on the beach.
I headed up the hill to St. Materiana Church, perched at the top of Glebe Cliff, overlooking the sea and the rolling Cornish hills. It was built between 1080 and 1150 and services are still celebrated here (which makes me wonder about our modern buildings, how they seem to crack and leak almost straight away). The church has been identified with St. Madryn, a princess of Gwent, who evangelised this area about 500AD.
It’s all gorgeously ancient. The font is Norman, the rood screen dates from around 1500 and the stone bench along south and west walls predates the introduction of pews. The south transept contains a Roman stone bearing the name of the Roman emperor, Caius Flavius Valerius Licinianus Lucinius, a rival of Constantine, who put him to death in 324AD. Now that’s really old.
I returned with the intention of going down to the beach and across to what they call Merlin’s cave but hadn’t allowed for the tides. The beach was flooded and the cave inaccessible. You’ve got to plan these things in advance but I admit, I’ve never given much thought to tides.
In the 19th century, the area around the beach and headland were used extensively for mining, slate quarrying and fishing. But all that’s gone and it’s now a haven for coastal plants and animals. It’s a lovely spot, though a very strange one to build a castle. I can’t imagine they would have received many visitors.