Tintagel Castle, King Arthur and Merlin’s Cave

Tintagel Castle, King Arthur and Merlin’s Cave

14th March 2019 0 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last Updated on 6th June 2021

13th century Tintagel Castle lies adjacent to the village of Tintagel in Cornwall. Built by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall it later fell into disrepair and ruin. We were on an 8-day road trip along the north coast of Cornwall so made sure we detoured to include it in our trip. Once there you’ll find many an Instagram worthy shot and even get to “meet” a representation of the legend of King Arthur. Want to see our CORNWALL itinerary then here you go?!

We visited on a cold, wet and blustery afternoon so any idea of idyllic shots went right out the window. The walk from the small village of Tintagel to the pay booth is down a steep, narrow road and takes 10-15 minutes. However there’s a Land Rover service for a couple of quid each way. Certainly one to consider on the way back up!

The walk’s not for the faint-hearted

Onward to the castle ruins! You need to be sure-footed as the steps down to the wooden bridge are steep, especially on a wet day. Talking of “ruins” the area is closed right now so English Heritage can build a new bridge higher up, negating the need to drop down before climbing up the equally un-nerving steps on the other side.

The steps to Tintagel Castle are steep both down and up!
The steps to Tintagel Castle are steep both down and up!

Historians have criticised English Heritage’s vision of re-creating this “land bridge” that apparently never existed. Is it “ruining” the natural significance of the location? I tend to agree. OK – there will be better access but the enjoyment we got from visiting was how we arrived at the island in the first place. I hope the lower option wooden bridge remains. As Joni Mitchell once sung “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot“. Like most things, the critics might be won over when they see the completed version.

The controversial new bridge being built summer 2019
An artist’s impression of the controversial new bridge built in summer 2019. Source: MRC – Emily Whitfield-Wicks
The view of the new accessible Tintagel Bridge across to the island
The view of the new accessible Tintagel Bridge across to the island. Source: Stromfieldadventures

Tintagel Castle entrance fee & ‘Gift Aid’

At the pay booth we were initially confused by the pricing. There’s a £9.50 entry fee for adults but it’s £10.50 if you wish to pay ‘Gift Aid’ … although the board does make it fairly clear why. Legally for an attraction/museum to claim back ‘Gift Aid’ the paying customer has to make a “donation”. This donation has to be at least 10% greater than the standard entry fee. So to claim 25p back in every £1 they can do this on the £10.50 but not on the “standard” £9.50 entry.

Therefore by paying an extra £1 they can claim back £2.63 in ‘Gift Aid’, receiving £13.13 in total. That said you can just pay the standard £9.50 if you so wish.

The initally confusing Tintagel Castle admission prices
The initally confusing Tintagel Castle admission prices. Prices as of summer 2018

If you like taking part in more organised excursions then check out the three related trips below. Some of which include Tintagel Castle. Others will show you the many beautiful spots nearby.

Pretend you’re the “keeper of the keys”

Once you’ve crossed the bridge you climb up on the other side to get to Tintagel Castle itself. Don’t expect anything with a roof as it’s in a fairly ruined state, except that is for the little gatekeeper’s house at the entrance. This is where Florence Nightingale Richards used to sit, the ‘eccentric’ custodian of the castle. She was eventually given the title of ‘keeper of the keys’ and worked there from 1869 to 1939, finally retiring at the ripe old age of 82!

It’s also the location of one of the island’s most Instagrammed views through the doorway. Yes – I know … people should NOT just go somewhere just to grab the same photo as everyone else … but as you have to walk through it when you first enter the castle then “why not”. Or like my girlfriend did sit in the shelter, waggle some keys around and pretend you’re Florence.

The hut where Florence the gatekeeper used to reside
The hut where Florence the gatekeeper used to reside

Inscribed in wood alone the roof line of the hut reads:

“What a moment! In my hand was the key of Tintagel”

Once you’ve entered through the gate there’s lots to see and explore including walking into various “rooms” of the roofless and mostly wall-less living areas.

You can even “meet” King Arthur

On the far side of the island is a new 8ft tall bronze statue. English Heritage say it’s actually called Gallos – the Cornish equivalent of power – so to avoid any confusion, is instead inspired by King Arthur. It’s certainly a fine sculpture and would have lead to a more artistic photo if it hadn’t been blowing a gale up there. So much so that my DSLR stayed firmly tucked away from the elements in my backpack. Once again this feature has caused some controversy leading to yet more accusations towards English Heritage of “Disneyfication”.

I found it a fitting addition, however the island doesn’t need any additional “gimmicks”. A short distance from the statue is a small, exposed tunnel which island residents used to store some of their food.

The imposing bronze statue of King Arthur
The imposing bronze statue of Gallos – not King Arthur
The imposing bronze statue of King Arthur
… and for scale! I’m 5′ 7″

Visit “Merlin’s Cave” at Tintagel Castle too

Once you’ve re-traversed the wooden bridge turn left at its end pass another small, wooden pay shed and head down towards the beach (tide permitting). There you will see Merlin’s Cave with a newly created Merlin carving (more “Disneyfication” verging on vandalism?). We only realised it were there after we left but you will now know in advance.

Inside Merlin's Cave. Look out for the new "controversial" carving
Inside Merlin’s Cave. Look out for the new “controversial” carving

Reward yourself with a King Arthur cream tea

After walking back up to the top (or via the Land Rover) reward yourselves with a cream tea in King Arthur’s café. It went down rather well and allowed us to have our first “cream or jam first?” debate. I favour the Cornish method with jam first!

Jam or cream first? The King Arthur Café Cornish cream tea
Jam or cream first? The King Arthur Café Cornish cream tea

In the village itself are the usual array of touristy gift shops, characterful-looking pubs and the oldest post office in the UK. Built in the 1300 it has a bowing roof line and made for a nice last photo to end our little trip.

The Post office from 1300 in Tintagel Village
The Post office from 1300 in Tintagel Village

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Anybody now keen to visit? Remember to check out our CORNWALL itinerary before you leave!

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